Diary Started June 29th 2004 - Dress finished July 8th 2004
On this page:
The result - Go on to the picture page (warning, large images, may take a while to load) to see various pictures of the finished outfit.

Research and background

Running cost of project:

Blue wool (from stash) 0 kr
3 metre satin-tape 16.50 kr
Linen lining, petticoat and apron 574 kr
Thread 92 kr
Total: 682.50 kr
Next project, which has been brewing in my mind for some time, after looking at the Flemish and Italian working class outfits and research articles that several people have put together, most notably Drea Leed's Flemish and Jen Thompson's Italian working class. Now those two outfits, and all those that came in their wake, are Very Nice Indeed. They have only one problem: they are not English, nor French. While I cannot decide between the 12th, the Age of the Cotehardie (14th and early 15th) or the 16th centuries, I can at least narrow down the countries I roam in to these two.

Making the Tudor court gown I learned quite a bit about construction techniques from this period, and once you have made one, you have patterns to start next ones from, since it is the bodice that needs such fitting.

Enough preamble. The hunt was on, can I find anything that will lead me in the direction of working class in Tudor England? Answer came in: Nyeah.

I looked further, but that is honestly the best answer I have so far. There are -very- few paintings or illustrations of these type of people, working class women rarely had money to spare for having a painting made up of themselves. The one I know of is the Lucas de Heere sketch of some London townswomen also featuring a fishwife. The fishwife in the sketch looks similar to the Flemish paintings, maybe because the artist was Flemish to start with, maybe because the dress was quite similar. Many of today's recreations of this era's lower class dress have been based on the many Flemish portraits and paintings that we have. By Joachim Beuckelaer, Pieter Aertsen and Jan Brueghel among others.

I found my way to the homepage of a Kentwell reenactor who has put together her wonderful outfit, as well as a homepage about it. The site is The Tudor Costume Page and it is loaded with pictures of how she created her Kentwell outfit. Kentwell is a "stately home", or, as the site says, a romantic, moated, mellow redbrick Tudor mansion in a tranquil parkland setting. It is the site of yearly recreations of the Tudor and WWII eras (not simultaneouosly), and they are known for their high standards for reenactor garb.

I also found a couple of picture galleries, which I have looked through a couple of times each, from reenactments at Kentwell in previous years. The two sites are Kentwell 1553 and Kentwell Hall. July 2001 respectively and each has loads of good pictures of the reenactors at their stations looking very Tudor in their various dress.

The Plan

So the plan was evolved from first of all versatility, to this effect I wanted to make it reversible. Using pale blue linen on one side, and a darker green linen on the other. I changed these plans when I remembered I had some light-weight wool in my stash, probably enough for bodice and skirt. I checked and I did, so from the "Italian wool" suiting weight fabric (which I washed once more on HOT to full it further if I could) I will make the dress. It needs lining of course, remnant bin linens work excellently for this.

The dress itself will be based on the text on the Tudor Costume page, the pattern adapted from Drea Leed's Gathered Kirtle instructions, changing it to a front-lacing dress. This outfit also requires a petticoat, to be seen if I hike the skirt up on a belt on a warm day, and that will be based on the Alcega petticoat pattern that I have handy.

Accessories to finish it off include an apron (peach linen), lace-on sleeves (linen of some colour, possibly lined with linen of some other colour), a muffin cap or caul or some kind of headwear. A belt if I can manage it to tuck the skirt into, a partlet of white linen to be all modest like.

The Bodice

Step the first in making this dress is the bodice. I wanted to go without corset for this, since working class women were likely to imitate the sillhouette of court gowns, but using as simple and cheap means as possible. Therefore I first took the bodice pattern I had from fitting ontop of my corset for the Tudor court gown. I cut out a toile which I tried on, sans corset and pinched in the front seam a little, making it slightly curved in front while keeping the side-back seams in the same place as before. I also shaped the back neckline into a bit of a V-shape, as seen in a few sketches (Holbein: a less wealthy family, Holbein: the famous back view) of the time.

Interlining pinned to shell, front panels Interlining pinned to shell, back panel With the pattern ready I cut out two layers of strong cotton cloth to use for interlining, and if needed these two layers could sandwich boning if that was needed. The lining I put together and sewed with long straight stitch on the machine to keep them from slipping, leaving the bottom edge open for later boning. I also cut out the shell, with seam allowance, but if you look at the pictures to left and right you will notice I did not add enough in the front for a proper fold over and stitch down. A mistake that, once I realized it, was too late to fix as I had already used up the remaining fabric for an extra skirt panel. I also cut out a lining in the very slubby black and white linen that I had left over from lining my great big cloak. In any case, crow's feet stitches (whatever they are called in English) was used to mount shell to interlining, then I folded over the seam alowance and stitched it into place by hand, there is an image here of this stage on the back panel.

