Today, I’m going to begin draping Katherine of Aragon’s outer gown. As I will be working on the gown and updating this blog as I go, this entry will grow as the day progresses. I may be working on the blog as you are reading this, so please reload the page to see if anything has been added since you began reading.
Below left is Michel Sittow’s 1502 portrait of her from which I’ve been working. At right is the smock, yellow underdress, and black middle layer that will go under the outer gown.
I am constructing the overgown out of silk rayon velvet lined with a high-quality black faux fur. The velvet is very thin and drapey. The fur will give the gown its weight. It is necessary for the proper drape that these two materials be used as one.
I cannot decide if the gown is “strapless” with the shoulder coverage supplied by the sleeves “shrug” or if the gown is constructed as usual and the sleeves are sewn on at the armscye. This is going to be the biggest part of my experimentation today.
I’ve decided to cut the gown as if it has a full bodice. If I decide later that the gown is strapless and the sleeves supply the upper part of the gown, I can cut away the shoulder pieces.
In this earlier entry, I looked at portraits contemporary to Sittow’s 1502 portrait of Katherine. All six of the pictures I cited have obvious center front openings. I’m not sure if Katherine’s gown opens center front or not. There may be a line at center front, but the portrait is very dark and it’s hard to discern. But I am not convinced that the front of the bodice is a placket like in Holbein’s 1537 portrait of Jane Seymour. So I will be constructing the gown with a center front opening.
In the pictures I’ve looked at that show below the waist in front, no waist seam is apparent. But in back, a waist seam is necessary to take the extra width of the heavily-pleated skirts. So I will be constructing the front without a waist seam and the back with a waist seam to which the back skirts will be pleated.
11:26 am — As I sit here and wait for my camera to charge (stupid Canon had this wonderful cradle into which you placed you camera both to charge and to download. Now you have to plug a cord into your camera to download and take the battery out of the camera and plug it into a wall charger to recharge. Annoying!), I’d like to tell you what I’ve done this morning. I’ve done some more cogitating on the subject of the construction of the overgown and those sleeves.
The overgown is lined with fur. Therefore it is heavy. It needs to be supported by some pretty strong means. Cutting the bodice “strapless” and covering the shoulders with the sleeve “shrug” just isn’t going to support the weight. So I’m constructing the overgown just like the black layer — straps in front and full to the neck in back. If I decide to cut some or all of that away, I can do that gradually.
12:49 pm — Pictures finally!
The pattern drawn on the back of the fur before cutting.
Using a box cutter or Xacto knife on the wrong side of fake fur make for less mess.
The fur sewn to the velvet back bodice. Colour levels are off.
Now I’m going to cut the velvet and sew it to the fur. This may require some surreptious pad stitching or tacking to make sure the velvet and fur move together. I’m also going to sew skirts onto the black layer. Don’t know what I’m going to do first. See you in an hour or so!
2:44 pm — Okay, so it’s been longer than an hour. I had lunch! But now my camera battery is fully charged and I have pictures to show you!
The front and back of the black layer basted together.
The back is a full width of fabric. The fronts are trapezoids that match the bodice waist width at the top and half the fabric width at the bottom (cut on the fold). I cartridge pleated the back rectangle, arranging the pleats in the center of the waistline of the back bodice. The pleats are concentrated at center back where the gown needs to pouf out a bit. The front panels are sewn slanted side to the back (not sewn yet, see the yellow peeking through?) and the straight sides to the middle. The edges will be turned under. I don’t think I’ll line the skirts. Number one, I don’t have enough black taffeta left. Number two, I don’t need another layer of fabric under the fur-lined gown. Ya think?
The back waist may need some adjustments. I think it rides high on the right. Bob thinks my right hip is higher than my left so it will be fine. I think I just got lost in all that black and moved the fabric. But there’s plenty of time for adjustments. It’ll stay like this for a while while I concentrate on the upper layer.
(And yes, I am disturbed that it looks like a Ren Faire “Irish” gown. Why do you ask?)
Next, I’m going to pin the fur and velvet on the mannequin and see how it flies!
3:44 pm — It is really a whole hour later already? Wow! Time flies!
I finished cutting the velvet fronts. I sewed them to each other along the center line where they will hook close in the finished dress. I also sewed the fur together in the same way and laid it under the velvet. Then I pinned the shoulder seams. Next I pulled the back bodice tight to the mannequin under the arms and pulled the fronts over it, making the shape of the bodice. It’s difficult to see with this dark fabric, but I think it looks the part. I also think my center front seam looks very much like the line I’m seeing in the Sittow portrait. What do you think?
The gown fronts and back (no skirts) pinned to the mannequin.
A closer view of the front and back pinned to the mannequin over all the other layers.
I’m probably not going to keep the shoulder straps like this. I’m fairly convinced that there are no shoulder strap in Sittow’s portrait. The bodice kinda disappears under the arms. So I will cut that away after the side seams are sewn. And of course the bodice must come down farther and show the underlayers. Remember that these are raw edges and nothing’s been turned under or sewn yet. I just pinned everything to the mannequin to see if I was getting the body shape right. And I think I’ve succeeded!
See where the folds are on the back of the back view? That’s where the skirts are going to be attached. I think I’m going to cartridge pleat them to a band of twill tape or hemp webbing for stability and then sew the band to the gown. That will mean the fabric alone doesn’t have to take all that weight. And considering there will also be a waist-to-floor-length train, that’s a lot of weight!
The reason that I am making such large skirts is based on a number of period pictures, but the two shown below give the best examples.
And now I’m going to stop for today. Standing over my worktable hand basting all this stuff has put a tremendous strain on my back and hips. And my hands are shaking from trying to manipulate all this heavy fabric over and over again. I’ve had enough for one day!
Tomorrow… those pesky sleeves!
© 2008 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, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.