1520s Ribbon-Tied Dress
I had decided to attend my first Rowany Festival
(Lochac) and was looking for something from sixteenth century
Venice that would be comfortable to wear. This Giovanni Cariani
painting, circa 1520s, was the inspiration. Similar dresses can
be seen in Palma Vecchio pics (Lady with a Lute, Woman in Blue)
as well as in one by an unknown Venetian artist in the National
Gallery of Art, London (Portrait of a Lady), all circa the
1510-20s. Up till then I had only made dresses of the latter half
of the sixteenth century - 1560s and on. My criteria was comfort,
practicality and an eye-pleasing style.
This high waisted dress (which I
made without any other means of closure other than the front
ties) I felt would fit the bill nicely - I was in particular
looking forward to making those large sleeves....
I decided that since speed was of
the essence, and my aim was to create an authentic look without
worrying about making it to Arts and Sciences competition
standards, I would use a commercial bodice pattern that I had
bought long ago (before I knew better). The servant outfit
pattern from McCalls 2242 needed modification in the centre front
panel for the front opening. It has curved seams in the back
which I left alone, and a curving seam over the chest which I
straightened. Next time I will remove these seams altogether. I
wanted something that I could get into and out of by myself, and
I decided to experiment to see if this style of dress could be
made without any other form of closure apart from the front ties.
There is also some conjecture that corsets were around a lot
longer than present theory purports, and were in fact being used
this early. This is something I don't really agree with, so in
part my experiment was also to see if a bodice could be made
supportive without the need for a separate garment beneath.
Between 60cm and 1metre of 110cm wide fabric, less if it's
wider. Same of interlining fabric, same of lining fabric. About
three metres of brown cotton cord for ties. Woven ribbon trim.
Between three and four panels of 112cm wide fabric, as long
as you need the skirt to be, plus hem and seam allowances. This
will be between about three metres (for three panels on a very
short woman) to about five metres (for four panels on a tall
woman). I used about three metres.
I made mine a little longer than wrist length - 60cm, so two
sleeves at 60cm=120cm by the full width of fabric, 112cm. You
could make yours longer, and wider, but remember the tops need to
be gathered into/onto the armscyes of the dress, and should be
lined (except in the case of very heavy fabrics such as velvet).
Same of lining fabric. About two metres of brown cotton cord for
ties on sleeve opening.
I measured myself under the bust
and allowed 2cm for ease, I then used this measurement as the
finished waistline, allowing for the width of the front opening.
As the pattern is for a bodice with a waistline at the natural
level, I trimmed the excess from the bottom of the bodice pieces.
The two bodice front edges should have been connected together by
a length of twill tape, thus re-inforcing that section of the
waistline where the skirt is not attached to the bodice, but I
omitted this step (merely folding over the edge of the skirt
panel). I regretted not doing so when I had that area tear on me
at Festival - I was in a hurry and not being careful. I managed
to sew the tear so that it is hardly visible, but twill tape will
solve this problem in future. I have worn this dress many times
since, but have not torn it again...
First I cut every bodice pattern
piece out of each fabric - outer, interlining, and lining. Next I
took each of the brown velveteen pieces and matched them up with
the matching interlining piece, wrong sides together, and
flat-lined every bodice piece with 100% cotton calico*. I then
stitched the bodice together. The bodice lining pieces, which I
had cut from a 100% cotton drill in a lighter brown, I then
stitched together. The bodice opening edges were folded over to
form casings, then boned using plastic boning (I wanted to retain
the rounded chest silhouette) to reinforce the area. The cord
ties, which ended up being made from matching brown cord because
I couldn't find a matching brown ribbon, were then are sewn to
the bodice opening edge. The dark gold and brown trim was
back-stitched in place with matching gold thread around the
neckline edges and over shoulders to meet in centre back. The
lining was then sewn to the bodice, leaving the opening and
waistline edges free.
The skirt, which does not have a
train, is made from three panels of fabric (unlined) and is just
three metres in circumference. You could use one more panel,
provided the fabric isn't too thick - like in the case of velvet.
It was knife-pleated to the bodice, the bodice lining was then
slip-stitched in place over the waistline seam allowances which
were pressed up towards the bodice.
The sleeves (diagram at left) were made from full width
panels of fabric, in the case of velveteen this was just over
1metre wide. I decided that the selvedges would be the opening
edges, so the top of the sleeve pieces were shaped so that the
centre bottom of the armscye corresponded to the centre of the
fabric panels, and the lining pieces were shaped to match. Ties
were pinned in place and then lining was sewn to sleeves leaving
an opening at the wrist ends. Sleeves were then turned right side
out and wrist ends of lining and main fabric were slip-stitched
together. Sleeves were then knife pleated (top 30cm or so on
either side of the sleeve opening) and hand sewn to the shoulders
about 2.5cm away from the neckline edge, leaving the under-arm
edge of the sleeve loose. This was hard going as I had to get my
needle through five layers of fabric, but it is necessary to sew
the sleeves to the outside of the bodice, rather than the inside,
to achieve that look, and with all the pleating it would have
been impossible to do it by machine. It would also have been
difficult to achieve this look with tied-in sleeves I think. At
any rate I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from hand
sewing (and I own a leather thimble) so it was no bother.
(*Calico in Australia is the
unbleached, cheap 100% cotton fabric that has the odd slub and is
usually used for lining drapes.)
The dress is comfortable and
attractive. It is practical in that I don't need anyone else to
help me in or out. It must be put on and taken off over the head,
and I did need to perfect the "lift manoeuvre"
necessary to get my bust into the bodice, but once there my bust
stayed put - all I needed was to adjust the pleats in my camicia
so that they lay right, and I was comfortable and supported all
day - no bra (or corset) required! You could also make this dress
with side lacing, as I intend to do one day. I ended up making
two of these dresses for the camping event, the second one in
royal blue 100% cotton drill. Because I didn't quite have enough
fabric for two sleeves, this one had an extra panel of fabric in
the skirt. It's just perfect for hot days, but one day I'll get
around to making matching sleeves for it.
If you have any questions or comments, please
do not hesitate to contact me.