Friday, January 10, 2014

The Tied Ribbon Dress by Vecchio

I found this portrait over a year ago and became fascinated with it. So because of my need for lightweight court clothing to wear at Pennsic I set out on making my own rendition on this gown.
Palma Vecchio, Woman in Blue
I have chosen to interpret this dress as the ancestor of the "ladder laced" dresses seen on many noble. Venetians later in the century. I would like to thank Melissa Jones and Anabella Wake for their insight into constructing this garment. The camicia was constructed using Anabella's instructions on The Realm of Venus.

The Materials:
5 yds of blue cotton damask (During the time period it was made with silk)
1/2 yd high quality blue velvet (Period material would have been made with silk)
2 yds green silk (sleeve linings)
6 yds of homemade cord (in place of silk ribbons)
1 yd of linen for bodice lining
2 metal bones
1 hook and eye

At this time an extent garment of this style has not been shared with the public. My construction is based on period paintings and extent pieced available to the public for study. When constructing any gown I always start with the cut of the bodice. If that doesn't fit well and flatter the individual, nothing will save the outfit. I chose to base my bodice cut on the burial dress of Eleanora di Toledo as described in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. If I were to construct this garment in the future I would probably opt for a straight side seam under the arm instead as no related paintings from the 1520's or 1530's show angled side seams like those I have used. Both styles, when fit well, will produce a beautiful garment and have some basis in historical practice. After sewing and attaching front ties and not being unable to fit my garment well on my own and messaging others with pictures of my fitting woes a beautiful bodice was born. This bodice was edged in strips of cross-grain velvet similar to this portrait.

After many attempts to solve some fit issues which sprung up, I realized I needed to shorten the shoulder straps. 

My next feature was to make the sleeves. A fun detail in the painting is what appears to be a split sleeve which is tied together with ribbons. Similar cuts were popular on the Iberian peninsula and spread to other regions in Europe. Not every ribbon tied dress had this detail. After a bit of draping I discovered that rectangles roughly 28 inches by 33 inches created the correct drape and fullness. When I originally constructed the dress I still had not found the silk lining and bound the sleeve edges with velvet anyway. While at Pennsic I discovered a wonderful store called 98th Fabric District which carried many beautiful silks. Once the perfect fabric had been acquired I disassembled the sleeves to add it. 

The second sleeve, in this case gold with slashing to reveal red silk, will be the subject of its own blog as they are not yet completed. 

The skirt was simple as this dress is intended to be worn outdoors in the summer. I used the remaining yardage and created a large tube with panels. These panels were then box pleated into the bodice and sewn in place before the lining was attached over them to protect the raw edges. In period the bodice and skirts were probably finished separately and then hand sewn together. I did not wish for the extra bulk of lining in my skirt and opted to use finishing seams instead. The gown was hemmed by hand using a rolled hem.

After the skirts were attached I stitched a large hook and eye into the waistline at the center opening to keep the garment from accidentally becoming untied. I can not document this practice, but hooks and eyes were in use by the 16th century and it makes me feel more secure while wearing the dress. At first I tried to wear the gown without any stiffening in the bodice and the summer wear at the time does not have a stiff silhouette, but my larger bust is demanding more help than all of my fittings have allowed. As a result I have sewn one metal bone into the dress along where the lacing strips are to assist in my need for more support. I have also started practicing breast binding to see if it will provide a solution. 

This dress was a departure from my typical clothing, and I love how cool the dress is since I live in a desert that Henry VIII could only have imagined. I will continue to play with the dress and publish any helpful amendments I find as I wear the style more and become more comfortable with it. 

I wore this dress when being belted as an apprentice in the Society for Creative Anachronism after Pennsic.