Sunday, September 16, 2012

Venetian-Hungarian update

So it has been a very busy week around here, and with only 2 weeks left the tempo can not slow down if I am to finish everything before I depart for the event.

Since my last update I have finished the last of the 40 thread covered buttons for my husband's Hungarian coat. I also patterned to body and sleeves of the coat. There are a few more adjustments to make after the last fitting but by the end of the day i should have the body assembled. I am even using my lucet to make cording when i am on the treadmil.

I continue to practice wearing my new corset. The fabric has stretched slightly but everything seems to fit together well. I am now on the 4th row of embroidery on the front of my camicia. I need a total of 5 rows down the front and back panels, 4 down each side panel, the sleeves and my neckline. In order to make my portrait complete I will need to focus on the front and neckline for now, and I can address the rest of the blackwork after the event.

40 completed thread covered buttons for the Hungarian Coat. Made with wooden beads and embroidery floss .

To do List (mostly so I can print this and stay on track)

  • camicia blackwork
  • camicia construction
  • small shift construction
  • goldwork gorgiera (partlet)
  • More lucet cord for lacings, button loops and Venetian sleeve ties 
  • Venetian bodice
  • Venetian sleeves
  • Venetian skirts
  • String pearls for hair jewelry 
  • Hungarian coat body and sleeves
  • Hungarian coat skirts
  • Hungarian coat cuffs
  • Attaching buttons and loops to Hungarian coat. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tudor Tailor French Gown Foresleeves

While I am doing blackwork for 8 hours at a time, my Venetian camicia is not ready to be posted about yet. Instead I want to share some important information for anyone trying to make a French gown with accessories from The Tudor Tailor. I love this book but there were a few problems with the publication. The woman's foresleeves do in fact have a pattern included with the gown and kirtle, but the instructions were omitted at the time of publication. The wonderful women at The Tudor Tailor have since realized their mistake and will provide anyone with a pdf version of the instructions on their website.

Detail of  Elizabeth I from The Family of Henry VII, Hampton Court Palace.  These sleeves are similar in size and style to the instructions given on The Tudor Tailor website. 
 I have observed that is is just one kind of foresleeve. I am working on a extensive handout on these accessories because of all of the variations available. Because it takes so little fabric to make foresleeves it is a great place to try out new embellishment techniques like couching or other forms of embroidery. These compact accessories are also a good place to display expensive fabrics. you still get the image of being incredible posh, but you do not have to buy enough of that fabric to make an entire gown. Sometimes foresleeves match the underkirtle's decorative forepart, but not always. When making foresleeves for your gowns remember that the closer you get to 1550 the larger these foresleeves get and the more likely they will be to have additional fabric pullouts. 

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland in 1520's. Her foresleeves are narrow compared to later versions of foresleeves. This pleated look can be achieved using box pleats.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wearing your Corsets well

I have been told so many times that corsets are uncomfortable and awful to wear. My response to this is simply- you must not be doing it right. Here is a quick checklist for all of you inclined to try wearing corsets.

  • Always wear something under your corset! Historical corsets (as far as my research has shown me) were NEVER worn next to the skin. There are many reasons for this but the two best ones are that its really uncomfortable for long periods of time and the corset would need to be washed more often.
  • Hand wash your corsets! I know we put lots of tension on a well built corset some times, but modern washing machines will degrade the fabric faster. Depending on the style of boning you have it may degrade over time as well. The biggest problem with doing this is that usually the ends of the boning channels will wear down and the stays/busks/boning may poke through while you are wearing it. Lay your corset flat to dry on a towel. Electric driers may shrink fabric and hang-drying corsets may stretch the fabric.
  • Use good lacing! I know this sounds obvious, but I do know people who try and use silky rayon cords to lace corsets. The problem with that is how well the cord will stay tied. There are few things less comfortable than a corset lace undoing itself while you are being active.
  • Practice Wearing It! Most of us do not wear garments like this on a daily basis, and are not used to how it sits or shapes the body. I make it a point to wear a new corset around the house for about a week- maybe only a few hours at a time-  before I plan to wear it. All of these corsets are going to make you stand up straighter. This is the number one reason people give me for not liking corsets. I would remind you though that over time you grow accustomed to the way you have to carry yourself when you wear one (no slouching). Corsets over time begin to compress the waist more and more which can be a legitimate source of soreness or pain. I do not wear 19th century corsets for this reason.
  • Not all Corsets are Equal! Do not wear a corset from Victoria's Secret under an Elizabethan gown. Corsets from different eras may not shape you in the way you need it to. I swear I did it once and had to go in for a professional massage because my back was so sore.
  • Modern Corsets- Modern corsets have two functions really. Some will smooth out your body for a formal gown. Other corsets are designed to be worn in the bedroom. Usually, modern lingerie models are where the public sees women wearing corsets without anything under the restrictive garment.. Neither of these styles work well under period gowns. Please make or buy a corset of your own.
  • Get one Custom Made! For all of you who tell me that corsets are evil, try getting one made to YOUR measurements. Many people do not fit an "off-the-rack" size chart. A poorly made, or ill fitting corset will cause hours of grief. If you can not get a corset made for you get a professional to size you in person. Try on different styles because they all fit a bit differently on different people. 
That's all for now. Good Night :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Venetian Challenge

