The dress I’ll show today was made for someone else – a woman in the SCA living in Edmonton who I actually only met once before offering to sew a dress for her! She’s a friend of a friend, and for a special occasion needed/wanted a dress – and had been wanting a dress in the style of the Elizabeth Woodville portrait. (below)
As some of my friends know, I rarely sew for other people. This is for a number of reasons, which I won’t get into here… but that wasn’t the biggest challenge – the distance was, and the timeline. We set up plans to make the dress in late June, and it needed to be completed by very early November… but there were only a few occasions between the two dates that we could see one another in person.
- July 1, 2016 long weekend – July Coronation – measurements
- July 13, 2016 (a few days before Dragonslayer) – first muslin fitting
- November 5, 2016 – Samhain – event the dress is needed for
The recipient had a few thoughts too – she isn’t keen on hats, she didn’t want anything too floofy, and she didn’t want to have to wear a shift/chemise under the dress if she could get away with it. She wasn’t particularly picky about fabric or colour either, so our mutual friend Shannon offered up some black wool (like the original painting likely represented) and some red brocade originally purchased by her grandmother.
For the muslin though, I’m using some synthetic fabric which looks and feels (and drapes) like wool suiting, along with some black-and-gold brocade that I only have scraps of. Both fabrics were free from my former teacher. (Free fabric is perfect for muslins either way!)
Elizabeth Woodville’s dress
The portrait we were referencing is of Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Consort to King Edward IV, who lived circa 1437-1492. The painting was done circa 1590-1605 however. I found a NUMBER of paintings that were done of the Queen though, all in the exact same outfit, which suggests that one original was painted, and then it was replicated by different artists. You can see all of these portraits on my Pinterest board.
The specific style of dress is slightly different from the flared, v-neck dresses that are pretty distinct to that era though, but I found something remarkably similar in the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant (thanks to Sarah Coombs’ post about her recreation of this gown on Your Wardrobe Unlock’d.) referenced as the ‘fitted gown’.
The portrait is only from the waist up; it doesn’t give an indication of the skirt shape (though one can presume it’s floor-length or longer, as other dresses of the time were. No mini-skirts here!) however another painting shows a bit more shape of the gown, suggesting it has tight waist and a bell-shaped skirt. This could be a waistline with a pleated or gathered waist, however the instructions from the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant shows a skirt flared from the waist instead. The flared v-neck gowns of the same period also appear to have skirts cut-with the bodice, with fullness added to the seams.
The other challenge with the portrait(s) is the colour. The dress is black, and no detail is visible in terms of side or front lacing. The dress could be back-lacing, however again I referenced the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, which indicated this style of dress was front-laced with “concealed metal rings”. (page 162)
Front-lacing would also be better for the wearer – being someone unaccustomed to fussy dresses, a front-lacing gown would be much easier for her to fasten alone, rather than relying on a friend to act as a dresser.
July 1, 2016 Long weekend – Measurements
We met at Coronation and did initial measurements!
(I actually forgot my measuring tape, and had to borrow one from a friend!)
Since I don’t have much experience working with bodice patterns that don’t have darts for shaping, I started with the Tudor Tailor’s patterns for Tudor Kirtles and Petticoats, and then adjusted it considerably to extend the bodice to the hips (and then added on the cut-on skirt portion as well), changed the neckline, and drafted a collar for the dress. I also would later draft the cuffs once the recipient tried on the muslin.
In all honesty, with the amount of adjustments that I had to make to the commercial pattern – it likely would have been easier to draft the pattern from scratch to her measurements – if I was able to draft patterns in a period style without drafts… I might need to add this to my to-learn list (if only I personally didn’t need darts so much…)
I used some synthetic fabric which looks, feels, and hangs like wool suiting to cut the dress and sleeves, along with the lining for the collar. It took nearly 4 meters of just under 150cm wide fabric, (not including sleeves) which gave me a good idea of what I’d need to cut the final dress. I did need to piece the back skirt – but piecing is period!
