Blue Tudor Gown: Outer Gown

After finishing the structure of the kirtle, I could begin the work of patterning and fitting the gown bodice. In terms of sequencing, I put some of the finishing and fancy work off for the kirtle to start the bodice. I like to do this so that I could have work in cutting, sewing machine, or hand sewing and switch between tasks depending on my mood at the time. For the bodice, I used the Henrician Gown pattern from The Tudor Tailor. The gown will require panels for the bodice including the center back, side back, side front, forebodies (center front panels that lace up), plaquette, large turn back sleeves including a contrasting lining, and skirt including the pleated front, side, and back panels. The bodice pattern is copied from the book and scaled (see my post here on how to scale book patterns) and I got lucky in that my measurements are fairly close to those of the pattern model, except for my waist measurement.

For the first mockup, I slashed the forebodies panel along where a waist dart would be and opened by 1 inch. I figured this would be adjusted with the mockup fitting but would give a good starting point for over the previously fitted kirtle. I also lowered the neckline on the forebodies and side front panels for the decorative panel on the kirtle which turned out wider than the original pattern.

The forebodies panel with adjustments for my measurements. The forebodies will seam to the other bodice panels and lace at the center to close the gown. The lacing and forebodies are then hidden by the decorative plaquette over the top. NOTE: When cutting fabric, I’ll add 1″ at the center front to allow for the turnover for the boning channels.

The mockup actually when very well on the first attempt. There were only a couple adjustments I needed to make to the pattern, mostly related to contouring the opening to the waist, releasing the side seams a tad to open the armscye, and taking in at the shoulders. The most difficult part by far was the sleeves. Sleeves are the absolute devil and I went through 6 mockups of the sleeve caps to try and get the right shape that fits comfortably. To start, I could not seem to get the sleeve head to ease in without pleats or gathers while increasing the sleeve at the bicep to be unrestricted with a chemise layer underneath. I’m honestly still not happy with the sleeves but needed to move on.

For the skirt, there weren’t any fitting adjustments to make beyond reducing the length for my height. The model for the base pattern was about 6″ taller than me, so I opted to simply reduce the length of the skirt panels by 6″ and call it a day.

Final pattern in hand, I began the process of cutting out all the fabric. Here, things got a bit complicated. Now, The Tudor Tailor calls for 10 yards of material for making the gown (bodice, skirt, full sleeves, etc.). I meanwhile had 5 yards, but at 60″ width since it was a home decor fabric. In order to make it work, especially with a very geometric pattern to match, I got a bit creative. I start by laying all the skirt pieces out and using the match point at the waist on each seam for pattern matching. Right off the bat, I knew there was no way to have the skirts at their fullness of the original pattern with the amount of material available, even with the 6″ reduction in length for all pieces. To make it work, I adjust the skirt panels by:

  • The back skirt panel would only be the 60″ width of the material,
  • The side panels are slashed at three points and reduced with the side-back seam on the vertical of the fabric pattern (parallel with the selvage),
  • 6″ width of the front panels would be supplemented by a 12″ strip of velvet and front-sides would not pattern match beyond the waist point match.

The slash and reduce method for the side panels is done by:

  1. Marking three lines from the hem to waist as follows: one line parallel to the front-side seam, one line parallel with the side-back seam, and one line between the first two.
  2. The lines are then cut from waist to hem, but not through the hem. I will often reinforce the scant paper left at the end of the slash with a bit of tape so it doesn’t tear through;
  3. Pivot the slashed sections toward the front-side seam to close . . . . .

By reducing the volume of the side and front skirt panels, I give myself enough material to cut my bodice pattern pieces and part of the sleeves. The reduction of the side skirt panel at the waist line made me nervous that it would affect the historical shape of the skirt, but I actually really liked the reduced bulk at the hips. I’ll point this out in photos toward the end of this series.

In cutting the bodice panels, pattern matching was much more critical than in the skirt. The matching process starts with the center back panel that I opt to eliminate the center back seam entirely. I mark the panel on the fabric, using the yellow and red dots at the center of the diamond pattern as my center backline. I then mark a 1/2″ seam allowance line around the entire panel.