Inspired by an Italian Masquerade event that I will be attending at the end of September, my projects are taking a brief vacation to the shining city on the lagoon, Venice. Starting in at the beginning of August I had 8 weeks to build a Venetian Ensemble from the skin out, and a Hungarian Ensemble for my husband.  So far here is my progress:

  • Week 1: Research and order supplies I could not find locally. Start 40 thread covered buttons for husband's coat.
  • Week 2: While waiting for supplies research how gowns were made. Draft corset pattern, discuss construction details with those who have made them before. Prep supplies as they arrive. Build and embroider husband's 16th century shirt. Look to my post on a Man's Tudor Shirt.
  • Week 3: Construct Corset. Look to my post on Effigy Corsets with Reeds. Begin drafting camicia pattern based on the instructions at The Realm of Venus Camicia Page
  • Week 4-5: Mock up/patterning Hungarian coat. Embroidery the camicia in red using a Holbein stitch and patterns based on a sampler in the V&A museum. Drafting was done by  Katla Jarnkona from Also making yards of lucet cording for button loops, lacing, and ties. 
More updates will be posted as the project progresses. 

Italian embroidery pattern worked in red, single ply embroidery cotton for camicia. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Men's Tudor Shirt Reflection

Not too long ago I had a reflective moment on my sewing skills. My husband needed a new undershirt for his Tudor clothing i am making him so I busted out The Tudor Tailor, made some alterations based on what i wanted him to have, and got to work.
When we were first dating I made him a shirt not unlike this one but the quality was vastly different. It was my best work until that point. I purchased some cream broadcloth from Joann's Fabrics and used a Butterick costume pattern. Commercial patterns (McCall's. Simplicity, Butterick, etc) are a great tool to learn from, but it is much more satisfying (and will have a more period cut) when you can draft it out yourself. The poor man was always fighting with those satin ribbon ties the pattern suggested at the cuffs. Satin ribbon just does not stay tied well.

This time around I purchased the correct fabric for the period and started from there.The completed shirt was made from white lightweight linen i purchased at As i mentioned earlier, it was based on the basic shirt pattern in The Tudor Tailor. I put as much detail as I could into his new shirt. One thing I have learned over the years is that all of the little things they did with their garments had a reason, we just have to learn it. Look close at the bottom of the neck slit and you will see what I knew as a bar stitch (has in hook and bar). While nothing is going to hook onto it, this small detail prevents excess stress from being put on the bottom of the slit, causing the shirt to rip.
I have even learned to make my own cording to use as ties at the neck and cuffs. An early medieval technique, called lucet, is easy to learn and the basic tools can be purchased inexpensively. This cord may have been braided from unimpressive crochet cotton (size10) but it holds its knots and bows all day. This also encouraged me to look into how the cuffs were done in period, and you might be surprised. In The Tudor Tailor you will find extent garments with an eyelet and toggle. In Janet Arnold's

Patterns of Fashion 4, There are other extent examples where they simply use two worked eyelets and a piece of cording to hold the cuffs closed. I never would have thought of doing cuff's this way on my own (silly modern sewing techniques) and wanted to give it a go. 

Eyelets being worked with a horn awl. Finished size is about 3/8 in.

Instead of linen or even silk thread I bound these eyelets with DMC embroidery floss. The eyelets look beautiful, but we will see how often they come untied when he wears the shirt next month. 

