Clothing the Low Countries

Researching & Re-creating Flemish and Netherlandish clothing from 1480-1620

Recreating “Flemish” Caps and Veils: Part Three- Ear Irons (Oorijzer)


Ear irons on display in paintings by Werner van den Valckert and Rembrandt.

Ear irons on display in paintings by Werner van den Valckert and Rembrandt

First of all, what is an ear iron? An ear iron is a metal frame that passes behind the nape and drops over the ears, ending at or slightly below the level of the ear lobe. It is held in place with ribbons which are tied on top of the head in front of the braids. It’s purpose is to help hold the under cap into place, and/or to give shape to the outer cap and veil.

Ear irons in the Boijmans museum.

Ear irons in the Boijmans museum.

The earliest examples are simple wires with some sort of balls on the end of the “legs”. They have a loop at the top of the leg which the ribbon passes through. Occasionally there is a twist of smaller wire at the bottom of the leg which helps keep pins from sliding up. As the style progresses, the legs becomes wider and more decorative. Many have pin holes which allow the pin to go through, rather than around, the ear iron. By the 1620s, some even have pendants dangling, earring-like, from the end of the leg.

Top: Veils with folds that suggest an ear irons in paintings by Anthonis Mor and Willem Key.. Middle: Caps with simple ear irons in paintings by Frans Pourbus and Gortzius Geldorp. Bottom: Elaborate ear irons in paintings by Rembrandt and Barent Fabritius.

Top: Veils with folds that suggest an ear irons in paintings by Anthonis Mor and Willem Key..
Middle: Caps with simple ear irons in paintings by Frans Pourbus and Gortzius Geldorp.
Bottom: Elaborate ear irons in paintings by Rembrandt and Barent Fabritius.

When in use, ear irons are often obscured by the hat or veil, so it is difficult to be sure when they were first worn. Using the ear iron with a veil creates some distinctive folds, and those folds can be seen at least as early as the 1550s. Obvious use of ear irons shows up in the pictorial record from the 1580s on, when the ends start to poke out from under the headdress. The extant record appears to begin at about the same time. The earliest actual date I’ve seen from a museum is 1575, although many are (unhelpfully) labeled “16th Century”. Sometime around the 1660s, styles change enough that the ear iron drops out of formal portraits. They continue to be seen occasionally in pictures of country people, and they remain today as an import part of modern Dutch folk dress.

How to Make an Ear Iron

Unfortunately, I lack any actual metal working skill, so some of the more elaborate ear irons are out of my reach. I live in hope of finding a jeweler willing to create them for the re-enactment crowd. Until then, a down and dirty version can be made with material available in your local craft and home improvement stores.

Supplies for building an ear iron.

Supplies for building an ear iron.

You will need:

Beads: These will go on the end of the ear iron’s “legs”. The wire will be passing through the hole in the bead, so you need something with as big of a hole as possible.

Wire: So far I’ve had the best luck with buying bare copper wire in the electrical section of my local hardware store. I use the biggest wire I can get through the beads, so about the size of an old metal coat hanger.

Craft wire: Smaller wire to form the coil around the bottom of the leg. This is optional, but helpful.

Pliers: To cut the wire.

Craft glue: I like E6000.

Masking tape: Helpful for marking the length of the leg.

Bowl: Or some other helpful household object for smoothing the wire and bending it into a curve.

Ribbon: For tying the ear iron on. Something that doesn’t slip is best.

Assembling Your Ear Iron

First, dress your hair up in braids as discussed in the previous article. This step is very important because the ear iron doesn’t clamp onto your head, and it does not rest of your ears like sunglasses. Rather, it is suspended from a ribbon which is tied in front of the braids. Next, measure from about an inch above your ear, around the back of your head under the braids, and up to the identical point on the other side. Then add ten inches. Or, if approximating, I’ve found that a total of twenty-two inches gets you in the right ballpark.

Forming the wire for the ear iron.

Forming the wire for the ear iron.

Straighten the wire out as much as you can, and then use your pliers to cut a piece twenty inches long, or whatever your measurement was in the previous step. Measure in five inches from each end and make 90 degree bends. Next, use the bowl to round out the center portion.  Then tie the ribbons onto the wire at the bends. Most extant ear irons do have some sort of hole or added loop for the ribbons to pass through, but that would probably require soldering. Luckily, I haven’t really had any problems with the ribbon slipping out of place without it.