For the side back panel, I generally find an area of fabric large enough for the piece, with wiggle room for pattern matching and seam allowance. I then pin the center back panel to the fabric at the farthest edge and lay the side back paper pattern along the seam line. The paper is pinned in place here and marked with chalk, adding seam allowances. This gives me a perfect pattern match when stitched along the seam line precisely. Though, it was NOT easy with the limited material I had. I then had to repeat the process with even less fabric for the side front panels. This pattern matching and optimizing the fabric left for the bodice took me entire evenings. Plural.

The first try at pattern matching would’ve been easy to cut….until I realized that cutting here would leave me with nothing for the sleeves.
Subsequent rotating and shifting got to this point of pattern matching on the limited scraps for the side back panels.

And of course, the sleeves again are the absolute devil. I knew there would be absolutely no way to have enough material to fully make the sleeves in the geometric pattern and after noodling on it a bit, it didn’t seem necessary to do so. Since the sleeves would be the full turnback style, most of the “outer” fabric would be tucked behind the contrasting lining. So I took the remaining large section of geometric fabric I had and cut the sleeves to I had the sleeve cap and the longest length possible. It ended up that the length ended right at the point where the sleeve would start to curve outward, so all for the best. The remaining outer sleeve was then cut from the navy blue linen that was used for the kirtle construction. I also opted to use this linen for the forebodies panels since they would be covered by the plaquette. I also cut lining for the bodice from a satin I had on hand.

The sleeve “tops” are marked on the fabric as large as possible. The addition to the original pattern at the sleeve seam is visible in the different colored paper. I had to add quite a bit of width to fit my biceps comfortably. In looking back, I should’ve slashed and opened the pattern rather than adding volume at the seam allowance, but I was also having trouble with the armscye being too small.

With everything cut (finally), I could begin the construction process. I start by flatlining all the panels using a basting stitch at 1/4″ from the edge and then finishing the edges on the serger. The panels are then carefully stitched together, checking the pattern match as I pin so that the hard work of pattern matching when I cut is not wasted. I stitched the panels from the center back to the center front. All in one piece, I can do a final fitting for the shoulder seams and move on to the eyelet closure. The 1″ excess at the center front is folded back, ironed, and pinned in place before stitching the boning channels. I am using 1/4″ synthetic whalebone (plastic) boning and thus stitch the first channel 3/8″ from the center front, move over 1/2″ for the eyelets, and then another 3/8″ for the second channel.

The first boning channel is stitched 3/8″ from the center front, then shift 1/2″ over for the second channel to allow for the eyelets.
Both channels are stitched and ready for boning.

While using the iron to flatten the boning pieces, I also turn over the neckline seam allowance, iron, and clip to be sewn down by hand with simple whip stitches.

Here is the bodice with finished neckline and boning added. The satin lining is also visible.

Sleeves

I used the top of sleeve cut pieces to also cut the lining from cotton and make a bottom of sleeve pattern for the remaining length. The bottom of the sleeve is cut from both the same blue linen as the forebodies and silk velvet. Though the linen is technically the outer layer and the silk is the lining, the sleeves will be folded back with the wrist at the elbow, thus hiding the linen and exposing the lush velvet. The velvet section is cut 1″ longer at the hem so that the velvet will fold over at the final hem rather than the seam being exposed.

Cutting the lining for the top of the sleeves pieces.
The bottom of the sleeve pieces is in linen and silk velvet. The linen fabric was not wide enough to fit the full pattern and had to be cut into two pieces, then stitched together. The extra 1″ of velvet length at the hem is visible in comparison to the lining. This allows the seam to be hidden as the velvet will fold over before the hem.

The linings pieces and outer pieces are stitched together, tops to bottoms, then individually stitched at the underarm seams. Once all four sleeve tubes are stitched, the lining and outer layers are stitched together at the wrist hem and turned out to form the sleeve.

The outer sleeve top and bottom are stitched together, prior to a good pressing.

Next came the agonizing task of setting the sleeves into the armscye. The armscye is prepped by a quick stay stitch (basted stitch length) around the armscye. The sleeve itself has two lines of gathering stitches at 1/4″ and 1/2″ from the edge. The bobbin end of the gather stitches is pulled to gently gather the sleeve cap to help with easing the sleeve into the armscye.

….to create an evenly gathered curve to set into the armscye.