My final loving touch to make my husband feel really special was having him pick out a blackwork design for me to use on the collar. Next time I will work the embroidery before I assemble the whole garment. That's what happens when you are too focused on making sure it fits I suppose.
Sometimes I am amazed at how much my skills have developed in the last 4 1/2 years. Here is to another 4 1/2 years of honing my skills. Next time maybe I will stitch his shirt by hand. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Effigy Corset with Reeds

When people hear the word corset the fist things that pop into their head are usually Gone with the Wind or Victoria's Secret. This project had nothing to do with either. This project is centered around one of the earliest forms of corset, although at the time it would have been called "a pair of bodies" or "stays."The Westminster corset or Elizabeth I's effigy corset is famous as late 16th to early 17th century example of corset. This example is made of a fabric called fustian, a weave of cotton and linen, and edged with thin leather (Leed). The extant garment was stiffened using whalebone. 
This is the extent effigy corset at Westminster Abby. 
Maestra Tatiana, an SCA contact, took my measurements and drafted me a pattern based on her own which only took moments. The pattern is considerably shorter in the front than the extent garment, but it will still create the silhouette for my clothing. We discussed her draft vs. the extent and basically concluded that the only reason you would need a corset that long would be for a bodice that dips to the bottom of the fingertips.  The other major difference between her draft and the extant garment was the use of hook and eyes over lacing. This developed our of a need to get dressed quickly. You certainly could still use eyelets and lace the garment up the front, and i probably will make one like that next to test the differences for myself. 

The Materials

  • 1 yd linen canvas from (preshrink this)
  • 1 yd white bridal silk from JoAnn's Fabrics and Crafts (the least slubby I could find)
  • 1 1/4 yd (roughtly) light green drapery silk (left over from a previous project and in large pieces)
  • regular and silk thread
  • 1 lb of 2mm reeds (used about 1/3 of the roll)
  • Awl
  • Embroidery thread to bind 4 eyelets (less than 1/2 skein) 
  • 11 large hook and eyes (3 packages from JoAnn's)
  • Ruler
  • Sharp sheers
  • Hand sewing needle and tapestry needle
  • pins
  • Sewing Machine
  • 1/2 yard cording for straps (satin ribbon will not stay tied, make or buy cording)

I first cut out all of my fabric: 1 layer of each silk and 2 layers of the linen canvas. Janet Arnold has a great section in Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-          1620 on 16th century stays made from silk and linen. I then used a basting stitch to join each of the silk pieces to a linen. The three sections of this corset are finished independently of each other. 

Corset pieces pinned and getting ready to be basted together.
I then pinned the corset together, linen to linen, and sewed my channels by machine using the presser foot (3/8ths of an inch) as my guide. The only channel I marked and stitched was the diagonal across the front pieces of the corset. i then proceeded to sew strait channels above and below it. Cutting the fabric, basting, and finally sewing the channels took the better part of a day. 
Cutting reeds to stiffen my channels.

The next step was stuffing those labor intensive channels with reeds. I chose reed over whalebone because it was also used in this time period to stiffen support garments, and it has a greater availability than whalebone. I have heard that there are synthetic substitutes out there if anyone else wants to tell me how they worked out for them. Along the diagonal front channels I used spring steel, which is both strong and apparently acts similar to whalebone. Putting the reeds into the channels was the most time consuming part of constructing this garment. i would suggest if you want to try it to get very sharp kitchen shears or craft scissors. Using blunt or even just dull shears will end with the reed tips splintering. These splinter with then catch on the slubs of your linen canvas, making it difficult to force the reed through. If you find this to be a problem, twirl the reed in the channel until the splinter is free and keep going. I promise you will not feel the splinter when you wear the corset. Be sure that the reeds are going between your layers of canvas and not between the linen and silk. They will poke a hole in your silk and be pushed out of the channel otherwise.
I next cut my binding. In the original they used leather, which has no real grain. I chose to cut the remaining 3/4 yd of light green silk on the bias and use it as a binding. But how to bind it? What style should I use on the corners? I asked around and studied the images of the original garment once more.I even made samples of the corset tabs and bound them with different styles. The conclusion I reached was that the corners were imperfectly mitered. I applied the binding with a machine first and then turned it under and finished by hand using silk thread. Silk thread is stronger that most cotton or polyester threads, but is still thin. It also does not snag or knot as much as normal threads.  

With each piece completed separately i whip stitched the pieces together on the bindings. Then I matched up the straps and used and awl, embroidery floss, and tapestry needle to make hand bound eyelets. One in each strap end, and one on each corset front at the armpit . 

Finally I stitched on the hook and eyes alternating which piece is on which side so they would not come unhooked all at once. Mine are space 1 1/4 inch for the center of one hook to the next eye. I needed to use 11 hooks, but depending on your spacing you may only need 8 or 9 hooks. I would still recommend purchasing a dozen to start with. I had to stop with just 3 sets left because I ran out after the store closed. 

