long term costume project, step one

I”m planning a new c15th outfit. Ok, so I need yet another c15th costume like I need the proverbial hole in the head, but I wanna, so deal with it.

It’s to be a red silk velvet gown based on the one in the Petrus Christus painting of the donor and his wife. The actual gown in fairly simple, and I’m going to do it last of all. Over the next 12 months or so I’m going to make, or at least try to make because some of the pieces are a bit new and experimental for me –


– belt buckle and chape. I’ve ordered some of the new bronze clay to see how I get on with it. If I get on with it in the experimental stages I will order enough to make a large gown buckle, which will be gold plated once finished.

– enamelled plaques for the belt, based on the ones from the Chalcis hoard. This is another one of going out on a limb for me, as I haven’t done much cloisonne enamel, most of my enamelling experience is with limoge style cellwork. Then again, I taught myself to do that, so…

– Necklace, or rather collar. Again, this is pushing me and it may not work, as the piece I have in mind uses emaille en ronde bosse, another enamelling technique I haven’t tried before, combined with the copper clays, so it sort of depends on how well the matel clay experiments go (I’m hoping to use the clay as a viable alternative to casting, as I don’t have the facilities to cast metal – metal clay is expensive compared to bullion, so I don’t plan on using it a lot)

– possibly an embroidered stomacher for the gown, which will tie in with another c15th project I have as a long term goal.

– headress, which, apart from wanting a red velvet gown, is my main motivation for the whole project. The donor’s wife has the strangest bubble head hennin, round at the top rather than flat. I’ve ordered a hat form specially made for this, and once it arrives I will cover it in yellow velvet, gold brocaded tablet weave, and pearls. I’m really looking forward to doing the hat.

I also need to talk john into making me new shoes, pretty pretty ones.

Anyway, I decided to start with the easy bit, the underkirtle. Because the gown, although sumptous, will be plain, I wanted a flash of something ornate underneath it. Remember the hideous but very very cheap silk brocade I bought last year?

Well, I’ve decided to use it. I only have four metres, and the pattern is HUGE with a very long repeat, so a fitted kirtle would look a complete mess. Instead I decided to make a late c15th Italian style kirtle – the high waisted kind. I did think maybe I’d make sleeves as well so could wear it from time to time on its own, but the pattern is so hideuosly unflattering when worn all over that I looked like a pair of curtains and decided against it.

Actually, what makes this fabric really fun is the way Gareth shudders whenever he looks at it. Hobbes loves it though…

Ideally I would have preffered to handsew this completely, but the linen I wanted to use for the bodice foundation is hell on the fingers, so I compromised and machine stitched the linen.

I adapted my basic newspaper pattern, shortening it just a little.

Oh, and changing the neckline a bit…

Then stitched each layer (there were two) before basting them together.

I decided to use dress rings. They aren’t really any quicker to insert than sewn eyelets, I don’t think, but they do seem stronger and less likely to fray. I hate the way sewn eyelets can pull out of shape sometimes.

Considering theres no boning at all in this, its doing an impressive (and surprisingly comfortable) job of supporting and flattening my considerable bust.

Once it was trimmed at the shoulders I didn’t really want to put binding rounds the edges or turn them in case that made it too bulky or stiff, so instead I did a machine zig zag stitch round all the edges, as eventually they were to be encased in silk anyway.

Once that was done I could get on with the fun bit – handsewing! I started with the big skirt panels. Normally I don’t bother pinning fabric as it leads to stabbing myself, but this time I did because there was an inch or so of overlap in the side of the pattern, so to match it up I had to trim quite a bit, which I prefer to do after sewing.

It ended up matching the pattern reasonably well though.

The silk, perhaps because it has so many colours, frayed a lot. I did consider hemming it at the top before attaching it to the bodice, but I didn’t really want to add too much bulk, so in the end I decided to zig zag stitch along the top, just as a fray-stop.

