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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


I think I made fifteen yards of puckery piping.


The bottom band was sewn together with french seams.


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


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 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!


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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!



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:


I started by cutting out the short sleeves.


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


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



That got pinned onto the hem of each sleeve.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


The side seam got sewn up and luckily they fit!


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.


Which left me with a lovely wearable bodice!


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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!




Thanks for reading!

Making a Grey Taffeta Kirtle

This is another project that came out of nowhere. I was about to go to bed and thought “I should make a dress based off that painting  pinned on pinterest a few months ago”.  I wrote the idea down so I wouldn’t forget in the morning, and seventy two hours later I had a dress!

This dress is actually an ensemble that consists of a kirtle, undershirt, hat, and eyepatch – that last one might sound a little odd, but it will make sense in a minute. I based this costume off of this painting, it isn’t the most exciting painting or costume but I thought it was very striking when I first saw it, and it’s obviously stuck with me. The subject of that painting is Ana de Mendoza who was a countess, duchess, princess, and prisoner at various points of her life. She wore an eyepatch after an injury left her blind in one eye (she may have lost the eye as well – sources disagree).

She has far more elaborate costumes shown in other paintings, but I decided on this one. I love the hat, the color scheme, and the simplicity to it. Plus I could make it (almost) entirely out of things I already owned, the only thing I had to buy were materials (interfacing, denim, and feathers) for the hat!

Today I’ll be showing how I made the most major piece of this costume (but not the most striking – i’d say that award goes to the hat) which is the kirtle. I made this from six yards of polyester taffeta which I got in NYC at the beginning of last year. It was four dollars a yard and is dark grey in color.

I decided to make this kirtle the “proper” way with stiffening in the bodice. My last kirtle (made for my tudor project) didn’t have any structure, instead it was worn over a pair of bodies. That led to problems later on and I didn’t want to make the same mistake this time!

I used an altered version of Norah Waugh’s bodies pattern. I made the basque waist wider and shorter, lowered the neckline, lengthened the straps, and took it in slightly. I cut the altered pattern out from canvas, which will be the base layer of the bodice.


I marked out all the boning channels and backed the fabric with cotton. Then I stitched all the channels and filled them with quarter inch wide plastic boning.


I pinned taffeta over both pieces. The curves got clipped and folded over the edges, then whip stitched down. This was really hard, taffeta does not have a lot of give to it and it did not want to go around those curves.



The interiors looked like this! The cotton layer was just to back the boning channels, so a lot of it got cut away to remove bulk.


Then I pinned a thin muslin layer to the interior, which will function as lining. I sewed this in with a whip stitch as well. But I used black thread for this, so it didn’t end up looking very pretty on the inside.


I decided I couldn’t stand how puckery the taffeta looked around the the arm holes, but at this point there was’t a lot I could do without ripping everything apart. So I cut strips of wool and sewed those over the arm holes. I think this looks quite nice, even though I doubt it’s historically accurate.

I also bound the pieces together instead of sewing them with seams. I did this because it worked better this the pattern and reduced bulk at the shoulder, which is always good!


I also started sewing the eyelets on the back side seam.


Here you can see the lining job I did (I told you it’s ugly) and how the bound edges look from the interior.


I stitched a gathered strip of lace around the neckline. Historically this would be attached to the chemise, but it’s such a pain to get the lace of an undershirt lined up with a boned bodice and I wanted to avoid the struggle. So I sewed it directly onto the bodice.


Then I added the pearls. These were once again, something I already had around. I bought these from my red and silver “Renaissance” gown (aka my totally un-researched slapped together costume that had a sleeve fall off during a photoshoot) but never used them. I sewed these around the shoulder of the bodice but didn’t put them on the back, since the wig would likely get tangled in them.

You can also see how my eyelets progressed!



For the center point, where the strands of pearls join, I put a brooch. I bought this for my birthday last year, It was a total $2.24 on ebay and suits this costume perfectly.

And when I say “perfectly” I mean it looks really pretty, not perfect from an accuracy standpoint.



With that attached, the bodice was complete and it was time for the skirt! I actually made and cut this skirt out in the middle of the night, so my photos are lackluster at best and nonexistent at worst. But here is my skirt “pattern” there are six panels which get progressively longer towards the back. Once they were all cut out and sewn together I cut the hem into an arched shape instead of the blocky/triangular one this pattern creates.