My corset is now complete. I can tell that it is going to keep my straighter than my old one so i may need to get used to wearing it, but initially its very comfortable and lightweight. The reeds still shift a bit in their channels, but my research says they will eventually settle in. I will not be machine washing this garment because of the reeds. Hand wash and flat dry only I think. Adjust the cord ties connecting the straps for your comfort and to best hide the corset when you are wearing it under a gown. 

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women      c1560-1620.  Hollywood: Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 1985. Print
Leed, Drea. "Discovering the Effigy Corset." 08-09-2012.
Weaver, Lettice. "Reed Boned Effigy Corset" 08-09-2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Follow up on ACMRS Lecture

Last week I attended a lecture about some "wicked" women in Tudor history. Myself and the Tudor Project were asked to attend and add ambiance through our gowns. ACMRS now has pictures up of the whole event on their website. If you did not make it to Prof Warnicke's talk hopefully you will at least enjoy the pictures.

Some of the Portrait Clothing from The Tudor Project. Photo by ACMRS and ASU.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History

For anyone living in Arizona, there is a great opportunity coming to Tempe, AZ! Have you hear about the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renascence Studies? They are a statewide group whose purpose is to stimulate interest in the time period from about 400 to 1700 CE. They publish scholarly works, lecture, and hold events for those interested. For more information on ACMRS please visit their website:

This week they are doing a talk at Changing Hands Bookstore about Anne Boleyn and Lady Leicester.The tittle of the lecture is "Queen Anne Boleyn and Lady Leicester: Wicked Women of Tudor England," and will be held on August 16, 2012. That is this Thursday! The speaker, Prof. Retha Warnicke,specializes in the Tudor court, gender issues, and early modern history. Prof. Warnicke is particularly known as an expert on Anne Boleyn, and has published many scholarly works on her life and other related topics. Prof Retha Warnicke currently teaches at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.
For more information about this talk and how to get a FREE seat go to the link below. Don't forget to RSVP because seating is limited!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Anne Boleyn's Gold Embellishments

Miniature of Anne Boleyn. While this image has the best detail of any of the French Hood  portraits there is still debate over the portrait being painted within her life time.
So do you all remember the dress I made based off of Anne Boleyn's miniature? I chose the miniature because it seamed to have the best detail. Well, I was never fully satisfied with Anne just having gold brass beads on her neckline. They gave the idea of what the gown had, and I was asked to do this on short notice. All of that aside, now I have been allowed the time to go back and do it right. so I plan to.
Detail from the beading on Anne Boleyn's Bodice.
After some research and digging around I stumbled across a few extent garments from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. amazingly they have thread covered buttons made with gold thread, and on one example they are purely decorative. Any avid costumers out there can imagine the excitement I got from this discovery.
Copyright of the Met Museum of Art, New York City.
 Accession Number:41.64
So Now I am trying to reproduce these using DMC gold embroidery thread (size 5 pearl split in half) and some wooden beads. I am starting with the directions in The Tudor Tailor for the buttons I have 29 more to go to completely replace the ones on my gown and placard. When all of the brass beads are replaced I will be sure to post new images.
Current "button being worked on.
"Blouse." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. 8/6/2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Queen's Jewels

I am sure that anyone reading this blog has watched or read some historical fiction based on Henry VIII's reign. Remember the huge deal the Queen's Jewels were? When looking at portraits of Henry's many queens, you start to see the same pendant, or pearls with settings show up again and again. Bellow are images from Henry VIII's court. The crown jewels from this time period probably look unlike anything you have seen on showtime or in the movies.

Necklace Grouping 1, Queens of England (Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard)

Necklace Grouping 2, Queens of England (Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr)

I am pairing up more portraits of Queens and their jewels, I have at least 2 other pieces i am tracing. Keep checking back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loose-bodied Kirtle

At chocolate revel last year i saw sever very well made, and worn, loose gowns. It is my understanding that these gowns started as surcotes in Spain. As Spanish influence grew in the 16th century their popularity spread. In England, they started as an informal dress you might wear at home or after court functions were done for the day. They also grew in popularity with those who were older and shying away from fashions which were growing more ridged and complicated. Another demographic this gowns were especially popular with were pregnant women. Some women would lace kirtles looser and adujest placards over their belly, others especially heading into the mid 1540's and later, might wear one of these dresses.

