Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mid-16th Century All Black French Gown

Back in December, I told myself that I couldn't make a new outfit for the upcoming 12th Night event for the Kingdom of Atlantia. I have an enormous closet full of SCA garb that my new Kingdom hasn't seen yet. I resolved to wear my Mary of Burgundy reproduction gown.

And then, my friend pulled out some of her 16th century Italian gowns to see what she had to loan two new gals for the event. When my friend pulled out her black gown with gold trim and pearl embroidery, I insisted that I see it on her, and then we both lost our minds and decided we wanted to wear 16th century to the event.

Long have I admired the all-black French and English gowns of the 16th century. While a plain black wool with no decoration would be a great middle class look, I wanted more sumptuous material and some trim to add interest. These were my main inspiration images:

 If you've followed or read through this blog over the past years, you'd know that I already have quite the collection of 16th century gowns. But I wanted something new for this event, the biggest court event of the year. I also wanted to make sure my late-period skills were still up to snuff. And, I wanted to try a new corset pattern out as I have vowed to never wear a back lacing corset again, and that is what my previous Elizabethan corset is.

I used the pattern for the "Dorothea Bodies" from the Tudor Tailor book. This corset is from 1598, so a few decades later than the gown it would be worn under, but I needed a new corset from around 1600 to wear to the Jamestown conference I'm attending in June. This was a good chance to make that corset, and I hoped the pattern could be adjusted for a bodice pattern too.

The picture above is what the pattern looked like drafted exactly from the book. The pattern is for measurements of 36 bust and 28 waist. I'm about a 37-38 bust and 29 waist, so I hoped it could be around the right size once allowing for compression. Well, it was quite too small in the bust and shoulders copied from the book. I may have missed where the book says that the pattern already allows for the compression. So I made some adjustments.

The red is the original pattern, the tan is after my adjustments. I mostly needed to move the shoulder straps in quite a bit, as they were really far off on me. I added to the center front as well. After making it all up, it's still a bit smaller in the bust than I'd prefer, and still too wide in the shoulder strap. My issue is that the balls of my shoulder roll forward quite a lot, so after a couple hours the pressure of that makes my neck ache.

There is very minimal boning in this corset, as the pattern was extremely supportive and well cut. There are steels in the center front around where the eyelets go, and then one steel just to the sides of my bust, which I could have omitted and still been supported. Also small zip ties in center back and the side seams. I am considering cutting off the shoulder straps entirely and just using ribbon for straps, to stop the pressure on my shoulders. Or perhaps I'll make a whole other corset.

Now onto the gown construction. The gown is made from black silk taffeta from Silk Baron. The bodice is lined in black linen and interlined with cotton duck cloth. Nowadays I like to make the duck cloth end a bit shorter inside the shoulder strap than the fashion fabric and lining, to reduce bulk at the shoulder seam.

The bodice pattern is just the corset pattern slightly modified. Biggest change is a shortened front point, making the center front closed and at a slight angle to add more room to the bust, and higher neckline in front and back to hide the corset edges. I decided to make this gown have about an extra inch of room in the bodice, to allow for weight fluctuation or days when I want to lace my corset looser. The gown is sewn shut on the left side seam, and open on the right seam where it laces with hand done eyelets. All of the bodice trim was sewn on by hand.

The sleeves are my favorite part of the gown. I nearly phoned it in and was going to do plain sleeves, but decided I loved the look of the spiral trim, and thought it'd make it more interesting. The trim is 1930s silk velvet ribbon. While it's easier and cheaper to get ribbon from a big box store, I wanted something special for this gown. The silk velvet trim has a true pile to it, and a unique sheen. The sleeves are connected to the bodice with small gold fleur-de-lis components. The sleeves are open on the side back seam and the chemise poufs through them.

 This green Italian gown was a big inspiration for the tone-on-tone color and the spiral velvet trim on the silk taffeta sleeves.
I also decided to make a new partlet to go with the gown. The chemise worn with this gown is ivory linen with a gold pin stripe, and I had a bit of this neat ivory organza with gold metallic stripes that I purchased from a friend a couple years ago. They went together perfectly so I knew I had to make the coordinating partlet. It's almost entirely hand sewn, mostly with gold metallic thread for more sparkle.

 The collar has a hand-gathered ruff, has hand-made thread loops and hand made pearl buttons.


The venue was the Founder's Inn at Virginia Beach, which made for a very pretty photo backdrop. I wore my silk taffeta corded petticoat, a blue silk petticoat over that, my epic zibellini Don Vito, my huge blue girdle with matching necklace, earrings, and brooch, plus a long pearl necklace, with my red slashed shoes and embroidered silk pocket to hold my phone and cash for merchants.


 The skirt is two widths of the silk taffeta and opens on the right side. The hem has a guard of silk velvet, which was a pain to hand sew but worth it, because the sheen of the guard matches the trim.

 These two photos below are silly but they show the open seams of the sleeves.


  1. That is incredibly gorgeous! I sew want another sewing weekend with you fitting me...I adore the Italian you taught me to make! You just keep better and more exquisitely detailed with every thing you research and create.

  2. This dress looks fabulously understated and sumptuous.