Sunday, December 16, 2007

Early Tudor Project Part 5 -- the enigmatic middle layer

Today's project has been engineering the black middle layer seen in this 1502 portrait of Katherine of Aragon.

If you've been following this project, you know that I have batted around some ideas about what purpose this middle layer serves in this ensemble. I am not the type to fixate on a hypothesis and declare: "This is how it was." One cannot assume that people in the 16th century did things for a certain reason just because it makes sense to us. We, no matter what our educational background and level of historical knowledge, are simply not 16th century people. The biggest danger historical reconstructionists face is assuming that because something makes sense to us, it made sense to the people whose artifacts we study. Indeed most often, we can have no real idea of the whys. We can only say, "This is the way this artifact was made." It ends there.

So in my mental gymnastics about this middle layer, I have tossed around a number of hypotheses which I recognise are impossible to prove. Knowing this, I was anxious to get on with reconstructing the ensemble because I believe that construction using period techniques can teach us much that mental gymnasitics and hypothesizing cannot.

And indeed, this time was not disappointing. But instead of teaching me which hypothesis was correct, the construction taught me what hypothesis has no chance of being correct. The middle layer cannot have anything to do with bust support. Drawing the layer tightly (as it would have to be to support the bust) distorts the right-angle front opening of this layer. And in every picture where this layer can be seen, one overriding characteristic of the garment is its 90-degree-ness.

Granted, this theory was not high on the list of probability since later examples of of the middle layer are open too far to provide bust support anyway.

(Unfortunately, I can't show you any pictures because my camera is still not functioning.)

Edit: Here's a picture taken with my broken camera. I apologise for the blur and lines:

I have a lovely hunk of black medium weight cashmere that I have been hoarding for the right project. So today I sacrificed it for this middle layer. I used the bodice of my Kampfrau Gown pattern as the basis because it is right-angled as well. But instead of cutting the back like the Kampfrau Gown, I eliminated the back neckline by cutting straight across the tops of the shoulder straps. I cut this from the wool as well as my black taffeta and pinned in on my mannequin over the smock and yellow undermost gown.

I cut the fronts from wool and taffeta according to the Kampfrau Gown pattern but elongated the shoulder straps so I could position the neckline lower and shift the shoulder seam past the shoulder. I didn't want it to be seen from the front since you cannot see the shoulder seam or the back in the portrait above or any similar contemporaneous portraits. I sewed the wool to the lining along the front edges, clipped the corners, turned the piece and pressed it well. Then I pinned the fronts in place on the mannequin. With a print of the portrait in my valiant assistant's hand, I positioned the fronts so they are just slightly higher than the top of the yellow gown's bodice. I positioned the shoulder straps as in the portrait as well. Everything laid well and looked like the lay of the garment in the portrait.

Unfortunately, this positioning made the fronts touch in the center and they should be about two inches apart. So I took the bodice fronts off the mannequin, made a second stitch 3/4" away from the first one, checked it on the mannequin, confirmed the measurements, pulled out the old stitches, cut off the excess, clipped the corners, turned and pressed the fronts. Then I pinned them on the mannequin again.

Success! The shoulder straps are in the right position, the angle to the horizontal is correct, and the opening between the fronts looks like the portrait. With the fronts pinned in position, I turn the side seam allowances under and whipstitch the seams closed, being careful to catch the lining in the seam. Then I made sure the shoulder straps were in the proper position as well and tucked those seam allowances under and whipstitched them down.

Before I began construction on this bodice, I wondered if I'd have to interline it or at least bone the front edges so they wouldn't gap. I was reticent to do this since the pictures of Thomas More's daughters show front edges that are obviously not boned. It's also rather early for boned bodices. But I wanted to avoid interfacing too. In the portrait, I can make out the roundness of Katherine's breasts and if I interlined the undermost layer and this layer, there might not be any roundness by the time we got to the outermost layer.

Pinning the sewn bodice in place on my mannequin demonstrated that no interlining or boning is necessary. The right angles of the middle layer leads me to believe that it was not laced tightly. A "reefed"* lacing of the front opening will do the trick.

My belief in no interlining or boning was reinforced when I sewed on the gold shells. The four or five stitches required to secured each shell have the edge of the bodice a little extra stiffening and the edge now feels quite stable. There are only two shells visible in the center front opening, but I sewed five just so you wouldn't see a blank space when I move. However I didn't want to continue lower than that as they will interfere with the lacing.

I have not yet decided on how to lace the front closed, but I don't think I want to make thread eyelets. I think this would distort the front too much. I may sew rings to each front edge. Have to think on that a little...

The only issue I have with the bodice at this point is that the shoulder straps curve over my upper chest instead of making straight lines like in the picture. Since I am not a terribly curvy person in the chest region (and neither is our Katherine), I am putting the straight lines in the portrait down to artistic license. I do not believe that this line can be that straight on a real human. It does, however, look asthetically pleasing in the portrait. So I'm not going to fret about this minor curve.

So that's where I've left it tonite. Tomorrow I can either work on the skirts or cut the smock neckline (finally!) and start embroidering.

Next: the skirts...

