Demonstrations>Trims and Embellishment>Complicated
Trims: The Build-Up Method
How many times have you gone to a fabric store or shopped
on line for that 'perfect' trim, only to be completely disappointed?
There really is nothing available at these days that resemble
some of the larger trims used in period on garments. If one
does find something, it's usually (but not always) prohibitively
expensive. With trim requirements in excess of fifteen yards
for most garments (this includes both dresses and doublets
and breeches), our pocket book will not take that kind of
beating. What to do? With a little ingenuity, we can re-create
these trims by taking simpler, more available, and cheaper
trims and combining them to 'build up' to the more complicated
result. The following is some ideas on how to recreate complicated
trims using nothing more than some very available and mostly
cheap modern trims. Woo-hoo! Let's get complicated!
What We Want -
What we want is to recreate trim results that are similar
if not exactly like those found in late sixteenth century
clothing. At least, that's what I want and, possibly, some
of you do as well. If you are running a different era, the
principles discussed below and some of the examples will still
First we need to take a real good look at some portraits
of the time period. Web sites such as www.tudor-portraits.com
are a good place to start. If you own Janet Arnold's Patterns
of Fashion, that's a really great book to start with. Basically,
try to view any source that shows primary
sources such as portraits done during the time period
of study, photographs of the actual garments from the period,
or - if you're lucky - the actual garments themselves.
When we look at these various sources, one sort of surprising
thing stands out. They built up their trims in period as well.
For instance, take a look at these examples:
|This is very obviously NOT any sort
of woven trim. Pearls, gold braid, and metal elements
are all combined for an overall effect. This detail is
from a portrait of Elizabeth I, circa 1585.
||Another detail of a portrait of Elizabeth I. Again,
there is built up trim. This time, the row of pearls is
the center and rows of simple gold cording are laid
down on either side of it. Portrait circa 1580s.
As we can see in the above examples, the building up of trims
was used in period to create some stunning effects. Building
up our own trim effects offers us the same advantage. It is
often if not always more cost effective and we get exactly
what we want rather than having to rely upon what is available
in the expensive trim section of our fabric or craft store.
What's Available -
Once we figure out what we want, then we need to take a look
at what is available. There are quite a few inexpensive trims
that are very often overlooked because, initially, they are
quite simple. Soutache is one of my absolute favorites and
a mainstay of many of my build-up designs. Right up there
with Soutache cord are any other small, flat woven cords that
one can find in either the bridal or regular trim area. One
great web site for braid trims of this nature is www.cheaptrims.com.
This is not to say that EVERYTHING on that site is appropriate.
Most of it is not appropriate to late period clothing. But
they have Soutache and other flat, small braids in various
colors and at a decent price. You can also order large amounts.
It's also a really good idea to purchase braid that is made
from rayon and/or cotton. Both take dye really well. Bridal
trims especially are almost always made of rayon for this
very purpose. Read the labels and do burn tests if you're
Don't forget your pearls! Rows of pearls figure heavily during
this time period. Go for the off-white color rather than the
bright white variety. They look a little better, especially
if they are plastic. Better yet, if you have the means, get
good quality faux pearls. The
weight will be similar to that of real pearls and they are
a dream to work with.
If all else fails, try making
your own braids and cords. There are a number of different
means to do this that are both cheap and easy. This is especially
fun if you are looking for that perfect color match. Once
you get enough handmade braid or cord, you can then use it
to build up with other things, such as wide braids and pearls.
|Detail of dress with hand-made cording.
DMC floss was used to get the specific color needed and
then the braid was applied in rows and on edges.
Build-Up Strategies -
I like variety and it seems that late period people did as
well. There have been instances where I've used as many as
three or four different types of braids and simple trims on
a garment to achieve the look I am after. Sometimes they are
all one color and sometimes I mix colors. I've seen examples
of the same sort of thing in the various sources I regularly
use. Patterns of Fashion has page after page of garments trimmed
out with two or more different types of trim, often laid side
Other ways to build up trims are to use small appliques in
a repeat. This is also an extremely period way of trimming
a garment. Long strips of fabric (either bias cut or straight
of grain - depending on where you land in the Great Bias Debate)
can be appliqued with repeating motifs, embroidery and/or
simple trims added and Voila! You've got a built-up and unique
trim that is very appropriate for late period clothes.
A Little Extra Work -
Building up trim, as seen from the examples above, takes
a bit of work. Often the trim addition takes me as long, if
not longer, to accomplish than it did for me to construction
the garment. But that is ok, because the finished effect is
Examples of actual garments below with details:
|Four strands of a bright green are laid down in a 'celtic'
motif in the center. This is then flanked by two strands
of an apple green to 'widen' the effect.
||Three different types of trim are used on this doublet.
The two complicated ones are actually cognates of one
another. The flat braid has picots on its sides and gives
a nubbly effect.
||Both a simple bobbin lace and a wide gold braid are
used in conjunction with one another to build up a wider
|Detail of a forepart and skirt showing the building
up of trims for both from narrow gold braid and various
sizes of pearls.
||detail of the bodice of the dress referenced previous.
A very small gold braid is used to tie the pearl motifs
||Detail of trim on glove. Use of applique, embroidery
and hand made cord.