I’m a visual learner. I mean, I owned a copy of Patterns of Fashion for years before I ever looked at the words. (I’m not even kidding. Turns out the words are pretty useful too!) If you find yourself in the same boat, this might help. It’s a set of line drawings of the Pfalzgrafin and Effigy corsets, as well as my cheater curved front corset, lined up side by side for easy visual comparison.
Category: Costume History
Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk about something that makes my little costumer’s heart go pitter-patter: the Effigy Corset. I’ve had a major case of corset-brain lately (I think it’s a rebellion against that darned unfitted eleventh century thing), and I’ve been doing some research. You know what’s annoying about the Effigy? I don’t have a nicely gridded version of it drawn up by Janet Arnold. She spoiled us, you know…. I’ve no idea how to think without her beautifully scaled grids and neat technical notes. I so wish that the Effigy was covered in Patterns of Fashion. But it’s not, and I needed it…
Oh, that pesky Pfalzgrafin corset… It’s technically dated to 1598, by virtue of being found on the body of Pfalzgrafin Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg, who was buried then. It would be really-amazingly-super-conveneint if it was older, wouldn’t it? Seriously. I’ve really got an itch to do something from the middle of the 1500s. I’ve started the little chemise (I’m even trying to embroider the darn thing), and I’ve been messing around with recreating the Pfalzgrafin pattern based on the Basic Conic Block.
If you do sixteenth century costume, you probably love Holbein and Hilliard. You love/hate/generally-have-a-complex-emotional-relationship-with Bruegel. (Really, Pieter? You’re going to show me all those seams and still make the dress as hopelessly dowdy as possible? What’s with the hate, man?) You might not know Gerard David. His name doesn’t get bandied about in costume circles as much as some others, and that’s just a gosh darned shame. Because, truly, if you’re interested in the transitional styles between medieval and Tudor, Gerard is a fellow you need to know…
My life, and probably yours, gentle reader, would be much simplified if, perchance, our predecessors of the fifteenth century had taken a few moments to write a book on their patterning practices. Alas, they did not. Nor did our predecessors of the sixteenth, seventeenth, or eighteenth centuries, gosh darn them. I can’t tell you that I know how they did it, either. (Sad, but true: though I freely admit to lying whenever it’s convenient, I’m basically an honest girl.) What I can do is share the method I’ve worked out for my own use over the years. Who’s in? ;)
The surviving pattern published in Juan de Alcega’s ‘Libro de Geometria, Practica y Traca’(1589) represents almost everything we know about the farthingale. Most articles on recreating the Alcega farthingale focus on faithfully reproducing the pattern based on fabric widths. Honestly, though, calling this a “pattern” is a bit of an overstatement: the book was more intended as a series of cutting diagrams to help tailors avoid waste. The problem is, Alcega included some rather sharp commentary on on what he considered the proper size for the bottom hoop of the farthingale, but no real information on the size of the intended wearer. Complicating things further, modern bodies aren’t build quite like the popular model of the 16th century. So what’s a costumer to do? How about some trigonometry!
Trust me, this won’t hurt.
Yet another dry, dusty pile of academic writing… This time, the topic is the corsetry/torso support of the 16th century. I find the full history of the artificial silhouette totally fascinating, and I’m geeked beyond belief on the actual genesis of the corset. In the 16th century alone, a bunch of different devices are in play. Corsets, obviously – who doesn’t know about the Pfaltzgrafin and Effigy corsets by now? Wardrobe warrants also list stomachers (for Tudor gowns) made of pasteboard covered with tapheta – that’s certainly stiff enough to smooth the front of the torso into the signature tudor inverted, featureless cone. By the end of the period, warrants talk about busks made of whalebone and wire, quilted with sarconet. (How does that fit into a channel in a corset?!? Or does the end of the era, with it’s open-fronted gowns, turn back to the same infrastructure used by the earlier tudor gowns with stiffened stomachers? I have my theories, obviously….)
So here is…. Everything I know About 16th Century Corsetry,
This is an excerpt from a research paper I did a while back. The paper itself is 40 pages and covers 4 centuries of support skirts and corsetry. I figure it’s more digestible in smaller chunks. Please note: my regularly scheduled writing style has been suspended in favor of something more palatable to the hardcore academia types. Special thanks go to Stephanie for her proof-reading skills.
And now for Everything I Know About 16th Century Support Skirts…