* "Reefed" as in when a sail is reefed, it's not too tight and not too loose, but just right.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Early Tudor Project Part 4 -- the yellow undergown

Well kids, I must apologise to you today. I worked on the yellow undermost gown for my Katherine of Aragon outfit yesterday and intended to post with photos of my reconstruction this morning. But my camera is not cooperating. It took a spill off the table this week when one of the doggies got enthusiastic about licking the stainless off her dinner bowl and the screen has been blank ever since. The funny thing is that the screen is showing all the functionalities and it will show archived pictures. But you can't see anything on the screen and all pictures taken are black. So until I can get Canon on the phone tomorrow and troubleshoot it, there will be no pictures. =(

But here's my construction process if you want to follow along:

I began by dyeing three yards of Chinene Shantung with Jacquard Acid Dye in Bright Yellow. I chose Chinese Shantung because it has a good deal of body without being heavy. It also has far fewer slubs than you would expect. And I had at least three yards of white in my fabric stash. For a gown that most people would "fake" with a placket, I figured it would do.

While the fabric was in the washing machine, I cut the bodice interlining. I cut the bodice according to my measurements incorporating a two-inch draw. In the portrait, the round shape of Katherine's breasts can be seen through the uppermost layer, so I know that the undermost layer cannot obscure them. Therefore the bodice needs to be unboned but draw like a corset. The interlining must be strong but not too stiff. I chose to use our hemp coutil (aka "linen ticken"). It's a simple twill weave, giving it strength, but remains soft and pliable.

(I really wish I could show you a picture! The shape of the breasts of my duct tape double looks exactly like the portrait of Katherine right now.)

Edit: here's a photo of the full garment taken with my malfunctioning camera:

And one of the bodice alone:

I cut a front and two backs out of this interlining and sewed them together at the side seams with a back stitch. This I did so the straight grain would be present at both center front and center back. One of the worst mistakes you can make with the structure of a bodice that needs to draw is to cut the bodice in one piece, making either the center front or center back on the bias. No amount of boning or stiffening can make up for this cutting error.

Once I was satisfied with the structure and fit of the interlining, I laid it on the lining material (black silk tafetta from Silk Connection) and cut the lining in one piece. I wrapped the lining around the interlining and pressed it flat. Then I laid the whole bit on the yellow silk (now dyed, washed again with Synthropol, and pressed dry) and cut the outer material. I removed the lining and outer material and sewed the top edge together with a running stitch. I put the interlining between these layers and rolled the lining a little so it would show as a black line as in the portrait. Then I folded the yellow seam allowances under and prick stitched them through all layers along the top edge and back opening. I made a basting stitch along the waistline to secure the layers together and to mark where the skirts would attach.

I made parallel (not offset) thread eyelets along the center back in Splendor silk embroidery floss in yellow (S876). Then I laced the bodice onto my duct tape double to check the fit. It's perfect! The top of the bodice comes to the right place on my body as in the portrait and the shape of the breasts shows through well. Mission accomplished!

(Damn, I wish I could show you!)

Next I cut two floor-length panels of silk and knife pleated them to the bodice with the opening at center back. I used the basting stitch around the waistline as my guide. I decided to make the waist at natural level rather than with a front point as you see in later gowns. Even though only a small part of this gown will ever be seen, I want to construct it properly. The overgowns in this early time period (c 1500) do not appear to be waisted, at least not in front, but the gowns worn by common women appear to have a seam at the natural waist. Extrapolating that the uppermost gown of the working class could be of a similar construction to the undergown of the nobility, I went with a pleated skirt at natural waist level. This may prove troublesome as I build the other layers on top of it.

I chose not to line the skirts of this layer. My reasoning it two-fold. One is warmth -- the event site for 12th Night will likely be heated and I do not want to be uncomfortable. The other is bulk. Nothing can be seen of Katherine's skirts in her portrait, but other portraits from the same time period don't indicate a great bulk of skirts under the gown. This is only the undermost layer of a three-gown ensemble. The uppermost layer of Katherine's outfit in the portrait is heavy velvet and appears to be lined with black. It may even be lined with fur as are some contemporaneous gowns in portraits. So the top layer may be quiet bulky in its own right. And let us not forget the middle layer which as yet is unknown. Therefore I don't want to add uncessary bulk in the yellow layer.

Although Katherine is credited with the introduction of the farthingale, I cannot find a picture of her (or anyone similarly dressed) wearing one in the first years of the 1500s. I have been assuming that since she was living in England at the time of her portrait and it was painted by Henry VII's court painter, she is wearing English styles which didn't yet include the farthingale. These styles are echoed in contemporaneous portraits of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII's sister who married the Scottish King) and some Netherlandish ladies. So I made this undermost layer light and unbulky.

Next: the infamous and enigmatic middle layer...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Early Tudor Project Part 3 -- prep work

Well, today was the day that I stopped staring at pictures of Katherine of Aragon and started working on the outfit. In line with my own preaching, I decided to work from the inside out. I started with the smock.

The smock of this gown is barely visible, but what we can see is unpleated and lays flat against the skin. It also has a square neckline that follows the neckline of the gowns worn over it. I made my smock using stitches and construction techniques seen on later smocks, assuming that a square-necked, unpleated smock at the beginning of the 16th century would probably be very similarly constructed as a square-necked, unpleated smock at the end of the century.

