In this post I’ll show what I did to make my Gamurra- the undergown. If you’re reading this after the fact, go back a post to see my inspiration, or click the 1480s Florence tag to see all of the posts about this costume.
My very first start was taking the Tudor Tailor’s early Tudor Ladies Kirtles bodice pattern, moving the seams, adding more width to the bust, and doing some minor pattern alterations to get a more Italian-looking pattern. I cut this out of an old striped bedsheet, and used my lacing strips (from corset-making) to put it on. With some help from my housemate and my mirror (and stretching the limits of my flexibility… ) I pinned and altered the bodice as I was wearing it. Then I transferred those recommended alterations to my pattern.
Next, I made up my “I hope this can be my lining otherwise it’s my mockup” to play with the cording I used two layers of 5.3 oz/yd2 100% linen in “Biking Red” from Fabrics-store.com (Leftovers from my Red Apron Dress) cut well beyond my pattern. I was really impressed with Jen Thompson‘s corded bodice, and the smoother line she was able to accomplish, so I wanted to give this a try too, but I knew that cording it would “shrink” it a little bit.
I marked where I thought channels should go (based on shaping and some experience with corsetry – but notably NO research into what might have actually been done in period – if this was even a period technique!) From there I stitched the channels on all four pieces (front left, front right, back left, back right). In hindsight I should have done less close to the side-seam, as I had to make an adjustment there – the panels didn’t shrink as much as I had thought they would once corded.
You might also notice from the photo above, I didn’t cord above the bust where the straps are. This shouldn’t need the same kind of support, after all – more of the support is needed in the bust/underbust and waist to keep the garment smoother. The photo above also shows one channel filled with cord (far right) and the rest of the channels sewn, but as of yet in this photo, not filled.
To cord them, I used four strands of cotton butcher’s cord. I suppose if this technique were done in period it would be more likely hemp or linen or even something like reeds or straw… but I had cotton. I tried as much as possible to keep the cords from twisting within the channel, and pulled them through using a tool intended for turning spaghetti straps and similar items. (I use this tool on pretty much every costume I make in some way!)
As an aside – this loop turner I use is $2.99 (Canadian) from Great Notion Supply, and is far better than the other two turners I’ve tried using – the Fastturn set ($59.99) and the Quickturn set ($8.99)
The photo above shows a close-up of one channel stuffed with cord. The cord gives some support, but also remains flexible. It will also be a lot more washable (at this stage at least) than plastic or metal boning. Mind you.. washing isn’t the top priority, as once the garment evolves, there will be other elements that will make it a lot less (machine) washable…
Once all of the channels were filled, I sewed a number of lines running across the bodice to hold the cord in place and prevent it from stretching, coming out in subsequent steps, or twisting. I also used a different coloured bobbin to baste the pattern lines onto the fabric – the sewing lines for construction. This is basically just a method of thread-tracing so I can keep wide seam allowances for this lining/mock-up. After sewing those seam lines – I was able to remove the cord from the seam allowances. From there I sewed the different pieces together, creating the basic bodice for fitting. You might notice that my horizontal lines are not always matching up…. I ended up sewing the pieces together by hand for fitting, just so they were super-easy to pick out if needed.
Next I added back on my lacing strip, and laced myself up!
I brought my laced-up bodice to a “Stitch & Bitch” session with some other costumers, and got some advice including:
- narrowing the waist a bit at the sides
- keeping the waist height where I have it
- tightening above the bust a little at center-front
- using a double-ladder lacing to lace the bodice closed instead of a single ladder lacing. (To give more torque)
Beyond that, it seemed to fit well, which is fantastic, because it means I’ll be able to use this as the lining! (Rather than having to re-cut it and having to re-sew and stuff new channels!!!) The costumer assisting me did show how she’d done her lacing at the front as false lacing, but then did real lacing for closures on the side of her garment – this means that her front lacing is decorative and doesn’t shift – but she still has some “wiggle room” for very minor size adjustments (and comfort). However, this does mean she needs assistance getting dressed. I’ve had lots of experience needing help getting dressed – and how infrequently people who can give GOOD assistance are available, so I think for myself, I’ll keep the lacing at the front, and just opt to wear a more opaque than transparent camicia/chemise/shift under the dress for modesty.