Fitting the ear iron on to the head.

Fitting the ear iron on to the head.

Carefully fit the ear iron into place with the hoop of wire passing under your braids at your nape. Tie the ribbon in front of your braids at the top of your head. The legs will almost certainly be sticking straight out, so bend them back until they run down the side of your face right in front of your ears. Use your masking tape to mark the end of the leg, which should be just a little below the bottom of your ear lobe.

Adding the wire coil and gluing on the bead.

Adding the wire coil and gluing on the bead.

Take the ear iron off and even up your measurements. Cut both legs to length. Then take the smaller wire and wrap it from top to bottom to form a coil around the leg. Ideally, the hole of your bead will be big enough for both wires to pass through it. In that case, end the coil in a straight section. If the bead is too small, as has so far generally been the case for me, simply crimp off the end. Even if the coil itself can slide slightly, I have still found that it helps keep the pins in place.

Finally, glue on your beads. I like to use a disposable plate to keep the mess contained. Apply glue to the ends of the legs, put the beads on, and then set the legs upright on the plate. This position helps make sure that the wire passes all the way through the bead but doesn’t stick out the other side. Allow the glue to dry completely.

Congratulations! You now own an ear iron. As promised, this is just a down and dirty version, but it is functional. (Luckily, when you wear it, the only part that will show is the bead.) Your hair and the ear iron create the structure for a wide variety of caps and veils.

Next in this series: constructing the hat.

Looking for the rest of the series? You can find the articles here:

How to wear a Franco-Flemish outfit

(alternate title: Hey Karinne, don’t you own an iron!?)

A few weeks ago I attended an event north of Sydney and wore an outfit that was the culmination of a decade of thinking and observation and making and testing. This one:

a lady wearing a franco-flemish gown at a medieval event
I’ve written posts in the past on the construction of gowns like this. In fact this is the Gaudete gown constructed in 2007, and its dress diary is on this site. I’ve also written about a recent re-make of this gown, where I took its train off to create a “round” gown instead. I’m pleased to report that the removal of the train has been a marvellous success1. I now love this gown, it is  comfortable, it is well-made and when I wear it I feel like a lady of the courts or cities of Flanders and Brabant in the early 1500s. Success all round!

However, whilst its construction is of interest to some of our readers, perhaps what I wear to create this look is equally of interest. Hence this article: what I wear to pull this look together. Note: I’m not going to be pulling up contemporary pictures to demonstrate my conclusions. You’ll need to look elsewhere to verify my conclusions. You could start with my pinterest board, of course.

Getting the full view

Before we go any further we should talk about what I am trying to achieve when I pull this together. Aesthetics of clothing don’t just relate to fabric and colour choice.

The Franco-Flemish style is a sumptuous style. It is rarely blingy, with even the royal families of France and the Low Countries wearing a minimal amount of jewellery compared to their descendants in the mid-late 16th Century. Its sumptuousness is achieved through the amount of fabric and a strong aesthetic of drape.

This is what I aim for when recreating this style – how to achieve the soft bulk that you can see in many portraits. Here’s this outfit in three views, what do you think, did I get there?

3 views of a Franco-Flemish gown

3 views of a Franco-Flemish gown

The first thing to notice is that taking a dress in a suitcase to two consecutive events without giving it a press in between is perhaps not a good idea. Probably should have taken the time to do this, but it was a busy month! The second is the pleats are rounded and flow nicely – like some of the tapestries from the time. Thirdly, my chest is rounded, not flat like you get with a corset.

The pleats are padded, but there is more going on here. So, let’s unpack it.

The Layers

1. A smock

Like all medieval and renaissance clothing, we start with a shirt or smock. In this case I wear a simple tunic with a wide neck:


a simple smock – in need of an iron

2. An underskirt – NOT the historically accurate option

I live in Australia, where our weather is generally hot. This dress already has a layer of wool, cotton canvas and a heavy cotton lining. So, for this dress, I choose to not wear an underdress. I do wear an underdress for other ensembles (like this one), but for this dress it’s less necessary. Instead, I wear my favourite under-skirt:

smock & skirt

Adding in the skirt, which hasn’t seen an iron since its last wash

I have absolutely no evidence for separate underskirts in this time. There is plenty of evidence for kirtles and other underdresses, so it historical accuracy is important to you (and you don’t like a hot country) then I encourage you to make a complete kirtle to wear under this gown.

