Sunday, July 3, 2016

Brown Fitted Gown

At long last, the (at this point almost mythic!) Brown Fitted Gown is finally complete!!!


Frankly, I wasn't at all sure it would ever get finished!
Especially considering that the first version was sketched out just shy of five (FIVE!) years ago, when I first conceived of the project and started this blog.  The design was tweaked several times along the way, with progress --or lack thereof-- chronicled in increasingly intermittent posts over the last few years (YEARS!).
But somehow it's done!
And while it's morphed a bit over time, the final result isn't too far from what I was ultimately aiming for...

In the end the biggest change was to the colour palette, which was largely driven by the fact that the fabric I had initially purchased was too heavy and warm for California summers.
The new look was reverse engineered based on some lightweight wool I had available in my stash.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the revised colour scheme is not strictly historically accurate (as far as I can tell) but it's at least historical-ish and aesthetically pleasing. And it meant I wasn't going to die of heat stroke, which is a big plus!!

However, by the time all the design kinks had been worked out the whole project stalled and frankly became a bit of a White Whale.
I don't know why, but I kept find reasons NOT to start it.
I even began the beige kirtle I intended to use as the support garment...but I got halfway through the bodice and then wandered off to make a ruff.  But the fact of it there, unfinished, haunted me and made it nearly impossible to start anything else!

Then I fell in love with this image of Catherine Gonsalvus (you know me, always a sucker for crazy hats and furry men) and decided I would finally bite the bullet and draft a pattern for a fitted gown; one that could be used for both outfits.

It would be a way of starting the fitted gown without starting it...

So with that plan in mind I finished the kirtle and started the mockup process.
I used the Tudor Tailor's English fitted gown pattern, but added a bit of length to the bodice point (though with the overlap at the front much of that length ultimately disappeared).

Overall the fit was pretty good. I did have to take in the back in by about 1/2" (hence the seam pictured above) and deepen the armscye, but the biggest problem was the fit of the collar...which bunched considerably behind the neck.  It wasn't as obvious when the collar was rolled down (which is how I largely intended to wear it) but it was still a problem.

So after seeking some fitting help from the folks on the Elizabethan Costume Facebook page, I decided to move the shoulder seam so that it was roughly 1" further back at the neck (but tapering to the same shoulder point).

Though not shown, the reverse was also done on the back while the front pattern piece became larger the back became smaller (also, the reason why the pattern piece has "no seam" written on it is a reminder to myself that I still need to add neck and bottom seam allowances.  I leave them off of mockups to get a truer sense of how the final garment will look, and then I can adjust accordingly).
This largely solved the problem.  

It was also at this point that I decided to switch gears away from the Gonsalvus gown and back towards the original brown fitted gown (largely because I wasn't sure if I wanted to use the black wool I had in my stash for that or for a Dutch loose gown...but that's another post!).

Now sleeves became an issue.
Let me back up a little...

I'd long since decided to abandon the puffed, paned sleeves from my original sketch...yes, they're difficult and scary, but I was also starting to move towards a more Flemish or Low Countries aesthetic and so the half sleeve seemed both easier and more appropriate.

Marytge Dedel, 1570
Issac Claesz van Swanenberg

Gerland van Hemmema, 1566

Adriaen van Cronenburch, 1567

Van Gindertaelen Family, 1559

Antonis Mor, 1555-1560

Yes, I know there are some puffed Flemish sleeves...but shush! I'm trying to justify my laziness!

The half-sleeve pattern included in the Tudor Tailor instructions (sleeve A) was very narrow, and while this narrowness is represented in some of the portraits above I wanted to try for something a little bigger (sleeve B). (Note that view A still has the original shoulder seam placement)

To enlarge the sleeve head I tried two different methods...though I don't know if either is correct. 
First I ran several parallel lines down the sleeve, cut them (to just above the arm seam) and splayed them outwards.  A new sleeve is then traced out, with some additional height added as well. This created a larger sleeve pattern overall, with the most volume added to the sleeve head (all the way around).

Then I tried a second method, with only five lines: one straight down the sleeve and four others --though none extended past where the sleeve head would be pleated-- and angled down towards the initial line.  These lines are then cut as before and splayed.  This created a sleeve with most of the added volume at the top, outward facing portion of the sleeve head. It is larger than the original sleeve, but smaller than the first.