From lining to the full version of the garment
Once I knew that the bodice lining fit, I added twill tape to the side and center back seam. I wanted to cord these seams as well the same way that I had corded the rest of the bodice, and the twill tape would add extra support to these seams that might otherwise be strained by wear, or by being stuffed with cord.
This was all done with my sewing machine – I didn’t want to do more by hand than I needed to!
I didn’t want the cords to show through my thin silk, so as Jen Thompson mentioned, I decided to interline my silk with another fabric in order to ‘disguise’ the cords.
I thought perhaps flannel would work, however in chatting to my fellow costumer, she suggested that just linen would probably be sufficient.
She was correct (thankfully!) – I used a layer of the same thin linen that I was using to line the skirt (and also lined my Giornea) to interline the bodice. While I sewed the seams by machine, I hand-basted the edges as seen to the left.
Since the bodice will be fully lined, I didn’t worry about finishing the edges – plus this fabric isn’t especially prone to fraying like some others.
My next step was to join the edges of the bodice to the lining. By machine, I sewed the lining to the bodice at the front edges and neckline, leaving the armsyce and waist open.
The armscye I stitched closed by hand – a task which involved basting down the seam allowance of the lining, and then folding and slip-stitching the fashion fabric to the lining.
The waist seam was left open to receive the skirt of the gown – I would sew the skirt to the fashion fabric, and then hand-sew the lining in place to the skirt, folding in the seam allowance. With a modern garment I could do most of this by machine, but with the bulk of a huge skirt, hand-sewing seemed like the best option. The alternative would be top-stitching, and I wanted to avoid visible-when-worn machine sewing as much as I could.
After joining the edges of the bodice to it’s lining, I pad-stitched the seam allowance inside the garment. The pad-stitching doesn’t show through to the fashion fabric, but this stitching gives additional firmness to the center front of the garment. I opted for an overall pattern of diamonds for my pad-stitching rather than the angled stitches normally found on a lapel, as I didn’t have to concern myself with a fold or curve in this area. I did the pad-stitching on the advice of a fellow costumer who has made a similar garment.
The skirt of the garment
Since I would have a front opening to the dress, and would need to extend the opening into the skirt, I wanted to install a placket into the skirt so that if I were to wear the gown without the Giornea, my camicia wouldn’t be as visible under the skirt.
I ended up treating the skirt panels in different ways because of this, so that the opening doesn’t expose any raw edges, but in other areas I serged the seam allowances to finish them, and inside of the skirt, they’re exposed.
The skirt panels are all trapezoids, however I made a bit of mistake here and didn’t cut the lining exactly the same as the fashion fabric, which led some challenges later on. If I were to do this again, I’d try to do it differently.
The placket is silk on both sides, in case it flaps open; so it’s less visible.
I had considered cartridge pleating the skirt to the bodice, but I wasn’t keen on doing all the math to figure that out, doing a new technique on a garment that already had so much work into it (and other new techniques for that matter too!) so I opted to box-pleat it instead. I’m glad I did so, because I found many examples of box pleating in portraits, and very little that was obviously cartridge pleating, and I far prefer the overall look. I cheated a tiny bit, using my 2″ ruler as a folding guide. The pleats worked out very well to shrink the skirt down to the bodice. (Ok.. a BIT of math was involved in that one.
After assembling the skirt panels, I attached the skirt to the bodice by sewing it by machine to the bodice, and then hand-sewing the lining to the skirt as mentioned above in the bodice section. I left a small section where the boning would go in open for the time being.
Fastenings & boning
I kept working away on the dress, always dreading how I was actually going to close the front…. In the portraits I’ve been looking at mostly, it’s almost exclusively ladder-lacing – either with hidden means, the portrait is too distant/unclear, lacing rings, or embellished metal grommet-type of holes. There don’t seem to be any examples of thread-worked eyelets, which is kind of good – because I’m a bit terrified of having to try those out for the first time on a garment I’ve put so much work into. (I did do some samples, as previously posted… just in case though.)
In Anéa’s “Peacock dress” post, she writes that she’s used two different techniques for this:
- inserting metal grommets in the lining and then peircing the silk fashion fabric and adding thread buttonhole stitches through the silk. This gives the sturdy lacing holes, while keeping the look more discreet.
- putting grommets through all layers, and doing thread buttonhole stitches through all layers to cover the metal.
