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