A dress for Yule Feast – update 1

Yule dress planSome weeks ago I posted about the design decisions I was making for the gown I am making for the annual Rowany Yule Feast. Here’s the current situation:

  • The gown has been patterned to sit over an existing lightly boned bodice. It is a V-backed, side opening bodice, with a cut-through front piece for the skirt, and 3 pieces in the back skirt
  • All pieces (excepting sleeves) have been cut out out of a lovely teal velveteen
  • The bodice has been made up and all edges except the neckline have been finished
  • The partlet has been cut from wonderfully patterned fabric, shoulder seams sewn up, and hemming has commenced

I’ve drawn up a plan of action to ensure the dress is completed in time for an earlier event – Fields of Gold, simply because I’m running Yule Feast, and trying to run and event AND finish a dress is a madness-making endeavour.

Next steps:

  • Decide on a lining fabric for the skirts
  • Research neckline edgings for these gowns. I know that a black line is OK from the tapestries I’m taking this dress from, but as I plan to put an edge down the open sides of the skirt and along its hem, I am wondering if I should mirror this colour in the neckline
  • Order pearls for the sides and hem of the skirt
  • Cut out the coif, so I can sew it during Wednesday games nights

Heilwich Gheerts – A fellow Low Countries costumer’s work

Heilwich Gheerts is the persona of a costumer who lives about 4 hours north of me. She makes very good recreations of the clothing of Flemish women in the mid 1400s. I’ve often admired her outfits as they look like they’ve stepped out of the pictures of Rogier van der Weyden, and often I can tell exactly which one she’s based her outfit on.

Heilwich has just posted two articles on her helm crests research site detailing the layers she wears for a woman from 1450, and how to wrap and pin a veil a la Rogier van de Weyden.

A look through the rest of her site will turn up similar gems, and I get the impression she’ll be posting more about women’s clothing of the Low Countries in the 15th century.

Planning my gown for Yule Feast 2013

My next project is a dress for the Barony of Rowany’s Yule Feast. It also comes from the Tapestry of David and Bathsheba – a woman from the front left foreground of the tapestry.


Group of women in foreground of the tapestry

Group of women in foreground of the tapestry

Here’s a close up:

What I can see:

Dress – Skirt and bodice like all other dresses in this tapestry, and many other tapestries and portraits of the time, i.e. it’s a transition era dress. This specific variant has a curved front to the bodice, and I think it’s more likely to have a V in the back, rather than the high-backed trapezoid style from my other Dutch Transition Style Gowns.

It has a black edge along the bodice.

The skirt is open at the sides, like the dresses seen in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, and the woman in this image. Unlike the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries this skirt is caught together with jewels or ouches. The skirt edge is decorated with a line of pearls, possibly placed over a coloured edge.

Her sleeves are reminiscent of Germanic and Spanish sleeves of this era. They are made of two parts, and tied into the sleeve cap. They are slashed in 4-5 places, and have the long drapey elbow that you see in Spanish portraits of the time – I’m going to need a very wide sleeved chemise for this one.

She is wearing a coif and a barret on her head, which is tied under her chin. The barret is seen at a variety of angles throughout the tapestry on both men and women, which should make it easy to recreate.

A close-up detailed view I found on Flickr shows that she is wearing a rounded high-necked embroidered partlet, or a  rounded high necked chemise. This is consistent with most other tapestries of this style from this period, and is certainly on my to-do list at some stage. Not sure it will be done for Yule Feast.

What I will use:

A friend of mine has promised teal velvet that I can use for the dress, which is lovely (and exciting). I have some jewels from a bracelet supply store for the sides of the dress. Glass, or very good plastic, pearls will need to be ordered for the skirt border and hem. I will use the acetate satin for the bodice edge, as I did with the Black on Black on Black Gown. I’ll be sourcing some voile for the chemise, perhaps a patterned one if I can find it.

I have some bronze silk that I may turn into a quick coif based on Genoveva’s goldhuabe pattern, since the lady standing next to this figure has a coif which is more German in shape than many of the Flemish and Dutch coifs that I’ve seen, and in fact look exactly like the Cranach woman on Genoveva’s page.