This style does need at least one, if not two layers of skirt. It provides the rounded butt look that is a feature of the style. I used to wear a small bum roll, but it gave a sharp shelf rather than the rounded look you see in images. This skirt is a heavy-ish linen. It is a rectangle shape pleated into a waist band with two clip sizes to accommodate different outfits that I wear.

3. A partlet – conjectural

I then add a black velveteen partlet, which fills in the back of the gown (cut in a V) and the decolletage of the gown – modesty is a virtue after all.

Smock & skirt & partlet

Adding the partlet. Which does not need an iron, one from four!

This partlet is conjectural, both its shape and its existence. We see a similar item 3 decades later worn by Flemish women, but I’ve not seen one in the late 1400s or early 1500s. It’s possible that the black in-fill seen on dresses at this time is an under-dress. I do think it’s actually a partlet for a variety of reasons, including that most kirtles of the time have a square neck, as well as a lack of black kirtles in the visual evidence.

The partlet contributes to my smooth rounded chest look, as it provides another set of layers to keep the area in tension from a couple of directions.

Here’s the parlet by itself:

possible franco-flemish partlet

The gown then goes on at this stage. Generally I need a friend to get the gown over my shoulders and ensure the parlet doesn’t ride up. If I had a kirtlIe could pin the partlet to the kirtle, but even then I’d need a friend to pin the back. Then it is a juggle between keeping the front of partlet in the right place whilst also doing up the dress. The hook and bar setup I have helps as I’m smoothing over a shape rather than pulling a shape in tight which is what happens with lacing.

The final items are a sash (missing from this picture as I left it at home), which sets off the waist and hides the waist seam, a hat/hood and any jewellery as appropriate.

Next week: Making that black hood

  1. This phrase brought to you by the David Attenborough documentary which is on TV right now

Recreating “Flemish” Caps and Veils: Part Two- Hairdressing

Paintings by Pieter Aertsen, left and right, and Margaret.

Paintings by Pieter Aertsen, left and right, and Margaret.

Recreating a “Flemish” headdress starts with the hair. There seem to be very few formal portraits of upper class woman painted with their hair down, and even fewer in the act of hairdressing. Luckily, the Dutch have a rich tradition of market genre paintings, and a number of market girls are depicted bareheaded. The hair is put up into coils and then wrapped around the head with ribbons which are usually white, though occasionally red. This creates a style that is attractive on its own, but it also helps create the right shape for the under cap. So it is reasonable to assume that the this, or something very like it, is the way the hair is dressed under the caps and veils that I’m interested in recreating.

A rare picture of Maragret with her hair down.

A rare picture of Margaret with her hair down.

First, for full disclosure, I should show you what I’m working with. I have waist-length, fairly thick and curly hair. So this is what my methods have been field tested on. However, any hair long enough to braid is long enough to add to. There are a number of excellent tutorials for using Indian braid extensions, called paranda, on line, and they can be quickly made up from yarn.

Hilleke de Roy and Four of Her Orphans and Margaret attempting hair ropes.

Hilleke de Roy and Four of Her Orphans and Margaret attempting hair ropes.

Second, a note on braids: In the Aertsen pictures at the top of the article, the hair appears to be wrapped in rope-like coils with the ribbon rather than braided. This painting of Hilleke de Roy provides a rare glimpse of hairdressing in progress, and again the hair does not seem to be braided. However, it also shows that it takes at least two people to create this style. In the painting, one girl is maintaining the tension and twist on the section of hair already done on the right. The girl getting her hair done is keeping the opposite end of the ribbon taut as her mother combs out the remaining hair. My own attempts to recreate this look have been a bit comical. I can hold the ribbon in my mouth to maintain the tension while I wrap up one side, but I have yet to find a way to keep the first coil intact while I do up the second one. So, if you have help, this method does look the most like the paintings.  Unfortunately, as a modern person, I am usually doing my hair on my own, so I prefer to use braids. There are Italian paintings which clearly show braids, so they weren’t completely unheard of.

When I first tried to recreate this style, I used hair pins. U-shaped hair pins date back to at least the 14th Century. My hair even behaved fairly well with pins, but it always seemed to end the same way. There was always that one rebel pin that would work its way out slightly. I would shove it back in, where it would poke my head for the rest of the day. Particularly annoying under a hat. So I was very excited to learn the method of hair taping taught by the Tudor Tailor ladies in their first book.

