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Teri’s Court Gown

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I had the privilege (well, I felt privileged, anyway) of doing
costumes for two members of the Bristol Court this last season. Teri’s gown
was a very last minute commission — if I recall correctly, I got it two weeks
before faire was set to open. Yikes! The fabrics had (mostly) all been bought
by the client with the help of her Guildmaster, but there wasn’t so much what
you’d call a design in place. The first time I met with Teri, she explained
that she wanted to portray a younger female character at court, and didn’t want
to do a standard issue, “matronly” looking court dress with a tall
hat. (Those of you who have been to Bristol have probably noticed that our court
ladies have a distinct “look”, and that’s what Teri wanted to avoid.)
We settled on an italien inspired design, with an open partlet. Since Teri is
a very tall girl, I got a chance to play with some of the bolder design elements
that never sit right on me — namely, those great big guards that run straight
up and down the front. She wanted to have something interesting on the back
of the dress, and I wanted a chance to work the back closure into the design
somehow, so the guarding continues from the front to the back (over and under
the armscye) and makes an odd sort of tapering design. It looks pretty cool,
although it’s not something I can document in the slightest. (There’s just not
a lot of portraits of people’s backs, huh?) With the italien inspired design,
Stacy (the Guildmaster for the Court) approved a hairpiece instead of a normal
hat. Whether that was love, faith, or just plain desperation, I don’t know.
I didn’t ask. ;) The hairpiece, which looks a lot like a big white muffin in
the photos, is actually a fairly fancy italien style hair twist coronet around
the head, with a braided bun at the back. This is covered with a transparent
white close veil. I think it turned out rather well for my first attempt at
making a hair piece, and it covered Teri’s extremely short hair nicely.

Now, for the technical details… The bodice and skirts were constructed separately,
and hand stitched together into a one piece gown. There’s a fair amount of resistance to the “skirts
attached to bodices” theory of construction up in the Bristol court, but I really felt that that was
the only way to make sure that the guarding on the bodice and the guarding on the skirts lined up
perfectly and never moved around. It also ensures that the skirts and bodice never gap apart when the
wearer bends, and that’s a plus. The guarding is appliqued black hammered satin, edged with flat gold
braid. The guards on the bodice were applied as a single piece of satin, stitched down, and then the
extra was trimmed away to create the guard pattern. That made it easier to get all the lines and
angles correct, since satin likes to crawl. Since my client planned to bead the satin areas, I couldn’t
use my normal trick of gluing things down, so I had to do it the hard way — with lots of pins and patience.
(Ugh. I hate pins.) The sleeves are made separately, and attach with swim suit hooks (the long flat ones
that are designed to hold a swim suit bra closed) and looks inside the bodice straps. This appears to
have worked amazingly well, and I’ll use it again in the future. The cuffs on the sleeves are fake — it’s
just a band of velvet, attached to the finished sleeve. There is no boning in the bodice. The partlet is
cut as a rectangle with a horse shoe shaped piece removed, so it that sits over the shoulders in an italien
style. The entire open edge has a gold organza ruffle, and the body of the partlet is composed of a layer
of very light weight cotton voile and a layer of fine gold mesh. There’s a small detail in applied gold
cord around the neck.

The hair piece is set onto one of those headbands with the built
in comb that are normally used for veils. Because the Teri had such short, fine
hair, the only way to keep it on her head was to make the front of her hair
into two little piggy tails, so that the comb had something to grab. There’s
a band directly in front of the comb, which has a hair laid over it so it looks
like part of the updo. Behind that is the coronet twist, which is covered by
a (removable) close veil. The hair in the piece is the fake hair meant for hair
extensions. It’s done up, sewn through with a decorative gold thread, then shellacked
into place. (Yes, shellac. Waterproofed shellac, in fact. I didn’t want to redress
the piece every time it rained.

For what you can’t see in the picture, there’s a very nice corset
(cream colored silk shantung with a top guard and straps in blue velveteen,
with a line of gold trim marking the border between the cream silk and the blue),
and a petticoat in sky blue hammered satin with guarding in a dark brownish
color. It was rather pretty. Teri also had a hoop skirt, made by her mother.
I’d made her a bum roll (yes, I actually made one of the blasted things). Since
I hate the idea of those showing if a skirt placket abandons it’s post, I’d
made it out of the dress fabric, and set it up to mount to the petticoat waist
band with hooks and eyes. Owing to a long list of circumstances that I find
somewhere between annoying and unfortunate, and the good intentions of others,
she was convinced to abandon that in favor of a larger bumroll mounted on ties.
Now, not to harp, but I want to take a moment to quote Jean Hunnisett (She Who
Oughta Know(tm)): “Never leave pads on tapes to be put on by the dresser or
artiste as they nearly always pull them too tight, making the pad ride too high
in the waist.” For those of you who like your bum rolls and will be separated
from them by nothing short of the Great Scissors of Death, I *strongly* advise
you to mount the roll on hooks and eyes that connect to the petticoats, or on
ties though eyes on the corset. Mark this carefully, so the roll is precisely
where you want it every time and cannot shift around. (On a front opening skirt,
you can sew the roll into the skirt pleats.) Tied rolls shift, and it’s ridiculously
difficult to get them tied at the right level!


  1. Amanda
    Amanda August 19, 2010

    I found your block pattern on the interwebs – I’m so terribly intrigued –

    Any advise for a beginner wishing to bone her first corset?

    • missa
      missa August 20, 2010

      Hi, Amanda,
      How you bone a corset depends a lot on your body shape, but there are some general rules. For a ‘bethan style corset, you’ll want the boning running straight up and down at the center front and center back. The boning should fan out from the center front, so that it’s running diagonally by the sides. (In long lone corsets, or for column shaped bodies, you can run all the bones straight up and down. Hourglass and Barrel shapes will find that straight boning at the sides is uncomfortably pokey.)
      As far as the mechanics of the boning process, the easiest thing to do (for me, at least) is to use jumbo cable ties. You can lay them out on the lining of your corset then trace down the sides so you know where to stitch your channels. Make sure the bones are cut 1/4-1/2″ shorter than the finished length of the channel – otherwise your corset will look all spiky at the edges. Hope that helps!

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