Making a 16th Century Kirtle, Part Two

The making of a kirtle continues! Part one of this project can be read here, it talks about making the bodice, this post is going to be about embellishing the bodice.

I also have posts about making the Bodies, Chemise, and Farthingale which belong to the same outfit.

I thought this would be a good time to talk about the materials for this costume. I got almost all my materials in the NYC garment district. The two main fabrics for this costume are a gorgeous silk dupioni, and a polyester floral damask fabric. This is my first project with a large silk component, so that has been horrible, frustrating, awful interesting!

The damask is for the dress and the silk is being used for the kirtle, sleeves, and hood.

I’m also using quilting cotton for lining and polyester taffeta for the parts that will be hidden.


That trip to NYC also included a stop at Beads World, which is where I got the embellishments for this costume.

I was aiming to find red and yellow glass crystals but they only had red and white. I didn’t think I would need to use the white ones on this costume, because I had so many red. But when planning out the beading pattern it looked much better with the white ones worked in.

This is very inaccurate. They are imitation diamonds, and they were unable to consistently cut diamonds until the late 1500s. In this case i’m prioritizing visual appeal over accuracy, but I can tint them with alcohol inks later on if i’m bothered by it.

I bought the glass crystals in a variety of sizes, along with cream and orange seed beads.


I couldn’t find cheap pearls on my shopping trip, so I ordered some from this shop on etsy!


And those are the raw materials! Onto the progress!

At the end of my last post I had a very simple silk kirtle bodice trimmed with lace.


love the lace used, but the more I stared at it the more I felt it looked a little out of place on this particular garment. I didn’t want to remove it, but it definitely needed an extra “something”

So I decided to bead it! I stitched cream seed beads around the neckline, then stitched a row of pearls and orange seed beads on top. It took a few hours but I think it makes the bodice look much more expensive!


When I felt happy with that I moved on to planning the real beading, which will be about an inch wide and span across the front neckline.

I did this by getting out a beading mat and dumping a good amount of the crystals and pearls onto it. I used my fingers and pliers to arrange a pattern that I felt was well balanced and really pretty.


I also fiddled around with a smaller pattern, which I want to turn into a necklace and beading on the dress waist. But I think it might take up too many red stones so i’m not sure if that will work out.


I liked the first beading pattern enough to make an actual pattern for it, something that can be used as a guide to make sure I got it right. I just used a ruler and paper to mark this out.


And then it was time for the actual beading! Which was kind of terrifying. Nothing can really go wrong, it’s hand sewing and pretty much everything can be ripped out without damaging the beads or fabric.

But this is me we are talking about, so I was totally expecting something to go wrong.

Somehow, things went really well! I started from the center and did the right side first. The left side definitely looks better, but they were both passable on my first try!


I sewed the pearls on three at a time, then tacked them down with thread. All the other beads were sewn on one at a time.

I’m really ridiculously proud of this, it looks so pretty!


I didn’t want to waste too many of the fake gems on the shoulders, so I came up with a different beading pattern that was mostly made up from pearls. And now I don’t have enough pearls for the jewelry. But luckily I can easily order more!


The only downside to this collar is that it makes the bodice very heavy, and now when it’s worn it droops a little in the center. So if I were to make another one of these I would put interfacing or buckram in the lining to give it some support.

(though it wouldn’t be a problem if the bodice was an eighth of an inch smaller)


With the beading done I could finally stitch up the shoulder seams. A fitting in between proved they needed to be let out a half inch, i’m really glad I left so much room for that!

Photo on 2-8-15 at 11.18 AM

Photo on 2-8-15 at 11.17 AM #3

The straps of the kirtle are actually smaller than the straps of my bodies…which looks pretty bad when the kirtle is worn on its own. To try and make this a little less obvious I stitched lace around the arm holes.

With that finished, the bodice was pretty much done! Here is the complete front.


And the finished back.



And a photo of the messy lining for good measure – the beading looks good from the front, but is pretty messy from the interior!


So that’s the bodice! I really enjoyed making it. Unfortunately the dress bodice hasn’t been as much fun, but i’ll talk about that on another day.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Making a 16th Century Kirtle, Part Two

  1. Krista says:

    Beautiful, and such a great job! Can I ask where you are finding the information about jewelry in that time period? I’m really curious. Also, I was in the fabric store the other day and there was this beautiful bronze and copper sheen fabric with a pattern and I immediately thought of you! Just wanted to let you know how inspiring you are. 🙂 Keep up the great work, even when it’s frustrating, you’re so talented!

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