And a little something for myself…

Since I’ve now bought more fabric than needed for Daughter’s dress, and can’t make it yet anyway, I thought I’d practice by making something for myself.

Naturally, that means starting with the shift.

I had that striped linen left from before, only used to attempt a blackwork manuka.  I bought another half metre of it – given it’s about 3m wide, the price isn’t as extortionate as it would be otherwise – and am now in the process of making a shift for myself, to the same pattern as Daughter’s.

The only difference from Daughter’s pattern, apart from size, is that I want a high collar.

The smock pattern generator at (“Drea’s”) only covers square-necked smocks, so no luck there.

The Tudor Tailor, a copy of which I finally bought from the authors (to save myself accruing yet more overdue fines for it at the library), has men’s shirts and women’s smocks.  The women’s smock has a high collar option, but is made to a slightly different pattern to Drea’s (the shoulders are cut in at the same angle as the gores).

So, I went looking online to see what I could find there, and encountered a conundrum.  Men’s shirts are all made with neck gussets.  Some women have included neck gussets, and some haven’t.  The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern doesn’t include neck gussets, and goes for a rounded cut neckline.  The women’s smock in the museum at Bath apparently does (I can’t find any detailed photos online), though they’re not obvious in this reproduction:


as does the one at the Victoria and Albert

The V&A smock appears to have a straight-cut neckline; the reproduction Bath looks like it’s rounded.

I consulted the good folk at the Elizabethan Costuming group on facebook, and they also endorsed the use of neck gussets.

I like the voice of experience, so my next question was: What size should they be?  I suspect that the 2″ sided right-angled triangles in The Tudor Tailor men’s smock would be too big for a fine-boned frame like mine.

Time to try a “toile” or “muslin” as a test.  I got a bit of the Sally Army sheet set, and cut a slit in the middle and down the front of a guess at the appropriate length – subsequent reading tells me the front slit should be longer, to reach about my breast-bone.

I then put it over my head as is, to see the result.

(Apologies for the blurring in the first photo)


1.  As you can hopefully see (despite the blurring. Son was somewhat unenthusiastic about acting as photographer) it doesn’t sit well.  It is about two cm wider on each side than the finished shoulder width of the actual shirt, but still, those shoulders clearly want to stick up rather than sitting along the shoulder line, so that’s one thing to deal with.

2.  When the neck is closed, it sits high on the throat – it really wants to sit higher still than in the photo, as visible in the creases coming out from the side of the cut, but the width of the cut prevents it.


3.  The side view shows just how poorly the whole thing works.  It’s the old Cartesian problem: how to get straight surfaces to adequately match a curved surface.


4.  If it were a different project, a solution might be found through something like this (or the alternative, which is taking fabric out at the shoulder line), but that’s not going to work with this project.


None of these photos on their own helped me much with the question of how big to make the gussets, but they did give time for my brain to perculate, and I came up with the following:

If I measure my neck around, it comes to 36cm.  That should be 18cm at front and 18cm at back, but I suspect there’s more at the front really, and indeed when I measure from one side to the other across the back it’s more like 16cm, which leaves 20cm at the front.

If I look in the mirror and measure the straight horizontal distance from one side of my neck to the other, it’s 13cm.

Back neck: 16cm – 13cm=3cm, /2 (to see how much each side)=1.5cm

Front neck: 20cm – 13cm=7cm, /2=3.5cm

So I think ideally the gusset would provide an extra 1.5cm each side at the back, and an extra 3.5cm at the front, for a total of 5cm each side (or 2″ in imperials).

However, I doubt it’s possible with my limited skills to arrange it so the gusset width sits more at the front than the back.  Also, the front “corners” are going to need to be cut away somewhat so that they sit against my neck and not against my throat – I don’t know that gussets would change that problem.

And even if the width (or rather, that side of the triangle) is correct (dubious), it still doesn’t tell me how long to make the other two (identical) sides.

Time for some more guesswork.

The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern takes a curve out at the back (1″ less at the centre back) to is 3.75″ from the centre.  If I draw that on the toile I can see it would take the total measurement of the back of the neck to – wait for it – 16cm.  The front is cut down 2″, making the total front neck measurement… 20cm.

This is such a tidy match that I think I’m going to have to try it. ….

And indeed, it suddenly sits a whole lot better.

However, I think some small gussets would still be a good idea, mostly because although it sits better now, I realise that it’s going to need at least a little seam allowance at the front for the hem on the front slit.  That’s going to pull the sides in by about 1cm each side.  Though I suspect a better way to deal with that is to put a little pleat in the back to match the seam allowance at the front, and move the side seams out a cm on each side.

Slow and steady

I’ve completed the bumroll, and bought the last hose joiner for the top hoop in the farthingale, but I need my model in order to arrange and pin the pleats, before I can put the waistband on and attach the bumroll.

Now debating what to do about the open sections of hoop casing on the farthingale. If I sew them completely closed, there will be no chance of making any adjustments to the hoops. But if I don’t, they look nasty. I think I just sew them closed, and if I need to open ’em up again, well, that’ll learn me, won’t it!

As promised, photos.

Well, I don’t know if I promised, but either way, here are some photos of the semi-finished smock.

First, the whole garment:
2013-05-20 12.50.07

The only downside to undoing all the gore seams and resewing was that the it made the edges a whole lot more frayed, and the resulting french seams now need a lot of trimming to make them neat. I have not yet done this trimming.