I started with 3.5 oz bleached linen from I measured my bust, divided that number in half and added four inches for ease. Then I cut a piece that width by 90" long. This will make a calf-length smock on me which is as long as a smock ever should be. (They were not ankle length as is sometimes seen in costume shops.) I cut two rectangles 24" long by 20" wide for the sleeves and two gussets 5" by 5" for the underarms. There are some leftover pieces for cuffs and side gores that I will add later. I assembled the smock using a flat fell stitch and left the neckline uncut. I will cut only a slit big enough to get the smock on my dress dummy until the undergown is done since the neckline of the smock depends on where the neckline of the gown falls.

My real work today was determining the embroidery stitches to use around the edge of the smock. This is four strands of black Splendor silk floss (the 12-strand floss divides in three four-strand bits and then down further to single strands. It's lovely stuff). I did a simple picot (one backstitch, really) over eight threads with eight threads in between. And then did Greek crosses over eight threads eight threads below that. (The yellow picots and crosses will alternate with the black.)

I put my gold shells on the linen to give an idea of scale. I thought the stitches looked too tiny, so I tried less thread and also bigger stitches. Below the top row is four strands over twelve threads and the bottom row is two strands over eight threads:

Which do you think is the way it's done in the picture? Or do you have other ideas?

Next: the dyeing the undergown. Yellow for mourning?...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Early Tudor Project Part 2 -- the mental gymnastics

Since I first started looking at this picture of Katherine of Aragon with a view to reconstructing her outfit for 12th Night, one thing has been on my mind: the middle layer. Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies have taught us so much about the construction of early Tudor ensembles that we expect to see a smock, kirtle and overgown. But this portrait of Katherine dates from almost 30 years before the portraits Jane Seymour and the other paintings upon which M and M-D's research is based were painted.

Clearly Katherine is wearing more than those three layers in this portrait. And so is Agniete van den Rijne who I mentioned in the previous post on this subject. So too is Madame de Canaples, shown at right. Comparitively, this middle layer is open only slightly on Katherine, wider on Agniete, and very wide on Madame de Canaples. See below for a blow up of Madame's neckline showing detail:

One has to ask oneself what is the purpose of such a garment? This is a question I'm not yet ready to answer. And I fear any answer will be pure speculation. The first thing that occured to me was that, if this was an ensemble before boning was being used in kirtles, three layers might be required to achieve the flattened look that appears to have been popular. A close inspection of paintings from this time period shows wrinkles and roundness, indicating that the bodices of the kirtles or gowns were not boned. But this does not answer the question: why doesn't it close in front. And if it is some kind of bust support (or figure "smoothing"), then it simply does not make sense that Madame de Canaples would be wearing hers so very widely open in front. In fact it makes no sense to wear a garment this wide open unless that's the way it is meant to be worn for asthetic reasons.

It occurs to me that this may be a petticote or petticote bodys and that, since the fuction of the top is simply to support the skirts, it doesn't need to be drawn closed. However the neckline of Agniete's, Katherine's and Madame's middle layers are probably more decorated than any other layer they are wearing. So if it was meant to just hold up the skirts, it's doing it very fancily!

While kicking around a friend's website, I found some images that looked strangely familiar to me.

These are detail shots from a Holbein sketch of Sir Thomas More and his family, which was painted around 1527. The most prominent person in the sketch on the right is Elizabeth Dauncy, Sir Thomas More's second daughter. It is thought that she is pregnant. The leftmost woman in the right sketch is Cecily Heron, More's youngest daughter, who also appears pregnant. Both wear overgowns that appear to be laced open very wide or tied with bows.

The painting from these sketches was destroyed by fire in the eighteenth century, but Holbein's grandson, Rowland Lockey, had copied it in 1593 so we can get a cense of the original in colour.

In this painting Elizabeth and Cecily appear to have black gowns laced open wide over gold undergowns. In this version Margaret Roper, More's eldest daughter, also appears to have her black gown laced wide open, hers over a red undergown.

My point is that these black gowns look to me like what we're seeing in the portraits of Katheirne of Aragon, Agniete van der Rijne, and Madame de Canaples, shown above. If we could remove those ladies' overgowns, I believe they'd look like the More daughters.

I do not know the social standing of Agniete van den Rijne and Madame de Canaples, but Katherine of Aragon was a King's daughter. Thomas More's family are gentry, but not nobility. It is possible that Katherine is simply dressed better than they are. The Mores were hadly poverty stricken, but they were not on the same social level as Katherine of Aragon. It is a common fact of fashion that the clothing of commoners has fewer layers than that of the nobility. And what would be "underdresseed" for a Queen would be dressed respectfully for the daughter of a Knight. The fact that Thomas More's daughters were painted with this lacing showing leads me to believe that they had no overgowns, that an overgown wasn't necessary for them. Of course this is pure speculation.

Another point to consider is that the sleves of Agniete and Madame match their undermost layer, not this layer. It's true that the sleeves might be separate from the undermost layer, but they match in these two incidences. This leads me to think the middle layer (which seems to be invariably black decorated with gold) is sleeveless. Sleeves could be attached to it, and that is what I think we see on Thomas More's daughters. I also think it may explain The White Band, but that is a discussion for another day...