Wrapping and tying braids around the head.

Wrapping and tying braids around the head.

In this style, a long ribbon is braided into plaits on either side of the head. Then the braids are crossed in back and wrapped around the head. The remaining ribbon is wrapped several times around the head and then tied in a bow either at the nape or at the top of the head. The best thing about this method was that it eliminated the pins. (Up until this point I had assumed that the ribbon was decorative, rather than functional.). It was also fast, reasonably secure and pretty cute on its own. However, when I tried to wear hats over it, I ran into some difficulty.

Comparing wrapped braids (top) and braids sewn into place (bottom).

Comparing wrapped braids (top) and braids sewn into place (bottom).

It’s possible that I just have a really pointy skull, but when I wrap my braids around my head, they end up pretty far forward. (top) That does actually match some of the market girl paintings. But this isn’t just about putting your hair up in an attractive manner, it’s about giving the hat shape. The coif is made from a flat rectangle and tied on with strings which sit in front of the braids. So the coif’s profile is entirely dependent on where the braids are located. To get the look I prefer (bottom) I have to sew my braids into position on the back of my head.

A few useful tools for hairdressing.

A few useful tools for hairdressing.

Sewing your braids into place is still fairly fast, and something you can do on your own. You will need just a couple of tools: comb, hair elastics, hair clips, your choice of ribbon, and blunt yarn needles. A hand mirror to see the back of your head is helpful, but optional.

Parting and sectioning the hair.

Parting and sectioning the hair.

First, comb out your hair to make braiding easier. If your hair is anything like mine, this can be a bit of a process. So if I’m likely to be under any time pressure in the morning, I usually comb it out the night before and then braid it into a comfortable sleeping braid to keep it under control, overnight. Then part your hair down the middle, and section one half out of the way with a large hair clip.

Hair braided in two plaits, braid clipped into place, and starting to sew.

Hair braided in two plaits, braid clipped into place, and starting to sew.

Again, braid your hair into two plaits and secure with elastics. I like to add some extra oomph by using “Dutch” braids. I find it easiest to sew the braids on one at a time, so just bring one braid up over your head and use a small hair clip to secure it in the desired location. Then get a ribbon at least twice as long as you are tall. This might be overkill, but you definitely don’t want to run out. I have used everything from 1/8″ super cheap satin spool-o-ribbon to 1/2″ grosgrain with success. Thread the ribbon onto your yarn needle and find the center. Put the center of the ribbon at the back of your neck. Because the stitching takes both hands, I like to secure the free end between my teeth. Yes, it is very silly, but you only need to hold it until after the first few stitches are in.

Sewing the first braid, halfway done, and the second braid pinned in place.

Sewing the first braid, halfway done, and the second braid pinned in place.

I like to sew from the inside of the circle toward the outside. Use one hand to push the needle under the braid and as close along the scalp as possible. Catch the needle as it passes to the front with your other hand. It’s quite easy to lose the needle as you will be making long stitches. Using your other hand to catch the needle saves a lot of frustration. Once the needle is transferred, use your first hand to control the ribbon as you tighten the stitch up. That is what I am doing on the far left. That helps keep the ribbon from getting knotted. Continue sewing along until you reach the hair clip. Remove it, and continue around the circle. If you plan to go without a hat, it’s nice to take the time to keep your stitches evenly spaced. But even fairly sloppy sewing will still be secure. Do, however, be really careful not to put two stitches so close together that one goes behind the other. That makes a knot that is a real pain to get out.

If you do Dutch braids, you can just tuck the end of the braid in under the braids attached to your scalp. Continue sewing until you get back around to your nape, which should look something like the middle picture. Then rethread the needle onto the other end of the ribbon and clip the second braid into place. Change directions and sew the second braid down. When both braids are sewn on and both ends of the ribbon are dangling down your back, remove the needle. Then cross the ribbons and wrap the remaining length around your head in front of the braids. Tie in a bow either at your nape or at the top of your head.



When it’s time to take your hair down, it will be much easier to do it in front of a mirror. It’s very helpful to see which ribbon you are tugging on. (This may seem really obvious, but in the SCA you may be ending your evening in low light, camping conditions. So it’s a good idea to plan ahead for this.). The stitches should come out easily, but as you un-sew your braids they might want to fall down on their own. If that happens while you still have a number of stitches in, it can become a big snarl. Use your trusty hair clip to avoid that.

