Press "Enter" to skip to content

Costume for Nicolas Hilliard (2002)


bobfairefront bobfairefrontfar bobfrontall bobfronthalf bobincostume bobshoulder bobsidefaire bobslops bobslopscanions bobslopscloseup bobslopsfunnycorner bobslopsslashing

I had the rather great privilege of getting involved in a costume-for-portrait
trade with the fellow who plays Nicolas Hilliard, who happens to be a fantastic
artist in real life. This is great on a number of levels, especially since I
was given leave to go a little nuts with the costume. One of the major factors
in settling on the design was that Hilliard carries around a wooden easel that
he uses when he does portraits on site, so we wanted to make the shoulders out
of something that wouldn’t wear through easily. As far as I’m concerned, any
excuse to work dead animal into a costume is a good excuse, so the shoulders
ended up being made out of leather. For a number of theatrical reasons, as well
as the purely practical ones, the design of this costume rather breaks from
the image of Hilliard in surviving miniatures. Most obviously, there’s not a
scrap of black anywhere on the costume (except for linings). It is a solidly
period design, though. In fact, it’s taken almost directly from Patterns of
Fashion. The doublet is based on a surviving leather doublet – bob’s original
design for his costume had trim radiating out from the neck, so we altered the
pattern from PoF to include that detail. The slops are, pattern-wise, directly
off of pg 75 of PoF, (except that the waist measurement is smaller and the pocket
is rather smaller as well).

The top of the doublet and the sleeves is quilted green leather.
The stitch lines of the quilting are laid in with gold trim – alternating between
a heavy gold soutache, and a delicate gold open braid. The lines are about 1.5″
apart at the scalloped edges. They get considerably closer together at the doublet
neck (the practically converge) and the get slightly farther apart at the tops
of the sleeves. Sewing leather in a house without air conditioning when it’s
98 and humid is not a very good idea. The machine foot does about the same thing
that human thighs do on leather car seats in july. I’ve fallen absolutely in
love with tearaway stabilizer as a way around this rather lamentable fact of
nature. (The other option was to walk the machine for all of the leather work,
and honestly, I did not have that much time.) The fabric part of the doublet
and sleeves is a green stripey heavy cotton (it feels like it has been sized
slightly with something, but I bought it as a remnant from another costumer
so I don’t know). All the pieces were cut on the bias, and yes, all of the stripes
chevron up exactly, except for a small part of the bottom of the front closure
(and the side seams, which don’t really count because no one sees those. Really.)
The doublet and sleeves close with hook and eye tape. I think, now that I have
had time to try this and curse and cry a lot, that I will *NEVER*EVER*EVER*
again do anything that involves joining leather with any fabric cut on an unstable
bias. Ever. I mean it. The sleeves on the doublet tie in, which is unusual for
me lately. (I hate tie in sleeves. They’re so fussy. And please, don’t mail
me ant tell me that all sleeves in period tied in. It’s not true. :) )