Pleating the skirt into the bodice was a bit of a tight squeeze, and I did try pinning it to get it even, but the thick linen is so tough I couldn’t get the pins through it properly, and in the end I just did it by eye as I went along, and it fitted Ok.

I didn’t bother constructing the silk bodice as such, as it didn’t really need to be a structural part of the dress. Instead I stitched each piece on top of the linen so as to avoid creasing.

Each piece was then hemmed round the back of the linen it overlaid. I know this is not the most orthodox construction, but believe me it worked far better than the times I’ve tried making two separate bodices then trying to fit them together – no matter how exact I think I’m being it always ends up wrinkled when I do it that way.

It sticks out a lot at the skirt, and worn alone is not the most flattering thing, I grant you. But with the end purpose in mind I’m reasonably pleased with it – it gives a good shape to the bodice, is supportive, and the bottom of that skirt will look wonderful when the overgown is lifted up for walking. Ultimately all that will be seen is the bottom 18 inches or so.

The dummy is a little shorter than me, so the skirt doesn’t wrinkle at the bottom when its on me.

And in other news, Branston has a new box

~ by opusanglicanum on August 10, 2012.

35 Responses to “long term costume project, step one”

  1. I had to scurry to my dictionary to look up underkirtle before I could make sense of your post, but I liked learning something new. Great job on matching the design… that takes a good deal of planning and care. Your detail work is amazing. Do I understand correctly that the red velvet slides over the top of the kirtle and shows a little?

    • the red velvet will cover it completely – this will only be visible when the overdress is lifted up for walking, so it will look quite swish (and not so overpoweringly curtainy)

  2. That red velvet gown will be magnificent. The underkirtle is lovely, too. I’m looking forward to seeing all that metal work. I’ve never tried such things so have no idea of how you’ll be going about that.

    In other news…….That was so funny. Made me laugh out loud.

    • thers a lot to do, so am taking it slowly. I’m a trained silversmith, but I’ve never used these new metal clays (I could never see the point as so much of what I’ve seen done with the silver ones could be done just as quickly and at a fraction of the price using traditional techniques) but I’m hoping they really are as easy as folks say, because i really could do with an alternative to casting

      • So this clay, you just form it like any clay and….then what? Don’t you still have to heat it? Either way, it must be great to be able to do your own metalwork. Too bad we don’t live closer. I only wear silver and want to make some jewellery.

      • they reckon you can fire it with a blow torch, but its better to kiln fire it. luckily I have an enamelling kiln, so we’ll see how it goes, but yes, its supposed to be just like clay, you model it into what you want.

        am quite excited about the bronze one, as theres no way I could ever cast bronze

      • Actually, I _may_ be coming your way next year and was going to ask you about ‘must-sees’ in your area. Maybe we could meet if we cross paths.

      • leeds, redcar, or just north yorkshire in general?

        I like meeting up

      • We haven’t made plans yet, except that we are coming! I’d love to meet up.

  3. The underkirtle would make a lovely contrast to the velvet! Who cares about whether it looks like a curtain in the meantime, it will turn out wonderful, I’m sure.

    I also look forward to your hardware. I’m not particularly good at metal work (okay, maybe at all) so you have my immediate admiration for going for it!

    • I’m hopeful about the metal clays. casting is difficult in a small domestic setting, and for the last few years buying cast items in the uk has been…awkward. We had one guy who did great stuff at a reasonable price, but he sold his business and ever since you either have to put up with an inflated price or a bad casting, the clay is pricey, but am hoping it will prove a viable alternative

  4. Maybe I’m weird, or perhaps it was viewing The Sound of Music at an early age, but I really like dresses that look a bit curtainy!! But the velvet will be gorgeous too no doubt.

  5. Oh, gasp! This is exquisite! I love your fabric. Your gown will be absolutely stunning.

  6. That looks fabulous! Okay, granted, a bit curtain-y, but what a great use of the silk brocade. It’s also good to see a patterned underkirtle – having only recently seen that kirtles can be sleeve-less, I feel much better about creating some for summer dresses, now.

