Tudor Kirtle

[The following has been pasted directly from the livejournal post]

Sooooo...I made a Tudor kirtle in a week for a high-persona SCA event. It was madness. But I'm really happy with it! First of all, here are a couple of pictures from the event (Finchcock's Court), by Cat Lennox:

So here it is: the one-week, period-correct, hand stitched, I've-barely-slept-for-two-days Tudor ensemble!
In preparation for last weekend's late period, high persona event, I made Tudor garb. This was not planned. In fact, it was specifically planned against. I wasn't going to make new garb for this event; I had fabric but no time. I told myself over and over that I was not capable of making new garb in the time I had left before the event. And then last Friday I snapped after handing in a lengthy paper and decided I needed a break. "Break" is a word here used to describe an insane week-long sewing blitz filled with desperation and distinctly lacking in sleep.

Everything I am wearing here is completely hand-stitched, and the only thing I had already is the white shift. I made a wool petticoat, a wool and linen partlet, a linen coif, red silk velvet sleeves, and a red wool gown trimmed at the neckline and hem with velvet. I'm so pleased with how this garb turned out, and I can't wait to make more Tudor stuff! The Tudor period is what originally got me interested in costuming, so I'm really excited to *finally* have made an ensemble from this period!

The bodice shape - with a pointed waist and upwardly-curved square neckline in front and a deep V in back - is based on the drawings of Hans Holbein, and the skirt is pleated in the manner of the Pisa gown (in the absence of extant English examples), with openings at the sides and knife pleats running from nothing at CF to meet at CB. It is based on gowns from England from the 1530s and 1540s, but could be used as a base layer for much of the 16th century. I draped the bodice on my mannequin and altered the skirt pattern from one of the Henrician kirtles in The Tudor Tailor. Among other things, I cut 9" off the train, and it is still quite long. The partlet is also based on one of their patterns, and then re-draped on me to get the lines right. I think the partlet still could have been a little wider at the shoulders. Ah well. Next time.

Though I wore it for the event as a gown, this garment is technically a kirtle, made to go under a fancier gown and show at the neckline and at the hem if the overskirt is pulled up on skirt hooks. It needs a buckram bodice underneath it, but the double layer of linen canvas it's lined with was pretty solid on its own and worked really well. There are still things left unfinished, such as the raw seam allowances in the skirt and the lack of lining on the bodice. I also realized at the event that the train needs to be lined in something darker - probably more of the red wool - because it has a tendency to fold over and show the white interlining. But all in all, for one week of sewing, I'm extremely pleased with how this worked out! It was really awesome to get to wear late-period garb at the event, and the experience of getting a full outfit done from scratch in one week was actually really confidence-boosting.


Here's the day-by-day dress diary:

First of all, I had the fabric already. The main fabric is 100% wool, and it was a 4 meter piece I got in one of fabric mart's blitz sales online for about $20 net. The trim and sleeves are made of rayon/silk velvet that I bought from Mistress Bess when she was clearing out her stash. It is about a yard, though there were little slits and holes here and there to avoid when cutting, and cost me only $5. The black wool for the partlet was a set of extra cuttings and scraps given to me by Dame Sarra, and is mostly wool with a bit of something else in it, she thinks. The linen canvas for the bodice innards was from Burnley and Trowbridge. I had a yard and a half of it and had originally bought it for making 1770s stays, but due to the Louisbourg project it didn't look like I'd be using it for a while. The other bits of linen were scraps from my stash.

Day 0 was the Thursday a week before the event, when I handed in a lengthy paper and sort of snapped. I decided that I was indeed going to do this garb. I began researching the finer details of Tudor dress cutting - what layers would I need? Could a square neckline be paired with a back V? How far over the shoulder blades did the two little seams in the back of the bodice go? How was the skirt pleated in? Were the panels shaped or not? Was there a seam on the straps at the top of the shoulder, or were they cut in one piece from either the front or back of the bodice and attached at the neckline? Where should the lacing go to be most versatile, useful, and accurate? There were a lot of questions. Late Thursday night my friend Els dropped off my copies of the Tudor Tailor and the Queen's Servants, which she had borrowed. I wasn't able to start the gown that night, but I was prepared to start immediately the next morning.