The eased sleeve is pinned into the armscye using the markings from the original pattern for orientation. I hand-stitched the sleeves in place with small backstitches because I worried that forcing it through the machine would create puckers and tucks. Hand stitching takes longer but comes with a lot more control. The lining is then turned inward and also handstitched down at the armscye, encasing the finished sleeve seam.

The Skirt

The skirt panels were cut while preparing the bodice, but lining pieces also needed to be cut as well as the supplemental velvet. The supplemental velvet is cut to serve as both the 6″ reduction from the front panel as well as a lining. I am cutting a stip 13″ wide to allow for 1/2″ seam allowances.

I am adding a lining for the skirt primarily because the home decor fabric has an odd back where all the threads from the red and gold stitching are exposed. Knowing my clumsy self, I would end up hooking those threads all the time if they weren’t encased. The lining is cut using the previously cut outer fabric pieces as pattern templates. I used a mixture of bulk white cotton (Ikea) and clearance patterned cotton (Hobby Lobby). In hindsight, I wished I had used only the patterned cotton to be consistent since any time the bright white is seen, it is quite a shock next to the deep, rich blues.

The lining pieces are stitched together and seams pressed open.

The white and patterned cotton lining (plus a demanding kitty).

As I was prepping the skirt panels to be stitched together, I realized I almost missed a golden opportunity: POCKETS. I quickly found a standard pocket pattern from another project and cut four pocket panels from the blue linen. I added these to the side-front seam edges of both the side and front panels and THEN stitched the full seams for the front, side, back, and front supplement pieces. Lastly, the velvet front panels are stitched to the front lining panels to create a full circle of the outer fabric and lining. The wrong sides are turned inward with both the hem and waist seams open. The waist seam for the outer and lining layers is pinned together, basted, and finished on the serger.

The Tudor Tailor pattern gives instructions for pleating and gathering the skirt waist, but I had to do a bit of adjusting due to my pattern reductions in the skirt and bodice alterations early on. I was able to follow the front panel pleats closely by marking the point where the pleats would meet based on The Tudor Tailor pattern, but then adjusted the starting point of the box pleats based on reducing the length to match the side seam on the bodice. I also added a small pleat in the velvet strip so that the box pleat wasn’t quite so extreme. This pleat is also marked in The Tudor Tailor pattern. The pleats were basted in place before stitching the bodice and skirt together from front to side seam. This seems counterintuitive to do before finishing the back pleats, but it allowed me to then place the bodice and skirt on a dress form and play with the back panel pleats to figure out the right ratio for the cartridge pleats.

The side and back panels of the skirt are gathered with cartridge pleats to give fullness at the hips and butt that were characteristic of the period. I used 1″ pleats at the sides and 3″ pleats at the back and then both were wiggled and squished to give an even appearance across the back.

The pleats are fixed to the bodice with small whip stitches using heavy-duty upholstery thread. Because my skirt is constructed of heavy home decor fabric and lined with a full cotton layer, is un-godly heavy and I worried that the weight would cause the waist seam to pull apart if I didn’t use small enough stitches.

The skirt and bodice are stitched together at the back. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that pattern matching?
The front of the skirt and bodice are stitched together with knife pleats in the velvet and a single box pleat in the side front (geometric)

With the skirt fully stitched to the bodice, I placed the garment on the dress form adjusted it to my height, and leveled the front hem to skim just above the toes. Since the back skirt includes a small train, I only leveled the hem to the side-front seam. The side and back hem was just tidied up to match at the seams and left long for the train.

To finish the hem, I am using the same silk bias ribbon as from the kirtle hem, though needing twice as much length. I quickly make my bias tape, and pin it to the front of the skirt, being careful that the lining will be caught in the stitches and hang straight with the outer layer. The bias tape is stitched to the front using the machine, turned under, and hand-stitched to the lining.

This took so many pins, I couldn’t believe just how full this skirt hem was!
Just gonna say it, that is the sexiest hem I’ve ever done and I am so thrilled with how clean it looks! Get a peek here at the stark white contrast the lining makes that I am not happy with as discussed.

And there she is! The skirt in all her full glory

Plus a dapper kitty who loves to sit on any fabric as soon as it hits the floor..