Was this middle layer for the accomodation of prenancy? I'm disinclined to cop to that. It's true that Katherine of Aragon was not pregnant in her portrait, and we don't know enough about Agniete and Madame to know. However the smoothness, particularly of Madame de Canaples overgown, belie any pregnancy. But I don't think we can say for sure. It is certainly one explanation. But it does not explain why the unmarried Katherine isn't wearing hers completely closed (unless, of course, it isn't made to close completely).

Of course this is all so much speculation.

But I've chosen my fabric and ordered all those little gold shells. I intend to start construction right after Reenactor Fest 3 in Gettysburg next weekend. Come see me and tell me how wrong I am!

More to come...

Thanks to Kimiko Small and her page A Gentlewoman's Tudor Research for the picture of Madame de Canaples and the More daughters and some fun postulating on the subject.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Playing with Dyes -- Safflower and Saffron

And now is the time on RH when we dye!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe this German lady's riding doublet was dyed with safflower. I have not seen the doublet in person (or even any colour photographs), but from Arnold's description of "tannish red faded from a deep peach", it sounds like safflower to me. The dye in safflower is very light sensitive. When exposed to daylight, the red fades to a tan.

The description of the original colour as "peach" also points to safflower. While considered a red dye, safflower actually has two dyes in it -- red and yellow. The red dye reacts with vegetable as well as animal fibres, where the yellow dye will only remain on animal fibres. When you dye cotton or linen with safflower, it looks orange to begin, but when you rinse it, all the yellow dye washes off and leaves nothing but a pure pink behind. A friend described it as "You've made Barbie pink!" On silk, the results are quite different. Both the red and yellow dyes react with the fibre, producing a peach to orange colour.

You can see the results of a silk coat I dyed in this article. The exterior is silk and the lining linen.

Experiments I've done with safflower on silk and linen can be found here:

Saffron, by contrast, produces a clear, bright yellow colour, not the orange we typical think of when speaking of a monk's "safffron robes". This clear yellow colour is the same on linen and silk. To read about my experiments with saffron, read this:

To construct this doublet, I am going to use six materials:

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Pattern Development, stage two

In September, I posted about two lady's riding jackets that I was musing about and intended to make into a pattern. Today I'm ready to start getting more specific and talk in detail about one of the garments, the 1620s Riding Doublet in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Here's a fairly horrible picture of it:

What you cannot see in this picture is the absolute gaudiness of this doublet. Sure, it looks like a light-coloured jacket with decorative braid sewn diagonally all over it. But what you can't see is the colour. And furthermore, no one can see the colour it used to be when it was new.

This unassuming little black and white photograph belies a cacophony of colour. Today, the ground is a tannish peach satin. Well, that's the colour that safflower fades to when it's exposed to light. When it was newly dyed, it was likely a bright salmon.

The interior is pink linen. Guess what colour safflower dye makes on linen...

The diagonal decoration is not just couched cord but 25mm (1") wide strips consisting of a peach satin ground with bias-cut yellow satin strips further adorned with yellow couched cord and blue thread. The fronts, seams and hems are decorated with wider 41mm (1.6") strips that are even more gaudy with the addition of blue couched cord. Let me try and illustrate what the originals would have looked like. All the diagonal strips on the jacket looked like this:

And the wider strips on the side seams, center front and back, and hems looked like this:

Alterations to the jacket indicate that it may have originally been a young man's doublet that was altered to fit a woman. The side seams were widened by the addition of strips of blue velvet, embroidered to match the other decorative strips. These appear to date to a time close to the construction of the doublet. In the eighteenth or early ninteenth century, the doublet was altered again, presumably for wear as a costume. Strips from the shoulder wings were removed and added to the center back seam to widen it.

More to come...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Early Tudor Project Part 1 -- the set-up

Okay. Today I got inspired. It's not the first time I was planning on doing something completely different and got sidetracked. The slow season is coming up, and a friend of mine suggested that I do something I've always wanted to do -- make up full outfits from each one of my patterns and photograph them for the website.

So knowing that I work better under a deadline, I took up my autumn and winter event schedule and started matching up events with possible outfits. I got as far as early January and then I stopped.

You see, for two years now, I've planned to make a Tudor oufit like this 1537 portait of Jane Seymour. When I did the research and development for the Tudor patterns (the RH600-series), I made only mockups to test the pattern. I never made a full-blown, ornamented Tudor ensemble before.

The Maryland Ren Fest is a Tudor Faire, but I dislike making full noble outfits for outdoor events. Too much potential for all your hard work to get ruined. Add to that the fact that we've had high temperatures and humidity until the end of October, and you can see why I want to avoid that. I'm just not the kind of girl to wear fewer layers than was done.

So I started thinking. What event during the year is more appropriate for fabulous clothing than 12th Night? So I looked to see if the date and location of 12th Night had been announced. And lo and behold, it says this:
The Year is 1504. The Great house of Aragon celebrates 12th Night, Dia de los Tres Reyes, across Europe in their various Kingdoms. In Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella reign, having at last made Spain a Christian Kingdom. After the defeat of France, Ferdinand also controls the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. In Austria, daughter Juana (soon to be La Loca) rules with her husband, Arch Duke Felipe. In England, daughter Catherine has married an English Prince, Arthur, only to have him die and be newly betrothed to the Prince Henry. She hopes to be Queen soon.

