Several weeks ago I was commissioned to make a costume for my friend Sarah for the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Sarah goes every year and had been wearing a store-bought costume that just wouldn't do anymore. I have made a historical costume before (18th century/ Marie Antoinette) and was excited make another one. I have not been to the festival yet but from what I can tell from the pictures and info online, people tend to wear a mix of Tudor and Elizabethan and pretty much whatever they want. In the end we decided on a Elizabethan noblewoman costume. For the pattern I would have loved to use a more historically accurate costuming pattern, like one of Margo Anderson's wonderful patterns, but in the end I went with a Simplicity pattern to save some money. We chose to use Simplicity 3782 with several modifications. Unfortunately I did not take pictures during the construction of the garment but I can explain the modifications that I made. Just to note, for this particular costume we weren't as focused on historical accuracy but rather balancing the material cost and time.
We picked a LOVELY fabric from Joann's. I think it is a synthetic blend of some sort. No not historical but works well enough for a costume that is worn a couple times a year. The print is again, not historical but we felt it would emulate the rich brocaded or embroidered fabric that our noblewoman would wear. It is also reversible which was great and worked well for the sleeves but I will get to those later
Now onto the actual construction. First off I made a separate "corset" rather than add boning to the actual bodice of the dress. I did this mainly because Sarah wanted a separate corset, and also because it would have been more historically accurate for a noblewoman to have a separate shaping undergarment (we call it a corset, they called it a "pair of bodies").
The next modification I had to make was the whole sleeve/shoulder treatment mess that Simplicity presented. The shape of the sleeves that they included was ugly in my opinion. I think it was a cross between a narrow sleeve and a "trunk sleeve"...I don't even know. I had to re-draft the sleeves several times to get the shape that I wanted. Sarah wanted to use the white side of the sleeves for a contrast. I ended up having more fabric left over so I was able to do second set of wider, open sleeves to go over the white ones. Oh and we also added beads to the white sleeves (I did it before I sewed them together, while the pieces were still flat). We also decided to make the sleeves tie on rather than sew them on as the pattern suggested.
I also thought the original shoulder treatment was off. The roll is too narrow to be on its own. The purpose of those Elizabethan shoulder treatments was to make the shoulders broader, in turn making waist appear smaller AND to have a place for tie-on sleeves to anchor to. I decided to fix the shoulder issue by adding a simple wing on the top of the arm scythe. I just drafted a little crescent based on the length I wanted and how far off her shoulder I wanted it to go. Then I sewed the roll on top of that.
The last major modification I made was the skirt of the gown. I didn't feel I had time to make a farthingale or hoop for her. The Elizabethan skirt seems to have more volume at the hips that the earlier Tudor styles. Instead of pleating and gathering the skirt like the pattern said to do I used cartridge pleats instead. I backed the top few inches if the skirt with felt then pleated it to make it stiff. I also made her a bum roll to help the pleats stand outward like they were supposed to. To give the hem more body I added horsehair braid to the skirts.
That is it! I finished just in time. Took me about two weeks to do once I had all the materials together. It was very fun to do. There is still a little beading we would like to do but Sarah got to wear it this last weekend. She will get to wear it in two more weeks when we all go together. So excited! Now it is time for me to go start making mine!
All photos courtesy of Dan Lavu