Current project

Let me tell you a bit about my current project. As you can see, it's Simplicity #2589.

Honestly, I think this is one of the last quality patterns Simplicity produced before someone there decided to flood us with cheap, ugly Halloween patterns again.

It's a Tudor dress in the earlier style of the century, as worn for example by Elizabeth I. as a princess (c. 1546), Mary I. (c. 1544) or Catherine Parr, 6th wife of Henry VIII. The pattern is fairly accurate to the period; it certainly does give the correct look. There is a corresponding pattern #2621 which will give you the proper underpinnings for this style. As far as I can see (I haven't taken a closer look yet) that one's pretty accurate as well.

What I can't understand though: Why do they never - never ever cut the skirts properly? In every 'Tudor' pattern that has been released until now, the drape of the skirt is just wrong!
Take the cover image of #2589 and you'll see what I mean, compared to one of the paintings above. The Simplicity dress is arranged in a number of pleats to the sides of the front opening, giving the skirt a bell- or dome-shaped silhouette.

This is wrong. Early Tudor gowns do not have waist pleats in the front! It's hard to catch since the ladies are almost always portrayed with their hands clasped at waist level, but if you take a closer look for example at Catherine Parr, you'll notice that the skirt is kept straight and flat in front over the spanish farthingale, producing that much-desired conical shape. They did have pleats in the back part though (and a few to the sides), which formed the extensive train that is a part of English ladies' costumes. Continental examples of this style of dress characteristically don't have a train - this is a special English style.

It's different with later styles which sometimes tend to have pleats in the front also, and as always with fashion, especially in times when there was no 'correct' way to do it, there may be some earlier examples with and some later without pleats, but on the whole, it's a rule. Compare these two ladies:


So, what I'm going to do is skip the pleats in the front, cut the back panels longer (with a train) and wider, so I can arrange them in proper pleats.

Next are the undersleeves. It's correct that those bag-like undersleeves were not a full garment, but a tie-on piece. So far so good. However, they are much too small in this example. Look at the portraits - look at the massive undersleeves there. You'll definitely need to cut the Simplicity ones larger if you want the proper look. Also, I'm not going to make separate 'Inner Sleeves' but a whole chemise with wide sleeves, as is historically correct.

Here's a breakdown of Elizabethan costume parts for the ones interested-

The Oversleeves were usually attached to the Upper Sleeves, then folded so the precious lining would show (although they could also be lined with the same fabric like in this example) and pinned close to the upper arm, usually so they would hide the seam. They'd then form a sort of 'loop'.

And these are the fabrics I'm going to use for my project:

Top left: Pintucked silk taffeta with gold band embroidery
Top right: Wine colored cotton velvet
Front: Red & gold silk damask with a large flower and pomegranate pattern

Current status: Most pieces cut, waiting for extra fabric to arrive for the last 2 skirt panels.

Stay tuned :-)


The Tudor sleeve mystery

Well ~ ever thought you knew everything about a certain thing and as you progress, you find out you don't know as much as you thought? Welcome to the club! This is what I call "The Tudor Sleeve Mystery".

Let's just get this straight and easy. Look at the following sleeves and decolletages - what do you notice?

* The upper sleeves are pretty tight
* They almost seem to slip from the ladies' shoulders
* There's a jeweled 'border' running along the neckline
* There's a strip of fabric showing above the border

Not that I hadn't noticed these things before. However, whilst assembling my bodice according to the Simplicity pattern - which uses the same method as Period Patterns does and as Herbert Norris suggests in "Tudor Costumes" - I noticed that this doesn't give the right look.

All three work with a bodice back that has an incorporated sleeve strip which is connected with the bodice front at the outmost corner. So far so good. However it results in far too much fabric between the actual undersleeve and the bodice neckline where the jeweled border - let's just call this 'bilament' for the sake of avoiding confusion - would be placed. Compare with the pictures. There's no extra fabric inbetween. The bilament reaches right out onto the upper sleeves with no strip or band inbetween. Sometimes it's even angled outwards so that a possible strip would sit right across the upper arm. In none of the paintings we see a seamline there or further up the shoulders. Some of the dresses even look right off-the-shoulders!

Some more research showed that in almost no reproduction, the sleeves behave correctly. In most recreations, the neck is much smaller, less angled and has the strip or band of fabric inbetween. So, how could I possibly eliminate this and get a more period accurate look?

I looked some more at the portrait that's become my inspiration for my dress - Jane Seymour. And yes, I'm deliberately using the large version here.

To me, it looks almost like raglan sleeves - not quite the usual raglan of course, but at least as if part of the armscye was formed by the upper sleeves themselves and not by solid fabric from the gown. What supports this theory is the fact that the golden embroidery (trim? border?) underneath the bilament seems to continue both around and underneath the sleeves - see what I mean?

It looks as if there's almost no connection between the solid red fabric of the gown and the lower portion of the upper sleeve (the part that would cover the armpits). Is the sleeve only just pinned on?

I noticed I wasn't the only one - Cass McGann from Reconstructing History reported about the very same problem and had different suggestions. Her notes were extremely helpful to me and I was glad to see that this isn't just me seeing things but it's also been spotted by professionals. What was less helpful though was the fact that nobody had found an acceptable solution until now. Trying to find out more in books, I noticed no one had actually ever paid attention to that matter. They all report that the sleeves were tight and necklines wide; one suggests that the upper sleeves were joined to the bilament:

Well...but with the bilament being a part of the gown, we'd be right were we've been before. You can't just attach the sleeves to the bilament which is fastened to the gown and hope for that near off-shoulder look. The considerable weight of the brocade or cloth-of-gold lower sleeves would be too much. The neckline would just fall off the shoulders, no matter how rigid a posture the lady assumes - which is what one historian actually suggests: The upright and rigid posture would keep the gown in place. Yes, for the portrait perhaps, but even these ladies did have to move from time. There had to be another trick.

Plus, there's one other question that is connected with the sleeve problem: How would this gown close?

What's that got to do with the sleeves you might wonder. Alas, listen.

I cut my sleeves in the fashion descibed above, i.e. I eliminated the fabric strip and the edge of the cap of the upper sleeve now forms part of the neckline. I could just go ahead and place some jewels around the neckline and be done with it. Still, the angle is not right and the sleeves will keep slipping from my shoulders due to the weight of the lower sleeves. How to fix this?

For that, we need to take a look at the back of the gown. With so much fabric eliminated in front, we need to have an appropriate counterbalance in the back, i.e. the back of the neckline would have to be cut in a low U or V shaped form to balance and hold the sleeves up. Holbein, the ever-watchful artist, did not fail to catch the back of a fashionable lady's gown in one of his sketches:


It's actually a V; however there's no back lacing like the Simplicity pattern or Period Patterns (or many others, in fact) uses. This doesn't mean that back lacings weren't common or not in use at all; there are several descriptions of such gowns in inventories that have been handed down to us. Seeing that this is a gown of the 'almost off shoulder'-type and very similar to that of Jane Seymour though I thought it wouldn't be wrong to assume that both Jane's gown and the Holbein one (and, subsequently, others of that type?) would have another method of closure. (Yes, there are some weird stripes down the lady's back and sides - we'll come to these later).


What I tried was a simple tape construction at the back







All original work is protected by intellectual property laws. No copyright infringement is intended - copyrighted images are being used for costume study purposes only. Site design, graphics, and content is copyright © Ela unless otherwise indicated.