Both sleeves were mocked up in muslin, but in order to get a more realistic sense of how they would behave they were also cut in wool. The larger sleeve is on my right arm, the smaller on my left. 

In wool the sleeves needed a support structure of some kind, otherwise they tended to deflate.  I originally tried internal shoulder rolls but at certain angles they were very obvious and looked a bit silly.

So then I decided to try an internal boned support structure based on the one used in the puffed sleeve in the Tudor Tailor pattern (which was one of the reasons I wanted to avoid that sleeve in the first place...oh, the irony).

I know it's difficult to tell (which is why you should aways try on mock-ups over all the correct support layers) but the overall sleeve shape was much improved and didn't create odd shapes at certain angles the way the internal rolls did.
And while I preferred the larger sleeve when paired with the roll, with the bones I thought the smaller one looked a bit cleaner and I liked that is was slightly more fitted through the arm.  
I opt for the smaller sleeve.

With all the major fits decisions made it was time to cut the fabric!
After overcoming some fluffy obstacles...

The bodice pieces are cut in the wool outer fabric (which is the same as the wool used for the kirtle, and is identical except for the darker shade) and interning, in this case a 7.5oz hemp/cotton muslin.

The the layers are stacked, and clipped together.  
Again, I prefer small bulldog clips for this bit since they don't warp the fabric in the same way pins do...but it's just a personal preference. 

The two layers are then temporary pad-stitched together, starting at the centre back and moving out towards the side...smoothing the fabric as I go and ensuring the wool is flat and taut over over the muslin.

The piece is then flip and worked from the middle to the outer edge on the other side.

Pad stitching complete.  
You can see from the back view that the wool slightly overlaps the muslin around some edges. This is partly intentional. The wool has much more give than the muslin and you don't want your outer fabric to be larger than your interlining, otherwise it will sag or bubble.  Pad-stitching is probably an overly labour intensive way to achieve this and it isn't really what this sort of stitch is meant for...but it was the only way I could be sure (in my own mind at least) that the outer fabric was as taut and even as possible. 
As with everything on this blog, I'm not suggesting these are the right ways of doing things, it's just my approach to things until I learn better (so lots of grains of salt in the meantime!!!). 

This process is then repeated on the two front pieces (again, working from the centre and then out towards the sides).

Now it's time to start assembling the bodice.
Before I do I run a row of stitched stitches around the outside of either piece (just shy of 1/2" from the edge). These will keep the fabric in place once the pad-stitches are removed and also serve as sewing guides in the next steps. can see I actually made a mistake with my shoulder seam (and side seam) and somehow got my first row of stitches too close to the edge.  I had to run a second row get to my 1/2" mark.
Anyway, because of the overlapping wool on many of the pieces getting the edges to line up accurately was a I use the same method as I did on my kirtle: I marked a series of dots on each shoulder piece (making sure there were the same number and at the same intervals on both the front and the back pieces).

Then I worked a sort of large Holbein stitch...passing my needle through each mark and making sure it passed through the corresponding mark on the other side.

Then once I reached the end, I turned around and made another pass on the oppsite side so that in the end I had a solid row of stitches.

To finish the shoulder seam a row of back stitches is then worked just below this line (on the inside edge) and the whole process is then repeat on the side seams.
So we not have an assembled bodice!

Next the outer edges are turned and pressed down, using the earlier stitch line as a guide (so that the stitches are roughly 1/8" from the folded edge on the inside). The seam allowance is then stitched down, making sure to only catch the interlining.  

This is repeated with all outside seam allowances, except for the sleeve seams.

Actually, I should backtrack slightly...because while the bottom and neck seams were folder under according to the 1/2" seam guide, the front seam allowance was tricker and involved a series of trials and errors. I basically tried the bodice on and folded under the desire amount until the two sides seemed to meet.  Then this was pressed down (making sure both sides were turned under equally) and then a temporary hook and eye tape sewn in.  I then tried it on for fit. 

Satisfied with the results, the front was also stitched down and the pad stitching removed.

On to the lining!
The lining (a medium weight black linen) was cut and made up in the same manner as the bodice, including the seam guides.
Then it lining is pinned into the sleeve heads, wrong sides together.

