Sarah posted a totally, fabulously, fantastically AMAZING bit of research based off Drea’s equally fabulously, fantastically AMAZING database of wardrobe warrants. (Seriously, is this the best time for a costumer to be alive or what?) Go read them both. I’ll wait till you’re done with with Sarah’s points about the “pair of busks” entries….
I’ve been playing a lot with the Pfalzgrafin corset lately. One of the things I said in the original post was that this type of corset is rather uncomfortably on bodies that aren’t relatively straight, and is a total failure on more extreme hourglass shapes. But I wanted to make it work on Tyler, so I started thinking about two basic assumptions we make about corsetry: that the corset supports the bust, and that the corset has negative ease which allows it to reshape the body and make it smaller. What happens with the Pfalzgrafin block if we throw those assumptions out the window?
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.
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…
I had this horrible, recurring experience with some of my oldest costumes: I’d put a zillion hours worth of work into making something, right, and lace myself into a corset to make me skinnier, and put on enormous skirts that should have dwarfed my waistline, and the bodice and the yadda yadda, and, like, fifty pounds of tightly laced clothing later, my torso looked stumpier and my waist looked wider than it had when I started. That’s a lot of work to go through to look shlumpy, you know? Fortunately, there’s a simple little trick you can play with the waistline on an Elizabethan dress that will help…
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.
How much is there, really, to say about skirts? They’re pretty basic. I’ve never really been one to make patterns for skirts, because, well, I’m lazy, and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to whack out a rectangle. Somewhere back in the primordial fog of my early costuming experience, someone told me, “Gored skirts aren’t period. They waste fabric.” And I believed her, because it was easier than doing my own research or making with the thinkies. And shame on me, because it turns out that you can get through most of your costuming life if you know how to draft three basic skirt patterns. Ready?
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? ;)
I made my first Elizabethan corset back in the dark ages of internet time, when it was still pretty common to ask Real Live Humans(tm) how to do things. I got instructions that were relatively simple – a bust, a waist, divide by two, draw some lines, and presto-change-o, a corset pattern. It’s the method that had always worked for the lady who gave me the info. For me, it was a spectacular failure – too tight, too high in back, and completely uncomfortable to wear. I blamed it on my generally costume-clue-impaired state. But was there something else going on, that could result in two people having completely different luck with the same pattern draft?
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.