Making a Maroon Medieval Dress

Last October I started on a 15th century inspired project which I titled the “Maroon Medieval Ensemble”. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned and the only finished part of the project is a rose colored chiffon chemise (which I blogged about here). The dress ended up in a bin at the top of my closet, which is where projects go to die. Or at least it’s where they go when i’m not ready to throw them out but don’t plan on finishing them.

The reason i’m now blogging about this project is because it’s survived the bin of death! Or at least part of it has.

When I was working on my Medieval Escoffin I realized the colors and materials I was using were quite similar to the fabrics in my Maroon Medieval dress. I even used some of the leftover piping from that project on the escoffin. Though the dress wasn’t wearable at all I got it out from the bin of death, I figured I could salvage some part of it and use it as the base for a dress that could be worn with my escoffin.

Which I did! And that’s what i’m blogging about.

Here is the dress in it’s unaltered half finished state:

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I don’t think it looks bad from the front. The real issue is that it didn’t fit properly. The waist was too long and didn’t flare enough to sit smoothly over my hips. This caused the bodice to constantly ride up and fold around the waist/stomach area which looked pretty awful.

I majorly goofed up on the back. I added boning panels to a bias cut seam and didn’t realize until later on how warped and pointed the back had become, especially around the neckline. The eyelets were also placed too far apart into fabric that wasn’t reinforced properly. And I tried to sew them with rayon thread which is a big no-no, they were an absolute mess!

I decided that the top part was unsalvageable. But the bottom half was perfectly fine – okay, it’s a little shorter than I’d like, but other than that it’s fine. So I decided to keep that part and attach it to a new bodice which would hopefully fit better and nicely compliment the escoffin.

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Before talking about the new bodice, here are some pictures of making the bottom half of the dress. My pattern for the front side looked like this.

I flat drafted it and didn’t make any mock ups, which I think is the reason behind my fit problems.

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The bottom band was also flat drafted. This part of the dress is made from the cheapest jacquard fabric that Joanns has in their home decor collection.

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The bottom band is trimmed with piping. I used a really pretty floral brocade for this. I cut strips out on the fabrics bias and sewed them together.

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Then I folded them in half so they covered a piece of cotton cord and sewed with the presser foot as close to the cord as I could get.

I made this before I realized that lightweight fabrics need another layer of material between them and the cord. Otherwise the markings on the cord are visible through the fabric and the piping can looked puckered  – which totally happened here.

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I think I made fifteen yards of puckery piping.

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The bottom band was sewn together with french seams.

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The raw edges were turned inward by a half inch and hand stitched down.  Then the piping was sewn on by hand. To prevent the edges from fraying I sewed some thin horsehair across the top and bottom edge, but I don’t have a picture of that

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Here is the finished band, which was then sewn onto the dress. I think those are all the relevant progress photos I have of this part. The dress itself is made from a cheap suiting I got for less than $3/yard from fabric.com. It’s a three piece pattern and sewn together with french seams (at the sides and at the back). The collar took the most time but that part got cut off so I won’t ramble on about making it!

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My new and improved bodice is made from more of the red jacquard. I used the bodice pattern from my Damask Print Dress since it doesn’t have any front seams (dresses in this time rarely did) and fit me surprisingly well. I just altered it to be a three piece pattern with an opening in the back instead of at the sides.

I would have cut this as one single piece but I didn’t have enough fabric left to do that.

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I made facings to go around the arm holes and neckline of the bodice.

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It all got turned inward and tacked down by hand so stitches weren’t visible.

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Then I made some trim from remnants of the brocade piping, some damask print bias tape that is covered in gold mesh, and little chiffon ruffles. All these fabrics were used for my escoffin and I thought this would be a good way to bring those textures and colors into the dress.

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Then I sewed a whole bunch of eyelets into the back. They are sewn between two pieces of plastic boning so they won’t stretch or tear.

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Then the side seams got done up. I did this the normal way, then folded the seam allowance inward and stitched across the folded edge to create a boning channel. I added two pieces of plastic boning to each side of the bodice. This is to prevent the bodice from bunching up at the sides, which can easily happen in bodices that don’t have darts or bust allowances in them.

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When that was finished I hemmed it and got to try it on for the first time. The fit is pretty much perfect, it’s the right length and doesn’t compress the bust too much or flare out awkwardly around the arms, which is great. I’m really pleased with this pattern!

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Now it was time to work on the sleeves. I decided to do layered sleeves, which will make it look like I’m wearing a kirtle underneath a short sleeved dress.