The lining is the sewn to the sleeve, but with a slightly narrower seam allowance than the original seam guide (which remains on the inside edge of the garment).

The lining is then turned and pinned around the top and bottom edges (I find it easier to save the straight, front edges for last).

The lining is then stitched down with a small vertical stitch, so that the seam guides are hidden under the fold.

Then the front edge is tuned and stitched in the same way.


The sleeves edges will remain raw for the meantime it's on to the skirt!

Here is the layout for half the skirt (one front and one back piece).  As you can see the back piece has been extended by 15" (so 30" total) so that the final skirt will have the same circumference as the kirtle.

After the skirt is assembled the front edges are folded back by 2" and the top edge by 1",  the folded edge is then whip stitched to the bottom of the bodice (being sure to catch a bit of interning whenever possible). The back of the skirt is pleated with 1cm cartridge pleats as far as the side seams. 

Then the hook and eye tape is temporarily stitched back in and the gown tried on in order to ensure the skirt is falling properly (note how the front edge is just  pressed and clipped at the moment).

With the gown finally starting to take shape it's time to move on to the sleeves!
But first I have to back up slightly and talk about trim...

I had always intended to trim the gown in black (either in wool or velvet), but as time and laziness got the better of me I quickly abandoned the idea of making my own trim and started to look for something pre-made.  
I settled on wool tape from Wm. Booth Draper, which has a lovely herringbone texture that provided a nice bit of visual interest and contrast (and which I had already used to great satisfaction on my red petticoat).
As per my original sketch, I was initially only planning on a single row of wide trim down the front with perhaps some narrower trim in the same style on the sleeve.  
But then I got to playing and experimented with two rows...

Which really did look a lot sharper.
But not only did this theoretically double my workload, it also had me re-thinking my sleeve trim.
So I looked up some period examples of sleeve treatments and whipped up a couple of new options.

In the end I decide on view "I", which is sort of a combination of these two portraits (but incorporating the motif of a double row of trim which I was now using the the front).

With the trim question settled it is NOW time to move on to the sleeves...
First (with the sleeves still attached the mockup) I dew in chalk roughly where I wanted the trim to appear.  On the dress stand these appeared to be straight lines...but once the sleeve is removed you can see the lines actually curve significantly (on account of the gathered sleeve head).

Then the pattern peice is placed over the mockup and the lines traced.

Then a new, disposabe sleeve pattern is traced, and the trim lines cut with an x-acto knife (starting and stopping 1/2" from the pattern edge)

Then the sleeves are cut from the wool (using the original, unsliced pattern piece) and the trim guide is placed over the sleeve and the lines traced in chalk. 

Then the trim (3/8" wool tape) is pinned to the sleeve. The two middle lines are pinned 1/4" apart with the chalk line down the middle (so each piece is 1/8" away).  The two side pieces are pinned on the chalk line and the remaining two pieces will be pinned down after they are sewn.

The trim is sewn down by hand with a hem stitch.

Then the two remaining side pieces are pinned and sewn down 1/4" from the first ones. This is repeated on the other sleeve.

Then the sleeves are put aside while the support structure is made up. First the support base is cut in the same black linen I used for the lining. Then the boning channels are cut from the pattern.

The pattern is placed over the base and the boning pattern traced in chalk.

A 1/2" seam guide is sewn all the way around the piece.  Then 1/2" wool tape is pinned and sewn in place with a backstitch along the edges.  The three vertical tapes are sewn down first, leaving the bottom edge open.  Then the curved horizontal tape is pinned and sewn on top (being careful not to sew through the tape where it crosses the other boning channels)

With the channels complete, the bones (5mm synthetic whalebone) are cut and filed to length.

The three vertical bones are inserted and the bottom edge sewn down. The excess tape (below the seam guide) is trimmed away and the bottom hem is folded over the tapes and felled down.  

Then the curved horizontal bone is inserted.

Now the structure really starts to take shape, which means it slightly ungainly to work with for the next bit...but new the sides are felled down over the tape.

Then the finished edges are whip stitched together.

And that's it!  The support structure is complete and ready to be inserted.