Queen Katharine Parr from the National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

I have a loose gown that I use at camping events as a glorifieid coat to stay warm. Now I have been inspired to create a new one from scratch and the proper under gowns. I did a little research and decided to borrow my friend's pattern by Margo Anderson to work on my loose-bodied kirtle, aka loose kirtle. I cut out the detachable sleeves and front piece of the gown.

While I was home for a few months last fall I took the time to start embellishing the front piece and sleeves with couched gold thread, pearls, and yellow seed beads. Doesn't this fabric look amazing with the embelishment?

Yesterday I cut out the back and side panels of the gown. I used a simple cotton twill. I know that some people suggested that I use a cheep muslin, but I was concerned about the vast difference in weight between that and the upholstery fabric I have been working with. Then I progressed to spend the afternoon stitching the loose kirtle together. All of my construction sewing is complete, and my seems were finished with flat felled seams.  Today I am hemming this by hand and if I have time I will make binding for my neck and arm.
 The final step will be to make eyelets by hand. watch for the upcoming tutorial.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Final Reflection on the Tudor Project-- analysis on how to make this gown correct for 1530-36

So now that I have had some distance from my work with the Tudor Project, I want to fairly analyze my work on the Anne Boleyn  portrait reproduction.

The Research

I wish I'd had 6 more months to do research. In the months since our project completed more research on early Tudor garments has been published by the Tudor Tailor workshop in England. In addition to their new book, The Queen's Servants, I have found illuminations depicting French and Flemish court ladies in full length.  It is my belief that Anne would not have been wearing a hoop skirt as I did last fall. According to the Tudor Tailor shop hoops are not worn in England until the 1540's, putting them well out of what Anne was likely to be wearing. Incase you need further help to visualize the difference, take a glance at these two portraits of Princess Elizabeth. The portrait on the left is from a mural at Hampton Court. On the right there is a portrait which was painted later for King Edward VI, Elizabeth's brother.

(left) Princess Elizabeth, c. 1543-1547.  'The Family of Henry VIII', detail. Anon. Hampton Court Palace. © The Royal Collection.
(right) Princess Elizabeth, c. 1546-7. Attr. to William Scrots. Windsor Castle. © The Royal Collection.

The my other problem that could have been solved with more research was the gold embellishments around Anne's neckline. I only had a few weeks to try and figure them out and chose to use bead in their place.

Recently I started doing research on this again and hypothesized that these gold embellishments are beads covered in gold thread. For progress on this piece of research look at my post on thread covered buttons.

The Construction

My Smock--- My smock was a recycled muslin one from back in the day due to budget concerns at the time. I plan to construct a new one of handkerchief weight linen soon and then I will re-apply my embroidery  . I also need to cut the neck of my smock smaller than I did on this one.

Foundations--- No one in our project had time to make a proper foundation kirtle. Some ladies had boning put strait into their bodice. I chose to use tent canvas as an inner lining on my over gown and to wear my pair of bodies and half petticoat from another outfit. The skirt would occasionally slide an inch to display the waistband of the petticoat. I will remedy this by constructing a boned kirtle as shown in the Tudor Tailor.

Over gown--- I am generally very happy with my gown. The shape of the back is modeled after a sketch by Holbein, and The Tudor Tailor. My hem was stiffened with felt, a 16th century practice. The skirt was lined so that I could attach my skirt to bodice by hand--- a period practice. My gown as a train, not one large enough for a member of the royal family, but it was enough to create an effect and for me to learn to maneuver in them. My placard is pinned in place, but I need to acquire better pins to that end. Faux fur for my sleeve lining was not only cheeper, but I did not want to use real skins for ethical reasons.

Accessories--- I ordered my "B" necklace from the UK. The other necklaces were made from pieces available at our local bead store. My fore sleeves (half sleeves) have seed beads which were not in use at this time, and I need to make them slightly narrower or add false poofs in my slashing. Finally I am happy with my French Hood. I patterned the hood myself, and did some research into that gold frill across the top. The best research I have seen suggests that it is attached to a coif i would wear under my hood, but in this state I was worried about having so many layers on my head to trap heat. As a result I chose to attach the frill directly to the brim of my hood.

Thank You again to everyone involved in the Tudor Project again. Also thank you to Johanna Garcia for allowing me to use a few pictures she took of my in my gown.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tudor Cookery at Hampton Court

Have you ever tried food from back in the 16th century? There are lots of manuscripts and cook books that have survived from this time period (relative to earlier periods). Hampton Court, the center of Henry VIII's court, today has period cooking demonstrations about once a month. Many of us in the States can't go and watch these demonstrations, but we can watch the videos posted by Royal Historic Places.

