Wednesday, December 16, 2015

14th Century Silk Brocade Gown- and I reminisce about gowns gone by...

This post is mainly about a new gown I made for an event held last weekend, but I also talk a lot about how much my costuming has changed in the last few months, and where I'm headed in the future with sewing.

 I've posted about this black and red Elizabethan gown in the past. These pictures are from December 2011, where I wore it to an event in SLC. 

I remember that older event, struggling to get dressed in the tiny bathroom, and I couldn't do anything with my hair (1. didn't know how then, 2. dress was too tight to even try). That black gown is probably my most high-maintenance outfit. Here's how many flippin' layers I'm wearing in that picture: smock, partlet, hoop, forepanel/petticoat, gown, tie-on sleeves, wrist ruffs, hose and shoes,  and 7 pieces of jewelry. I have to pin on the ruffs and pin shut the gown to the forepanel so nothing blows open. This is one of those outfits where I feel like all I can do is stand still, otherwise it doesn't look perfect. Granted, most people probably don't feel this way when wearing fancy garb, but I do- I don't like the inner-workings of my outfit in the open for people to see (such as my skirt blowing open or my sleeves being untied).

Fun fact: the only thing similar in the two outfits below is the necklace and purple ring- they're the same ones.

And now we get to where I am today. Jane seems to have gone back in time 200 years to the 14th century. I put together this gown in November and December of this year. I have made three 14th century kirtles for me, and helped with two for my friend shown below. This is my first back-lacing and truly self-supportive 14th century dress. My first 14th century kirtle was too tight in the bust, yet the linen stretched out when worn so my bust didn't look quite right. My mint wool kirtle is a smidge loose in the bust, but I can wear a light "comfort bra" with it, and it fits right.

The gown is a purple and gold silk brocade I purchased in October at Home Fabrics in the LA Fashion District. I also bought it in aqua/gold and black/gold. Renaissance Fabrics sells it, for twice the price. The gown is fully lined in bronze silk. The pattern is a front panel with angled side seams, two back panels with angled side seams but straight up the middle of the back, with a triangular back gore and two side gores. There are over 4 yards in the hem of the skirt. While I like how full it is, I probably won't be using the same angled panels with gores too often in the future- the angled sides plus side gores lays a bit wonky on me. I'm going to stick with rectangular panels with gores or angled panels with no gores.

I know that historically, this gown would have been worn with a supportive kirtle underneath. However, I wanted a single layer gown. I am wearing a linen smock underneath at least!

I wanted this gown to be very fitted, and I actually didn't mean to make the bust so tight, but here we are, and it works. No bra possible with this gown- it's quite snug but comfortable, and I don't have to adjust my bust much while wearing it. I used the bodice block pattern I drafted a few months ago, and just took it in a bit more at the waist. I can't even pull this thing on my dress form!

There are 36 hand-done spiral-laced eyelets up the back of this gown, which seemed to take longer than constructing every other part. There are 10 gold metal ball buttons on each sleeve, which has a seam running down the back of the arm. The belt is a gold metal plaque style from Raymond's Quiet Press, which I purchased last Pennsic, and have been waiting to wear with the appropriate fancy gown.

 One of my favorite parts of the whole outfit is the fillet. I made this a couple days before the event, and I adore how it turned out. I made a white linen one to wear with a linen veil for the last event, but didn't end up wearing it- just the veil pinned to my hair, which kind of worked, but not well. For this event, my hair and veil were rock solid! 

The fillet is a 2 inch wide black velvet ribbon, folded in half and sewn shut, turned right side out, and with a 1/2" wide piece of buckram pulled inside for some stiffening. The fillet is about 5/8" wide and 22" long- the edges overlap enough for a black hook and eye to hold it closed. It seems that in period, fillets were generally tied together, but in my case, ties inevitably will untie, so I cheated and did the hook and eye. It has tiny brass fleur-de-lys mounts and 6mm pearls from Fire Mountain Gems sewn on every inch. The veil is a square silk veil from Dharma Trading, folded like a kerchief, and pinned to the fillet at each side and my braid at the top of my head. The pins didn't slip at all which blew me away- this was only my second time wearing a veil, the first being the event before this one, which didn't go too well.

For my hair, I did some research on 14th century styles that I found attractive. This style has two braids that start right behind my ears, then are wrapped in front of the ears and pinned to the top of the head. The ends are tucked under the opposite braid. I did this style for my friend first, and then on myself. I much prefer it to the style where the braids start at the temples, but both looks are cute. I used maybe 5-6 bobby pins- it was fast, easy, and held solid all day. I will definitely be wearing this style again!

I plan to continue making clothes from the 14th and 15th centuries for myself and my husband. I have been making 16th century clothing for seven years now, and I'm eager to try new styles that I haven't attempted before. For the time being, I'm putting my late-period costuming on hold in favor of earlier fashions. I find them much easier to wear, they're more comfortable, if I forget one layer I'm not fretting over looking like an idiot without her partlet, and I'm being challenged in different ways than with Elizabethan styles. Also, I seem to be able to do the 14th century hairstyles very well, and am useless at 16th century hair.

Here are some images that I used as inspiration and documentation for my gown and hairstyle.

“Acerba”, didactic-allegorical poem in Italian, by Cecco d’Ascoli , 1380s. Tight gown sleeves, closed front.

1380-1385 BNF Français 343 Queste del Saint Graal / Tristan de Léonoi. These ladies are wearing kirtles and surcotes but their hair is the same style I did, and two of the gowns appear to have closed fronts.

BL Harley 4431 The Book of the Queen. The two ladies on the left are wearing tight sleeved gowns or kirtles with closed fronts. 

A woman studying her paternoster. Paris, circa 1400, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Braided hair at temples, closed front dress with tight sleeves.


  1. You looked lovely, as always! And I'm glad you posted a picture of the dress in better lighting. I'm sad that the lighting in that hall was not favorable to that gorgeous purple.

  2. That fillet is brilliant! I'll be doing that to hide my lack of braids. You looked stunning as well as comfortable.