Finally, here are some super theoretical ideas about dealing with shorter hair. The main goal of this hair style is to create a stable circle of hair on the back of the head. The top half of the circle is crucial for providing shape to the hat. The bottom half is helpful for filling out the coif, and for keeping the ear iron (a wire frame that is worn tied around the braids) in place. As I said before, the easiest way to get that circle may be to simply add length to your braids. If that is not desired, then the braids could start at ear level, with one braid directed over the head and the other along the nape to create a full circle. Hair shorter than that could perhaps be French/Dutch braided into a circle against the scalp. People with very short hair may not be able to wear some styles and might find it easiest to keep their caps on with a chin strap. If you have shorter hair and try any of these ideas out, I hope you’ll let us know how well they work for you.

Looking for the rest of the series? You can find the articles here:

Recreating “Flemish” Caps and Veils: Part One – Style Overview

Margaret in various caps and veils.

Margaret in various caps and veils.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Netherlandish clothing are the hats. It’s probably the whole reason that I’m drawn to the style. While the ladies of England and France were wearing the ubiquitous “French” hood, woman of all classes in the Low Countries adorned their heads with linen veils and caps. The exciting thing about that for me is that it means that I can wear some crazy hats without actually having to learn traditional millinery skills. Very little special equipment is involved. The patterns for the caps are very simple, and the veil is just a rectangle. It’s all pleasantly straightforward.

That said, getting the cap or veil into the shape you want requires a few other tools. The first of those is your own hair. It needs to be braided and put up securely because everything hangs off of it. Next is the oorijzer, or “ear iron”. This is a metal wire which runs around the back of your head and over your ears and provides a secure base to pin the cap to. Finally, the cap or veil has to be starched stiff and then pinned into place.

This series of articles will cover how I have made caps and veils, and how I dress my hair and wear the oorijzers to achieve the styles seen in artworks of the time.

First of all, though, it’s a good idea to get a quick overview of the evolution and variety of styles worn by women.

For a thorough history of the veil, or hovetcleet, in the first half of the 1500s, please be sure to read Karinne’s research paper. Here’s my quick summary: the hovetcleet is first seen in the Burgundian/Flemish paintings of the 1480s as a veil over a truncated hennin. As the first half of the Sixteenth Century goes on, the hovetcleet looses the extra height of the hennin, and begins to conform more to the shape of the head. Then the veil portion gradually shrinks in size.

The veil continues to be worn throughout the 1560-1580s.

From top left: Pieter Janz. Pourbus, Joachim Beuckelaer, Anthonis Mor, and Willem Key.

Paintings by (From top left): Pieter Janz. PourbusJoachim Beuckelaer, Anthonis Mor, and Willem Key.

Gradually the veil began to be replaced by plain white caps. Sometimes they become so large that the starch can no longer hold them out in a smooth shape. In the bottom two of these paintings you can see the fabric starting to droop and settle into folds. The next step was to begin to sew darts, triangular folds, into the brim of the cap to control the fullness.

From top left: Jan Claesz, portrait of Dame Bridget Meade, Frans Pourbus, and Adriaen Thomasz. Key.

Paintings by (From top left): Jan Claesz, portrait of Dame Bridget Meade, Frans Pourbus, and Adriaen Thomasz. Key.

At first the pleated caps continue to face forward.

Frans Pourbus and Jacob Willemsz. Delff.

Paintings by: Frans Pourbus and Jacob Willemsz. Delff.

Eventually, the brim turned up and out into the halo shape which starts to appear by the late 1590s. The brim continued to increase in size, and by the 1620s was folded back across the head.

Looking for the rest of the series? You can find them here:

Andrew Boorde: Low Countries Renaissance Tourist

Andrew Boorde, physician to Henry VIII, travelled across Europe in the 1500s and then wrote an ‘itinerary’ to help other travellers understand the people of the countries they’d be visiting. His book includes sections on the Low Countries and Low German speaking parts of Europe, specifically Flanders, Zealand & Holland, Brabant & Hainault, Guelders & Cleves, Julich & Liege, and Cologne & Bonn. I’ve taken these sections and compiled them into the one document for easy reading for us Low Countries researchers.

Here’s the file: Andrew Boorde’s guide to the Low Countries. This file is an easy to read version of his book – a typeset version of the entire book on I’ve highlighted any section which refers to clothing, and written two pages on the context of his itinerary and how much faith we can place in his observations.