    • I normally do sleeved ones out of preference, as I’m broad shouldered and a bit self concious about it(doesn’t help be broader than gareth) – sleeveless makes me look even wider. this one made more sense sleeveless as it will be less bulky beneath the gown.

      you can make a choice of sleeves for you kirtles, and have fun with them

  7. Nice project! Your lush garnet gown of velvet will be wonderful…..oh my!


    ps – check out the album cover of Baroque Duets by Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis….maybe they were using similar inspiration

    • her dress is quite similar in shape to a c15th one, isn’t it?

      the only thing that worries me about a velvet gown is the wieght, specially once its lined

      • I’m pretty sure Kathleen’s dress is a rayon velvet (made by JB Martin) which isn’t too heavy….but if you are going to the effort of hand stitching I’m sure you’ll be looking to the cotton velvets – yes heavy – BUT – if you can save your pence you can have silk velvet and that has much less weight. I’ve seen “coffin velvet” (yep – it lines coffins) for very cheap but am almost certain it too is synthetic. The silk velvet is slippery stuff (hand sewing is the best) but takes dyes like a dream…..Ohhhh….I’m so excited to see this come together for you.

      • I got my hands on top quality, silk pile velvet (as opposed to a lot of whats sold as silk velvet which is silk backed with a synthetic pile) with a cotton back, in the most wonderful deep red, and for a bargain price to boot. it is quite heavy, but then a lot of what was used in period would now be considered upholstery fabric, so thats no problem – I’m used to heavy dresses anyway, my best norman frock is wool brocade and I swear the thing wieghs two stone. The stuff I got is meant to retail for £200 a metre, but I didn’t pay that. I did go a bit mad and spent slightly more than I should have done because its so rare to find silk velvet, specially at this quality, so I couldn’t resist cos it was sooo yummy – I used a teeny bit of it for a scissors case


        I also bought some in the most wonderful chocolate brown, which is anyhting is more sumptous than the red because its just that little bit understated, but I haven’t decided what to make from that yet, although it does sort of scream tudor to me

  8. You lined up the pattern very well, and it will look fabulous with the overgown when that is finished!

  9. Looks excellent? Do you mean the Petrus Christus painting of the goldsmith and his wife in the shop?

    • no, I’ve done that one – thats the one with the gold brocade dress and the horned headress, the donor and his wife is less well known, shes kneeling, wearing a red dress and a yellowy headress

  10. Gorgeous…both the fabric and the workmanship! And you are so talented…you really did match the pattern very well. I can tell you’re going to inspire me to sew much more frequently!

  11. I wasn’t so sure of this fabric at first, but I must say it turned out nice and the color is very interesting now that it has the bodice shape. I think when people look at this pattern and the color combination, we all think upholstery not clothing. Overall I am pleasantly suprised, would love to see you wear this to see how it all looks properly attired and accessorised.

    • to be honest I wasn’t sure either, I mainly bought it becuase it is top quality silk, right sort of pattern (even if its LOUD) and stupidly cheap (normally retails at well over #100pm, I got it for #£7 pm) and it did take me ages to decide what to do with it. there will be pics when its all done, I promise!

  12. Stunning. How did you do the lacing holes in the silk once it was attached to the bodice?

    • I used lacing rings based on the one from the london finds (a company called six of one makes them in the uk, they’re iron and very strong) sewn into the linen lining then the silk was just sewn over the top, so there are no hole in the silk. If I was going t put holes in the silk I’d use a bodkin tp push them through

  13. How do you lace it if the silk doesn’t have holes?

    • look at the pictures. the lining is laced to try it on before the silk even goes over it. dress rings are not grommets. they do not pierce the fabric. they are sewn between the two layers of lining and stick out the edge. you can see where they lace at the edge. The silk has no structural burden.

  14. ah, now I see it, thanks

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