The long sleeves are made from a two piece pattern. The top part will be cut from stretch velvet so it nicely clings to the arm and the lower section is made from the damask print fabric with a gold mesh overlay. The short sleeves are made from a very similar pattern that is a bit wider and much shorter. Here are the patterns:

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I started by cutting out the short sleeves.

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The lower edge got turned inward by a half inch and sewed down.

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Then I made more of my piping/bias tape/ruffle combo which will decorate the hem.

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That got pinned onto the hem of each sleeve.

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And sewn on by hand. All of this was done by hand because I wanted to avoid visible topstitching.

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The side seam got sewn up, then I sewed lining into each sleeve.

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This is the top part of the long sleeves, made from the same velvet I used on the escoffin. In the end the short sleeved layer will cover this part, so you won’t see it, but I wanted it to match anyway.

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These are the lower sections, made from the same fabrics as the sides of the escoffin. I still love this fabric combo,  I think it looks very rich and has a lot of depth to it.

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To finish the edges I stitched it onto a piece of lining with the right sides facing each other, then turned it the right way out. I topstitched around the sides (by machine) and hem (by hand), then it got sewn on to the velvet part.

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The side seam got sewn up and luckily they fit!

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Then the top edge was sewn inside the top edge of the short sleeves. That edge was a frayed mess so I finished it with bias tape.

I set them aside for a bit and sewed lining into the bodice. When that was done they got sewed in with a whip stitch.

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Which left me with a lovely wearable bodice!

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I’m really happy with this. I like all the fabrics together and it fits, so I don’t have anything negative to say about it at all!

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Now it was time to attach the skirt. I put the dress on and hiked it up a little bit so it fit loosely around the waist. I needed some extra room so I could take the dress in at the back so the terrible eyelets wouldn’t be visible.  Then I marked a line about one inch above my waist and cut across that point.

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I ripped out the boning and as much of the eyelets as I could. I cut about an inch off either side which got rid of half the eyelets, what was still visible I covered with bias tape.

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After it was sewn on you couldn’t even tell!

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Then I sewed the skirt to my new bodice with tiny whip stitches. And the bottom edge of the bodice lining was stitched down to cover the raw edge of the skirt.

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The skirt fabric is too weak for eyelets so I hand sewed in a zipper. It isn’t accurate, but it’s really convenient.

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And that was it! The dress is finished! I love how this turned out. It was a very spur of the moment project which makes the end result feel even better.

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Here are a few worn photos of the whole thing. I should have the entire set up soon but I have a bit of editing to do first!


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Thanks for reading!

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Making a Medieval Escoffin / Heart Shaped Headpiece

Last week I decided to make a Medieval Escoffin. They are a tall, usually elaborate, heart shaped headdress with a padded roll on top. I thought it would be a fun little project and unlike any of my previous headpieces.

The finished piece looks like this – I’ll be taking better photos of it when I have the matching dress finished.

Photo on 10-19-15 at 3.18 PM #4

I’ve seen these headpieces in a lot of paintings and etchings, though they are usually just called heart shaped headpieces or heart shaped hennin. Fig. 50 from the page below was my main inspiration for this, since I thought the slightly wider shape would be more flattering on me than the completely upright ones (like Fig. 51). I didn’t intend for mine to look so similar to the drawing, it just sort of worked out that way.

Also this isn’t to go with the Damask Medieval Dress I’ve been working on – I just borrowed some materials from that piece.

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Oh, and those drawings are all from this book. It’s really great for seeing the styles from various periods but it doesn’t have any information on the patterning or making of any headdresses. Which is totally fine with me – I like making that part up on my own.

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I started doodling what the pattern might look like flat. Once I realized the curves in the headpiece could be created by adding batting to a flat pattern this became way easier.

My first  few sketches kind of look like the Modius crowns from Ancient Egypt – in fact the shape of a lot of early European headpieces remind me of ones Egyptian Royalty wore. Which I wouldn’t have expected.

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 I started by drawing out the shape I thought it would have on newsprint. The right side is what it looked like originally and the left side is the one I altered. I took it in a lot, lowered he top arch, and raised the bottom. Then I drew out the various sections onto the newsprint so I could better visualize the proportions.

I kept holding it up to/putting it on my head and adjusting things until I liked the way it looked. It was surprisingly easy!

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This is the pattern I ended up with. But I ended up raising the bottom portion since it was lower than I wanted.

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I traced the pattern onto heavy felt weight interfacing and cut it out. I also drew on the separate sections so I would know where to put the padding.