It’s useful for anyone looking at food, coinage, language and comparisons of general culture of these counties. There are a couple of references to clothing, most notably for our purposes one of the only textual references in English to the huik, as well as frequent commentary that certain counties don’t change their clothes [style].

Recreating the Noord Holland Market Woman look

Margaret in Noord Holland market woman dress at the Antwerpan market.

Trying to sell cheese and bread at the Antwerpan market display

Avercamp Market Dress Collage - 6 images, details from 16th century paintings

Avercamp details from the top left: 1, 2, 3, 4&6, and 5

As I was researching my outfit based on Hendrick Avercamp’s ice skating paintings, I found myself looking at the women in the background. Many of them were dressed in a regional style from North Holland. 1

Kaasmuseum Collage - 3 portraits of working women from north holland

3 “cheese ladies” from a set of paintings formerly available on the Kaasmuseum’s website.

I had previously only seen this style represented in a series of paintings in the Kaasmuseum in Alkaar. Check out this Flickr photo set to see the whole series and museum replicas of the outfits. This style is occasionally referred to as the “cheese girl” after the central portrait. However, once I was looking for them, I found a number of other examples of the style. I’ve made a Pinterest board for them, of course.I had intended to get around to exploring this style at some point. But then I found out that our fellow Dutch enthusiast Aliet was planning to run an Antwerpan market at the West Kingdom’s Golden Beltane event. (Have a look at her blog post about the market, it’s great.) So now I had a deadline.

I wanted to represent this style, not just copy a single portrait, so I poured over all of my paintings to determine the most common elements. The palette, unsurprisingly, is mostly black and red. The outfit generally consists of a red underdress, with or without sleeves. Over it is a darker, open laced bodice, with or without sleeves, and with or without a skirt. Aprons are either black or white. The partlet is black and pointed in the back. Additional sleeves are pinned to the lower arms. The skirts are fairly full and often quite short to modern eyes, with plenty of dark leg showing. The partlet and lower sleeves are often decorated with metal findings. The hair is dressed in wrapped braids and often covered with elaborately folded and starched white veils.

Margaret in her Noord Holland outfit, standing beside a cooking box in a field

Contemplating lunch

As I was under some time constraints, I took a few shortcuts. I attached a burgundy wool skirt to an existing front laced bodice, and added a placket pinned over the lacing. I reused the back pointed partlet from my Brueghel outfit and my standard, good for everything white partlet. I made a black linen apron and a linen open laced jacket. Finally, I cut down a pair of burgundy velveteen sleeves so that they would pin on at the upper arm. (That pair of sleeves has always been too short to pin to the shoulder. Pro tip: the sleeve cap of a pin-on sleeve needs to be much taller than the sleeve cap of a set in sleeve. Be sure to adjust your pattern and save yourself the irritation.)

Noord Holland Hairdressing - a montage of 3 images

Kaasmuseum maiden, selfie, and this Gabriel Metsu

The hair is worn in a rather goofy style. 2 All the variations appear to start with two braids coming from the top of the head. Then the braids can be crossed and brought down on either side of the face, as seen in some of the Kaasmuseum portraits. I tried it, but it was itchy. Or the braids can be crossed and wrapped with a red band further back on the head. This was the version I chose to go with. It was very secure and created a good, square base for the hat. Unfortunately, neither of these styles created the little U shaped braids over the forehead seen in some versions. Next time I will create an additional braid to form the “U”.

Noord Holland Veil Collage - 6 images, all details from various 16th century paintings

Veil details from the top left: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

The veil also varies widely.  3  Some are rather limp, and others appear to be heavily starched. Most of them are pretty flat across the top. Some stick out at chin level, others at the temple, and some not at all. So with that much variety, I figured I could achieve the look as long as I kept the top squared off. I started with a plain rectangle of fabric and starched it with commercial Stay-Flo starch, rather than the stiff wheat starch I usually cook up at home. I thought that would keep it flexible enough to work with. I was wrong, but I did eventually beat the uncooperative kite into submission. In the future I will water the Stay-Flo down. Still, it looked enough like the pictures that I was fairly happy with it. It also maintained shape through a light mist of rain.

montage photo of the N. Holland Veil - Front and Back

Noord Holland Veil Front and Back

Many thanks again to Aleit having the vision to create the Antwerpan Marketplace and allowing me to crash in from Noord Holland. I had a ton of fun pretending to sell vegetables, and it provided a gorgeous setting for photos. 4

Hands Under the Apron

I’m “standing” back to back with this Avercamp sketch

A photo of 7 people in 16th century clothing assembled around baskets of vegetables

Antwerpan Market Crew

  1. Avercamp details from the top left: 1, 2, 3, 4&6, and 5
  2. Kaasmuseum maiden, selfie, and this Gabriel Metsu
  3. Veil details from the top left: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6
  4. I’m “standing” back to back with this Avercamp sketch.

