Back in 2007 I decided to make a gown that would have been worn by a well-to-do woman in the Low Countries, a prosperous merchant’s wife or woman of the gentry. I perused the images of women depicted in triptychs of the time to see what would be expected.

Not surprisingly these gowns emulated the French gowns that were popular at courts across Western Europe at the time. However, there were subtle differences. Wealth and taste was shown through the cut and use of heavy, sumptuous cloth lined with fur.

There was minimal decoration, perhaps a string of beads, or simple gold chain, but women did not display the showiness of the French and Tudor courts of the same time.

The paintings of Gerard David depict women in this style as well, so in some ways this became a chance to try some ideas to improve my ‘Curtain Frock’.

I also decided to have a go at making an early style Beguin hood (or French hood, depending on what tradition you use to describe this style). As the images I looked through showed women in both styles.

I has a good length of Italian wool and some lovely patterned cream upholstery weight cotton in my stash, and so the dress came together.

The gown

This is what I came up with:

me in the Green French Gown with a Dutch twist

It’s cut with 4 panels through the bodice. The front panels then drop through to the hem (i.e. no waist seam), with a triangle gore in the front. The back skirt is cut in a long train which is shaped with an ovoid curve, cut long enough for me to tuck it back into the belt, as is seen in images of French women at the time.

The sleeves are a simple bell sleeve.

It is made of a lovely Italian wool fabric, which gave the frock its name. The words Pura Lana Virgine were woven into the selvedge. You can just see them in this picture. This phrase reminded us of a line from a latin song of the period “Gaudete”, which was hummed when I was constructing it, and so the name stuck.

It is closed with a hook and tape method. I stitched a thin woven tape down on the right hand side, with gaps so the hooks on the left hand side could hook the dress closed. This gives a very flat line through the front of the dress.

Overall I am very happy with the gown’s cut and construction – it gives the image of wealth and refinement that I think the paintings of women at this time were projecting.

The hood

The hood turned out reasonably well for a first go at a construction theory. It’s comprised of two layers:

1. A woolen cap, which emulates a very, very short truncated hennin, in order to give some shape to the back of the hood. This cap is lined in metallic gauze that was pleated to replicate the pleats seen in almost every instance of this hood. I cheated by sewing some hair slides into the cap so it would stay on my head – I have quite fine hair and most headgear eventually slips off if I don’t secure it this way. It’s better if my hair hasn’t been washed, but I’m often not willing to take that to the lengths necessary to keep heavy hoods on my head.

I’ve sketched a rough pattern for the undercap. This is a completely conjectural pattern, and if I was to make it today, then I would make a cap similar to the one on this page.

2. A semi-circle of velvet lined with silk as the ‘hood’. This is secured to the cap by three pins and given some shape with a further pin to tuck the drape of the semi-circle into a tube.

The first photo gives the look I was after, the second less so – the hood is too open, it should be much closer to my face, although I suspect this is because I didn’t look at a mirror before the photo was taken, not because the cut was wrong.