Early Tudor Project — Katherine of Aragon’s Portrait dated 1502 — Part IV

Well kids, I must apologise to you today. I worked on the yellow undermost gown for my Katherine of Aragon outfit yesterday and intended to post with photos of my reconstruction this morning. But my camera is not cooperating. It took a spill off the table this week when one of the doggies got enthusiastic about licking the stainless off her dinner bowl and the screen has been blank ever since. The funny thing is that the screen is showing all the functionalities and it will show archived pictures. But you can’t see anything on the screen and all pictures taken are black. So until I can get Canon on the phone tomorrow and troubleshoot it, there will be no pictures. =(

But here’s my construction process if you want to follow along:

I began by dyeing three yards of Chinese Shantung with Jacquard Acid Dye in Bright Yellow. I chose Chinese Shantung because it has a good deal of body without being heavy. It also has far fewer slubs than you would expect. And I had at least three yards of white in my fabric stash. For a gown that most people would “fake” with a placket, I figured it would do.

Bodice

While the fabric was in the washing machine, I cut the bodice interlining. I cut the bodice according to my measurements incorporating a two-inch draw. In the portrait, the round shape of Katherine’s breasts can be seen through the uppermost layer, so I know that the undermost layer cannot obscure them. Therefore the bodice needs to be unboned but draw like a corset. The interlining must be strong but not too stiff. I chose to use our hemp coutil (aka “linen ticken”). It’s a simple twill weave, giving it strength, but remains soft and pliable.

(I really wish I could show you a picture! The shape of the breasts of my duct tape double looks exactly like the portrait of Katherine right now.)

Edit: here’s a photo of the full garment taken with my malfunctioning camera:

And one of the bodice alone:

I cut a front and two backs out of this interlining and sewed them together at the side seams with a back stitch. This I did so the straight grain would be present at both center front and center back. One of the worst mistakes you can make with the structure of a bodice that needs to draw is to cut the bodice in one piece, making either the center front or center back on the bias. No amount of boning or stiffening can make up for this cutting error.

Once I was satisfied with the structure and fit of the interlining, I laid it on the lining material (black silk tafetta from Silk Connection) and cut the lining in one piece. I wrapped the lining around the interlining and pressed it flat. Then I laid the whole bit on the yellow silk (now dyed, washed again with Synthropol, and pressed dry) and cut the outer material. I removed the lining and outer material and sewed the top edge together with a running stitch. I put the interlining between these layers and rolled the lining a little so it would show as a black line as in the portrait. Then I folded the yellow seam allowances under and prick stitched them through all layers along the top edge and back opening. I made a basting stitch along the waistline to secure the layers together and to mark where the skirts would attach.

I made parallel (not offset) thread eyelets along the center back in Splendor silk embroidery floss in yellow (S876). Then I laced the bodice onto my duct tape double to check the fit. It’s perfect! The top of the bodice comes to the right place on my body as in the portrait and the shape of the breasts shows through well. Mission accomplished!

Skirts

Next I cut two floor-length panels of silk and knife pleated them to the bodice with the opening at center back. I used the basting stitch around the waistline as my guide. I decided to make the waist at natural level rather than with a front point as you see in later gowns. Even though only a small part of this gown will ever be seen, I want to construct it properly. The overgowns in this early time period (c 1500) do not appear to be waisted, at least not in front, but the gowns worn by common women appear to have a seam at the natural waist. Extrapolating that the uppermost gown of the working class could be of a similar construction to the undergown of the nobility, I went with a pleated skirt at natural waist level. This may prove troublesome as I build the other layers on top of it.

I chose not to line the skirts of this layer. My reasoning it two-fold. One is warmth — the event site for 12th Night will likely be heated and I do not want to be uncomfortable. The other is bulk. Nothing can be seen of Katherine’s skirts in her portrait, but other portraits from the same time period don’t indicate a great bulk of skirts under the gown. This is only the undermost layer of a three-gown ensemble. The uppermost layer of Katherine’s outfit in the portrait is heavy velvet and appears to be lined with black. It may even be lined with fur as are some contemporaneous gowns in portraits. So the top layer may be quiet bulky in its own right. And let us not forget the middle layer which as yet is unknown. Therefore I don’t want to add uncessary bulk in the yellow layer.

Although Katherine is credited with the introduction of the farthingale, I cannot find a picture of her (or anyone similarly dressed) wearing one in the first years of the 1500s. I have been assuming that since she was living in England at the time of her portrait and it was painted by Henry VII’s court painter, she is wearing English styles which didn’t yet include the farthingale. These styles are echoed in contemporaneous portraits of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister who married the Scottish King) and some Netherlandish ladies. So I made this undermost layer light and unbulky.

Next: the infamous and enigmatic middle layer…


© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.