Apparently I hate trains, and other adventures in remaking dresses

Next weekend I’m off to Melbourne to attend one of our Kingdom events, and I’ve been dreaming of making a court version of the wrap dress I made two years ago. Alas, it’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve just tried on the made up bodice… and the sleeves don’t work – I will not be able to fetch any pitchers. Thankfully I am now skilled enough in sleeves to know what’s wrong, but an afternoon of unpicking and re-patterning the sleeve section, and then cutting the skirt and attaching just isn’t going to get me a dress for next weekend.

Instead I’m going to remove the train from my gaudete dress (click link for explanation of why ‘gaudete’), and wear it with renewed pride. If I get inspired/time I might line the cuffs with (fake) fur.

me in the Green French Gown with a Dutch twist

The Gaudete dress on its first outing in 2007. Perfect for a Tasmanian winter – not so helpful for anyone climate/time of year.

This dress is generally lovely – well cut, the right colour, AMAZING wool, but the train is heavy and cumbersome and doesn’t fit how I think about this dress anymore. Also, I tend to wear this dress to tournaments and other outside-and-cold events, so an exposed white train isn’t the best design feature. Finally that green seam line bugs me and I’d rather not feel like people can see it.

This will be the second dress with a tucked up train that I’m removing.

Completely re-making a gown

In mid-2014 a friend asked me what I was working on, my reply was: “I’m completely unpicking one of my dresses as I need to remove the lining, and change most of its style”. She looked at me like I was mad (who unpicks an entire dress!?), but the outer fabric was gorgeous, most of the cut but was fine, but the sleeves, tucked up train and front opening weren’t working for me. Also it was interlined with flannelette to keep me warm 1

Version 1:

At some point in my costuming career I fell in love with this image:

1490-1500 - A lover addressing three ladies, from Poems of Charles of Orleans and other works by Master of the Prayer Books; Image from Alliette's site:

1490-1500 – A lover addressing three ladies, from Poems of Charles of Orleans and other works by Master of the Prayer Books; Image from Alliette’s site:

And proceeded to make two dresses with tucked up trains, to emulate the lush style. The first one is above, the second was this one, the dress I pulled apart in 2014, two years after I made it:


Version 2:

The remake kept the smooth front, but I removed the lacing rings and sewed up the front panel. I put in a small amount of boning to keep my chest in approximately the right place, and added eyelets on one side. It also kept the back waist seam and stacked box pleats, but lost the long train, instead being cut to ground level. I added a band of fabric on the bottom for weight and to add a bit of interest (the un-relieved gold on version 1 was a bit boring).

The removal of the train allowed me to do a complete overhaul of the sleeves. I needed this dress to survive an event at the height of a Sydney summer, so something that allowed me to walk around in a layer of linen if I needed to was necessary. A look through various books turned up the Spanish inspired sleeves seen in the picture below. It’s a standard sleeve which fits smoothly into the armscrye, except the seam runs through the front of the sleeve and has been left open. I’ve caught the final cm of each sleeve with some whip stitches to keep it closed, so it looks like a sleeve, not a dangling rectangle. The source image I took it from didn’t do this, so this is a design decision I made, albeit in keeping with other open sleeve styles from a generation previous to this gown (e.g. some of the 1460s houppelandes have a similar style).

Gold Dress - photo by Phillip Preston

All-in-all it’s a dress I now really enjoy wearing, and has been broadly admired (which was not so true of the previous version). Whilst completely unpicking a dress and remaking it might seem daunting, if you love most of the style, including the fabric but need to do some serious tweaks, then in my experience it’s worth it. I’m hoping this is also the case with the gaudete gown, which currently doesn’t get worn enough.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a serious amount of hemming to do.

  1. don’t ever, ever, ever interline your dress with flannelette, it doesn’t keep you warm in the cold, but does make you over-heat in the warmth

Off to a bumpy start

As is often the way you announce something and then hit a bump in the road.