Anyway, here’s a close up of the neckline, with its “frame” for further blackwork should I feel the inclination:

2013-05-20 12.50.29

Otherwise, I’ve been reading up heavily on farthingales (and many thanks to the sempstress for her in-depth mathematical analysis. If you didn’t guess from the excel charting of the blackwork manuka, I also have a weakness for trigonometry), as that and/or the bumroll will be the next step. I’ve decided that although the Simplicity 2621 pattern for a farthingale is probably fine, I want to at least consider something closer to an Alcega arrangement of gore dimensions.

That’s all for now. I’m off to inspect some lime green linen (if it’s as affordable as I recall, I might dye it) and borrow The Tudor Tailor (again) and Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d (for the first time I think) from the library.

More on the smock and other components

I have nearly completed the smock (for now).  After trying it on The Girl, I could see I wasn’t going to get away with having put the side gores in on the grain instead of on the bias, so I undid all the (frenched, of course, though fortunately not trimmed) seams and turned the gores round and resewed them.  It did make a difference.  I’ve not hemmed the sleeves, and won’t till much closer to the day of wearing, as the distance between her wrist and the sleeve end will likely change considerably in between.

I have sort of got some blackwork round the neckline of the smock.  I started by edging the neckline itself in black silk, with the machine, then hand sewing again along the same edge, adding double knots every few milimetres, as I wanted to try to reproduce those little black dots along the neckline edges in Holbein’s Jane Seymour portrait (you know, the one with the awesome blackwork cuffs… OK, this one…

I think the effect I achieved is close, but not quite there – next time I think I’d triple knot instead of double.

I’ve also machine stitched a fairly plain border round the neckline to hold the facing in place.  It effectively creates a frame for whatever blackwork I might want to put in the middle, and looks quite sweet on its own.  I will add photos when I get to the camera.

So the next step will be to make the bumroll, and then the farthingale.  I bought some irrigation pipe at the hardware store to use for the farthingale hoops.  It has the advantage of being cheap, but the disadvantage of being thicker than hoop boning, which means thicker ribbon for the channels.

I’m thinking probably the grey taffeta for the farthingale.  I quite like the look of just plain white cotton, but the taffeta is probably stronger.  On the other hand, cotton is probably cooler, and with all the layers The Girl will be wearing, cooler might be preferable to stronger.

At the same time, I’m figuring out what other fabrics to use.  After watching Trademe for some months now and no sign of inexpensive dark blue velvet (it’s always the shipping that’s the killer) I’m thinking I might have a go at dying the dark green velvet I bought earlier this year.  It’s probably an acetate/nylon mix.  It’s not really my colour, so if the dye doesn’t take I’m not really any worse off.

That leaves the forepart and sleeves to decide on.  Having seen some pieced sleeves, I’m leaning heavily towards making them out of the velvet too, with the smock underneath, so it would just be the partlet to settle (though would probably use some of the fabric for trim and embellishment as well, to help tie it together.

I’d really like to use the Japanese silk kimono fabric I got originally intending to use for the corset, but I doubt there’s enough of it.  Anyway, I’d best dye the velvet first to see what colour I’m matching.

Two steps forward, one step back..

The smock is mostly assembled, however…

1.  I have discovered (I wasn’t sure at the time, so I followed the illustration) that I should have sewn the side gores in on the bias rather than straight.  Having sewed them in straight means the hem dips at the sides.  I will have to trim and hem straight instead, but also…

2.  On closer examination of the inspiration piece (and more knowledge of practices of the time), I can see that what I took to be little tulle pouffy decorations on the epaulettes are in fact bits of the smock pulled through between the sleeve attachments.  That would be fine, but the smock was made to be quite fitting, so I doubt there’ll be enough fabric underneath to pull through in a pouffy fashion.  I think pouffy bits would require some pleats or gathering in the sleeve, and I’d probably want to be more sure of the smock fit too in relation to the model’s shoulder line, otherwise the sleeves won’t sit at the right height to be pulled through in the right way.

3.  In the oil version of the inspiration piece, it seems pretty clear to me from the way the folds sit that the smock fabric is silk.  Replicating the chalk would probably be possible in cotton/linen, but yes, clearly it wants to be silk.  The smock edge at the neckline is also finished in lace rather than blackwork. 

So I’ve clearly reached a point where I have to make a decision about how strictly I want to stick to that inspiration piece, vs e.g. making a dress according to the pattern I have, with Margeurite to Valois only providing inspiration for trim.  Decisions, decisions!


I have found a model of what I’d like to make, but am having problems interpreting it. There’s this chalk drawing of a young Margeurite de Valois in 1559:

Margeurite de Valois sketch

and then there’s a painting based on that sketch, completed about a year later:

Margeurite de Valois painting

Somewhere between the sketch and the painting her dress has changed colour, so who knows what colour it was originally. My daughter likes the colours of the first, so I’ll use that as a starting point; I’m not sure the rust colour would suit her as well as the blue. Having them both is useful though, as they show different things. The painting shows the detail of the epaulettes beautifully, while the chalk shows the little ruffled cuffs peeking out from the end of her sleeves.

Some quizes though:

1. I’m not sure what would have given the striped effect on the sleeves. In the second it looks like beading, or possibly gilt embroidery. In the first, however, it looks more like it’s part of the fabric – a raised velvet perhaps? – or cording? or piping? I just don’t know enough to tell.

2. What would forepart of her skirt would have been like? Presumably to match her rust-coloured sleeves, but how would the stripes translate to the forepart? Neither picture shows anything below the waist, so I’m stuck.

Time to consult the experts I think.