Next it's time to finish sewing the sleeve.
First the sleeves and the linings are made up separately and then the lining is pinned in, wrong sides together.

Both are sewn together around the top edge of the sleeve (again with a 1/2" seam guide).  Then on the outside edge of the guide, a row of gathering stitches are made around the top of the sleeve head.

The sleeve is pinned into place, first along the bottom, unpleased edge.  Then the pleated section is halved and then have again, until the sleeve head is completely pleated (using the gathering threads as needed to tighten and hold the pleats).

Then the sleeve is back-stiched into place, following the guides previously stitched into the armscye and sleeve.  

A stabbing backstitch is needed over the pleats.

I try on the gown to check the fit of the sleeve before adding the support and find that the thick wool trim actually helps add structure and shape to the sleeve.  It's a happy discovery, but one I wish I had realized before making up the boned support! 
So I decide to leave it off for now. I still have to go back and finish the raw edges of the sleeve, so I could still add it in later if I change my mind. 

Now it's time to finish the skirt and trim the gown.  First the hem is bound in 1/2" self fabric bias tape.

Then the wider of the two wool tapes is pinned down in a single length, 1/2" away from the garment edge (starting and ending at the centre back seam of the skirt). 

The trim is stitched down by hand all the way around except for around the hem of the skirt, which was done my machine due to time constraints. I found it easier to do all of one side of the the trim and then the other.

Then the narrower trim is pined 1/4" away from the wider trim and sewn down in the same way.

To finish the trim the back seam is opened up and the trim edges turned under.

Then the opening is whip stitched closed.

Now it's time to finish the sleeve head. This bit isn't very well documented...mostly because I wasn't sure if it was going to work.  
Originally I had intended to bind the arm with black tape, but now that I had incorporated the narrow trim down the front I wanted to balance the look and use the wide trim on the sleeve as well...and like the front I wanted to set it back from the edge.  But since the sleeve was already the length I wanted I thought a better solution would be to bind it in the brown wool instead.  
With a finished edge created the black tape is pinned on top and sewn into place with a vertical hem stitch.

The ends of the tape are tuned under and the folded edges whipstitched together from the right side. 

Finally it's on the front closures.  
I used twenty (ten pairs) of brass hooks and eyes, but instead of having all the hooks on one side and all the eyes on the other, I alternated between the two on each side (so that the gown would be less likely to open on its own).  The closures are spaced so that the centres are 1" apart and just abutting the front edge.  They are anchored to the lining and also the interlining as much as possible    

And that's it!
The gown is now technically wearable! (a few internal raw edges aside)

In addition to the gown and kirtle the final outfit includes:

A new ruff, smaller ruff (about 1.5" wide with 1" sets). It's made with the same 2.8oz linen as my larger ruff.

A pair of two-pieced, shaped sleeves in a pale blue silk-linen blend and lined in dark grey linen (the same colour as the guards on the kirtle). The pattern is the same one I used for my waistcoat sleeves.

A blue/grey linen apron (reused from one of my earlier waistcoat ensembles).

A white linen veil (roughly 20"x28" and finished with 3mm hem, which I'm rather proud of) which is starched at the front and pinned into place over my standard coif and ear-irons.

A wool stomacher, trimmed in linen (because at some point between mocking up the hooks and eyes and finishing them I must have gained 10 pounds, because the darn thing won't close!!!!!).  This was really whipped up at the 11th hour, hence the visible machine stitching. This is just pinned to kirtle and all the rough bits are hidden by the gown and apron. 

And finally an Elizabethan-esque miniature.  
It's adapted from a self portrait of Simon Benning, a Flemish painter and miniaturist. I was playing his daughter, Barbara Benning, and at the time of the Faire (mid 1560s) he would have been recently deceased (poor ol' Dad), hence the black ribbon.

And that's it! The Brown Fitted Gown is finally done! And it's a good thing too...because I finish just in time for my stint at SoCal Renaissance Faire!
(Again, sorry for the blurry iPhone pics! I promise there will be a follow up post shortly with updated photos)

I'm pretty happy with the outfit as a whole!
And I'm really glad I rushed to finish it in time for the Faire, even though that resulted in a few outstanding problems that I wasn't able to fix...