It was so incredibly satisfying to see the outer gown come together. The construction was actually pretty quick once I had gotten past the pattern-matching finicky work. It is heavy as heck but by far one of the most well-done, professional-looking garments I have ever made. There is still the plaquette and accessories to finish, but it was such a wonderful moment to be able to see the full garment both on the dress form and then to wear it myself. At this point, the project has been ongoing for nearly a year and a half.

Keep following along to see the building of the:

Plaquette

French Hood

And return back to the:

Design Intro

Kirtle

Foresleeves

Blue Tudor Gown: Intro

My sewing journey began because I wanted to make my own costume for Rennissance Faire and then grew and developed to be a lifelong skill I am developing with each project. But this project is one I envisioned wanting to do since I brought home my first sewing machine: a Tudor Gown.

I LOVE historical dramas for the stories, the drama, and of course the costumes. After watching The Tudors, I really wanted to wear the sumptuous gowns from the show. This initially materialized as my first attempt in a green gown following Butterick B4571. Not a terrible pattern to learn from, I made this gown in 2016/2017 and was only my second full garment. But looking back, its a terrible construction and mockery of the true gown design I was craving.

Amazon.com: Butterick B4571 Women's Medieval Dress Renaissance Fair Costume  Sewing Pattern, Sizes 14-20 : Arts, Crafts & Sewing
The green and rose gold jaquard gown made from the Butterick pattern made its debut at my second RennFaire in 2018

At the time, I loved the gown. I loved the amount of spin, the color, the fabric (all clearance from JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby!), the fit. But I look at it now after a few years of learning and laugh. It was a step though, and I was proud of it then, that’s all that matters. First off, it’s all one garment. No underlayers, overskirt, chemise, nothing. Again, an easy pattern for theatre or Halloween costumes, but not to par with what I wanted.

Fast forward to January 2020. I had moved to a new town less than 45 minutes from the Bristol RennFaire and I desperately needed a costume upgrade. I found a blue, geometric pattern upholstery fabric from Hobby Lobby on clearance for $4 a yard, began designing, and purchased a cheap theatrical costumes textbook to pull a pattern from.

I was a bit skeptical on the book since it included only three sizes to start from, but it was at least a place to start after some research. In reading other blogs and watching CosTube videos, I plotted out that I would need at least 4 layers:

  1. Chemise
  2. Kirtle or Bodies
  3. Underskirt
  4. Gown

I also was deciding on if I would like to include a hoop skirt or use added fullness. I decided to draft an elliptical hoop skirt in case I wanted to give it a try.

I’ll save everyone the overkill explanation of drafting these patterns, building three iterations of the bodice mockup, and building the kirtle using cheap polyester satin taffeta. In summary, it was a fit and quality failure.

The bust was too tight, the waist too large; the shape did absolutely nothing to highlight my figure or give the correct historic shape; the neckline was too high, but also too wide; and the material felt completely wrong. But I had stubbornly kept working at it trying to make it work. I added gems. I adjusted the fit. I tried adding a corset underneath to promote the right shape. Nothing was right and I was throwing money at a project I wasn’t prepared for.

And then the pandemic hit. All festivals were cancelled. And I lost every ounce of motivation to fix it. The pattern, fabric, and failed kirtle were shoved in a basket and thrown in a closet to be forgotten.


It took a year before I began working on this dream of a project again. In the meantime, I started this blog, I made The Goose Girl, I developed my skills, and most importantly, I took the time to read, study, and research. The best resources I found in restarting the project was the book, The Tudor Tailor. I 100% credit them for everything that this project became and the confidence that I had to try again.

In reading the book, all in a blissful winter night in January, I had a better understanding of the style lines and materials that were appropriate to recreate the designs in portraits from the period, not just what I’d seen on TV. I went back to the drawing board and purchased new materials for all the elements of the kirtle and gown. It also helped that by then I had successfully built a set of stays, bodies, and corset and was thus much better prepared for working with boning and structure that was needed for the kirtle.

The new design would be build from the Henrician Lady’s Gown pattern from The Tudor Tailor, would be supported by a kirtle, and finished with a French hood. I initially planned to skip the hoop skirt and go for fullness instead.

The original sketch from 2020 included a hoop skirt that I opted to skip for the 2021 version.