First bodice fitting
First bodice fitting
Front of re-cut bodice
Back view of bodice after re-cutting of waistline
Profile view of bodice
That finished, I tried the bodice on, with a very crude and very temporary lacing strip which I made from left-overs and piping ripped out of a fur coat (the fur coat that went into making the turn-backs on the Tudor court gown). It doesn't look all bad, but there was buckling and creasing going on. I like the back though, so I decided that could be left as is, while I undid the shell from the interlining at the waist of the front panels, re-cut it a centimetre or so higher and tried it on again. In the back view you can see the V-shape of the neckline better. This helped with the creasing some, and hopefully the weight of the skirt will help this even further, but I did really not like the big crease that developed right below my bust, so I posted the question to MedCos and on the SCA-garb list to hear what the experts had to say about the problem. I did not want to bone the entire bodice, nor did I want a corset underneath this, so I needed to know how many and where to place strategic channels with boning to give my bodice a flat-fronted look. While I was waiting for replies and pondering the options that these generated I started working on the skirt.

Boning addedReturning to the bodice I added six cable ties in each front panel. Two as close to the front edge as I could, two roughly in the middle, and two at the side-back seams. Between them they will hopefully distribute the tension and pulling created by lacing, and prevent wrinklings from happening. I sewed the channels in by hand, simple running stitch with backstitches taken occasionally to anchor my thread, except for the first seam where I did a loose backstitch. I did this by hand because I did not want to unpick all of my hand-sewing of mounting shell to interlining and folding over the seam allowances which I had already completed. I had also whipstitched together all three panels for the fitting, and that was sticking on just fine, so I just unpicked the waist of the two front panels and did it by hand. The cable ties were scavenged from the first corset I made in much too flimsy fabric.
The lining roughly in place, eyelets started The bodice overlaid with the black partlet I know the fabric looks black in all images previous, but it is actually blue, so I took a couple of new shots of just the bodice and the partlet, and of the bodice with the lining that will eventually go in there laid roughly in place. In the pictures you can also see the placement of eyelets that I have measured out. I have them pinned directly opposite to each other, for criss-cross lacing, but I might change my mind and do spiral-lacing as I have only done eyelets on one side as yet.

5 July - More progress on the bodice - all eyelets on the first side are finished and they look good all except for the first one that became a little stunted. I took the advice of sage and experienced ladies of one of my garb-lists and whipstitched around the hole i poked, taking approximately seven stitches to get around it, then I started with buttonhole stitch and filled in the gaps between the whipstitches. This was a tremenduous help, as the first pass kept the hole open and I did not need to worry about that when finishing the eyelets off. I have also moved the pins on the other side, making them staggered, and hence spiral laced. Of course, since I did not think of doing it the period way to start with it means that the eyelets added for adjusting creep up/down that spiral lacing does, are both on the second side, so there are more holes on that side. Bugger. Taking a short, but needed, break at the end of eyelets on one side I pinned into place the lining on the back panel and stitched it into place, leaving about four or five centimetres at the bottom unsewn so I can get the skirts on and cover the seam with the lining.

The front of my finished bodice The profile of the new bodice. Close look at the lacing 6 July - Finishing the eyelets on the bodice, I rushed to try it on. I must say that I am quite pleased with the results. The profile looks good, the front is not wrinkled, and the back looks spiffy. The lacing is spiraled and right now I have a simple blue ribbon to hold it on. I may need to find something else here, fingerlooping perhaps, as you can see in through the eyelets to the white dress underneath. I took a picture of the back as well, while I had the camera out. Still wearing the bodice an hour later, it is quite comfortable. Some time later I attached the lining on the inside, again leaving the bottom edge unsewn including some room up to fold down the seam allowance. Also trimming the bottom half centimetre of the bones I filed them a bit and then stitched them in thoroughly. They are not trying to slide down the front any more, nor trying to creep out of the shell at the bottom.

The Skirt

Skirt laid out with pattern pieces ontop Laying out the fabric with my trusty Alcega petticoat pattern I could fit that in with very little waste. Looking at the left-over from the first cut, out of which I got the shell for the bodice, I could from this squeeze out another panel to add fullness to the skirt, so I did, opting for a panel identical to the front one excluding the dip in the centre front. With this addition the hem circumference for the skirt of this dress should end up in the region of four and a half metres.

