I’ve wanted to do a good, solid tudor gown for years. When Stephanie
was referred to me and asked if I could make this gown, designed by Angela
Friedman, I jumped at the chance. Now, here’s the tricky bit: Stephanie
lives in Ohio. I live in Illinois. We’ve never met face-to-face. (Check this: This gown never had a
single formal fitting. This project somewhat blurred the line between confidence, arrogance, and
There’s something you need to understand about me as a seamstress
here. I absolutely refuse to trust anyone else’s measurements. It’s not just
that I think my odds of getting an honest answer to “Waist?” are slim. I’m pretty
gosh darn specific about how and where I take measurements, and I know what
I’m used to working with. Eventually, we settled on Stephanie making up and
sending me a paper tape dummy to work with. This was almost ideal. I need to
stress almost. This happened back in august, when the midwest was, well, really
freakin’ humid. I propped the paper tape form out the best I could with spray
insulation, packing peanuts, and about 5000 plastic grocery bags, but the humidity
definitely got to it. I was able to stave off the inevitable long enough to
get a working, fitted corset, but the poor thing finally collapsed. (Before
anyone mails me to tell me that the duct tape dummies hold up better, trust
me, I did know that. I am allergic to adhesives. I am extra-special allergic
to the very high tack adhesive in duct tape. I dunno about the rest of you,
but if I can avoid being covered in little stinging blisters, I’m just as happy.)
Anyway, Stephanie and I collaborated online to pick the fabrics, they were shipped to
me, and work commenced. Steph was actually a perfect client — she totally refrained from any kind of
open panic attack, nagging, and anything else that might stress a seamstress out.
That’s good, because I was having fits and panic attacks all of my own. I wouldn’t
really recommend working without the possibility of fittings unless you’re very sure of what you’re
doing. I had an unexpected advantage — her measurements are very similar to my own. She’s just 8
inches taller than I am. :/ I was able to use my own dress dummy for a lot of the final assembly
work, though, and that was a help.
Starting with underpinnings, there’s a square-necked chemise
of fine cotton with wrist ruffles. Over that, there’s a back lacing corset (with
straps, thank you), and a farthingale. Because I’m incapable of being normal,
and I needed to fold everything up, shove it in a box, and ship it, the farthingale
is boned with 1/4″ nylon covered steel cable. It folds down neatly and has absolutely
no shape memory. That’s good. I like that a lot. But it’s sort of a bitch to
cut and crimp, so I actually have one big ol’ spiral of ribbon going up the
farthingale, and the cable is threaded through that. There’s a petticoat in
a lovely celery green cotton/linen, with an applied forepart of a celery pin
tucked silk-like fabric. Those fantastic Tudor “praying mantis woman” under
sleeves are made of the same fabric. They are lined with two layers of cotton
duck for stiffness, with fake puffs made of the chemise cotton. Those puffs
are sewn in and ain’t going no where. ;) The under sleeves pin in to the over
gown. Not only is this period, it’s adjustable.
The over gown is made of a lovely cotton red cotton velvet,
line with a slightly more burgundy cotton/linen blend. The bodice and skirts
were made separately, then joined. The gown opens down the back with hook and
eye tape. The opening down the back of the skirts is hidden by the top pleat,
which is held by a hook and eye on the right side. (Look, I wasn’t about to
tell a client that I wanted her to close her bodice along the front side with
40 small brass pins. That’s just not normal anymore. This might be less
documentably period, but it worked out beautifully.) The turned back sleeves
are attached directly to the upper sleeves, which are sewn in to the bodice.
They are pinned back to the upper sleeve to form the turn back. The bodice has
a thin line of gold trim at the neck as it’s sole decoration. There is also
a matching french hood.
Now, here’s what you can’t see from these pictures: Every single seam in the entire
ensemble is totally finished. There are no raw edges anywhere. Anything that’s not lined is constructed
entirely with french seams. Anything that is lined is, lord help me, *pressed*. The seams that
could not be lined or frenched (petticoat and farthingale hems, and the join between the turned back
sleeve and the upper sleeve) is bias-bound. I’m not sure why I got that ridiculously anal retentive.
But it turns out to have been a good thing — I found out after the dress was turned over that Stephanie’s
mother used to be a couture seamstress, and checked all the seams (as seamstresses are wont to do).
The only other note I have is that all of the pleating and attaching
of the skirts had to be done by hand. At the center back of the skirt, there’s
about nine stacked knife pleats. In VELVET. Lined velvet, no less. That
is a pain. It’s a pain in the neck, it’s a pain in the fingers, it’s just a
pain all over. It’s also mildly impossible. I had to sew the pleats together
in groups of three, then lash the pleats together, then sew the upper and lower
pleats securely square against the bodice. To give you some idea how much resistance
I encountered from the fabric itself, I broke three needles in the process.
Because I’m paranoid, the stitches holding the pleats together are tied every
third stitch, and the stitches holding the large pleats to the back (which will
take the strain if some steps on the train) are knotted every stitch.
All in all, both Stephanie and I thought it turned out darn well. :) (Note:
As Stephanie is at least as much of a perfectionist about the wearing of the costume as I was about
the making of it, I think I should point out that she knew the hood was sitting too far forward on
her head in these pics. Actually, that’s the first thing her email to me said when she sent me the
pics. There was an incident with a rather stiff breeze, and a lack of available mirror. It happens
to the best of us from time to time…..)
Golly, this is gorgeous, I’m in love with your website! And I have a question! I’m doing a gown a lot like this for my high school senior project, and am running into a bit of bother when it comes to the bodice. (Of course, I haven’t started any of this, don’t really have a pattern, and have negligible sewing experience, so the whole thing is “a bit of bother”.) Anyway, when you say that the bodice was done separately, you don’t mean that there’s a placquard pinned on front, do you? I can’t see one, but that’s the point, right? If I’m correct, how did you stiffen the front of the bodice?
Thank you! I mean that the bodice was cut and made up separately from the skirts. I don’t recall doing any placket fanciness on this one. :)
Hi can I ask you how you stop the petticoat from being pressed forward by the outer skirt? I’m struggling with my own dress made out of velvet
That is the eternal question. A pad under the back of the hoops or stiffened petticoat can help. Weighting the forepart (or front of any exposed underskirt) also helps to balance the weight – think heavy embroidery or other embellishment. I honestly don’t have a “oh simple just do…” answer because I’ve never found a totally satisfactory method. If anyone sees this and has a great trick, please share! You’ll be my hero. :)