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