Well, bugger Jane Seymour! I'll do Katherine of Aragon in her early days!

My first step was to find a picture of Katherine of Aragon and find out what she was wearing in 1504. Well, it's actually 1502 by Henry VII's court painter Michel Sittow. It hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna today.

Interestingly she's not wearing the stereotypical gable headdress we come to expect to see on her. Instead she appears to be wearing what may be an early incarnation of what would become the French hood -- less structured and more veil-like, but still a similar shape.

We also notice that she's wearing multiple layers. The top edge of her smock is embroidered with small designs in alternating black and yellow. Over this she wears a yellow undergown that may be laced center front with gold thread of clasps. Over this is a black unclosed kirtle adorned with gold shells along its edge. And on top of it all, she wears a velvet gown. She wears a gold choker that repeats the initial "K" and a long chain. A pendant on a black cord may hide inside her smock.

But it's rather dark and hard to make out details. And because her hands don't show in the portrait, we can't tell what the sleeves look like at all.

It is not entirely unlike a portrait by Joos van Cleve of Agniete van den Rijne. Much more detail is visible in this painting owing to the light colour of the overgown. The sleeves are fur-lined and from the volume of fabric in folds over her arms, they appear to be the large triangular sleeves seen on French gowns in this time period. Additionally, the design of the fabric allows us to see that the sleeves are not set-in. The folds around the shoulder indicate that the sleeves are cut in one piece with the bodice of the gown. This is a strange sleeve treatment to see this late in history since set-in sleeves came into use almost 200 years earlier.

Unlike Katherine, Agniete wears a pleated smock more typical of the Low Countries, but she wears the same three layers visible in the painting of Katherine. Agniete's underdress is light red and appears to not open in front like Katherine's yellow one. Agniete's neckline is decorated with gold and we may be seeing the sleeve of this dress on her right wrist. Agniete also wears a black undergown, hers decorated with gold embroidery or braid trim. Her brocade gown is fur-lined and overlaps at center front.

Like Katherine, Agniete wears a gold chain, a small pendant with a cross and perhaps another pendant inside her undergown as indicated by the black cord that disappears into her cleavage. A brooch is pined to the center front of her red underdress.

For more information on the overgown, we can look at a great deal of pictures from the turn of the 16th century, a representative example of which is at left. This is a detail shot from Gerard David's 1509 painting Virgin Among Virgins.

The green velvet gown in this close-up is of a similar type to those in the previous two portraits. Even her headdress is similar. Her square-necked, front-overlapping gown is lined with brown fur just like that of Aigniete, above. The cuffs are large and turned back to show the fur. However, the seam of the set-in sleeve is visible on the left shoulder. That is not to say, of course, that all gowns had set-in sleeves or that none did. Both options may have existed contemporaneously.

Another difference exists in this painting: The black undergown is not square-necked like the previous examples and the smock is not visible at all. This may have been the style in a different part of Europe, among less noble fashionistas, or simply another variation of the style. If anything is apparent, it is evokative of the Burgundian gowns of the previous decades.

Another similar gown is seen on this 1491 portait of Margaret of Austria by the Master of the Moulins. Margaret's sleeves are far tighter than the portraits above, but her portrait is also earlier. It is lined with ermine fur rather than the brown we've seen thusfar, but all other elements of the gown appear similar.

As I embark upon the construction of this outfit, I'll update this blog.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pattern Development, the first stage

I started this blog to give you all insight into the pattern development process. But since I started it, everything I've spoken about has already been in development. So I really haven't taken you from idea to concept through development and testing and into production yet. That's about to change.

Today while doing research on a totally different subject, I started thinking about riding costume. Those of you who know me know that I love riding costume from almost every era. So no matter what I'm researching, if I see something about riding costume, I fixate on it. Now I have to write about this so I can get back to work on the thing I'm supposed to be working on...

I've been looking at two different riding outfits from the 17th century. One is a jacket dating to 1625-30 that is housed in the Nationalmuseum in Nurnberg, Germany. Another is a garment described in detail in Le Tailleur Sincere, a french treatise on tailoring that dates to 1671.

The problems: the Nurnberg riding outfit is just a jacket. The article in which it is described shows a number of "similar" jackets on women on horseback. But my copy of this article is dark and I cannot see details. So I'm going to have to track down these paintings elsewhere if possible. In any case, many of the painting show women near horses, not on them. So I'm not even sure if the clothing the ladies wear can be termed "riding costume". There is no matching petticote extant so it's hard to know if there's anything different from a regular, non-riding petticote.

The description in Le Tailleur Sincere is sketchy. It uses sixths, thirds, and twelfths of French ells (which are different from English ells and the author does not explain clearly what measure is meant). Also it does not show a made up version of the outfit. Seeing it in my mind, it sounds odd -- more like a sailor's smock from the Elizabethan period or an ECW soldier's coat than a post-Restoration lady's riding jacket.

My next step will be to make replicas of each. I think I cannot learn more until I see them made up, particularly the 1670s one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Hemp Helps

Yesterday, I was trying to figure out how to better stabilize the edges of my Cranach Gown without using modern dressmaking "cheats" when my husband reminded me that I have hemp webbing in stock.. So I decided to try it. The picture at left is the gown with the lacing rings removed. See how it gapes?