For any of you who tried to visit the site 2 weeks ago and got an error message – we’ve fixed the problem and are now back up and running.

We’ll also be a bit slower than expected on new posts for the next little while. Margaret has had an unexpected house move which is slowing up her writing. There’ll be a number of descriptions to fill in her projects page for the next few months and then the awesome collaboration material will begin!

Flemish Market Girl (v.2) a la Van Cleve

Peasant Wedding by Martin Van Cleve

A few years ago, this painting started making the rounds of online costuming circles. It’s part of a series of six paintings in the Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp of a Peasant Wedding by Marten Van Cleve, sadly only on Flickr.  This is the last in the sequence, and this is the bride. Why the groom(?) is ducking out the window, I can’t say. Unfortunately, in every other image the bride is wearing an overgrown. So there are no images of what this dress would look like laced up. It does, however, propose an interesting potential construction method for the wide laced “Flemish market girl” outfits painted by Aertsen and Beuckelaer. (I have a Pinterest board for this style.) So I gave it a try.

Open Laced Van Cleve side by side

Since this was a proof of concept outfit, I made it by disassembling the over-gown from my original market girl outfit. (I no longer have any pictures of it, but it was made per the instructions on the Elizabethan Costuming Page.) The top is made of olive flannel because I was only able to salvage the skirt and the back of the bodice from the original dress. The skirt kept its original burgundy lining. I cut two slits into the skirt, tacked on the placket to extend the flap, and pleated the skirt back on to the new bodice. To wear it, the flap is simply lifted and held into place while the bodice is laced over it. It is not pinned.

My version is not meant to be a faithful reconstruction of the Van Cleve outfit, but rather an attempt to use this concept to achieve the look of the Aertsen and Buckelear paintings. The Van Cleve dress appears to have no waist seam, and once laced it is probably entirely red. The market girl paintings have a clear waist with pleated on skirts. The skirt and bodice are occasionally different fabrics, and the placket behind the laces is almost always a different color than the bodice. The flap-placket and the bodice opening in the Van Cleve painting appears to be squared off. My placket is a trapezoid and the bodice opening is somewhat V-shaped.

Van Cleve front and side

The bodice is supportive, although less so than my usual front laced dresses. The placket stays in place once it is all laced up, but keeping it from buckling while it’s being laced is a bit of a pain. I am not particularly happy that the seam at the bottom of the placket and the waist seam do not match up. Still, it is a possible construction method for anyone attempting to make a “market girl” outfit in a single layer. When the apron and partlet are worn, the issues with the waist are covered up, and the result is a recognizably “Flemish” outfit.

Van Cleve Comparisan


Margaret in a large ruff and white cap.

Margaret in a large ruff and white cap.

Hello, everyone.   If you’ve been reading this site for a while, then you will notice that I’m a new face.   My name is Margaret, or Bridget Walker in the SCA, and I’m very excited that Karinne invited me to join her on a site I’ve read and admired for years.

I joined the SCA in the early ’90s in a fit of Irish enthusiasm.   My early efforts were generally generic Celtic or English, with some, shall we say, creative choices.   I got more serious about costuming in the early 2000s and slid into the Low Countries as a “Flemish Market Girl” by way of Drea in Leed’s work on the Elizabethan Costume Page.  From there I started dressing like a woman from one of Pieter Breughel’s paintings, which served me very well through three pregnancies.   Finally, I returned to the market genre paintings, this time looking at the buyers, rather than the sellers.

Currently, I’ve been exploring the genre paintings and the formal portraiture from the 1560s up until about 1620, when the fashionable silhouette changes.   Most of my work focuses on the one thing that really makes the clothing of the Low Countries stand out: the headdresses.   Karinne and I met through the Facebook Elizabethan Costuming group entirely due to our mutual enthusiasm for the huik.  I have also been experimenting with the little starched veils and caps that go under the huik and are seen in very good detail in the portraits.

Margaret in a pot-lid huik.

Margaret in a pot-lid huik.

I’ve put the handouts for the classes I have taught in the SCA in our “teach” section.   One of them is a general overview class on all of the wonderful variety in Flemish head gear.    The other class is focused on how to make and starch a linen cap, as well as how to dress the hair to go under it.   Both classes included a lot of hands-on examples, so neither handout is meant to stand alone.   My next few posts will expand on them.  I’ve also added a gallery where you can see some of my previous projects.  I hope you enjoy them.

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