With the cutting out of this I had to stop and think - what should I line the skirt with? I thought to get some cotton downtown, it's cheap and comes in any colour, so I went to town and the evil fabric store had 20 per cent off everything in the entire store. Seeing this I rushed giddy to the remnants and off-cuts and lo and behold they still had loads of linen left there! So that means, half-price linen with an additional twenty per cent knocked off. So I got deep dark luscious blue and a pale almost grey blue. I had meant the dark blue as lining for the skirt and the pale blue as the petticoat, but when I got home I had a think (while washing, drying, ironing and folding my lovely linen) and realized all of my dresses are blue and I need variety. So I changed the plans, going with the pale blue for lining the skirt and taking the green I had gotten previously for the petticoat. The images I looked at seemed to favour light coloured linings on skirts and just about anything for a petticoat.

Naturally, since my plans were reversed I did not get enough of the pale blue at the store, but I had some of that already in my stash, so I dug it out and there was more than enough to fill in the last, extra panel that I decided on - with just one snag: they were not the same colour. The one I got today was subtly more blue and the one I had already was a bit more grey. Arguing with myself I decided fairly quickly to go ahead anyway, since the offending panel would be in the centre back and never really seen anyway. So those pieces are cut out and the lining I sewed up, lining all pieces up, sewing a straight seam on the machine, pressing the allowance to the side and zigzagging it together (with each other, not the skirt). The shell is waiting to be sewn together, and then I will combine the two.

5 July - After glaring at the sewing machine that eats thread and can't keep proper thread-tension I sat down to it and sewed the shell of the skirt together. Pressing all seams to the side and zigzagging them to keep fraying down. That done, I also combined lining with shell, and surprisingly, the waistlines of the two fit rather well. I only had to adjust a very little in one of the panels after lining up the seams. I then zigzagged around the top edge, sealing that off, and folded down something like 2-3 centimetres. Making sure the shell and lining stay aligned I also did hemstitch - widely spaced - along the seams, catching a couple of threads of the fabric in a small stitch every decimetre or so. Right now the skirt is sandwiched by its waistline under some heavy books and left to hang so that things that want to stretch will get to stretch. In the mean time I am pondering how to finish it off. I will probably need to make the fold a bit wider, to give a little more support in the planned cartridge pleats at the waist. I will also need to cut the slit in the front that will accomodate me getting in and out of the dress.

The skirt belted on The skirt with the apron The skirt flipped up to show lining and petticoat 6 July - Finishing the bodice off I could finally lace it on, and once that was on, I tried the skirt on. After all, the slit was finished in front with a small facing turned in over the lining, and all that is left is hemming it. With a belt I got the skirt on and tested it with the apron, as well as how it would look with the skirt tucked up in the front, showing the petticoat. I think it looks pretty darn good myself. That done, all that was needed was marking and sewing large stitches for cartridge pleating. Marking the centre back of the bodice as well as the skirt I started there, then fastened the front edges, leaving a centimetre of the skirt overlapping on either side of the front opening. Easing the rest of the width to the bodice I applied pins liberally. In the picture you can also see the turning down I used to stiffen the pleats. Now I just need to whipstitch it on and I will have a dress ready for hemming.

The Petticoat

Close-up of the seams of the petticoat Front of petticoat
The back of the petticoat
Once I was on a roll with cutting out the skirts, I also laid out the petticoat in the green linen and it did not take that long to sew it up. Lining the pieces up, I pressed the seam allowance to the sides folded them under again and hand-finished them by whipstitching around, taking as small stitches as possible in the skirt fabric itself. The only problem I had here was that the cut of green I had was just a smidge short, so I had to take off about eight centimetres to the hem of the pattern, and pretty much leave out seam allowances, so I worried that it might be a bit short. I need not have worried however, as the finished piece, with not an un-generous turned up hem is long enough to reach the ground when I am standing comfortably as shown by the pictures from the front and back.

The Apron

I am planning on wearing an apron with this outfit, it sort of goes together. The fabric is sort of a cross between peach and pig-pink in colour. The pattern for this is a simple square with some sort of waistband to tie it on. I would pin it, but I would invariably loose the pins and drop the apron, so I will tie it on. I took a close-up picture of the turning in I did on the apron, the lower edge is the selvedge, so that was left as is. With the turn-down at the waist I also stitched on two ties made from strips of the same linen. The finished apron can also be seen in other pictures I took of the skirt.