This is a photo after I've inserted 1.5" hemp webbing between the interlining and the lining from slightly above the armscye to below the waist. The webbing is simply inserted between the layers of fabric, pushed to the edge, and pinned in place. No sewing has been done. The garment was not even removed from the mannequin while I did this. See the difference?
Here's the excellent change the webbing has affected on the left side of the gown.

I think I might go sew it down now, add some hooks, and try it on!

More soon...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

One Thing Leads to Another

So Octoberfest at our local Faire is coming up, and my thoughts have turned to German stuff. I have a lovely Kampfrau Gown (shown here without Wulsthaube or partlet), but I'd rather wear something over the top like the Cranach Gown.

Those of you who've been reading this blog know that I've been working on the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit. Well tonite as I walked past my Netherlandish gown on the mannequin tonite, I thought, "Man, doesn't that look like a Cranach Gown!"

I'm having a thought. A friend of mine is making a German dress of the kind often seen in the paintings of Lucas Cranach. The dress appears in paintings most often in the 1530s and on women of wealth. They are typically made of velvet and gold brocade and embellished with jewels and other rich adornments. I made a reconstruction of this dress about two years ago and have since produced a pattern for it.

Here's the main picture upon which I based my reconstruction:
My reconstruction is meant to be the one on the far right. Here's another picture of an almost identical gown in a different colour:
And here's a full length shot of my reconstruction:
I'm extremely pleased with the way the sleeves came out. And the skirts I think are spot on. But I've never been quite happy with the way the front hangs together.

Here's a closer shot (without the harsh sunlight):

There are two main problems with the front of this dress. Number one, the Brustfleck doesn't lay correctly. I think I can blame this entirely on the fabric. In the mockup, I did the Brustfleck in linen cut on the bias and this made it conform to the bust as seen in the portraits. But the only fabric I could find with the right scrolling leaf pattern in gold was a silky polyester that needed a backing if it were to hold its shape. Unfortunately it holds its shape too well. I believe that a Brustfleck made out of thicker fabric cut on the bias will solve this problem.

The second problem is that the lacing distorts the front edge of the dress. In the paintings the front edges, if not straight, are still very smooth. Some of this can be attributed to the painter "fixing" the lines of the dress. Many of the dresses look artificial in this way. But other paintings by other artists do not show the level of distortion I'm experiencing.

I think two things are contributing to this distortion. One is my fabric. It's too soft. It isn't creating a stable edge, even when not under tension. (And friends, please do not tell me to press interfacing to the wrong side of the velvet. Ewww...)

The other thing contributing to the distortion is that I cannot pull the lacing tightly enough to draw the sides as far as they should draw. This is partially due to the split rings I used as lacing rings. They're just not the right tool for the job. And they aren't sewn on terribly well. So when I lace up, I don't pull as much as I need to, as much as I pulled when the gown was on my mannequin and looked right.

I think these are really two artifacts of the same problem: the edge of the gown needs to be stable enough to draw it tightly across the torso. Looking at the paintings tonite, Bob said, "Those robings almost look like hemp webbing covered with brocade!" Well, he just sold some hemp webbing to a customer, so you can't blame him for having hemp webbing on the brain. But hemp webbing is stable yet flexible. And I have yards of it right here. I think the cotton twill tape is too soft and the linen tape isn't wide enough to take the strain.

I'm also going to take off the split rings and substitute metal eyes from sets of coat hooks and eyes. This is what I used for the Netherlandish Gown and they are extremely stable. See?

And what is the moral of this story, dear friends? Don't Substitute Fabric! Although Cranach is clearly painting velvet gowns, I know that our modern cotton velveteen is hardly the same fabric. And my particular velveteen was very soft indeed. The simple truth is that if I had made this gown from wool kersey, I would not be having these problems.

I know that many people make this gown with a kirtle or even corded corset underneath, but I cannot agree with their reconstructions. Stringent analysis of the paintings has given me no reason to believe that there is any kind of corsetry of stiffening in either the bodice of these gowns or underneath them.

That being said, the gowns are only ever seen on young women of slight build with very small breasts. Matter of fact, in a painting by Cranach called "The Fountain of Youth", the old women who are being carried or wheeled into the "fountain" are not wearing Cranach Gowns. But when they emerge from the fountain of youth young and rejuvenated, they all seem to put on Cranch-style gowns.

Sidebar: I think one of the aspects of historical costume that we most often ignore is age-appropriateness. We fall in love with a style in a painting that is shown only on teenagers and we disregard that it won't fit someone of out time of life.

Another thing we often ignore is body shape. Some types of clothing aren't shown on all types of bodies. It could be argued that the subjects of portraiture are like fashion models -- there's an ideal body type and the painters make everyone look like that. But a survey of the same style of gown painted by different artists will often belie that idea. However, the fact that we never see long lanky women in some of the Venetian styles nor big-breasted women in Cranach Gowns is a fact that cannot be ignored.

But I digress... I may be nearly 40, but I have the breasts of a 12 year old. Yup. I can still wear my training bra! LOL

More to follow...