I plan to try their recipe for a "Tarte owte of Lent." It seems to be a savory cheese pie made of things you are not allowed to eat, in the 16th century, during Lent.

Please check them out, buy tickets for a demo, or just download pdf's of their period recipes for free! You can also follow them on Facebook and Youtube for more updates and videos.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thread Covered Buttons

Sixteenth century clothing has a multitude of closures. Sometimes garments were pinned in place such as ruffs or placards. Men would tie their hose to doublets to keep them up. Kirtles and doublets could be laced closed. But today we are discussing closures commonly used on doublets and jerkins, the thread covered button.

Boy with a Greyhound by Paolo Veronese, 1570's. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 There is documentation in, Janet Arnold's Pattern of Fashion 3, that these buttons could also be placed on garments as purely decorative pieces. A loose gown in Nurnberg is held closed by a series of these buttons with loops, but other buttons appear to have been added among the embroidery to create impact and flare.

Italian Camica (called "Blouse") Detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
We know from pieces in our modern museums that many men across Europe used thread covered buttons as a relatively inexpensive way to close there outer garments. With one skien of DMC Embroidery Floss, an embroidery needle, and some round wooden beads we can create buttons like these for modern uses. In period, silk or metal thread would be used instead of DMC Embroidery Floss to cover the beads. If it is avaliable to you, please try silk and comment about your results. I hope to try silk thread on this one day, but while I practice with my first sets and different styles I will use cheep cotton instead.

For this style I passed the needle through the bead hold and tied the bead onto the end of my length of floss. I then did 5, evenly spaced, button hole stitches around the beat and secured the thread to my first knot.These six wraps of thread become ribs or anchor points for the rest of your stitches Finally I passed the needle with thread first under the next rib, around the rib a second time to secure my stitch, and then repeat with the next rib. After 5 buttons I am averaging about 35 minutes a button, but I am hoping to get my time down to 20 minutes a piece soon.

Try to leave a long tail at the end of the button, or attach one by making a knot in some more floss, pushing the needle up into the bead, wrapping a  few stitches around one of your ribs again, and bringing the stitches back down. Attach these buttons to your garment using some shank stitching.

Works Referenced

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-          1620.  Hollywood: Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 1985. Print.

Blouse, detail. 16th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Archives. Web, 3 April 2012.

Caliari, Paolo. Boy with a Greyhound. 1570. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Archives. Web,             3 April 2012.

Malcolm- Davies, Jane and Ninya Mikhaila. The Tudor Tailor. Hollywood: Costume and Fashion Press,          2006. Print.

New ways to do visual research

I am thoroughly addicted to a new forum for research. Have any of you heard of the website Pintrest? is an online pin board that lets you save images and describe them in your own words. You can browse other people's images and boards or save images from any where on the web. My favorite part of using this is that all of these images are basically saved to a cloud network. If my computer crashes, none of my images saved to pintrest will  be lost. The only issue I have found is that some of these images have been too small to  be "pinned" or that the "pinning" tool has had problems transferring them over. Its not a regular problem, but it does happen. I started using this so much that I have create a second sister account just for 16th century research.

I encourage you to follow my pintrest boards and research I am in the process of writing up at:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blackwork, A Historical Introduction

Have you ever noticed the difference between a pretty Henrician ensemble and an exquisite one? What made the difference for you? For myself and many others, the difference that makes our heart stop is the detail and care put into the outfit. during Henry VIII's reign there are numerous ways to embellish your clothing, and most of these techniques are best done the same way there were back then-- by hand.
There are legends that state that Katherine of Aragon brought this technique to England. In the modern era, costume historians have corrected this assumption. Blackwork was indeed popularized in England by Katherine, but it was a style that had already existed in the tiny island kingdom.
Miniature of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, painted by Lucas Horenbout. Fitzroy wears an intimate cap with a repeating blackwork pattern worked across it.

Through the numerous portraits from this period, as well as some later extent garments, costume and textile researchers have studies these techniques. Janet Arnold devotes whole passages in her book, Patterns of Fashion 1560-1615, to style of embellishment and embroidery.

