Laurelling gown

At Canterbury Faire in 2005 I was asked to join the order of the laurel of Lochac. As I have been doing some research into Elizabeth’s coronation gown and had a pile of suitable cloth it seemed a reasonable cause to put that research into practice and attempt a reproduction of that gown as something new to wear for my elevation ceremony in early 2006.
We also had a trip to Europe in this year which afforded the opportunity to view the coronation portrait ‘in person’ in London which was useful to compare my impressions to.

May 17th, 2005

At the end of the research I made some design conclusions. These conclusions will form the basis of this project. The goal of this project is essentially to create a gown as close to those conclusions as possible. There will be some necessary compromises and these will be clearly marked as such.

Gold damask clothI was given cloth some time ago which I think will be suitable. It is a gold / yellow damask with a heavy texture and satined areas. It was originally curtain fabric and has some light damage on one side. This is fine as the other side is the one that I want to use.

Unfortunately one piece of the cloth has been cut into to make a cotehardie and so I only have one complete piece which is made of two lengths sewn together – each of 2.25m. So the plan is to use the piece of cloth that has been cut into for the bodice and sleeves and the whole piece will be split down the centre seam and its two pieces joined end to end to make a combined length of 4.45m from which the skirt will be cut.

Design

The skirt

I have come up with a draft that uses the principles shown in Juan d’Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern book – to maximise the use of the cloth available. Unfortunately the length of cloth available only allows for 3 widths of cloth around the skirt (its about 1.15m wide) which isn’t a lot but will be sufficient although one third will have a horizontal seam. I definitely want it to have a reasonable train and this should be quite possible. The front panel will be centred so that there is no seam down the front of the gown and will not be cut from the section with the horizontal seam. The two back pieces will have several seams in them in order to have the train but this is very common in period pattern drafts.

Bodice Draft

For the bodice I am using a doublet bodice draft that I started in a class at Caid Collegium – “Drafting a late 16th Century Doublet Using a System of Thirds by Jose de Madrid”. This system is based on evidence left in late 16th century tailor’s pattern books such as that of Juan d’Alcega. Basically it works by marking an individuals’ body measurements on a strip of paper and using those measurements and simple geometry to draft the doublet. The result is as close to a period doublet bodice pattern that I could expect to come up with.

Materials

As noted about I already have the cloth for the outer layer of the gown, but these gowns are always lined and interlined and there are opportunities and risks presented by this. As shown by the prior research the bodice should be interlined with one or two layers of buckram and lined with sarceonet (lining taffeta). I’m uncertain if what we modernly call buckram is very similar to what in period was called buckram – I suspect that ours is too open-weave and that the size used may be quite different in its properties. So I have decided to use heavy canvas which I think is probably more similar to the period materials. I will also use one layer of cotton wadding between the brocade and the canvas just to give it a softer base. Below you can see the four layers in the bodice: Damask, cotton wadding, canvas, satin lining.

The layers of cloth for the bodice
The four layers in the bodice: Damask, cotton wadding, canvas, satin lining

I want the sleeves to be softer than the bodice so no canvas – just a layer of wadding to give the brocade a bit more body.

The skirt is a bit tricky because of the sheer quantity of cloth involved: using many layers will be expensive. Elizabeth’s robes were made of a very stiff cloth of gold. The cloth that I have is much softer so I need to add body to it. There are several linings and interlinings that could do this. I could interline the whole skirt with canvas like with the bodice. That would make it very stiff – possibly too rigid – and very heavy, which while quite in keeping with the original will also create problems. I could just line it with something fairly stiff such as a heavy bridal satin. This is quite a good option as shorter ends of bridal satin can be bought fairly cheap. This is currently my plan – and the pleats themselves will have the addition of cotton wadding as was used in period to get those full pleats. I will also interline the edges of the skirt with canvas to stiffen them as noted in the research.

I have bought the bridal satin and as its quite a bit wider than the brocade cloth there may well be enough to also line the bodice and sleeves – so for the sake of consistency and economy the entire gown will probably be lined with the bridal satin.

The final material required is the fur for the collar, cuffs and opening edging. While it is suggested that the entire skirt was lined with fur is going to be too expensive and way too hot and heavy for me so I am simply going to edge the gown with fur. I do have some white rabbit skins and these will be cut onto thin strips to use for edging the collar-opening seam, and the two cuffs.

Diary

18 August, 2005

Having now made it to the National Portrait Gallery in London I can state that viewing the actual portrait up close confirms all of the impressions that I had made from the pictures of it that I have seen.

Elizabeth's coronation portrait C. 1600

This evening I took the doublet pattern made with the bodice draft and fitted it to my dress form. It seemed a bit loose around the waist (I have lost some weight this year) so I also tried it on myself over my corset. It needed quite a lot of adjustment – not just bringing in the waist but also pulling the throat line up to the collar bones and slightly curving and lengthening the front edge.

4th September, 2005

Made the sleeve pattern a couple of weeks ago. As with the bodice I had to remove quite a lot of fabric from the pattern based on the measuring by thirds. However that is for making a doublet that will presumably go over another long sleeved garment whereas I am using it to make a fitted kirtle so therefore everything is that bit more fitted. I probably won’t use this sleeve pattern however as it is a two part sleeve that finishes at the wrist whereas the robes of estate sleeves are one piece and knuckle length with the fur lining displayed by turning back the cuff. I use an identical sleeve with my Burgundian gowns which I will adapt to this kirtle by raising the underarm armskye seam a little.

Finally got around to completing the bodice draft today by making a pattern for the standing collar. The collar widens towards the top but I have reduced this amount a little. Probably it will be a little shorter than I currently have it patterned as as I want it to stop short of the jaw line.