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Netherlandish Working Women Part 4 -- The Accessories

Let's start from the inside and work our way out. The first element we have to examine is the smock worn under the dress. In a few paintings, (like Aersten's "Christ and the Adultress" from 1559, detail shown at left) the partlets are missing and a round neck can plainly be seen. Sometimes we can even make out a medium to low round neck showing through the partlet opening.

When women aren't wearing pin-on sleeves, their smock sleeves are apparent. They are often pushed up or rolled to above the elbows, but no cuffs are in evidence. They appear to be constructed of simple rectangles as were most smock sleeves. The ends appear simply finished.
By virtue of the stress wrinkles and tightness observed in the partlets, we can assume they are tied rather than pinned on. Pinned partlets show stress at the pinning point. These show stress more evenly distributed across the garment. Although we have no glimpses of ties, we also have no evidence of pins and ties seems a more functional option for a woman involved in physical labour.

Next is hairdressing and headdresses. The women in the top two paintings on this page appear to have ribbons wrapped around rolls of hair and those rolls wrapped around the back of the head in a configuration normally termed "hair taping". The bulk of the hair is concentrated at the back of the head where it can easily be covered by a cap of the type shown in Beuckelaer's "Market Woman with Fruit", detail from which is shown at left.

This cap does not appear to be the entire headdress of the market women. A structured veil, sometimes called a Flemish [sic] Hood, is worn over it as in the detail at right from one of Beuckelaer's Market Scenes.

In addition to smocks, partlets and headdresses, the Netherlandish working women appear to be wearing pin-on sleeves, soft fabric stomachers, and aprons. The aprons are not gathered or pleated to a band like other aprons in this time period but rather appear to be simple rectangles of cloth, more often coloured than white, tucked into a string around to waist.

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie -- Netherlandish Working Women Part 3

Detail from Joachim Beuckelaer's "Making Waffles"

One of the most notable features of Netherlandish Working Women's clothing as seen in the works of Aertsen and Beuckelaer is big butts. Actually, I never thought of it until a friend pointed out that they all have prodigious asses. It's been suggested that these women were wearing bum rolls or something similar under their skirts, but this is an unlikely accessory for a woman engaged in manual labour. Having made many dresses out of coat-weight wool, I feel confident that it's all in the pleating method and the materials used. Of course having a sizable bum to go under it doesn't hurt. =)

All the pictures of Netherlandish Working Women don't show the attachment of their skirts terribly well, but from the few paintings that show the backs and sides of the skirts, we can see that the majority of pleats are concentrated at center back. The sides and front of the skirts appear to be almost smooth. Since I cut the 25" width of fabric used for the bodice from one of my skirt widths, this pleases me. It means I really can get away with making an entire dress with only a little over two yards of fabric.

In this detail from Joachim Beuckelaer's "Flight to Egypt" shown at left, we can see on two dresses how the pleats at center back do not carry around the sides of the skirts. The pleats appear to be rolled or stacked pleats, and indeed this method of pleating yields pleats that prop up and stick out as seen in the paintings.

Detail from another of Aertsen's paintings entitled simply "Market Scene"

Detail of the Cook's torso from Pieter Aertsen's 1559 painting "The Cook in Front of the Stove"

Rolled pleats compressed to fill the center back and leave the sides of the skirts smooth. This pleat arrangement gives an effect similar to that seen in the artwork.

You might be asking yourself why, since I used so much information from the Shinrone Gown to construct the bodice, I didn't use that information to construct the skirts. The reason is simple -- the skirts shown in the paintings do not resemble the skirts of the Shinrone Gown. The skirts of the Shinrone Gown are running stitched from waist to hem at intervals that produce organ pipe pleats all around the gown skirts. This type of pleats are not apparent in the pictures of the Netherlandish gowns which appear to be pleated heavily at the center back and gathered or lightly pleated elsewhere.

A different detail from the same Aertsen's "Market Scene"

Because of the use of aprons by these working women, we never see the full front of the garment. We don't know where the pleats are, how heavily they're arranged. All we know is that in the few pictures we have that show the skirts below the aprons, the front does not appear to be as heavily-pleated as the backs.

There is one thing of which we can be certain: the skirts directly below the laced section of the bodice must be pulled taut so it does not gap. Therefore there can be no pleating in that area. In my reconstruction, the piece I have left for the skirt front is only 35" wide, so it is easy to gather from the edge of the bodice to the side seams without the bulk becoming overwhelming.

If you have a full width of fabric, it is also possible to cut the front skirts as a trapezoid with the top measurement equalling the front waist measurement and the bottom the full width. This would then require no pleating at all in front.

There must also be a opening at the center front of the skirts to allow the dress to slip over the shoulders. This can be accomplished by a 6" slit closed by hooks or by adding a center front seam.

Detail of the Cook's skirt hem from Pieter Aertsen's 1550 painting "The Cook"
For months, I've been wracking my brain, trying to figure out the reasoning behind cutting a skirt higher in the front than in the back. Since this is a working woman's garment, it doesn't make sense that it's just a fashionable element. So there must be a functional reason. One explanation that occured to me is that the hem that most often get dirty on a person who bends forward in her work is the front hem. This seemed reasonable. However I couldn't wrap my brain around how to cut the hem to accomplish this effect. I'm trying to construct this dress using nothing but rectangles. Cutting a curved hem flew in face of this. Would a working woman really sacrifice that fabric and cut her hem in a way that made it more likely to ravel? Perhaps the top of the skirts were cut on the curve and the hem was really straight but only appeared curved because the top was.