(Hans Holbein - inspiration for the back)

On Day 1, Friday, I went in to the costume studio in the morning and draped the bodice on my mannequin. I mocked it up in the linen canvas directly and tried it on with lacing strips on the sides. I altered the neckline and armholes slightly, lengthened the bodice by about 1/2" at the bottom while reducing the length of the straps, and took about 1/2" off the waist at each side. I used a double layer of linen canvas in front and a single layer in back, but I left the seam allowances quite wide where I could and tacked them down flat, making the back double-layered almost everywhere. I spent the evening of Day 2 at Dame Sarra's helping with a Victorian corset draft and mockup, so I didn't get very far on the bodice.

On Day 2, Saturday, I tacked down all the seam and hem allowances on the bodice. This took all day. I was expecting it to only take a few hours, but I was a bit sick and it took a lot longer than I'd thought. I simply pressed the allowances open and whipped them down. At the corners of the front neckline and the tip of the V in back, I whip-stitched across the raw edges to keep them in place. I also dabbed it with clear nail polish, as my linen canvas was really prone to fraying. The grain of the linen canvas was really squidgy, and could be stretched and squiggled around every-which-way, so I quilted the two layers of the front piece together. I put a vertical line up center front and five or six lines on each side (I can't remember how many), and four or five horizontal lines down from the neckline, to just under my bust. This was also important because I cut one of the front pieces on the lengthwise grain and one on the crosswise grain to give it strength in both directions, and I needed to quilt them together to act as one before one stretched well beyond the other.

On Day 3, Sunday, I cut the bodice pieces from the wool, sewed them together, and began to attach them to the linen canvas bodice. Instead of having shoulder-top seams, I cut the straps of the bodice in one with the back pieces and attached them to the front at the neckline, to be hidden by the velvet trim later. So the linen canvas layer has strap seams atop the shoulder, for ease of alteration in the first fitting I did on myself on Friday, but in the wool the seams don't show. I attached the wool layer to the canvas by laying the canvas down over the wool and folding the seam allowances of the wool over onto the wrong side of the canvas. Since I'd already tacked down the S/As of the canvas, this gave a really crisp edge when the thin wool was folded back. Because I had attached the straps to the front piece right at the corner of the neckline, I had seam allowances there which could be folded over to the wrong side without leaving a slit of raw-edged wool in the corner:

IMG_5286 IMG_5287


On Day 4, Monday, I finished attaching the wool to the linen and tacking down all the seam allowances and hems, as I had with the linen canvas. I was careful to tack them only to the canvas layer, without any stitches showing through to the right side. I then basted the lacing strips back on and tried it on in the mirror to make sure all was well. Seeing that it was, I began to put in the 36 hand-bound eyelets. I used a leather awl to start them and then a size 5 knitting needle to stretch them out periodically as I stitched them. I use whip-stitch on my eyelets, not buttonhole stitch, as I find it easier to lash them open with whip stitches, and they are so small that no one notices the difference.

On Day 5, Tuesday, I had class all day. However, I was able to finish the eyelets during the break. After class I laid out the wool on the big cutting tables and drafted the skirt pieces directly onto the wrong side of the fabric, altering the pattern in the Tudor Tailor to my own specifications. I cut one front and two backs, all shaped slightly. I reduced the train by 9" (and it is still a definite train!). I also calculated the pleats and marked those out. I didn't cut yet, however, and I left the fabric at the studio overnight. In the evening I cut out the velvet sleeves.