Two of the panels cut out…


And those are all the photos I have of the skirt being cut out. I told you it was bad! But you can probably imagine the rest, they all got sewn together with the wrong sides facing each other, then the seams were trimmed down to a quarter inch and sewn into french seams.

After the hem was shaped I folded the edge over by a half inch and basted it down.


Then the hem was brought up by an inch and a half and pinned in place.


I sewed it down with a cross stitch.



I knife pleated the top of the skirt down to twenty five inches.


After I sewed across the pleats I pinned the skirt to the bodice. Then I cut a seven inch slit in the skirt, which continues down from the opening in the side back of the bodice. To finish the edge I used more strips of wool.


All that got sewn on, then I pinned a strip of one inch wide bias tape over the frayed edge on the interior of the bodice. I stitched that down and it was done!


Isn’t it pretty?




I’m very happy with it! I was going to wait until Friday to post worn photos but here is a sneaky one since i’m eager to share!

Ana de Mendoza 3

Thank you for reading!

Making a 16th Century Kirtle, Part Three

The kirtle making continues! This post is about making the skirt, I have two posts about making the bodice which can be read here and here.

I ended up using a lot of guess work to make the pattern. I decided to have a single gored panel at each side and the rest would be made from rectangles. This is loosely based off of the pattern used to make my farthingale.

When I had the pattern figured out I took all the proper measurements to make sure the length would be correct. Then I lopped thirteen inches off each measurement, since the lower thirteen inches will be cut from silk.

DSC_2562The reason i’m cutting it partially from silk is to save fabric (and money!) the majority of the skirt will be from polyester taffeta, with a front panel and hem made up of silk dupioni. Once the dress is worn over the kirtle the only part that will be visible is the front bit, and maybe the hem if the dress skirt ever gets lifted.

The rest can be made from whatever you want, and then you don’t have to spend $50 on four yards of silk that will never be seen. I probably wouldn’t have thought of this technique, but it’s covered in “The Tudor Tailor” which is where I got the idea!

(seen on far left)


Here are (most of) the taffeta panels, the triangular ones will be on the sides and the rectangle will be placed at the back.


There are also  smaller rectangles that were sewn onto the front side of the gored panels. When sewing them together I left a eight inch slash at the side seams,  these will let me get in and out of the garment.

After they were stitched together I did a poor job of pleating and pinning them onto my dress form. I didn’t love the shape, but it had a really good amount of volume, so that was a major plus!


Then I cut out the front panel from the silk.


And pinned that on the dress form too. It looked a bit silly at this point, like a reverse “mullet dress”!


These are the bottom pieces, cut from silk.


They got sewn together and then pinned onto the bottom of the skirt. I had only left a half inch seam allowance but both fabrics frayed so badly that I ended up french seaming it.

Unfortunately this made my one and a half inch hem allowance get much smaller, so I ended up having to use bias tape to finish off the hem.


Here is the skirt partially assembled – the front panel still isn’t sewn to everything else, but it shows progress! At this point the side “slits” had the edges turned over and interfacing surrounding them, so they wouldn’t fray. I had also gotten a decent idea of how I wanted to pleat everything.


The front panel (finally) got sewn on!


And the pleating began! I changed things a little bit but the end result is quite similar to this, lots of 3/4″ knife pleats with a box pleat at the back.


This is the back with the final pleats sewn down!


And the front.


When the pleats were sorted out it was time for the hem! A few things ended up causing my hem allowance to be smaller than I had planned. So I opted for a hem finished with bias tape.

Step one was making the bias tape – I cut three and a half inch wide strips of silk and turned/ironed the edges inward.


Then I pinned it on. And I actually sewed it on by machine! That is a rarity for me, I always hand stitch hems, but this part won’t be visible from the outside so I figured it would be okay.


NOT SO MUCH. I changed my needle shortly before starting this and was expecting it to go fine – the forums I read online swore silk dupioni was easy to sew. LIES.

Actually, I guess it is pretty easy to sew, it just looks like absolute shit once you are done sewing it.

Those puckers! I could cry.


After an hour, yes one hour of ironing I got the hem looking pretty smooth – most of the pulls in the fabric came out. But I hand stitched the other side.


Once the hem was done it looked really nice! I was quite pleased with everything.




The last thing to do was sewing it onto the kirtle bodice. This went really smoothly!


And it was done! Well, pretty much done. I ended up weighting the front of my farthingale, which makes it dip closer to the ground in the front and higher at the sides. So now the kirtle is an inch longer than it should be in the front, and an inch too short at each side.