So now I am ready to begin cutting. I have a few notions to pick up – the hooks and eyes for the front – but they can wait.

1 October, 2005

BodiceI’ve been quite sick for the last month but now that I have a bit more energy I’ve gotten sorted and cut out all my bodice pieces. With the four layers of cloth its quite a bit of cutting. I have had to piece together satin to line the sleeves and the back but apart from that I was able to find large enough pieces that lined up for the bodice pieces and sleeves.

Now the big question is whether, or rather how much, of the gown will be hand sewn. On the one hand I do prefer to hand sew it and I am not in a big rush. Partly my preference is that I can be much more careful about the sewing, especially around tricky corners etc. However my hands and elbows have been very sore throughout this flu and I really don’t need the pain. Certainly I will machine sew the lining then.

17 October, 2005

OK – I now have the lining satin and canvas interlining half of the bodice and the outer and batting sections of the bodice sewn together. I pinned them together and tried it on. It is noticeably stiff, which is how it should be. All of the outer sections are being hand sewn but I am machine sewing the linings to save my hands. I am so glad that there is no embellishment on this kirtle. I have also made the sleeves up, lined with the satin and padded with the batting. The white fur cuffs replace the cuff sections of the satin lining and then as normal the lining and outer sleeves are sewn together at the cuff and turned through.

Next I have the fun trick of sewing a narrow band of white fur along the edge of the lining – just where the seam will be placed when I sew it to the outer. Getting this placement just right is really important. I don’t want to lose too much fur and skin in the seam allowance – and I don’t want to be turning the skin over at the edge. But it must be right on the seam so that the fur shows at the edge. Oh the other really important aspect is when I sew that seam up the front edge it must follow exactly the centre line of the pattern of the cloth. For this reason I will hand sew that sem as it allows greater accuracy.

5 December, 2005

I know this looks bad but I have been working on it – just not so much on the web site. In fact I’ve done heaps since the last update:

  1. The bodice is now all together: getting the fur positioned correctly involved quite a bit of work: sewing guide lines and sewing over the guidelines and then taking them out but it worked really well. I was left with the fur sewn into the seam, but only just – and then sticking out so that I had to sew it down around the inside edge. This means that it lies flat.
  2. The skirt is mostly together: It required many piecings and unfortunately there wasn’t enough of the fabric to allow for pattern matching. It does have an impressive train however.
  3. Before turning the skirt through I have sewn a band of cotton webbing to the seam allowance, just by the seam so that when turned though it is right on the hemline, but inside the skirt between the layers. This is to function as the buckram in the hem mentioned in the notes about the robes of estate.

The next things to do are:

  • fastenings for the bodice. This is tricky because of the fur. While I would normally use the big fur hooks and eyes they do leave a lot of space for “flap” at the edge which is not ideal. However smaller hooks and eyes may be difficult with the fur edging. Ideally I’d use a hook and bar but apart from the flat ones for pants I haven’t seen any for a long time.
  • attach the skirt. The skirt is already hemmed so it has to be arranged on the stand over the farthingale etc to get the heights right BEFORE it is sewn to the bodice. Also the pleats have to be stuffed with cotton wool. My current plan is to get an idea of where the seam will be and the add a layer of the cotton batting that I use as ‘initial’ padding. Then once its pleated and attached I can add more padding as required.

18 January 2006: finished!!

Completed gownOK, here’s how I got on:

  • We found some great brass hooks and eyes for the bodice. They’re not the normal style, they’re a bit longer which gives them the room to go around the fur which is an advantage.
  • The skirt went on alright – I worked out where the seam was going to be and then I tacked some padding between the skirt and lining at that point so that the padding is hidden with the skirt made up and attached. It really makes it sit out and makes lovely fat pleats. The skirt is simply box pleated but with all the padding it looks right. Unfortunately the hem edge (not including the train) only works out at around 2.8 m which is not really enough to go over my farthingale nicely – it does, but only just*. I’ve been meaning to make a roped farthingale at some point so this might be the time.

The Ruff

The ruffs are quite intrinsic to the whole look of this outfit. To refer back to the discussion of the gown we saw that:

  • The ruffs are doubled at the neckline but singles at the wrists.
  • There also appears to be a flat layer of the ruff fabric that sits ‘underneath’ the ruff i.e. between the ruff and the gown.
  • The ruffs are white, semi-transperant and edged with gold.
  • The neck ruff is forced up very high around Elizabeth’s face – right up to her ears.

Organza ribbon & gold threadThe best material would have been a silk organza, and this is readily available but has the drawback of having raw edges which would have to carefully be edged and would always be fragile. Instead I decided to use organza ribbon, which is only available in synthetic. I carefully stitched a thick gold thread to the edge – not so thick as to be a cord but thick enough to give the effect.

It takes a lot to make a ruff – five times the length to be covered, in this case twice as the neck ruff is a double ruff, plus the base layers on both wrist and neck ruffs which I used double the length for. In all this added up to 744cm of ribbon, all hand edged (which is why it took a while to finish).

RuffThe ruff sections are doubled pleated, then all three layers (two ruffs and the base layer) sewn together and then sewn onto the collar/cuff. The stiffness of the organza and the gold thread help to keep the edges curled and given the synthetic composition I doubt that starch / heat would make much difference.

I think that they look pretty good. The ruffs try to stand away from each other because there is no face/gown collar forcing them together so when they are worn they should sit close to the face as in the portrait.

Photos

Laurelling gown

It turns out it works equally well under my loose gown, especially on a bright mid-winter’s day.

Sign of the Takahe
Coronation XLII – Lady Melisande and I have tea at the sign of the Takahe

Postscript

  • A few years later I managed to make some changes to the skirt to widen the skirt edge.