Getting patterns for these embroideries, such as counted and uncounted blackwork, from period portraits and textiles can be fun. Remember to start with a simple pattern and work your way up in complexity.
Counted patterns can be a little more complicated to reproduce, but they are well worth the effort.
This portrait of Bess of Hardwick painted in the 1550's is famous for its simple and intricate embroidery using this technique. Not only is the interlocking pattern on her sleeves greatly detailed, but it is also a leading example of colors, other than black, which were used.

a simple way to try this technique and incorporate it into your 16th century closet. Make a cuff for your smock or shirt using a high count cross stitch linen. Embroider the fabric in two rows, long enough to use as your cuff. Don't for get to leave about a 1/2 inch to 1 inch seam allowance for sewing your cuffs together and attaching them to your garment. As you get better move away from the cross stitch linen  and use linen the same weight and the rest of the garment. Once you are comfortable with embroidering on standard linen fabric try embroidering some frills to attach to your cuffs.
Miniature of Queen Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger, ca 1541.

For More information on this technique and some practice patterns try some of these links.
West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild
Blackwork Archives
Embroidery class taught by Taught by Baron K. Braden von Sobernheim

Monday, February 13, 2012

Anne Boleyn-- A Quick Biography

Anne Boleyn is one of the most recognizable figures in English history. She was born the second daughter of  Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard around 1501. When Anne and her sister Mary were sent abroad to receive an education. Anne spent many years at the court of Queen  Claude of France and became one of the Queens favorite maids. While in France, Anne learned to speak and read fluent French, dancing, music, fashion or power dressing, and theology. Queen Claude supported and sheltered many protestants in her court, and this exposure is often seen by historians as the source for Anne’s more radical spirituality in later years. The positioning of Anne so strongly on the continent leads many historians to think she was never meant to return to England. Instead they argue that she was meant to be married off to a French noble. When war between England and France became more likely, Sir Thomas recalled Anne to England.

When Anne was brought home she was betrothed to one of her wealthy Irish cousins, but the contract fell through. She was then accepted into the service of Queen Katharine. During her early years at court Anne caught the eye of Henry Percy, the only heir to a rich Earl, but their requests to marry were not approved by King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. Soon after this denial Henry began to court Anne and asked her to become his mistress. Anne’s refusal lead Henry to change the course of English history forever.

Henry desperately wanted a male heir to succeed him on the throne, and Anne was young and lively. Henry fell in love with Anne’s French styles and mannerisms. This began the proceedings to annul Henry’s marriage to Queen Katherine. The proceedings wore on for seven years. During these years Anne began to have increasing influence over Henry with matters of state and religion. She gave him protestant texts, a risky move at the time, which denounced the Pope’s authority within individual kingdoms. Henry also ennobled Anne as the Marquess of Pembroke in her own right which had never before been done for a mere woman. The turning point came when Anne finally consented to sleep with Henry, many years into their relationship it seems, and Anne became pregnant. This is when Henry broke with Rome and married Anne, Then having the Archbishop of Canterbury declare his marriage to Katherine invalid and his marriage to Anne lawful.

Anne was crowned in 1533. The procession was elaborate and included new members in the train- the judiciary. Anne knew that the law would be her sword and shield in a world where the Church as no longer all powerful in the realm. The people of London did turn out for her coronation procession, but not as many were cheering as Anne and Henry had wanted.  In September 1533. Anne gave birth to the Princess Elizabeth. A minor disappointment but one healthy child lead the King and Queen to try again. A still born boy was one of the results, and the fetus was  rumored to be deformed. In the context of their world, this was a bad omen.

As Queen, Anne played the model English Queen. She and her ladies stitched shirts for the poor, distributed more alms than her predecessors, and attended mass regularly. Anne had several portraits painted in the traditional Gabled Hood and at least one in her famous French Hood. In Anne’s rooms, there was a copy of the bible in English on a lectern. Her ladies were all encouraged to read from it for their own spiritual nourishment.  Anne also encouraged the estrangement between Henry and his first daughter Mary. Anne feared that if Mary was not put into a lower station that she would try to outshine Elizabeth.

In 1536, Henry’s advisers tried to find a way to bring down Anne. When it became clear that the Christian world would not tolerate the same biblical verses being used to discredit this union, the courtiers worked on discrediting Anne. Anne and 5 other men were convicted of adultery and high treason. To further vilify Anne, she was charged of having incest with her brother.  After Anne’s beheading her body was stripped of all clothing by her few attendants and placed in an arrow chest. Anne was buried in an unmarked grave under the chapel of the tower grounds. The remains were exhumed during the reign of Queen Victoria  during renovations to the chapel. When her body was examined they discovered that she had no sixth finger as her enemies had stated.  Anne was reburied with dignity under the same chapel, but she now lays near the high altar with a name marker.

