Can one make an Elizabethan dress from 3.5 yards of 60"
had this really killer piece of brocade that I'd been
hoarding for at least ten years. It was a beautiful
deep blue-green ribbed/satin ground figured with dark
russet in a very interesting pattern. I'd seen a similar
patterns represented in dresses pictured in the Valois
Tapestries (tapestries date from about 1580), specifically
the 'Tournament' and 'Polish Ambassadors' tapestries.
The tapestries themselves were made in Flanders and
portraits of the French nobility were used as models.
Because I've tried to recreate a French persona from
1580 - 1585, the Valois Tapestries were invaluable
as a non-anglicized look at French dress during the
time period I study.
The book itself is out-of-print and very hard to get
but here's the ISBN if you are particularly interested:
reason I'd been hoarding that killer piece of brocade
was because I only had 3.4 yards of it. I had haunted
the fabric store where I first found it for years, hoping
to get my hands on another remnant of it but, alas,
this was not to be. Up until this project, nothing less
than 4 yards of fabric would do. However, about a month
ago, I was feeling restless... I had a bunch of researched
methods I wanted to try out but didn't want to mess
around with another killer piece of fabric, perhaps
screwing it up in the process. So I crawled through
my fabric and the above piece caught my attention. Another
piece of material also caught my attention; a 1.5 yard
piece of blue-green velveteen that was left over from
a completely different project. They were perfect together...
I was doomed. So I made a quick sketch of how I thought
the dress should look...
I then sat down and charted out just exactly how I
was going to get a dress out of these two pieces of
fabric. It became quite clear from the very beginning
that an entire bodice was not to be forth coming so
I decided to use the velveteen to piece up the missing
areas of the bodice. I've seen some painting from period
that suggest that this might have been done (and there's
always Shakespeare in Love...) but I've no proof. Unfortunately,
this was the only way to get things done. I made specific
pattern pieces for both the upper and lower halves of
the bodice and cut the interlining all in one piece;
it would serve as the base for the outer shell. The
lining was also cut in one piece as per usual.
I'd charted out how the dress would be cut out, it was
time to actually cut it out. Scary... one mistake and
it was toast. It took me almost a week to very carefully
cut the pieces, double and triple checking everything
just to make sure (admittedly, I worked on this after
I got home from work in the evening... I'm not normally
this paralyzed with fear when it comes to cutting something
out). What this meant was that the upper half of the
bodice and the sleeves would come out of the velveteen
- which went smoothly except for one small section under
one of the arms that had to be pieced up.
Once I'd cut out the upper portion of the bodice -
and before the shoulder seams were sewn - it was time
to lay down the cord. Every inch of cord was hand made
using my cording tool... all 36 yards. The really cool
thing about this type of cord, however, is that it is
extremely period and extremely easy to make. I used
to make cord using a cordless drill but the cording
tool is much easier. Lacis
online has what they call the 'Leonardo machine' in
the passemaine section. It makes cord in essentially
the same manner and is quiet inexpensive.
Once the cord was down on the upper section, the lower
section was put in place. Then, because the real reason
I had wanted to make a dress was to test some of my
theories on period construction, I sewed the entire
bodice together by hand using said period construction
techniques. It actually went together very nicely (I
loathe hand sewing so this is quite the testimony from
One starts by putting the shell, interlining and lining
all together and treating it as one piece of fabric.
Then the front outer shell and interlining are placed
together and treated as one piece. These are then stitched
together at the side and shoulder. The remaining piece
of the front - the lining - is then whip stitched into
place at the side and shoulder seams. Confused? Costume
Close-up has a great description of the same technique.
the bodice was put together, it was time for me to actually
design and make the sleeve heads. Patterns of Fashion
had a great starting pattern for getting the shape and
after fiddling around with this until it fit, I was
good to go. The panes are lined with canvas, to give
them that stiff shape. They are then sewn onto a undersleeve
that holds them in place. An extra bit of the linen
lining fabric - of which I had 5 yards - was used to
make the 'puffs'. Once this and the tabs were all sewn
together, I added the cord around the edges and as decoration
and then sewed both sleeve caps into the armseye.
At this point, I then made the collar, carefully matching
the cording on the collar with the cording on the bodice...
and promptly screwed up. I had to re-cut the collar
which meant that it is a bit shorter than I would have
liked. I may try to fix this by adding tabs that are
similar to the sleeve head tabs but I am not sure I
have enough velveteen to do so...
all these pieces were sewn onto the bodice, it came
time to add the skirt and skirt tabs. Patterns of
Fashion and any of my other sources is not real
clear on how this is done in period. There are hints
but the photos are not close enough for me to have gotten
a good, solid idea. So I went with what I had. I added
the tabs and bound the bodice edge with straight-of-grain
linen binding. I then attached the skirt using cartridge
pleating, leaving the very front of the skirts to be
sewn flush with the front of the bodice. I didn't think
this entire part would work but it did... surprisingly
Also in this photo you can see the forepart, which
was made using Alcega's one piece skirt pattern and
placing a piece of russet velveteen that matched the
brocade on the front to form the 'foreparte'. This piece
of velveteen did not come in this color. I found a pretty
brownish purple or plum colored velveteen and dyed it
to match. The formula is one box of Tangerine and one
box of Golden Yellow Rit dye for every yard and a half
of velveteen. Be sure to rinse your washing machine
out afterwards with a bleach solution.
the dress is finished, I will move on to finish the
forepart. I haven't quite decided just what I'll do
with it but it will probably involve couched cord and
some embroidery. I also intend to use the scraps to
make the gauntlets for a pair of gloves...
I've found the correct shade of DMC perle and floss
and have made up another yard and a half of the color.
As seen in the photo to the left, where the first piece
is a scrap of the first dyed section and the bottom
piece is the newly dyed yard and a half, there is some
color variation. The second dyed piece will eventually
become a hat, possibly a short cape and another set
of sleeves. And speaking of sleeves...
the bodice was done, it was time to tackle the sleeves
and I was not looking forward to couching down all of
that cord. It went pretty fast however and they look
really well with the dress so all that time was probably
They were lined with the same linen and interlined
with canvas as well. I didn't like how limp the velveteen
and linen were alone. Additionally, it made it much
easier to couch the cording down. The sleeve heads were
bound with strips of linen - this time cut on the bias
and the wrists were sewn shut by turning under the lining
and shell and tacking them together. I used the period
tailoring technique for this and have to say that I
really like the way it looks. It's got a very nice,
finished look to it. At first I had thought to add cording
to the edge but I probably will not do that now.
had also thought to make them open at the wrists just
so I could make some buttons to go with them but there
was enough velveteen to make them roomy enough not to
do this. I may make some decorative buttons for the
sleeve heads, as with the doublet in Patterns of
Fashion but that will be one of the last things
that gets done. Theoretically, this dress will be completed
for May Crown, May 18th of this year.
More pictures in the ongoing project:
|Full length dress - and a look at the rest of
my work area...
Side view - the green in the
brocade and the velveteen actually match better
of bodice back. I really dig diagonals...
Close-up of bodice front. Eventually
hooks and eyes will be added as closures.
Scraps - this is all that is
left... to the right you can
see the pattern pieces for the tabs and sleeve