A dress for Midwinter – Design decisions

TLH_Section_tapestry_David_Sees_Bathsheba_WashingFor the last two months I’ve been working on pulling together this outfit for Lochac’s Midwinter feast, specifically the lady with her back to us on the far left of this group. This is a section of the tapestry David Sees Bathsheba Washing, circa 1526-1528.

I’ve had to make a number of design decisions for this ensemble – some of which were set for me as a challenge and thus have enhanced my decisions through constraining them.

The challenges were:

  1. Use the pattern for this style of dress from Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress, Medieval-1500 by Jean Hunissett pp-116-117.
  2. Try out and decide on a technique for achieving the highly decorated look around sleeves and hems.

Also, I was attracted to this dress as I wanted to try out some theories:

  1. That black line on the edge of each dress is an underdress peeking through with an applied black band on the edge of the neckline. That’s based on the layers seen in this picture from Joos Van Cleve, where the fur lined dress is clearly positioned over a black layer.
  2. Test out the shaping and layers on the caps that are seen in these tapestries, and in Lucas van Leyden’s line drawings.
  3. Play around with skirt drape some more, following work on the gold linen gown from August 2012, and the green Gaudete gown.
  4. Look at the work of Ninya Mikhaila and Caroline Johnson in The Queen’s Servants who cover this era for English court clothing.

The Hunnisett bodice pattern, after a small amount of scaling fit my body shape perfectly (yay!), and so there’s not many design decisions that need to be made here.

The decoration has been a conundrum unto itself. I’ve had the full tapestry as my background on my computer screen at work for the past few months, so I could slowly notice details and let me sub-concious work on design decisions. It’s come up with the following for those borders:

  1. They were probably woven in OR
  2. They were embroidered in OR
  3. They are appliqued on OR
  4. They are a feature of tapestry design and never existed.

juana2I swing between options 1, 2 and 4 on any given day. There were highly skilled weavers in the low countries at this time, and so a woven in decorative border is plausible. Images of Juana, Duchess of Burgundy at the time show her with a partlet with an embroidered edge that is similar in style to these borders, albeit not as wide. I’m also paying attention to the bezants on the edge of her gown and sleeves as well. On the other hand we know that cartoons for tapestry design had small fiddly design elements added to it to fill in the space, as is best shown in the design practice of millefleurs.

I do not have access to a woven in fabric with this type of design, so that option is out. I do not have the time to complete that amount of embroidery, so can’t do that either.

The applique option is plausible. One idea I had was to purchase the hole punches with decorative edges that are currently being marketed to scrapbookers and see if it punches through silk. I could then apply this silk to the gown fabric by using an interfacing that sticks down on both sides, and tack down key points to keep it attached.

Sadly, despite online suggestions to the contrary, the punch did not go through fabric. Not silk or cotton. Not after sharpening the punch with aluminium foil, or with the fabric sandwiched between paper to give it stiffness. Oh well, it was a lovely idea.

Last idea, which is not what I think actually occurred, but may give a good effect is to paint the pattern onto the fabric. A study on fabric painting in period shows that for the period around the turn of the 1500s painted fabrics were used extensively as wall decoration, mimicking tapestries. Evidence for painting on clothes has only been seen for children and burghers, and in a very specific circumstance – as gilding on the clothing of a King of France! So, that’s the next theory – use modern opaque fabric paints to see if they can give a good effect against the chosen fabric.

If that doesn’t work then I’m back to a bias cut gard with applied beads and bezants.