I couldn't make up my mind about any of these ideas, so I began my reconstruction. And guess what -- it worked itself out. Tightly lacing the rectangular bodice makes the front tip upward at about the same angle that the skirts tip up in the pictures. Therefore rectangular skirts attached to this bodice will also tip up in front. Problem solved!

Please take notice of how the bodice tilts from front to back. The bottom was parallel with the floor until I began lacing. Then it settled upward. I was about to try to correct this when I remembered the uneven skirts phenomenon.

Detail of one of the female crowdmembers from the Braunschweig Monogrammist's 1545 painting "Ecce Homo"
Detail of the background figures from Pieter Aertsen's 1560 painting "The Peasants by the Hearth"

The bodice completely sewn and laced up. The skirts pinned into place.

Next: The Accessories

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Netherlandish Working Women Part 2 -- The Reconstruction of the Bodice

I have some ideas about this reconstruction that may clash wildly with anything you have ever seen in period clothing. However, my construction is based on extant garments I have personally examined, most notably the 16th century Irish common woman's dress known as the Shinrone Gown, a dress roughly contemporary with the pictures painted by Aertsen and Beuckalaer.

As you've read in previous posts on this blog, I have noticed a decided difference in construction and pattern shapes between the clothing of the wealthy and that of the working classes. The extant garments that have survived in burials and bog finds do resemble fashionable clothing (although 20-50 years out of date) but are different in more than just the expense of materials. They are almost entirely composed of rectangles and derivatives thereof (triangles, squares, et cetera).

Most discussions of the evolution of clothing construction mention this phenomenon but the discussion ends at the beginning of the Renaissance when shaped armscyes, set-in sleeves, and other curved pattern shapes enter the archeological record. Clothing historians seem to neglect the fact that all level of society (and indeed all countries and cultures) didn't become wealthy and blessed with vast yardages of fabric at the same time the Venetians did. Even in properous cities, the clothing of common people remained functional, utilitarian, and conservative in cut and fabric use.

That's not to say that common people didn't try to emulate their betters. This phenomenon is too well-established throughout time to dispute. However, a certain look can be achieved without breaking the bank. Indeed, the construction I am going to show you today takes only two yards and 8" of 60" wide wool.

When looking at Aertsen and Beuckalaer's paintings, there are two things I do not see: a side seam or a back seam. The truth is that paintings are not photographs and painters are not tailors -- missing a seam isn't that important. We also cannot see the backs or sides of many of the dresses. But in those paintings where the back and sides are plain, there are no seams.

So the first step is to construct a bodice without side or back seams.

This construction is not without substantiation. The Shinrone Gown, while possessing side seams that slant backwards from the armscyes, has a back piece that is nothing more than a 18" x 18" square. The armscyes aren't shaped -- they are simply the place where the front stops being attached to the back.

The front of the Shinrone Gown bodice is also a square. The straps are integral and their backing is created by slicing horizontally at the base of the strap and folding an equal width under, doubling the fabric of the straps. The bottom of the bodice is folded up and under, providing a self lining, and these two elements meet at the bottom of the shoulder strap inside and are whipstitched to each other.

I would like to clarify at this point that I am not insinuating that Netherlandish Working Women's dress is identical to the Shinrone Gown. However, both dresses are under-bust, lace up the front yet don't close, and were worn by working women during the same time period. It would be less than wise to disregard the breadth of evidence and construction techniques that the Shinrone Gown can teach us about common people's clothing.

So let us assume that the bodice of the Netherlandish Working Woman's dress is a simple rectangle. If you take a piece of fabric as long as your back waist (plus a couple of inches) and as wide as your waist minus four or five and lace it up with 12-stand embroidery floss, this is what you get:

Close up of the lacing:
Notice how the edges of the fabric tilt in the same way the edges do in the pictures. This demonstrates to me that the bodice of this gown is a rectangle. A straight warp edge will also take the straight of lacing far better than any other type of edge.

The same from the side:

But the fabric is disappearing as we travel up the body. And we need a shoulder strap.

So with the intention of making the shoulder strap like that of the Shinrone gown, I snipped down from the top and over a distance equal to my intended shoulder strap width times two.

The same from the side:

And if you weren't convinced it was working, here it is on a real body:

Next, I made a horizontal cut at the base of the slit shown above and folded under the excess, forming the shoulder strap. I cut off the excess fabric on the underside of the bodice from above the bottom of this slit. The pictures below show the bodice self-lined by folding up the fabric from the bottom and folding over the fabric from the shoulder strap. The back above slit level is unlined, exactly like the Shinrone Gown.
Although a piece has been cut away from underneath, the bodice remains a rectangle. It is 27" long by 25" wide with 7" of the length tuck up inside the body. The top of the back is folded over as well. I have not yet decided if I will cut off that excess. Nothing has been sewn yet, but you can see from the pictures at left that the bodice fits my mannequin quite well and conforms to its curves.

Next: The Reconstruction of the Skirts

© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.