The Accessories

My cap The hairdo Well, some of the accessories are already covered. Petticoat and apron in this diary, the cold-weather wool partlet elsewhere. This leaves headwear, which I've finished one version of. Thanks to being silly and cutting up fabric entirely wrong twice, my first cap has a seam right across the circle and personally, I think the forward curling of the headband looks naff. Much too large. But one must make mistakes and test before it gets right - or at least I do. There is a view from the front too which looks sort of alright. I took 1, 2, 3, 4 pictures of the hairdo I did under it as well, it seems sort of stable. I held back the bangs with two pins, and pinned together the braids at the top with four of them.

I am going to start cutting out a second version of the cap, not so much earflap. As well as a linen partlet to keep sun off the cleavage.

The Result

The finished dress, unhemmed, from the front.
The finished dress, with the skirt tucked up in front.
The finished dress, unhemmed, from the side.
The dress from the back..
With the help of an extra added sewing circle I managed to finish the entire dress. The model (me) is here shown from the front with the dress down, from the front with the skirt tucked up. An additional two pictures shows the model from the side looking smug and content as well as a back view of the ensemble.

The pictures were taken before I did the hemming, but in all other aspects this is the finished outfit. I am wearing here first my blackworked smock that I finished mainly for the Tudor court gown. Over this the green petticoat, which I need to make slightly tighter in the waist as well as turning up the hem a little bit. Then my dress, the lining finally sewn in at the waist of my bodice. I am still using the narrow ribbon to lace the dress up tightly, and I will continue to use this one for now. Over the dress I am wearing the peach apron, the ties crossed in the back and tied in front tightly, into this I have tucked the front of my dress to show the lining and the petticoat beneath. My hair is controlled with a temporary head-scarf, which showed me that if I need to, I can use a large square of linen as a kerchief. Covering the upper part of the bodice and my chest is the black wool partlet, lined with black linen. It feels quite comfortable, linen is always quite comfortable, but I had to borrow a brooch to keep it closed in the front. I may need to invest in something suitable for this purpose in future, or just use straight pins.

The accessories that I have still to do are the sleeves in any of the linen cuts that I have left. With the ties on my apron so very long I was able to use that in place of a belt to tuck the skirt into, so I may be able to use that in lieu of an actual belt, although I want a belt as well, as it will be useful for other outfits. I also want a white linen partlet with some pretty blackwork on it, to wear for more dressed occasions, saving the plain one for working or day-wear.

The Result, take 2 - baptism of fire(?)

Front view
Back view
The skirt bloused over a belt at Visby
July 18 - This dress was meant as a project to actually finish in the 16th century, as well as a practical dress to run around and do actual work in. This past weekend's event proved that it fulfills this criteria to the maximum. It is an utterly practical outfit which can be worn in the hottest sun on through the night when the chill starts to creep on. I wore this dress at our Shire's four day event, doing things like setting up dayshades, hammer down tent-stakes, serve at feast, sit and look pretty while the fighters got sweaty, sit and do my scribal thing, talk around the firepit til late at night and at no point was I actively uncomfortable or unduly restricted in my actions. The only thing I can complain about is that I need to cut open the armscye a little more in the front for full movement of my arms and to remove a cutting in there when I am slumping around in my usual bad posture. I also need to adjust the hem up a little bit.

During the day I wore my cotton chemise with loose sleeves (except for saturday when I wore the blackworked smock as shown in the pictures to the left), over this my petticoat, and then the dress. I did not wear my linen partlet the first day - to my dismay as I got sunburn - but when I did that kept my upper chest covered up and protected from the sun, as well as gave me an extra hour at night when I could make do with just that partlet before adding the black wool partlet for more warmth. If it is a criticism of the dress, I might mention that the lack of sleeves did chill me in the evening, but once those are done I should be able to manage for quite a large range of temperatures in this dress. Also, the apron tied in front was very handy. It hid the slit in the front of the dress admirably. During the hottest part of the day I tucked my skirt up as well, the pictures show it tucked up at the sides, front and back, but I also just tucked it up in the front and it made for a very nice fall if I do say so myself.

As the first two pictures show, this was the third day wearing this dress and being active and there is not even a hint of a crease or any signs of stress on the dress itself. I think I can safely say that this dress is a resounding success! Yay me! The third picture was taken as Visby in August, where I got the hem dirty and had to raise it somehow. Blousing it over a belt worked marvellously.

October 29 - A couple of alterations have been made to the dress after finishing; I picked apart the bodice and opened the armscye a little in both front pieces and the skirt was re-attached after the lining started to slip. The final hemming (by hand) was not done until October 2004 when I wore this outfit for a demo my shire put on.

Picture gallery

I took a few more images that I have not linked to in this dress diary, so for even more detailed photos, go check it out.

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