German loose gown & kirtle

Two loose gowns
Baronesses Chretienne and Eleanora wearing their loose gowns at Ildhavn baronial investiture

The Kirtle

Loose kirtle
Loose kirtle front

This loose kirtle based closely on the one in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion pg. 44, 109-10.

The kirtle is made of linen with a facing that shows at the front – the original is lined with linen but has an outer layer of silk. It has been stiffened around the hemline and can be worn with or without a farthingale (as shown above without). Until I have a suitable loose gown to wear with it I have been wearing it with a doublet and skirt.

It is faced with black satin with tiny quatrefoils of gold and light brown that covers all of the sleeves and a panel up the front: all the areas normally exposed when worn with a loose gown. Two wide bands of black trim run parallel to the ground with gold, green and red accents.

Wide braid

Loose kirtle back

The sleeves are laced on through the top half of the armscye through sewn eyelet holes with finger-looped braid that end with aglets. Some 30 eyelets (each side) and more finger-loop braid provide entry at the back. Like the original the neckline is high and finished with satin bias tape. The sleeves have two lines of store-bought gold and black trim around the wrist and another strip up the length of the arm.

Facing fabric and trim
Facing fabric and sleeve trim

The Loose Gown

I had long intended to make a loose gown to go with the black loose kirtle but I hadn’t originally intended to make the gown that actually went with it as detailed in Patterns of Fashion. However the final project of the Elizabethan costume course was to plan the perfect gown and after looking at several different loose gowns I returned to Patterns of Fashion and based my loose gown on the one in that.

It probably would have stayed on the drawing board except that shortly after finishing the course it was announced that our neighbour to the north, Ildhavn, was going to be elevated to Baronial status – so I needed something new to wear.

Construction and details

This gown is a 1570’s German loose gown worn over a loose kirtle. It is based on one from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion pg. 44, 109-10.

The gown is of gold cotton velvet with black highlights. This combination reverses the tones of the kirtle/gown combination used in the outfit in Patterns of Fashion which has a pale pink kirtle (light colour) and a black gown. Many loose gowns were black. The black/gold combination is one that I am very fond of, I also have a gold coloured kirtle and may also make a black loose gown (giving me four possible combinations). Both are colours that appear frequently in portraits, especially the black. Queen Elizabeth had loose gowns in many colours including tawney, Bee colour, peach, drakes colour, black, clay, ash, orange, russet, carnation and others.

The loose gown is lined with a gold/mustard coloured heavy cotton (?) weft-faced cloth and interlined with linen. Interlining gowns in this way was fairly common – it gives the garment more body and warmth. I don’t want too much warmth so linen ought to be sufficient.

The cut of the gown body is very simple – the front edge is curved over the bust which give a nice fit that then opens out to expose the kirtle beneath. There is no gathering at the back or anything so this part went together easily.

A binding of the lining fabric was made up and used to bind the edges of the gown. The original was finished in this way, and I had intended to buy bias binding to bind the edges with – however I could not find an appropriate colour so I made my own. I didn’t cut it on the bias because the lining fabric being weft-faced, gives a pleasant grosgrain look when cut on the straight.

Sleeves and collar

Sleeve detailThe sleeves come down to just on the biceps and are ‘crenellated’ at the bottoms. They are stiffened with whalebones and padding to puff out over the shoulder. They are probably the most difficult part of the gown to construct.

The top half is constructed of several pieces of quite odd shapes and working the shapes out and then decorating, stiffening and lining them was quite involved. The crenellations are simply cut and bound with black satin bias binding which is a) how the original was done, b) very easy and c) looks good.

The collar is simply a straight band that comes up to just under the chin.

Trims and closures

The bulk of the work in a gown is in the trimmings.

Back showing trimThe gown is trimmed with lengths of black satin ribbon with fine ‘gimp’ braids laid down either side of the ribbon – there are two long stripes and one short one down each side at the front, five down the back at varying length with the longest in the centre, and one at the top of the shoulder running from the sleevehead to the neck. In addition there are several stripes covering the seams of the sleeves, several short ones on the collar and one either side covering around the slits for the pockets, which follow the line of the short front stripe.

Gold passmentrieEach stripe ends in a point and both edges of every stripe is covered by a narrow gimp braid. The first stripe down the front edges of the gown is covered by the gold passementerie shown here.

The gown required 120 buttons both for the frogging up the front, and as embellishments on the sleeves and in other places. We decided to replace the buttons with Turk’s-head knots which Nick patiently made for me. 50 of these form the 25 frogs that run up the front edges of the gown. The top few of these are used to close the gown across the chest but the others are primarily decorative. All other Turk’s heads are placed around the gown on the satin bands as on the original gown.


My main divergence from the gown in Patterns of Fashion, short of the colour, is in the inclusion of pockets. Janet Arnold mentions gowns with pockets a number of times in Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d and on page 188 a portrait of Joan Thornbury, Mrs Hugh Wakeman, wearing a Flanders gown from 1566 (shown right) clearly shows a handkerchief hanging out of her pocket.

Pockets are mentioned in Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts as separate items that were made to specific gowns. They were accessed through slits in the sides of the gown, much like pockets today and these slits are evident in several portraits of ladies wearing loose gowns where one may see a large handkerchief hanging out of one. I have edged the pocket slit with satin and with knots, in keeping with the other decoration on the gown. It would be in keeping with the loose gown simply to leave the slit as it is, as was done with an early seventeenth century gown but I decided to try to make a pocket.

Unfortunately there are no surviving pockets in ladies gowns from this period. However there is a pocket in a pair of trunkhose in Patterns of Fashion. The pocket is fitted to a slit like the one in a loose gown and it is made of leather. It is shaped a little like a child’s drawing of a house with the two sides brought to the centre in a seam, leaving an opening the length of the diagonals which is stitched either side of the opening slits in the pants.

PocketJanet Arnold mentions pockets being made out of taffeta, satin and grosgrain. I have made the pockets of black taffeta which should wear well and is smooth enough to move freely against whatever kirtle I wear beneath the loose gown. They are made as described above and stitched to the insides of the slits. My pockets have proven very successful and are very convenient.