With a renewed spark of inspiration and passion to see the garment come together, I successfully patterned, fit, and constructed all parts of the design and am excited to share them here over the next few posts. Each layer of the garment will have its own dedicated post, but you can reference back here for links to them as they are published. I may split the gown up between a couple posts since it had the most elements and construction factors, but we will see.

Please join me on this wild ride of a second attempt that went from wrinkled fabric in June to a wearable garment in September.

Blue Tudor Gown: Building the Kirtle

Blue Tudor Gown: Over Gown Part 1 – Bodice & Plaquette

Blue Tudor Gown: Over Gown Part 2 – Sleeves & Foresleeves

Blue Tudor Gown: Over Gown Part 3 – Skirt & Finishes

Blue Tudor Gown: French Hood

Making a set of Elizabethan Bodies

While working on a Tudor era gown, I was struggling with fit issues on an unstructured gown. The key there is “unstructured”. My modern body technically fit the gown, but my posture and shape wasn’t quite right for the historical bodice. I opted to make a pair of bodies (pre-cursor to stays which were the pre-cursor to corsets) in an attempt to give the proper historical shape.

There are people out there who have studied costume history who are much better prepared to explain why and how different body shapes were created throughout history. But I highly recommend The Tudor Tailor for explanations of the slight variations of fit and structure throughout the Tudor period of historical dress. The book is fabulous, both for the many patterns included and the details pertaining to fabric, cut, and period techniques. For this project, I am using the Dorthea Bodies pattern from The Tudor Tailor which are reproduced from museum garments from the Elizabethan period.

The first step was to trace and scale the pattern so I could begin making mock ups and fitting. This pattern is on a 1:8 grid which means that 1″ on the book page is equal to 8″ for the full scale pattern. This can also be thought of as 1 square on the book page was equal to 1″ for full scale. I like to use the radial method of scaling where I trace the pattern, tape it to my final pattern paper, and mark points for the final pattern from one point in the corner. I use a tape measure and yard stick to do this by marking points along a straight line equal to the tracing paper measurement times 8.

To start, the traced piece is taped to a corner (I like right angles) and markings are made along straight lines radiating from the corner equal to the distance from the corner to the point on the tracing paper x8.
As the outer bounds of the pattern are marked and connected, the interior details can be added.

Scaling a pattern using this method is like creating a giant connect the dots. It takes quite a bit of focus, especially on areas with curves. I make enough points to accurately mark my lines and will then go back to the book pattern and count squares to confirm the pattern is correct. You’ll want to start in pencil since you will make mistakes and then go back later in pen and marker for the final pattern.

The interior details, in this case the boning channels, are made by completing the outline of their placement and then filling in the boning channels based on the size of bones you are using. I planned to use 1/4″ synthetic whalebone (plastic) and mark my channels as a scant 3/8″.

Once the pattern is is drafted, I started on the mockups and fittings. I am lucky in that my measurements were close enough to the pattern model to start from the book pattern without adjustment initially. The first mockup confirmed my suspicions that the bust needed adjusting (typical for me) and that the straps were too long, and too straight. For the second version, I used a french curve to adjust the strap curves so they sit farther on my shoulder points.

This process took THREE mockups to get right since my first attempt made the straps too curved and then not enough on the second try. Third time was the charm. With the third mockup, I also swapped the eyelet closures to be at the front rather than the back since I prefer front lacing. Back lacing is too difficult for me to lace myself that if I can avoid it, I do.

Pattern finished, I could cut my fabric pieces. I planned to use the sandwich method for making my boning channels since all the channels are parallel straight lines. The sandwich method also meant so I would not need a lining or twill tape. In the end, I used three layers: coutil, cotton, and fashion fabric. The outside (fashion) fabric I chose is a brown and teal cotton, but wasn’t strong enough on its own for the boning channels. I used a scrap green cotton as interlining to add structure to the fashion fabric for the boning channels.

Next, the outside fabric and cotton interlining are basted together before stitching the side seams for the basted layers and coutil. The side seams are pressed open and boning channels are marked. I make all my pattern markings after pressing seams since I use water soluble markers that disappear with heat and steam.

