My daughter has an annual Elizabethan Day at school in December 2014 (it’s only one year-level that does it). Some of you (like Husband) will be giggling at me wanting to start the sewing project now, but I know how long these things usually take me, and I figure having this much lead time is a great opportunity to take it slowly and with less stress.
I don’t think I’m a novice sewer. I’ve been sewing things since I was a child – dolls’ dresses, a gathered tiered skirt (as part of a class at school) when I was 8, and then skirts and other bits and pieces through my teens.
That’s not to say that all of that sewing was good, but it did all teach me things, sufficient that on our recent stay in the UK, where I found myself needing/wanting to make costumes for my children for school, I was able to make do. For the Victorian costume and the War Orphan outfit I cut down and refitted clothes from local thrift shops, while the circle rock’n’roll dance skirt I made from scratch by hand. At that point I decided I would treat myself to a new sewing machine, since I knew my machine at home in New Zealand wasn’t as user-friendly as it might be, and by then we had decided we would be shipping some things home when we left. I bought a Brother BC-2100. It’s not complicated or flash, and I probably wouldn’t attempt anything thicker than the denim skirt I sewed recently (but my weighs-a-ton 1950s Bernina does thick very well. Nothing like made-to-last Swiss engineering!), but it is delightfully portable.
So I like to hope that with two sewing machines and a range of sewing experience I should cope with this challenge.
I started out thinking I would work from a pattern. I did some basic research, found Simplicity 3782, read some reviews at Patternreviews.com and decided to complement it with Simplicity 2621 so as to have a farthingale as well. So I have a choice of bum rolls. Is that a good thing? I did see Margo Anderson’s Patterns, but decided that since I was doing things on a budget that was a step further than I needed to go. In hindsight that was almost definitely false economy, particularly since I’d like Daughter’s dress to be individual, and following the pattern would make it more likely there’ll be another dress the same. I’d like to have cap sleeves rather than the shoulder rolls (for a slightly earlier Elizabethan). However, I think I’ll have to live with the false economy for now. US$66 (that’s $42 for the pattern, plus $24 for the shipping to this far-flung corner of the globe) is NZ$80, and I’m not quite up to that investment yet.
While waiting for the patterns to arrive I’ve been doing some research, lots of it online, but also got some books from the library:
The Tudor Tailor (Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies)
A Visual History of Costume: The Sixteenth Century (Jane Ashelford)
Costume Reference 2: Tudors and Elizabethans (Marion Sichel)
The Tudor Tailor is easily the best of these from a practical point of view, though there’s plenty of inspiration to be had in the Visual History of Costume. In the case of The Tudor Tailor, having looked at it I would desperately love to make the late Elizabethan dress with the French farthingale. Son said “ha ha, it looks like she’s wearing a table!”. Daughter, however, looked at it and said “No.” very firmly, so I don’t think it’s a goer. She did agree that the embroidered silk revers (p127) was lovely, but I think that was as much to do with the blue dress and pearls.
The other challenge I’ll face is that I doubt very much that she’ll want to wear a partlet. I’d want her to wear it for authenticity, and I’ll probably make one just in case, but I’m picking that on the day she’ll refuse it. Fine. That’s really not worth having any sort of battle about.
Anyway, after looking at those books one of the first things that struck me was the need for blackwork. I haven’t delved into embroidery at all, though I’ve got a tapestry that I’ve been working on for about 20 years. But blackwork! Beautiful! Definitely having some of that, and want to make some. If it all turns out terribly I can always do some cheat version by sewing black damask-embossed organza on, but I’m hoping it turns out well.
So, more research, more internet hunting, more library books:
Beginner’s Guide to Blackwork (Lesley Wilkins)
Blackwork Embroidery (Elisabeth Geddes and Moyra McNeill)
Blackwork: Fifty simple embroidery projects in traditional black and white (Sonia Lucano).
Now unlike the Elizabethan costume books, these each have their strengths, and I’m glad to have all three of them for different reasons. I know as a beginner I need to aim for something simple, but I’m also ambitious enough to not want TOO simple, and even to contemplate designing something myself. In particular, as we’re technically a Pacific Island, I thought I’d take some inspiration from tapa cloth patterns. I particularly like the stylised frangipani shape common to many tapa, and it’s similar to a number of traditional blackwork patterns, so I’m going with it.
Additional inspiration came from the website of a local enthusiast (http://webcentre.co.nz/kk/embroidery.htm#coif) who incorporated New Zealand flowers and insects in place of English ones. I love all of what she’s done, but I’m not brave enough to aim that high yet. However, I think I can add a stylised version of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) into a running border. There’s a handy black and white botanical drawing at http://www.anbg.gov.au/myrtaceae/pdf/leptospermum-scoparium.pdf to work from. Finally I asked my daughter. She says she likes roses on clothing, so I’ll be looking to work in a simple stylised rose design too. And that seems like plenty to be going on with. I’ll post a picture of the design once I’ve finished it.
And that seems like enough typing for tonight, as I have some designing to do! More tomorrow on the hunt for fabrics and notions.