The barret will be made from felt which I will need to purchase. The fabric store up the road has a variety of colours, so I need to decide if it will be the murrey in the picture, or the blue of the lady next to the main figure. I’ll probably use the barret pattern from All the King’s Servants as the basis for the hat, splitting the brim more often than that pattern does. Also, I have make some embroidered designs for each split in the brim at some stage, although this will be a lower priority.

To be decided:

Does this dress open at the front, as is most common for transition gowns, or at the side, in keeping with a split skirt? A survey of the Lady and Unicorn tapestries may give the answer.

How full will the skirt be, and therefore how many pearls will I need? I’d like to use Hunnisett’s circle skirt pattern again, I just need to determine if that’s going to sit properly on the open side seam.

Do I cut the front in one piece, or with a waist seam? Currently tending towards one piece, and wheel pieces to give the front sweep of skirt.

Exactly how am I going to pattern and construct the sleeves? I’ve built slashed sleeves before, so it’s more about the layout of each piece. Also slashes on velvet is very different to slashes on fulled wool. Coming soon: A survey of Germanic slashed sleeves on Dutch and Flemish women of this period to help this decision.

Black on Black on Black, a Transition Gown

20130706_160256(Dress completed for Lochac Midwinter Coronation, July 2013)


The bodice and skirt are cut from a pattern taken from Hunnisett’s Costuming for Stage and Screen: medieval-1500. This pattern has the shoulder strap coming over from the centre back and joining at the armpit point. It also has the sleeve built as one piece with two small side panels, based on images from the period with a variety of bodice seam lines. I needed to adjust this pattern piece as I chose to have a more luxurious fabric for my sleeve and hence needed to cut the sleeve and the side bodice pieces separately. The decision to use a different and more luxurious fabric for this style of sleeve is based on detail of a woman from a Flemish tapestry of the era (which I’ll upload once I have it scanned).

The splitting of Hunnisett’s pattern into a sleeve with separate side pieces was less than succesful, and while I am happy with how this dress turned out, I won’t use this pattern for separated sleeves like this again. It is also not suitable for tight sleeves. It is amazing for loose draped bell sleeves of the late 1400s and early 1500s where the sleeve fabric is the same as the bodice fabric – which is true for 99% of examples I’ve seen. So I’ll give it a proper try for the next bell-sleeve dress I make.


Side view of the bodice before setting the sleeve. Note the two trapezoidal panels.

The body and skirt are made from a heavy-weight linen that give a very good drape to the skirt and solidity to the bodice. The bodice is interlined with canvas. It is lightly boned, and has a layer of bamboo batting to soften the boning lines.

The sleeve, and the bodice edging are a satin acetate, as it gave a good weight and drape. I don’t have access to silk satin, nor do I have the budget for it. This was a good compromise. The upper sleeve is patterned with a wide triangular gusset under the arm, in order to keep Hunnisett’s paneling in the bodice, maintain a smooth line through the shoulders and keep movement in the shoulder.


The dress is closed with a series of hooks and eyes, increasingly my favourite way to close a gown of this era. I find that they keep the gown together in a smooth line, without puckering or gaping. They also make the dress easy to get into and out of, without all that pesky lacing!


For the final “black”, the cuffs are edged with 3 inches of velvet, for extra textural effect.

Blinging up the Neckline

One of the my aims with this project was to explore the decorated neckline that you see on images of royal women of this era, specifically Juana’s dress from this image.

The Sydney Craft and Quilt show was on a few weeks before this was due to be completed, so I set off with the intention of finding gold pieces to use on the dress, as well as items for the grand ensemble to be completed after this one. I sepnt 2 hours in there, whirlwinding through the stalls, and eventually came across the perfect bezants at a bead shop and snapped up all that she had left.

Bodice with bezants held in place by a gold bead.

After a bit of fiddling around I spaced them 2 inches apart, and secured them with a single gold seed bead though the centre that blends perfectly into the gold of the bezant. This ensures a bit of flexibility on a surface that needs to contour with over my shoulders, and minimises visible stitching on the black satin.

New Techniques

Apart from the use of the Hunnisett pattern, the other thing new-to-me thing that I did with this dress was using a dress dummy I inherited from my mother to set my hem. Once the waist height was set correctly it went very well. Much easier than waiting to find a friend to set my hem for me, nicer for them as well, I suspect.