But when i’m standing perfectly straight it’s hard to tell! Here it is from the front – unfortunately the only pictures I took this way include my hair being up in a stupid bun that I forgot to take out.

I might end up hemming it shorter at the front, but for now i’m calling it done!



DSC_2716Side-ish back?


And the back!


Thanks for reading! I’ve had some setbacks with making the dress for this project, so I’m not sure when my next post about this costume will be. Hopefully I can work things out soon, but it might be a while.

Making a 16th Century Kirtle, Part One

A couple weeks ago I posted about making a set of bodies, which are the first piece I needed for my 16th century ensemble. There are a few other undergarments required for this project (a bum pad, chemise, and farthingale) but I felt like writing about something more exciting: The kirtle bodice.

In the 1500s kirtles were a dress worn over the chemise and petticoats. Sometimes the kirtle would have a support structure, other times it would be worn over bodies. If you weren’t very wealthy the kirtle could be a stand alone dress, but for 16th century royalty they were used as an underdress, which is the function mine will have. It will be made partially from silk, partially from polyester taffeta, and in the end you will only see the collar and front of the kirtle peeking out through the dress.

Step one was drafting the pattern. I used the pattern for the pair of bodies I made as a base, then altered it to have a higher neckline, side openings, and a much shorter front. I also switched it so the straps connected at the front instead of tying on the shoulder.

I made a few mock ups before finalizing the pattern – you can see all the stages it went through!



Since I was working with limited amounts of silk, I decided to make the majority of the garment from polyester taffeta and only have the collar be made from silk. This technique was shown in the book “The Tudor Tailor” and I thought it was very clever!

Here are all the pieces cut out.


I used interfacing on the collar portions to add a bit of stiffness, which should help when beading it later on.


Then the pieces were sewn together.


I turned the side edges over and added two pieces of boning, spaced a half inch apart on each side. These provide support for the eyelets. I also stitched a half inch away from the edge at the top and bottom of the garment, these serve as a guideline for where to turn the edge over.


The edges got turned over and stitched down by hand.


Then I cut out the lining – the lining was cut as two pieces instead of four, since I had plenty of fabric to make it all one piece.


Before sewing in the lining I added a some lace (like a lot of the lace i’ve used recently, it was from my grandmothers stash) around the neckline.Then the lining got stitched in, also by hand.


And I did up the side seams with eyelets!


At this point I decided to try it on. And that’s when I realized things weren’t going as well as I thought. The ease of my final, interfaced fabrics was much different than the cotton I used for the mock up. And I feel really super extra dumb that this happened because one of my new years resolutions was to be more careful about the fit.

It was too small at the sides, but the biggest problem was the straps being an inch too short and the neckline not being wide enough. The kirtles in the mid 1500s would often rest so far on the shoulders they almost look like they are going to fall off! (Seen here)

I didn’t want mine to be that dramatic…but the proportions of this bodice were definitely too far off to be salvageable. I would have had to add extra material at the center front and at the shoulders. There is no way to make that look good.

So despite my hours of pattern drafting and hand sewing I threw the bodice away.

I tried to get a photo first, but it was impossible to even get it on properly.

Photo on 2-3-15 at 10.35 AM #2

So that brings me to bodice attempt number two! The key changes here are that I made the neckline almost an inch wider and added more space to the side seams.

To fix my strap troubles I cut them as part of the front bodice panel and added an extra half inch in the center of them. To make sure they would still be long enough (even if the fabric becomes stiffer with the lace and beading added) I left a one and a half inch seam allowance at the back. That better be enough!

On top of that I was also pleasantly surprised to find after cutting the kirtle skirt I had enough material leftover to cut the entire kirtle bodice from silk! Unfortunately the front and back panels aren’t cut on the same grain line, but it’s better than having it from two separate fabrics.

Here is the first try on – they were actually too big! I ended up stitching a quarter inch seam up the center back and took them in a quarter inch on the sides, so the whole bodice became over an inch smaller.

Photo on 2-3-15 at 10.33 AM

When all the alterations were done I stitched boning into the side edges, and stitched a half inch away from the boning to create a guideline for my eyelets. I did a really poor job stitching these, so it’s a good thing they will get ripped out later!

I also turned all the edges over by a half inch.


I sewed lace around the neckline and recut the lining. It got stitched in the same way it was on the first bodice. I left the bottom edge of the lining open so the skirt can be attached later on.


That’s it for this post! This bodice is far from finished. It will eventually have elaborate beading at the neckline, but i’ll save that for another post.

Thanks for reading!