1520s Ribbon-Tied Dress

The Inspiration...

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....



The Obstacles...

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.

The Ingredients....

Dress Bodice: 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.

Dress Skirt: 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.

Sleeves: 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.

The Method...

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 Result...

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.

 

E Back to The Library Index



2001 - 2010 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.