This is my first time blogging about a historical project in a while! I’ve missed it. Historical projects are definitely my favorite and i’m happy to be back to focusing on them.
This is a dress inspired by (and based off the shape) one Eleanor of Portugal, the Holy Roman Empress wore in this painting, which is by Hans Burgkamair the Elder. I love how unusual the style of this dress is. The simplistic design was very common in the Middle Ages, but the fuller sleeves and skirt hint at the Renaissance fashions which were just starting to become popular.
I like a lot of the more traditional medieval styles (close fitting and a lot of layers) and plan to make things similar to them in the near future, but the uniqueness of this design made me want to recreate it. I’ve decided to drop the laced collar, but the shape and neckline will be similar. I found a drawing (which is probably not very historically accurate) with similar sleeves which i’ve also used for inspiration.
I would also like to pair it with a headpiece of some sort. Not sure what exactly, but it’ll be elaborate.
My materials consist of four yards of a gold and orange damask print. I bought this in NYC but found this website which sells it for almost the same price. I also have some fake fur trim to edge the neckline and sleeves.
I’m going to alter pieces of a failed red medieval ensemble and use them for the chemise/underdress. That is what the red fabric represents.
I have some matching red beads, rhinestones, and gold beads which will probably end up in the headpiece. I read that mesh overlays were very common on hennin so I bought some on my last trip to joanns. I also picked up four yards of quilting cotton, which will be the lining.
I think that’s everything – lets move onto making it!
The bodice i’m basing this off of does not have seams or darts in the front. Which means mine won’t either. That design element paired with the high neck meant I couldn’t drape this pattern on my dress form (its bust is bigger and doesn’t squish into flat front bodices). I ended up using the “pillowcase and pin” method which I show in this blog post.
When that was done It looked like this.
I did my best to make sense of the markings and create something a bit easier to transfer onto paper.
I ended up with this! But I made some alterations to this after creating a mock up. One of those changes was separating the pieces, since I wanted the centerfront and centerback to be cut straight with the damask print. I couldn’t get the front and back to line up while still cutting the bodice as one piece.
I also lowered the neckline, waistline, and took in the shoulder seam.
I drew a chalk line down the backside of the fabric. I made sure the line went right down the center of the damask print and laid the pattern piece against the chalkline. I traced around the edges with sharpie and repeated the process with the other side. Then I cut the pieces out and labeled them because the front and back look really similar.
I didn’t want a back closure so I decided to have eyelets going up one side. I added two and a bit inches on the sides with the eyelets. The other side has a three quarter inch seam allowance.
Somewhere along the way I decided to bind the seams instead of sewing them the normal way. To make that a little bit easier I added a medium weight interfacing where the binding would be. On the side with the eyelets I used a lighter weight interfacing, this was to prevent fraying more than anything else.
This fabric is REALLY prone to fraying, so I left the bottom edge (the waistline) uncut while I worked on the neckline and side seams.
To get super smooth finishes on the edges (and so I wouldn’t have to worry about fraying) I made facings for the neckline and armholes. I traced the edges of the bodice onto my lining fabric, then measured one and a half inches away from the traced edge. These got pinned on with the right sides facing each other.
I sewed a half inch away from the edge at the armholes, and three quarter inches away from the neckline since I made it the tiniest bit too high.
The facings got turned over and pinned down…
Then sewn down by hand to prevent any topstitching from being visible on the front of the fabric.
With those edges finished, I moved onto the side seams. I started with the side that has eyelets.
I turned the fabric inward by three quarters of an inch and sewed half an inch away from the edge. Then folded the fabric inward by one and a quarter inch and sewed half an inch away from the edge. I topstitched a sixteenth of an inch away from the edges to secure it in place. This created two boning channels about three quarters of an inch apart. The math there doesn’t really make sense when I think about it, but I swear that is what I did!
It looked like this.
I added the boning and prepared to sew sixteen eyelets.
At this point it still kind of fit on my dress form. Okay not really. But you can get some idea of what it’ll resemble.
Now I did the eyelets. They took maybe five episodes of Treasure Quest: Snake Island to finish. That is how I measure time when hand sewing in front of the TV and it is totally valid.
I ironed the other side edges into a fold, then bound them together from the back.
A fitting made me realize having boning on one side and not the other was a bad idea. The side without boning collapsed and puckered. If I’d realized this before binding the seam I could have hidden boning in the seam allowance, but it was too late for that. So I sewed an ugly boning channel instead.
It’s so ugly. But it works.
I made up some double fold bias tape out of scraps.
The lower edge finally got cut to the right length, then bias tape was sewn overtop to hide the fraying.
I cut out my lining (all as one piece) and pinned it in place. I sewed it down at the waistline, sides, and the lower half of the armholes. It’s much easier to sew lining in when the garment is flat, so I didn’t sew up the shoulder seam until most of the lining was in.
When everything but the lining around the neckline and shoulders were done, I did up the shoulder seam.
But I still didn’t finish sewing the lining in. I had to attach the fur first!
I did that with a whip stitch, then finished sewing in the lining.
And that’s it for the bodice! It needs sleeves and a skirt but that will come later. Here it is worn over my rose chemise I made a few months ago. I should have tied the cuffs but I forgot.
The fit could probably be a little bit better, but i’m pretty pleased with it considering how hard it is to make fitted bodices without darts or seams. It also doesn’t have any boning or interfacing (aside from the sides) in it and is worn without a foundation garment. The skirt will weight the bodice a bit and make it lay a little smoother, which will help.
I think I might add some red pearls around the neckline, just below the fur. But I also like how simple it is, so i’m conflicted. Opinions on that are welcome!
Oh, and I filmed the process of making this. If you want to watch that, it can be seen here!
Thanks for reading!