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Then I hand sewed wire around each edge. This makes the headpiece a lot more durable and shapeable. For the lower edge I stitched the wire about a quarter inch away from the edge. This will help reduce the bulk at the there, which is good since a lot of fabric will be layered there.

I also tried it on at this point to make sure everything looked okay – and it did, so I carried on.

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Then it was time to pad the lower section (I’ve been calling these the “ears” but there is probably a proper name for it). I used circles of quilt batting which I cut up and layered until I had a nice rounded shape.

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Here they are pinned on. I whip stitched the edges down shortly after taking this picture.

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Then I covered the ears lower section with a damask print fabric. To jazz this fabric up a bit I covered it with a gold mesh – the damask fabric is from NYC and the mesh is from Joanns.

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Then I sewed some home made brocade piping across the bottom edge. And I covered the lower edge of the felt interfacing at the centerfront with a scrap of red fabric. This part will eventually be hidden by a ruffle but I didn’t want the felt to be visible from any angle.

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Here you can see the textures of these materials together, I really, really, love the combination.

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I decided to line the interior before doing anything else. I used some red suiting for this.

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Then I tried it on. I was happy with the way it was looking but I thought the lower panels looked a little empty.

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So I started fiddling around with some beads and I realized I had enough of these gold glass beads to embellish the lower panels with a cross pattern.

I got these from Michaels (or maybe Joanns?) the pack of gold ones was on sale for $2. I also decided to stitch fake pearls across the bottom of the panels. For that i’m using super cheap 6mm ones by darice, I think these are 99c a strand.

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I made up a paper template for the cross pattern, which looked like this.

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I pinned them on and traced the edges of each strip with a yellow copic marker. If I did this again I would definitely draw this pattern onto the fabric before sewing the fabric over a dome. Because that make it way more difficult and the design isn’t even on both sides, which is a bummer.

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Taking the fact I was trying to draw straight stripes on a dome into account, I think this looks pretty good!

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But I still wanted it to have more details. So I decided to add a little ruffle. I had pink, red, and ivory chiffon, but none of them looked quite right with the damask material. I found this orange chiffon at the bottom of the stack and thought it was perfect, so I cut it into strips which got folded in half to create a finished edge.

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I gathered that down and sewed it onto the escoffin. It looks a bit silly, but I was happy with it.

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I started doing a little bit of the beading, as you can see on the right side. But the major difference here is the addition of batting to the top portion of the headpiece. This is seriously just a giant rectangle of quilt batting that I folded three times. Then it was pinned and draped inside the guidelines I had drawn.

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Here it is after being sewn down!

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Now I came to a little roadblock. I had no idea what fabric to use to cover the top portion. This is a spontaneous project, so I didn’t buy any materials with it in mind, I’m just using things I have around.

I figured if the fabric stretched that would give a smoother finish, and the only stretch fabrics I have are stretch velvets. So I raided that bin and luckily came across scraps of red velvet that I used for the cloak on my Christmas Costume in 2013.

I had just enough to cover the top portion. It took a lot of pins, stretching, and pricks to get it to lay smooth but I managed!

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I had to cut centerfront to get it to lay flat. I didn’t want the raw edge to show so I covered it with a scrap of velvet.

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With the assembly done I went ahead and finished the beading.

(I did this well watching American Ninja Warrior – that show is really addicting)

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The last thing to do was add a gem to the front. I don’t actually have any gems, but I do have glass montees. I used a clear one and painted it with alcohol inks until it was a rich gold that matches the other materials used. Then I glued gold beads around the edge and set it into one of the brass cameo frames I got in NYC a few weeks ago.

I think it’s super pretty!

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That got sewn onto the center front.

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Then I did up the back and it was finished!

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I love how this turned out. It’s one of my favorite pieces i’ve made in a while.  That is probably  because it’s so different from any of my other pieces. But I also really like all these materials together, I think they look quite stunning.

And this was really fun to make, which  raises my opinion on it. I love figuring stuff out without any information other than what the finished thing should look like, and I definitely got to do that with this. So that was great.

No photos from the back yet. I think i’ll make a veil to hide my hair, because right now it’s visible from the back and doesn’t look great.

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Cost Break Down:

1/4 yards of:  velvet, damask fabric, gold mesh, chiffon, and suiting = $6

1/2 yard of interfacing & quilt batting = $5.00

Beads, cameo frame, glass montee = $6.00

It probably has fifteen hours of work into it. Maybe twenty. I was pretty damn focused on it for three days, and by the fourth day it was finished. But all the work was fun, I really enjoyed this project!

Thanks for reading!