For one thing the gown is far too long, especially for uneven ground...
I could try shortening it, but since that would involve unpicking and resewing all the trim I might try it with a small corded petticoat first (and see if that gives it enough lift), which it could probably use it anyway. Even given the narrower silhouette of the 1560-70s the skirt could stand to have a little more "oomph".
Secondly, the under sleeves are a mess! 
They were too short to pin to the top of the kirtle shoulder strap (which was my intention) and so kept creeping down my arm and bunching unattractively. I either need to sew in some ties or re-make them all together...which I might do anyway since I'm not sure if I like the curved sleeves.  They're fine when set in and aligned properly, but as tie on sleeves they seem to be prone to weird elbow bulges.

But in the end I think I learned a lot! 
I still need to go in a finish off some of the interior raw edges and finish a couple of accessories I wasn't able to make up in time.

BUT that's another post...!

(UPDATE: Which can be found here!)


Resources & Materials

-The Tudor Tailor (book and/or ready-made pattern)

-Dark Brown Wool/Cashmere from Mood Fabrics
-Blue Grey Silk/Linen from Mood Fabrics
-White linen (2.8oz) from WM Booth Draper
-Grey "Judy" linen (5.5oz)  Gray Line Linen
-Hemp/cotton muslin for interlining (7.5oz) from Hemp Traders
-Muslin for mockup (also from Hemp Traders, but any muslin should do)

Trim and Notions:
-Back Worsted Wool tape (3/8" & 7/8") from WM Booth Draper
-Brass Hooks & Eyes (10 pairs) from The Tudor Tailor

-Black silk thread
-Grey silk thread
-White cotton thread (silk finish) for ruff and veil

Other Supplies:
-Swedish pattern paper from Amazon. (This stuff is great! You can iron it!)
-Pattern weights
-Purple vanishing fabric marker
-Blue washable fabric marker
-Hook and Eye tape (for mockup
-Small bulldog clips


  1. This is an amazing outfit!! My grandmother is making me a gown and we have decided to do something similar to this. Could you possibly tell me what pattern you used for your chemise? We are looking at the Tudor Tailor for the other patterns but I am unable to find a chemise on their site. Thanks in advance!

  2. Thanks so much, Sara!

    The smock is adapted from the one in the Tudor Tailor book (pg. 57 in the latest edition). I'm lucky insofar that can do a one-for-one scale up from the book, since I'm about the same size as their female measurements.

    First I made the high-necked version, seen here:

    Then I used the same pattern and just cut a square hole for the neckline and faced it with linen (instead of turning the edges):

    And then I paired it with a partlet (as seen here, though not with this ruff):

    Here is the partlet sans ruff:

    I hope that's a little helpful...
    I think the smock from Margo Anderson's patterns is pretty similar and would be a pretty safe bet if you wanted to use a pattern. I think people also like the online Elizabethan Smock Generator.
    Best of luck!

  3. Your dresses are sooo beautifully made! It's as if you jumped out of a picture!
    Would you possibly make a blog entry from your coifs? They look amazing and I have no idea what their pattern looks like except the basic coif. I think they look so beautiful!

    1. Thanks so much!!
      To be honest I am useless with coifs...I don't make my own (though I should, as you say, it's a basic pattern :P).
      I think this one is from Thistlebees, though I added the lace. Sadly her website and Etsy store have been down for some time. I've also purchased coifs from Louise Pass (she's at Woodsholme on Etsy).
      I also wear my coif with ear-irons (also from Woodsholme), which added to the shape as well.

      I'd say my pattern is closet to Coif 2B on this site:

      But my preferred method of wearing coifs at the moment is with the forehead cloth worn over coif rather than under (which I think is more typical).

      If you're not already part of the Elizabethan Costume grope on Facebook, definitely check them out! They have some great albums for linen headwear...


      ...and here:

      Hope that's somewhat helpful!

    2. Of course the shape of a coif has a lot to do with how the hair is dressed.
      Here is my favourite photo series for illustrating that (by Morgan Donner):

      Also, here the site of a friend of mine. She is doing a series on coifs and headwear. As of yet she hasn't gotten to the actual coif post (that's her next one) but she has several posts of how to dress the hair and wear ear-irons to help give the correct structure:

    3. Ah, thank you so very much! That helps a lot! :)