Anne’s daughter Elizabeth would later become Queen Elizabeth I.

In the Tudor Project, this is the amazing woman I tried to reproduce. From her clothing to playful attitudes.


Hanson, Marlee. "Anne Boleyn: Biography, Portraits, Primary Sources.", 02 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <>.

Toscani, Melissa. "Anne Boleyn." King's College. Department of Women's Studies, 29 Mar. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <>.

Weir, Alison. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. New York: Ballantine, 2010. Print.

Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. Print.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wearing Clothing Comfortably

People are always telling me, "I could never wear something like that, its just too uncomfortable." With all due respect, I have to disagree with their assumptions. Please take some time and consider these thoughts to make your experience wearing this clothing more comfortable.

  • Get help from a knowledgeable person to dress you in complex clothing. Yes, there are times in our lives when for special occasions we wear uncomfortable clothing. It was true in the sixteenth century and it is today. There are not many of us who run around in strapless, poofy ball gowns on a daily basis. Many extreme fashions you find in some portraits and written accounts were put on with assistance of others (grooms, ladies, maids, etc), but not everyone could afford to be followed all the time and have multiple other people assisting them. It is my understanding that at the English and French courts, and probably several others. Ladies would assist each other, if they were sharing quarters and depending on rank, or they would have a single servant assisting them. What is the lesson I am getting at here? Make friends with another person who enjoys wearing similar styles in clothing as you do and help each other. If they also wear the clothing on a regular basis they will understand how it laces together, how the garments should feel, and how the finished ensemble should look.
  • Have your clothing made for you- not "off the rack" if you can help it. Making your own clothing, or having it made to fit your exact dimensions will make it much more comfortable to wear. A pair of bodies (forerunner of the corset) which is too long under the arm will hurt all day long. Hose made for someone else will fall down or sag oddly all day long. It may take longer, or cost more money, but having the clothes fit your unique body will make you much happier. Don't forget, standard clothing sizes didn't really become popular until the second half of the 19th century.
  • Please wear the correct undergarments! A Victorian corset does not belong under 16th century clothing. These time periods are very different and you will find that if you mix time periods like this that you will be in pain by the end of the day. Go the extra mile and lace your hose to your doublet and get a pair of bodies. Don't skip layers or under garment pieces either, unless you are positive of what you are doing. I live in Arizona at the moment and us rarely wear one of the under kirtles I should because of the heat, but the purpose of that garment is to keep me warm and add fullness to my skirts. My compromise? I use other practices such as lining my skirts and using bands of fabric around the hem (guards) to add fullness, without adding extra heat and weight. Another compromise I have made is that i will always wear foundation or shaping garments required for the outfit. Cartage pleated skirts get very heavy and can cause back problems if not properly supported. I will always wear skirts like this with appropriate foundations (a heavy petticoat, farthingale, bumrolls, etc).
  • Practice! Practice! Practice! You will always feel clumsy and foolish in clothing from any period until you are used to wearing it. My best solution is to wear it around the house and get used to being comfortable wearing it where you are comfortable. Start with your undergarments, the add your over garments. The weight of the clothing can take some getting used to. Don't be discouraged if some modern buildings were not meant to accommodate your period clothing (ex: farthingale). There were wider doors back then. Just decide on the most graceful way you can to correct the problem. Once that has been achieved, wear it our and show the world how wonderful your clothing is. Walk, dance, curtsy, bow, jump, turn left and right. If you aren't sure it looks right, grab a mirror and try again. The only way to get better is practice. (Ladies: remember how you learned to wear heels--walking back in forth in your rooms-- its the same idea here).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Tudor Project

The Tudor Project was one of the most informative and incredible experiences I have had in my young career. The goal of this group was for each person to commit to reproducing a portrait from the court of Henry VIII of England. Everyone thought it sounded simple at first, but then many of us started to research and examine the details of this clothing. Eventually we were discovering things that had fallen in the cracks of previous researchers or re-creationists. This is not to say that we think we are better than those before us, or who have different views on the construction of this clothing. Everyone that I worked with feels that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, but that we are the ones choosing to reach for the sky.

There are many different stories to how this started, but what it all boils down to is that we were a group of people willing to find our way into the right places at the right time and help each other to finish our goal. When the procession started, there was not a single person who did not look amazing in their ensemble. There was also not a single person who had not learned at least a little bit during the project.

Thank You to all of the amazing people I worked with. This blog is dedicated to you.