On Day 6, Wednesday, I had class again. During lecture I put together both sleeves and hemmed the top and wrist of one of them. A snow day was called at noon, and I stayed at the studio to finish cutting the skirt. I cut all the wool pieces and then laid them out on the 4 yards of factory cotton I was going to flatline/interline them with, basting them together there on the table before cutting. I transferred the sewing lines through to the factory cotton, since I never measure even seam allowances. That night, I finished off the sleeves. I was really sick with a cold, which made cutting an awful chore, but it had to be done. I hate cutting large pieces - little bodice pieces are fine, but there's something about cutting huge skirt pieces that gives me the heebie-jeebies. This was not a good day in this project, even though I got a lot done.


On Day 7, Thursday, I had class. During lecture I pleated the tops of the three skirt sections and stitched the skirt seams together. That evening I dropped by the studio to use the tailoring irons to press open the skirt seams and steam the basted pleats down firmly. I left a 6" opening a the top of each side seam as a placket for getting in and out of the garment, as that is where the lacing on the bodice is. That night my roommate and I went to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was playing at the local cinema, and it gave me renewed energy for the project. I stayed up all night stitching. I was using an unfinished 18th century petticoat as the underskirt for the kirtle, so I hemmed that and bound the top in a cotton tape waistband. I attached the kirtle skirt to another cotton tape, and stitched the tape to the bottom of the bodice (I chose to finish all the edges of the bodice, rather than binding the top S/As of the skirt to the bottom S/As of the bodice and attempting to finish them without bulk, as I was not lining the skirt in the traditional sense). I finished the second velvet sleeve, cut a velvet guard for the front neckline, and cut velvet straight tape for the hem of the skirt. I attached the neckline trim, simply folding the edges under and slip-stitching it down as I went, and bound the hem in the velvet strips. The hem is curved, but the velvet has such a slippery grain that there was no need to cut the strips on the bias. I went to sleep at 7 a.m.

Grading and stitching the pleats:


On Day 8, Friday, I woke up at about 11 am (4 hours after I went to bed) and continued working. I drafted and cut out the partlet and began to stitch it. That evening I had SCA choir practice at Dame Sarra's, and while I was there I finished the partlet. I simply sewed the linen layer to the wool layer, right sides together, and turned it. I was going to understitch it (stitch the linen to the seam allowances from the wrong side) to keep it crisp at the turned edges, but after pressing I realized that it really didn't need it. Linen and wool take pressing really beautifully. That night before I went to sleep, I cut out a simple coif and seamed it together. Then I went to bed, in an attempt to get at least 6 hours of sleep before the event.

On Saturday morning, the day of the event, I was to be picked up by Sir Gareth and Mistress Gwen at 11. I woke up at 8, did my hair, got dressed, put in contacts (ugh), and flat-felled the seams on my coif. In the car on the way there I stitched the linen strings to the coif for wrapping around my head. In the dressing room at the event I pinned the sleeves to the straps of the kirtle (and through to the edges of the partlet) with my veil/sleeve pins (made by Lady Greta) because I hadn't had time to stitch eyelets for ties into the straps and sleeves. I also pinned the gold chain to the front of the bodice, with the pendant bearing the arms of Lord Diarmaid, to whom I am Demoiselle. The bodice is laced on one side with a dark red cotton lucet cord that I already had (I usually use it to sew my braid to my head), and on the other with a dark red cotton-linen braid. However, the two strings look almost identical, and you'd never know that I only had time to braid one cord before the event. =D I should mention that under everything I was wearing my 14th-15th century white linen shift. It is not as voluminous as a Tudor shift, but it did the trick. The belt is the silk sash of the house I am a friend of - Golden Oak Inn.

And then we had the event, and it was awesome! And I didn't spill food on my gown! And it was comfortable! And I only had to re-lace once!

And now I have to go finish the seams on the skirt, line the train with red wool, and line the bodice. And make a better coif that doesn't make me look bald. =)

Here are some more event photos, for good measure. =D





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