Donal brought me six yards of medium-weight red and gold fabric as a thank you for the tunics I made him (such a doll!) and I was planning to turn it into a Renaissance Venetian gown for the upcoming Caid coronation. Princess Cassandra has a Venetian persona, and my home barony is putting together Venetian court garb in her honor. I thought that would be nice, until I did some research into Venetian fashion and promptly decided I was entirely disinterested in that plan. None of it is really a style I got excited for, and the few ideas I kind of liked would have required me to buy more fabric.
So then I found a Florentine style that’s just lovely, and fell in love with the idea. Best of all, I could use a gown I have already have as foundation and build a split-front overgown with matched sleeves that would be just wonderful!
And then I got my gown out of storage and realized the colors don’t match. Which should be ok, because color theory in the Italian Renaissance was, if it matches, cool, if it contrasts, cool, if it compliments, cool… there really weren’t a lot of wrong answers, but this was just hideous.
Back to the drawing board! I looked through some of my books of fashion plates until I found something that called out to me. That ended up being a 1500 German gown with a solid bodice, slashed puff sleeve caps, and the gauntlet-style segmented sleeves iconic to the Renaissance.
I like that the majority of this gown, other than the visible portions of the chemise, are a single color, which means I don’t have to acquire any additional fabric. The silhouette is into the early Tudor shapes, with a conical bodice and flare at the hips. The shape is actually quite similar in cut and silhouette to my 1670 corset (despite the century and a half between them) and I should be able to comfortably use the later corset to give me the right shape and keep the boning to a minimum.
The bodice appears to be one piece in front and is probably two pieces in back originally, with lacing down the back. I’m going to adjust this to be laced up both sides instead, which will allow me to dress myself, but is not accurate to this time and place. The sleeves are in two pieces, with the top part likely attached to the bodice. I’m going to have the sleeves attached to the bodice at the top, front, and back, but not the bottom. This is a period style which allows the chemise to bloom out under the armpit, gives some maneuverability to the garment (which in this case is moot, because I’m wearing it with a corset that restricts arm movement a bit), and most importantly, keeps the side-lacing concept from becoming impractical.
The bottom part of the sleeves are independent. While there are some Italian styles which have a keyhole cut out of the front or back through which the chemise can spill, or sometimes have top and bottom separate but laced together, several German examples I’ve found seem to be genuinely in two or three pieces.
The bottom of the sleeve at first glance seems to be significantly shorter than the top portion, but under the chemise the bottom of trim can be seen, apparently of the same pattern (and probably the same width) of the trim on the top of the sleeve. This suggests to me that the chemise blouses over the top of the gauntlet several inches.
Puff sleeves are easily accomplished, with good body, by cutting the close-fit portion of the sleeve all the way up to the shoulder and then adding a gathered puff that attaches at the top and bottom. This does mean that the slashes won’t display the actual chemise, but I’m fine with that, because my material is prone to fraying and doing faux slashing means I don’t have to worry about it. My chemise probably isn’t voluminous enough to give that much puff at the elbow AND shoulder anyway.
After I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do, I went ahead and cut out my bodice. (Disclaimer: I’m getting really good at intuitive patterning. If you’re new to costumery, get more than a pretty good idea of what you’re doing before you reach for the scissors. In the business, we call my methods “extremely stupid”)
I patterned directly off my corset, and then made some minor adjustments. I pinned my sides together and tried it on over the corset to check how it would lay, and decided it needed to be a bit sturdier. The shape was perfect, but because the fabric has an easy drape, it was showing the lacing a little and developed ridges easily as I moved. I want the bodice to stay nice and smooth, so I cut out a backing layer of light canvas (recycled fighting cape. By the way, don’t fight in a cape. It’s dangerous). This, along with a few strategically placed bones, should give me the support I need.
I patterned my sleeves by tracing my arm and then giving myself a healthy margin. I cut the top section in the black canvas backing, pinning it around my bicep until it felt right, and was loose enough to pull off and on but tight enough to stay put.
Then I realized I’d be wearing these sleeves over a bulky chemise, went and put my chemise on, and was really glad I’d given myself the extra play.
The top section of sleeve (the middle piece in the photo) goes from the crest of my shoulder (plus seam allowance) to the crease of my elbow (including seam allowance). when it’s finished it’ll stop just above the elbow. The lower part (the lowest piece in the photo) goes from the wrist to about eight inches above the wrist. I have not cut canvas backing for the lower sleeves, but I might end up doing so to keep the chemise from making it lumpy. The forearm section will be laced to allow for a closer fit, so it’s as tight as it can be around the chemise. The puff (the top piece in the photo) will gather to the same width as the upper sleeve and the same height as the portion of the upper sleeve which is not backed in black; you can see where the black ends to the left of the red.
At this point I had kind of had enough for the night, but I’m pretty much ready to put it together. The skirt is essentially going to be all the rest of the fabric that’s left in a big tube with knife pleats at the waist for volume. I’ve picked out some midnight blue wool (an old cotehardie that doesn’t fit anymore) and harvest gold ribbon I’m going to use for the decorative bands on the sleeves, and I’m going to trim the neckline with the same ribbon and beading. I’m undecided about whether to bother with a partlet. I know I ought to but I also have a strong premonition that it’ll end up completely slipping my mind.
If all goes according to plan, this will be the most sumptuous outfit I’ve created in a couple years, and yet I’m planning to make it 100% out of materials I already have in my collection. The main fabric was donated, and the other fabrics are being recycled from garments no longer in use. The beading, ribbon, and even appropriate threads are already in my craft stash, so this project will effectively be free to create. And best of all, there’s VERY little hand sewing and NO embroidery, which means it’s actually quite probable that this project will get done on schedule.
In a perfect world I’d like to have this gown ready to wear in ten days. I think that can happen.