She notes that in Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold, “traces of corrosion show that originally the eyelet holes on the bodice were worked over metal rings”, and although the “metal rings” are not noted as eyelets persay, she does think it’s a reasonable stretch.
My lacing rings finally came though – in time to work with them for this garment.
I measured the width of my boning, and hand-stitched a channel for them with red buttonhole twist that luckily matched my bodice closely. My one regret in this area is that the opening is on a stripe on one side – and the stripe is gold. The stitches are much more noticeable, but I highly doubt anyone will be looking that closely when I wear it!
I used both spring steel boning (24″) and spiral steel boning (13″) in kind of a strange way….
The front of the bodice is curved in the pattern – though I want it to LOOK straight while worn. The spring steel would well support the lacing, while the spiral steel would go around the curve at the top… So I used both. There’s spiral steel at the top of the bodice, with spring steel at the bottom. It was tricky, but works VERY well.
I hand-sewed the lacing rings to the bodice – these were Fire Mountain Gem toggle clasps (just the ring, not the bar) along the edge where the boning is – the stitches go all the way through the fashion fabric, interlining, and two layers of lining linen.
In retrospect, I think that perhaps I put the rings too close together – they could have been spaced just slightly further apart (I put them 3/4″ apart) but I was still satisfied with the result – and wasn’t about to unpick them and start again!
I ended up doing a bunch of different lacing “samples”, which I’ll be blogging about soon to show off some of the different options I explored, and settled on this sort of double-ladder lacing, as recommended by the costumer I spoke with. To the left is a photo of the bodice laced with cord laying flat – to give an idea of what the lacing looks like off the body.
For this, and for the fittings and first time I wore the dress I use a red cord instead of ribbon – largely because I forgot where I put the lucet cord I made for this! The cord worked quite well though, and the colour is pretty much perfect.
(There’s the good thing about being attracted to the same kind of colours over and over…)
To the left is a quick self-photo with a timer. I wanted to make SURE that this worked, and get an idea of what it looked like.
I actually ended up doing a bunch of turns, just to see how the whole dress looked all the way around.
I like it so far!
(oh.. and don’t pay any attention to the pile of fabrics and costume pieces behind me….)
For the skirt placket, I wanted a way of securing it to the rest of the skirt so it wouldn’t open up accidentally.
Originally I wanted to use a snap. It’s totally not period, but I thought that it would work better. I tried covering a snap with some of the silk so it would blend in well, but it didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to do – so I went back to a more historically accurate version.
Hooks and eyes are apparently accurate (though I don’t recall where I read about them). I have a bunch of hand-made wire ones which are remarkably similar to store-bought ones. I ended up going with a store-bought set instead though; mostly to avoid having to tighten up all of the little loops for sewing the fasteners onto the garment, and because I know they’ll wash fine.
I still think that the snap would hang better, but the hook and eye is ok.
It’s largely hidden, and does the job it needs to do of keeping the placket closed when I need it to be closed, and fastening easily when the bodice is laced.
Since I had used hem “padding” on the Giornea, and really liked the result, I decided to do the same for the Gamurra. This also helped with the slight fluctuation between the lining and fashion fabric on the skirt. Basically this is just doing a very wide bias binding on the skirt hem.
I cut 6″ strips of bias in the same blue linen (like the Giornea, this means it’s pretty invisible too) and hemmed one edge and sewed the other, right-sides-together to the hem of the dress, turned it over, and pinned it in place, finishing off the hem with hand-stitching. Like the Giornea, this technique means that the hem is invisible on the right side.
(In the photo above you can see an unfortunately visible serged seam – though this is in the lining, and not visible from the outside of the garment.)
Finally I have some finished photos to share with you!
These were taken after the event I made this dress for – so excuse my tired expression, wrinkles, and just a wee bit of sagging. It was quite late, and I’d been up since early in the day (from late the night before!) but I wanted to get photos – since it’s unlikely I’d just pop this on for a twirl anytime soon!
Oh… and I needed help to get out of my dress too. Getting help getting undressed is even harder getting help to get laced in!
Above – another, closer photo of the gown. I LOVE how smooth the bodice is – you can barely see the cords showing through the silk. I would like larger brooches for my sleeves/shoulders though – That sounds like a project to come with time to improve the costume for future!
Since my sleeves are going to be detachable, I’m going to blog about the sleeve in another post. Stay tuned!