In which we experience a return to the costuming portion of this blog
When I was six, I had the coloring book paper dolls of Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII and His Wives. I probably requested (demanded) these after watching the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII on Masterpiece Theatre. I recall being curling up in a chair under a quilt with my favorite stuffed dog as the drama played out on the television my grandmother had given us. Perhaps I had a fever: some of what I recall is a little hallucinatory, but I was thoroughly entranced. I have waited a long time to construct my own Tudor/Elizabethan wardrobe.
The annual Fort Dobbs Military TImeline event has recently featured a soldier of the second Roanoke expedition in his armor and helmet. In 2017, I thought hard about joining this enterprise and even bought wool for the effort–in fact, I got as far as cutting out a smock–but life intervened, and I taught workshops instead. This year, I had my chance: a free weekend, and just enough time (five weeks) to pull it all together. Reader: this is madness.
I flirted with long Tudor dresses. I flirted with a doublet. I knew that no matter what, I was building this on the foundation of a smock and kirtle (bodied petticoat) worn with stockings and shoes. Thanks to the Couture Courtesan and the Tudor Tailor, I knew bodies were not required for the class level and time period I was representing. (The fleshy cargo may have other needs, containment-wise). I knew I needed a partlet and ruff, and a coif, and I wanted a hat. All of this seemed achievable in five weeks. Mind you, in this same period, I also: started a business, started a short-term contract forensic collections management project, attended a workshop, draped and fitted clients, and dealt with a couple chronic health issues. It’s not a surprise, then, that I fell a little short of my goals.
Forthwith, the parts:
I used the Elizabethan smock generator and, in 2017, pulled threads to get most of the shapes I needed. The very top of the smock is made of vintage linen that was lingering in Drunk Tailor’s stash, and I no longer recall where the body and sleeve linen came from. The instructions were just general enough that I was glad to have made several shifts and shirts already. It held up well, though Smock 2.0, should it occur, will likely be the one in the Tudor Tailor, just for varieties’ sake (and I now work with someone who does blackwork, so, you know, I could upgrade.)
The kirtle needs some additional engineering to accommodate my corporeal presence in a way I like and that holds a more correct shape. I used buckram, pad stitching, and boning on the front but not only is the fit just enough off, I think that front-lacing is the way to madness for me. Off the fronts will come at some point in 2020, to be replaced with a new system. I’m very happy with the salmon-pink wool I found at Osgood’s in 2017, and luckily bought enough to be able to re-engineer the bodice in the same fabric.
I was reasonably pleased working with the Tudor Tailor pattern, but despite previously fitting bodices and stays, there are things I would do differently. For one, I’d mock up the bodice in pasteboard instead of muslin to get a better sense of how the buckram and boning might behave. For another, I’d solicit much more assistance from another human to ensure my “handedness” didn’t alter fit, as I think it may have. More time and tweaks will definitely help.
This is almost “don’t ask” territory. I borrowed the notion of making and wearing a separate petticoat from the late Elizabethan woman’s doublet entry in The Tudor Tailor. I had this notion of a doublet and petticoat in black that I couldn’t quite shake, but I did not manage the doublet. The petticoat is made of plain weave black wool from the remnant table at Fabric Place Basement and probably set me back all of $12.
Drunk Tailor and I kicked the notion of authenticity versus warmth back and forth quite a bit until I convinced him that he did not want to hear me complaining of cold in Statesville. The waistband is shaped, but because these skirts are longer than my 18th-century petticoats, my yardage calculations were slightly off, and the front waistband is plain weave brown wool. You’ll never see it, so it really doesn’t matter.
And yes: it was a two-petticoat weekend.
Dat wool tho…. I bought a yard each of the olive and madder plush wool from Burnley and Trowbridge after falling in love with both color and hand. I started with the madder, knowing it would contrast well with black wool tape.
Cutting out was a challenge, but after looking at period manuals and spending some time with pieces and fabric, I managed a layout that got me all the pieces without piecing, and small bits of cabbage leftover: judiciously laid out, you can use $30/yard wool for your projects. The results justify the investment of money and time.
I had to tweak the fit on the muslin twice, and I think it would benefit from another round of fitting, as the back is a little looser than I care for. The front fits well enough, though the gap was smaller on the first day before the kirtle had stretched. The struggle is real when you are containing a curvaceous figure. Boning is likely the answer (or at least it is when your mind is tuned to 18th-century aesthetics and means).
That Crazy Coif
Scaled up from the Tudor Tailor, I know this pattern needs to be scaled down for my tiny skull. Will I make another? I might try another shape instead, this being exceedingly fiddly. By Sunday, I was pinning the two pieces to each other and the whole to my hair (which is how I keep 18th century caps in place).
The absolutely swoony hat is by M. Brenckle, Hatter. I don’t know that I have fully figured out how to wear it with my questionable coif and hair, but it is without a doubt the jauntiest-yet-sober item I’ve ever worn on my head. That will help inspire me to re-do the coif and figure out what to do with my hair.
Standing in for a ruff and partlet is a 19th-century chemisette made ages ago by Mimic of Modes. Desperate times call for desperate measures: Drunk Tailor tried to order me one but the Etsy seller went to ground, and his own project needed finishing so he couldn’t take on a ruff. With thorough instructions readily available and vintage linen to hand, a ruff seems like an achievable item, in time. (Yes, he finally got a new version of the document-based Carolina jacket finished!)
A Very Short List of Sources and Inspiration
Arnold, Janet. 1984. Patterns of fashion.
Arnold, Janet. 2014. Patterns of fashion 3, 3. Patterns of Fashion.
Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Malcolm-Davies. 2015. The Tudor tailor: reconstructing 16th-century dress. Hollywood, Calif: Costume and Fashion Press.
Couture Courtesan: Late 16th-Early 17th Century Waistcoat