Archive for November 19th, 2008

I’m going to bite the bullet and start posting past work. It’s a daunting task because there is a lot of it. This one comes first because it was the easiest to grab.

The Venetian Courtesan gown has a heroic background similar both to the 1875 bustle gown and to the character who would have worn it: obscure, outcast beginnings, made from orphaned fabrics. I bought this yellowy amber silk shot with indigo on e-bay. I had just bought my house, and my color scheme was not yet solidified. As my house progressed, the bright, rich yellow silk looked garish, and it lay homeless and unwanted in a closet for quite sometime.





Come last year, I revisited it, and was determined to turn it into something. And here is the result.

The main components of the outfit are as follows:

1. 16th century corset, which I had from a previous project

2. Ivory Silk Chemise that goes down to the knees.

3. Embroidered red satin underskirt.

4. Bumroll I had made from a previous project

5. Bodice with hanging sleeves lined in the red embroidered satin, interlined in a linen-cotton blend, and lined with the yellow silk

6. The standing collar.


Chemise, underskirt and bumroll

Here is the chemise, underskirt, and bumroll. In the 16th century, underskirts would usually just have the front panel done in the expensive fabric to save money. But since I didn’t have such restrictions, I made the entire skirt out of the satin embroidery.

The red satin embroidered is rayon, I believe. I allowed myself this lapse into the synthetic fabrics realm because it matched the yellow silk so well. Some of the flowers in the embroidery are the same color. I bought quite a bit of it; I think it was about 6 or 7 yards, but didn;t know where I would use it yet.

The skirt is very easily made. Since late 16th century skirts were meant to go over a French Farthingale or sizeable bumroll, the corners of their panels were almost right angles. The idea was for the skirt to look something like a cilander.

Overskirt Waist Hooks

Overskirt Waist Hooks

The overskirt is unlined. It is made out of the yellow silk. I attached hooks to the top of the waistband of the overskirt so that they could be attached to the inside of the bodice.


To the left is an inside shot of the bodice. The holes are finished off with whipstitching. The eyes that hold the waistband hooks are along the back of the bodice along the waist.

The bodice is cut in 8 pieces with an interliner. All of the exterior bodice pieces are cut on a bias, and I can’t stress how important that is. The interlined bodice was sewn to the liner along the front and neckline, then turned through the bottom. The bottom is finished off with hand whipstitching.

The bottom has graduated waist tabs, where the back are longer than those towards the front. Along the armholes, I sewed some scallops, and then sewed the hanging sleeves into the arms. The arms are finished off beautifully with whipstitching.

The interliner is boned. I used steel boning for the front bones, and plastic for the rest. I inserted the bones into channels made with twill tape or ribbon, I think. I was trying to use materials I had lying around when I made the costume, so I know I was doing some interesting things. I can imagine how the artisans who crafted the final resting places of the pharoahs or who buried King Rædwald at Sutton Hoo felt when they began to fill the tomb with earth. I feel something like that when I finish up a bodice and seal up the work, and leaving it for a better purpose. What you had imagined and constructed is finished. As you can tell from the photos of the interior, you can see nothing of the structure, but that’s the point.



For lacing, I did something a little different. I wanted the bodice to front to taper – being open at the top, and then taper to a point at the bottom – and close with lacing. So I bought some cotton trim with loops, and used it for the lacing. I loved the result. The bodice seems to stay on the torso by magic, and the open fronts float from the breast/torso.


Laced bodice front

And then there is the lace and the beadwork, which was very labor intensive. The lace had a flat top, loose gold leaves attached to the flat top. I sewed the lace around the neckline, and then down the outsides of the hanging sleeves. I used the machine to sew the flat portion, and then basted the leaves by hand so that they wouldn’t fly around and get caught on things, or catch fire or something.



For the beadwork, I used Swarovski Crystal beads in differeing sizes in red, green and amber. Acctually, this may have been the most expensive part of the gown. The pearls are two different sizes. I don’t remember the exact measurements, but you can see in the photograph that every other one was consistently sized.

I used red crystals between the base of each leaf, and then a small green cyrstal was used to hold down each leaf at the tip. On the hanging sleeves, I alternated between red and amber Swarovski crystals between each leaf. They were all sewn on very sturdily by hand, and continued all the way down the hanging sleeves. In dim light, they looked fantastic.

I had originally planned to do a feather collar, but ran out of time. So I used left over silk from the chemise for the collar. There are two layers of silk, and the lace that trims the top is sewn on between the two layers. It attaches to the neckline with pins, which is very authentic. There is a buckram panel sewn at the base. It’s about an in and a half wide.

I inserted stiff wire into channels I stitched, then gathered the silk around the wires. At the top, I ran another wire that was just barely visible along the top, which held the whole thing in place and kept the wires from shifting. It had to finish the collar rather quickly, and it was a learning experience.

I had a few photos of me wearing it with a period hairstyle. I’ll get those up soon.


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