This is the most recent stage in the evolution of my Elizabethan
(not so) little red dress. The bodice, sleeves, chemise, forepart and hat have
been completely redone, but the partlet remains the same and the skirt has undergone
only minor changes since last year. The skirt has been
flatlined in a black brocade, re-mounted on a new waistband, and I’ve run a
small, antique gold soutache braid down each side of the two lines of trim at
the front split. It is about 2″ longer than last year because of the difference
between the way it was hemmed (a standard skirt hem), and the way it is now
finished (with the piping sandwiched between the skirt and the flatlining).
It is not visible in this picture, but the skirt is piped down both front edges
and all round the bottom with matte gold cord.
The new bodice was made using the pattern for a French Cut Bodice
from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1. I used my corset to size the pattern.
Since the french cut bodice is cut on the bias, it is meant to stretch a bit
to fit the wearer exactly, so I made the bodice the exact same girth as the
corset pattern. Normally, I would add about an inch to insure that there was
a little leeway once the bodice was finished. The bodice fastening was experimental
(it was the night before faire opened and I did not have time to sew down 4
dozen eyelets). I sewed two small grosgrain ribbons (one down each side of the
front) with groups of three stitches every 3/4 inch. I threaded the lace ribbon
through between the stitches. It worked fairly well, as quick and dirty fastenings
go, but there was a bit of a wobble in the front of the bodice where the ribbon
on one side was not an even distance from the edge the whole way down. I will
be fixing that. If you find yourself using this trick, you should make sure
to sew the ribbon to the outside edge of the line of boning that supports the
edge of the closure. This will ensure that you do not see a wobble like mine,
because the stress will be evened out by the boning. (Who knew?) This is not
documentably period, but it seems right somehow. The bodice itself is modeled
after a portrait
from 1569, but the basic style was popular for some time after this. The
french cut bodice is also seen in the Phoenix Portrait (Queen Elizabeth).
are of a type called hanging sleeves, for reasons that should be obvious. They
are just there for show, and are not really designed to ever be worn as “real”
sleeves. (It gets hot during faire season in the midwest!) They open in the
front and have a seam in the back as well. This is a period pattern. I will
detail it in the Sleeves section of this web page, whenever I get that finished.
There is a line of metallic gold piping down each side of the center split,
and another line of metallic gold and maroon trim about a quarter inch from
the split on either side. Between the trim and the piping is a pattern of alternating
buttons and pairs of pearls (which can be seen near the cuff in both pictures,
and in detail here. None
of the buttons are functional. Buttons were used a lot for purely decorative
reasons in period. The sleeves close at the top and bottom with sets of hooks
The forepart is made of a beautiful off white brocade with an
ecclesiastical pattern. I
chose this because it was the most period brocade I could find that could be
worn on its own, but would also take readily to embellishment. In period, it
would probably have carried with it a risk of being accused of Catholicism.
My eventual plan is to run a line of pearls couched with gold thread around
the outsides of the crosses, and do some additional beadwork in the celtic patterns
between the ovals. There are two lines of a black trim with gold and silver
roses woven into it at the bottom of the forepart. Trimming a forepart in this
manner is very period. The trim is probably not, but it is close enough and
it was on clearance. This is always an important concern, right?
The Chemise has a rounded neckline that can be seen a bit under
the partlet (especially right by the straps of the bodice). There is a line
of the eyelet trim that you can lace ribbon through around the neckline so that
it can be raised or lowered if I need to wear the chemise with a bodice that
is cut differently. There are six bands of the same stuff around the
to allow them to be gathered down, as they are in these pictures. Each of these
bands, as well as the neck band, is threaded with black grosgrained ribbon and
terminated with an aiglette. There is a decorated band over the first pair of
bands on each sleeve that you can see in these pictures as well. The eventual
plan is that each sleeve will have three bands, with poofs in between them.
The bands are removable, so I will be able to make more and interchange them.
The ones in this picture are decorated
with pearls couched in gold, as well as small “flowers” made of red beads with
The hat is an Italien Bonnet, with the brim shaped as the brims
of Tall Hats normally are. It is worn over a formed caul. There is some period
iconographic evidence of cauls that held a shape of their own. They were also
used by Jean Hunnisett in Elizabeth R. I saw them there and decided I had to
have one. This one is a first
attempt. It is made of felt that was sized with glue and formed over a mold
(a spherical cake pan, actually), then covered with thin batting, then with
black satin. The network of trim was added, followed by the rows of gold cord
at the edge. It is held in place by four silver hairpins with little pearls
in them. (It is a good jewelry year for costumers!). The problem is that I simply
have too much hair, and the form got squashed a bit before I got the edge wired,
and it didn’t really stay put on my head too well. I’m working on a new one.
I am also wearing two
purses. The small rectangular one on my forepart is modeled after a design
for a needle purse, from Herbert Norris’ Tudor Style and Fashion book. The velvet
case slides up the cords to reveal a bifold wallet. In period, this wallet would
have had leaves for holding needles. I added pockets to hold business cards,
ID, and plastic instead. The other purse is a small pouch with a drawstring
top covered by a circular flap. It is edged in marabou. (For some odd reason,
I just didn’t have any ermine lying about.) The decoration is actually a broach
that was added at the last minute.
This rightmost thumbnail up top is an image from late in the
season. New additions include the ruff, a new hat, gloves, my first attempt
at making a fan, bodice skirting, the partially visible embellished band at
the bottom of the skirt, and about fifty thousand beads (most pre-strung, mercifully).