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.
The Spanish Farthingale is a stiffened underskirt that gives Tudor and early Elizabethan skirts their characteristic conical shape. You can make a very passable one with a full length gored skirt pattern (either a commercial A-line skirt pattern, or one you draft yourself), a lot of ribbon or bias tape, and boning.
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.
File this one under “possibly useful to some one, at some time, somehow”: this is a series of pictures of corsets I’ve made over the last several years. Each one shows me standing in profile, next to my dress dummy. This makes the changes in my shape imposed by each corset fairly obvious, and the pictures all together give you a pretty good idea what different types of boning and styles of corset can do for a girl.
This is one of my favorite Elizabethan era hats. It has style and panache, and it’s often completely over-the-top in stature. You can pull the wired brim into a lovely arc, which has always seemed to me to be the Millinery equivelent of a raised eyebrow. It’s a smart hat, extremely suited to the prosperous merchants and casual nobles. Women should be careful to make this hat a bit small, so it sits on the hair rather than the head and allows the caul to be seen.
The Floppy Pleated Hat, which I’ve heard called a ‘Muffin Cap’ is a hat comprised of a Soft Brim and a Pleated Crown. When made from a softer fabric, this hat has a very unstructured look apprpriate to lower class characters. From stiffer fabric, as above, it’s a rather charming style formiddle class characters trying to make their fortunes.
"Floppy Toque" is not the correct name for this hat. I don’t know what is. It’s a slightly untidy look that’s great for characters who are a little down on their luck, generally dishevelled, countrified, or who generally wish to convey that "aiming for fashion but missing" appeal. The following instructions assume that you have already made your Basic Brim Patterns. If you have not, you’ll want to follow the link and do so.
The Toque was a popular style in Spain and Italy. (Hence, “Spanish Toque” and “Italien Bonnet”.)