I didn’t line the muslin, but instead stay-stitched it along the front opening, neckline, and armscye. I didn’t attach the sleeves or collar either for the muslin, so that the recipient could try the dress on in stages.
I was actually super happy – from pattern drafting to having a workable muslin, I completed this much in one day! (Of course, the final dress will take much longer for all of the finishing work required!
The collar was cut from some black and gold brocade that I was given. There isn’t much there, and I couldn’t see myself using it for much with so little fabric…and I thought it was a lovely homage to the fabric in the painting. It’s interfaced (fusible) for structure, and lined with the same wool-like grey synthetic fabric.
July 13, 2016 – Fitting
We met at my place on July 13 as the recipient was heading from Edmonton to visit her parents, along with Caterina – the woman who’s vigil and elevation I’m making this costume to celebrate.
The fitting went REALLY well – I was super pleased at how few alterations were needed.
- Slightly curving the top of the dress neckline at centre back (I anticipated this one from trying the dress on myself)
- Slightly curving the centre front above her bustline
- Reducing the flare of the collar
- Bringing the width of the neckline in slightly to cover bra straps better when she moves
- Marking the hem – I had given the muslin a 1″ hem, but can hem it at 2″ from the current state.
Once I had the basic dress fitted well, I hand-basted the sleeves on VERY quickly (hence why the photos below will be a little puckered) and fitted the sleeves – they too needed very little alteration.
- Shortening the sleeves slightly
- Narrowing the sleeves slightly at the low bicep to wrist
I know that that LOOKS like a lot… but that’s actually VERY few alterations. I could actually make these slight alterations to the muslin, add the facing/lining, and make this totally wearable for her as a simple dress.
My next step is transferring the alterations from the muslin to the pattern, and then make up the dress in the final fabric – a beautiful wool suiting donated by Caterina along with some vintage red brocade which will substitute for the gold and black brocade I used on this muslin.
Once this gown had a front closure, it’s basically a wearable muslin. The neckline issue is the only challenge, however if she wears it over a chemise, the bra strap won’t show… and at some point a wider collar could also be cut which would cover the strap too secretly. After I finished the alterations that could be made, I hemmed the sleeves and hem, finished the neckline with self-fabric bias tape, and did hand-worked eyelets in the centre front so the dress can be laced closed.
I really don’t love doing hand-done eyelets,but the more I do them, the easier/faster they get… though I did find in the synthetic wool … they seemed to go a bit more awkwardly. I also think that the wide seam allowance – and the interfacing in between – made a difference as to how these went together.
Finally, to lace the dress closed, I took the same pearl cotton DMC thread/floss that I used on the eyelets, to make lucet cord with my bone lucet. I tried using my wooden lucet fork, but found that my bone one worked far better.
I’ve done a little bit of Lucet before, but needed a refresher, so used this YouTube video:
I sort of skipped through it a bit, but it worked for giving me the refresher that I needed.
Historical Sew Monthly
I started this in time for the HSM challenge for July 2016 – but didn’t finish it in time by any means… so it’s a REALLY late HSM entry.
The Challenge: Monochrome – make a garment in black, white, or any shade of grey in between.
Material: For this ‘wearable muslin’ I used a synthetic fabric which looks and feels similar to wool suiting. The final version will be wool.
Pattern: I still don’t know how to draft a pattern without bust darts, and didn’t have my model easily accessible for lots of fittings, so I started with the Tudor Tailor’s patterns for Tudor Kirtles and Petticoats, and then made significant alterations.
Year: Mid 15th Century
Notions: lucet fork, thread, pearl cotton
How historically accurate is it?: The material is all sorts of wrong, but I think the alterations to the Tudor Tailor pattern are pretty accurate based on information from the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant.
Hours to complete: I never count this. The lucet cord alone was probably 4 hours…
First worn: Not yet – I’ll hopefully give it to Kadie (aka Sicillia) at Samhain in early November.
Total cost: I got the fabric for free from a former teacher. The pearl cotton was in my stash, but I think it was close to $8.