Early Tudor Project — Katherine of Aragon’s Portrait dated 1502 — Part XI
Yesterday, I’d just pinned the cut (but yet unsewn) velvet and fur for the overlayer on my mannequin to see if it was making the right shape. And it was! Here’s a photo to remind you:
A closer view of the front and back pinned to the mannequin over all the other layers.
Today, we’re going to work on the sleeves. As you know from my previous blithering on the subject, I have some unique hypotheses about the construction of those sleeves and how they shape the bodice of the gown.
My hypothesis is based on the idea that these sleeves aren’t set-in sleeves as usually assumed but rather a “shrug”, a separate piece that acts as sleeves when worn. I derived this hypothesis after looking at many pictures showing The White Band, but those pictures admittedly may have nothing to do with this earlier sleeve treatment.
My idea starts with a shrug, a tube of fabric with an opening just big enough for the wearer to get her shoulders through. This provides enough tension to keep the heavy materials on the shoulders.
The shrug laying flat. The white threads indicate where the sewing stops.
On the mannequin, the shrug makes the right shape!
The shrug front the front. Note the folds in at the join of the arm. Looks like the picture!
But the problem becomes apparent as soon as you turn the mannequin around. It’s true that we have no back view of Katherine of Aragon’s dress in this portrait. But in all the contemporary pictures I’ve looked at in my research for this gown, I never found anything that looked like this:
The shrug from the back. Too much stuff!
A close-up of the shrug on the mannequin.
The back behind the neck also rides too high as you can see in this close up. (But doesn’t it look cozy! I want to make a shrug like this for myself for wearing when I go out in the snow!)
But we’ve obviously got part of the formula right. The front looks right, but the back doesn’t work. Is it possible that the shrug isn’t a shrug but two tubular sleeves that are sewn to the gown only at the back? This would explain no apparent attachment of the sleeves in Sittow’s portrait. And attaching the sleeves from the shoulder ridge to the underarm may be enough to take the weight.
Let’s try it!
Unfortunately, this is a prescription for epic failure. Look:
Yeah, it makes the right folds and everything, and it’s not taking over the back of the gown anymore, but see how it’s pulling the shoulder strap askew? That shoulder strap is as tight as it can be and yet the weight of the sleeve is pulling it off the shoulder. In practice, I will slouch when I’m not paying attention and my sleeves will be somewhere around my waist.
So what to do? Where’s the solution? Katherine of Aragon didn’t have shoulders like a linebacker and neither do I!
Let’s look at Agniete again. Maybe she can offer us some clues.
Agniete’s sleeves appear to join behind her upper back. This is what gave me the idea of the shrug in the first place. Is it possible that the sleeves are somehow joined to each other in back but not in the ugly way the shrug does it?
Let’s try unpinning the shoulder strap and pinning the sleeves to the back only and see what happens.
Now we appear to be getting somewhere. Looks like the position of the sleeve in Agniete’s portrait, doesn’t it.
The only problem is where on the back I have to pin the sleeve to get this positioning. Look:
Okay, here’s a thought… What if the sleeves aren’t a separate piece at all. What if the sleeves are contiguous with the back of the gown! This would explain both the lack of join to the front bodice AND would provide the necessary support to hold up such large sleeves.
Let’s try it!
I took off the back piece and used it to recut the shrug. I cut the shrug the width of the back piece from the bottom up, stopping about half way. Then I pinned it onto the back of the mannequin where the back piece had been, pinning it to the front at the shoulder straps and sides. I continued to slice the piece until I could pin to the front piece well up into the armpit. The results were promising.
I don’t know if you can see it, but the sleeve is in the same position as those of Katherine and Agniete — sloping down from the back of the neck, but not too high. (Unfortunately the shoulder strap shifted when I repinned it and I didn’t catch it. The important thing is that the weight of the sleeve is no longer the reason that shoulder strap is falling off. If I repin it in the correct place, it will not move.
Please excuse the white space at the corners. I was holding the carmer crooked, so I had to rotate the picture 5 degrees to get it straight. Unfortunately the shoulder strap shifted when I repinned it and I didn’t catch it. The important thing is that the weight of the sleeve is no longer the reason that shoulder strap is falling off. If I repin it in the correct place, it will not move.
The problem is that the sleeves are clearly not tubular. Pinning the ends of the tub closed creates a lot of ugly folds at the underarm and the sleeve end doesn’t trumpet out like in the pictures. So we are going to have to cut a different shape. The question is whether I can do that without cutting a separate sleeve. The fabric is also not wide enough to make the sleeves wrist length, so piecing will have to happen.
I didn’t succeed in pinning the new back to the front as well as I did the old back, so things are not fitting as well. But I feel as if I’m on the right track.
As I type this, it occurs to me that the sleeves need not necessarily be in one piece with the back. The connection must be square (not set-in) to give the folds over the top of the arm. But there is no reason they must be contiguous and not sewn on later. The shoulder seam must be horizontal to make the triangles that are created as the sleeves wrap around the shoulders. That is one requirement. So if the sleeves are cut into a triangular shape, it must begin no higher than the armpit so the shoulder ridge can maintain its rectangular shape. But the fabric must slope away at the armpit or there will be too much fabric under the arms.
Hmmm… More experimentation is needed…
Tomorrow… Taking a Break from Sleeves. The Overgown Skirts.
© 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.