Here you can see the seam at the center back of the interlining. I only had 1/2 yard of the material and had to cut the back panel as two pieces and stitch together before flat lining with the outer fabric. Pretty easy way to conserve fabric, especially for patterns like this that have odd long sections (straps) that don’t fit well on yardage together for economic cutting.

With wrong sides together, the outer layer and inner coutil layers are basted together. I am leaving the neckline at the bust and center back open to allow for insertion of the bones. Since I shifted the lacing to the front, I adjust the boning channels to have 1 channel at the edge, 1/2″ space for the eyelets, and then back to the boning spacing. Adding a bone between the eyelets and the center edge gives structure and prevents the eyelets from stretching individually.

The boning channels are marked both on the inside and outside of the garment since I would be attempting to hand sew the channels with metallic thread.

Prior to stitching the channels, I added a few pad stitches throughout the channel area to ensure the fabrics didn’t shift or bunch while making the channels. I did these in a bright thread for easy removal later.

The outline of the boning channels is stitched with a backstitch for strength at the bottom of the channel which take excess strain. The channels themselves are also backstitched, but with a much longer stitch length for speed.
The interior of the bodies with basting stitches and final boning channels stitched.

As I’ve said, I often struggle with fitting the bust of garments and one of the major problems with the unstructured gown the bodies were intended to go with is that the bust is too large and cannot be easily modified due to beadwork. Since the bodies have the underbust supported by bones and bust soft, I left the excess material and padded it to assist with the right shape for the gown. I had a pair of shoulder pads on hand from a clearance rack and trimmed these to use as padding. They were honestly super for this purpose since the shoulder pads are tapered to have more padding on one edge and less on the opposite. I fudged the trimmed shoulder pads so that the thicker side would be at the bottom of the cup, providing support.

The uncut shoulder pad on the left and trimmed piece to the right.
The top of the boning channels are backstitched to prevent the bones from popping out and the pads are roughly pad stitched to prevent the coutil from gapping.

The edges are finished by trimming away the seam allowance to the basted stitching lines and application of bias tape along the neckline and waistline. The center front was surged and folded back rather than having bias tape interrupt my hard work to pattern match the center front.

Edges finished, the last steps were to embroider eyelets to the center front closure and add the tabs to the waist. For the eyelets, I decided on a criss-cross style rather than spiral lacing because . . . math is hard and I just could not make spiral lacing work. For this, the eyelets are placed parallel to each other. To embroider them, I create the holes with a tailors awl, baste stitch a guide circle around the opening with regular thread, and then stitch them with two strands of embroidery floss. Stitches start from the back with a knot, then wrap up through the opening to the thread is through, but the needle passes back down the hole and out the fabric (from inside out) at the guide stitch line. The embroidery thread wraps around the needle point before being pulled through to make a nice, neat, stitch. This continues around the opening to create the finished eyelet.

Finished eyelets at the front of the bodies, laced with white paracord (because it’s cheap!)

I deviated from the Tudor Tailor’s instructions a tad for the tabs. Rather than binding them, I cut my tabs with seam allowance and stitched the front and linings with right sides together, clipped the seam allowance, and turned them out with the top edges raw. This isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but I was to the point of wanting to move faster and get the project done, and this was quicker. I also added a layer of scrap home d├ęcor fabric sandwiched between the layers to give structure to the tabs. I whip stitched the top edge of tabs with the raw edges turned in for a quick finish. With 8 tabs in total, I generally spaced 4 on each side area of the waist and stitched in place to finish.

The finished tabs with whip stitching at the top.
Arranging the tabs was a tad of a process. Looking back, because I adjusted the sizing of the bodies themselves for my waist, I should’ve made more tabs or widened them to fit the final garment better. It’s not a great finish with gaps between them, but they’re done.

Lovely shape and relatively straightforward process, I am quite pleased with how these turned out and how surprisingly comfortable they are. I attempted to wear them with the unstructured gown in question and unfortunately did not see an improvement in the fit or shape. I’ll still wear these for other garments in the future and am proud of how they turned out, but they did not fulfill the intended purpose.

Honestly, I’m really not pleased with the odd fitting garment for more reasons than just the fit. Since I’ve had the last year to improve my skills and have now read The Tudor Tailor, I plan to restart the overall Tudor gown project with a new pattern in hopes that a second go, with the right materials and skills, will lead to a better outcome.