I went a little nuts with the slops, which was silly considering
the time constraints involved. They needed some visual interest to keep up with
the doublet, and I thought, hey, gee, *nobody* ever does serious amounts of
slashing in court (note: this is because the rest of them are, comparatively,
sane), I’ll try that. That’ll be lovely. I wanted to do something that would
have a strong vertical design element, without looking like I was trying to
make paned slops but not entirely clear on the concept ;) and the slashing and
cording fit the bill. Here’s where things start to get insane: I had to have
the costume ready for a dress rehearsal on sunday, and in fact, it had to be
on faire grounds at quarter to 8am sunday morning. On thursday, I started cutting
the slops. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have enough fabric. So thursday
night, I was dying three yards of white velveteen grey. Friday morning, I realized
that the grey I had managed was mottled and no where near dark enough. (This
was probably related to the fact that my pasta pot was never designed to hold
three yards of 60″ velveteen.) Friday night, I was getting more dye and redying
the velveteen, in a much larger container. Since I didn’t have time to do it
over, I used twice as much grey dye, and added a touch of black. The fabric
promptly turned out darker than I wanted. (And at least two people have told
me that the completely slops look a touch purple under indoor lighting. It’s
not purple. It’s grey. No matter what you think you see, it’s grey. I dyed it,
I should know. And Hilliard can’ wear purple, so it’s very important that everyone
believe me when I say this is grey.) So, friday night and wretchedly early sat
morning, I was sizing and cutting the slashes on still damp fabric. I ran out
of fray check, switched to clear nail polish (fray check is watered down clear
nail polish, basically), ran out of a supply of clear nail polish that I swear
I have had since the mid 80s, and finally, grudgingly, switched to fabric glue.
I didn’t want to use fabric glue because it creates little bitty, nearly microscopic
stringies all over the place, but I think it turned out to be the best of all
of the options I tried, because it stays slightly springy when it dries, so
the slashes (cut on the bias) can pull a little without ripping if they catch
on something, but spring back into shape. My dining room ended up looking like
spiderman had dropped by and had an epileptic seizure by the time I was done.
The gold cord is two strands of gold lame crochet thread. My mother saved my
ever lovin life by helping sew the cord down while I did handwork sat evening.
THANK YOU MOMMY, thank you thank you thank you. Not only did this woman give
me life, she (yet again) helped me out of an absolute disaster caused partially
by my inability to plan my way out of a damp paper bag. (Of course, technically,
she was the one that introduced me to sewing, which I’m still not sure was a
good thing to do to my sanity.) Anyway, once all of the great huge (90″ wide)
panels of slashing and cording were made, the slops were assembled per the pattern
on pg 75 of Patterns of Fashion. There’s a closeup pic of the funny little corners
you get at the front and back inside of each leg panel above. These help to
hold the legs in a nice, even poof. (This is only a useful statement if you’re
looking at the pattern, and wondering about that odd little box cutout at the
bottom crotch area of the leg panels.) The pleats in the legs have a 2″ strip
of padding worked along the length to help the cartridge pleats maintain their
shape where they attach to the canions.

Technically, the design for this costume was approved on a sunday, the construction was started
the following tuesday, and it was done sunday morning. Not bad, considering a list of crises that
included my sewing machine deciding to hate me and refuse to play, and two takes at dying the
fabric. I think that, overall, this is one of the best costumes I’ve ever turned out. I really
like the leather shoulders and upper sleeves, and the slops. :)


  1. Gia
    Gia December 6, 2010

    I’m intrigued by the mention of clear nail polish and slashing. Do you paint before you slash, or do you slash first and then paint? Does it work on fabrics other than velvet (ie. does the ‘glue’ bleed thru to the front of the fabric and look weird if you use a non-velvet fabric?) And is this method machine washable or dry-clean only?

    • missa
      missa December 6, 2010

      If I remember correctly (and I might not, because it was years ago), I marked where I was going to cut, put on the sizing, let it dry, and then cut. This was so the cutting wouldn’t cause the slash to ripple like they can do when they’re cut on the bias with a scissor instead of a chisel. Fabri-tac or other fairly viscous glues will do best at not bleeding through, and it helps if you apply them with a paint brush to get a this coat. The thinner the sizing (including some brands of clear polish), the more likely it is to bleed through and darken fabric. I’d experiment on a scrap before committing.
      This is, incidentally, just a modern take on a period cheat involving melted wax to seal edges. Period clothing involves a crazy amount of sizing (for stiffening structural layers as well as ye olde fraye-check).

  2. Gia
    Gia December 7, 2010

    Any chance it’s washable? Or is the sizing just-sturdy-enough to allow it to be worn and that’s all?

  3. missa
    missa December 8, 2010

    You know, the sizing is sturdy, but I think I would really go with dry-cleaning or hand-washing on a costume like this (even if you didn’t have the leather involved). There’s too much of a chance of a laundry mishap where something might snag and a slash grows into a tear during the machine agitation and spinning.
    That said, fabri-tac holds and fray check are both designed to hold up well to washing. So does clear nail polish, in my experience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.