Wednesday, 13 October 2010

1570's English Commoner Outfit

I am working on an outfit for SCA use, mid to late sixteenth century in general design. Since I primarily focus on English, that is what I am going with now, though sewing clothes for a common woman is fairly new to me. My research over the past 15 years has been in the area of gentry women's clothing, so there have to be some shifts in the design, embellishment and fabrics used for this outfit as opposed to what I am used to working with. My goal is to create an outfit that would have been seen out and about on the streets of London, and I am happy to have this Lucas de Heere sketch to base my outfit on. The figure on the right is the basic design I am hoping to emulate. (A group of English London Ladies by Lucas de Heere, circa 1570 . Add. Ms. 28330, British Museum)

I am using a middle weight wool that I brought from England. My original intention for this was to do an outfit of this time period and social class, but it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of historical sewing for myself, so this project has sat on the back burner for a couple of years. The wool is not really rough faced, it is just coarser than what I am used to working with. I have generally used a fine wool, something along the lines of a gabardine. I have already washed this wool and it did great in the washer and dryer. Yay for me, because the cost of dry cleaning long dresses, even ones classified as costumes, has really become quite prohibitive.

As I am doing a middle class, or commoner, as opposed to gentry, none of my ruffs will work. So I have been fiddling around a bit with a strip of linen that is one yard long, trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with it. My goal is to have a ruff that is no wider than two inches, probably an inch and three quarters, and wrist ruffs that are equally modest, probably about an inch in depth. A woman in this socio-economic group would not have had a lot of expendable wealth, and it is very plausible that she would have put a bit of embroidery around the edge of her ruff for embellishment. As there is portrait evidence that buttonhole stitch was used in this manner, that is what I have chosen to do. I will be using a red silk by deVere yarns that I have used before and really enjoy working with.

I have been making ruffs for about fifteen years, and have used three different methods. My very first ruff was one that was run in accordian type pleats, from the top edge of the neckband to the bottom. I made several ruffs by this method. I have made four ruffs with the stacked box pleated method, such as is illustrated in Jean Hunniset's "Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1500-1800". Admittedly, I was unable to figure out the method by reading her book, and it was only through the kind generosity of Gina Hill that I was able to finally grasp what was really going on. The last method I have used is tiny cartridge pleated linen sewn to a neckband. In Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion 4", the ruffs illustrated all show cartridge pleating to be the method used to attach them to the neckband, though not all of them have pleats that are sized consistently.

I decided to experiment, just to put them side by side, and to see how much fabric each method would use, and how the finished results would vary in appearance.

For my test, I took a one yard strip of linen, zig-zagged one long edge to stabilize it, hemmed the two short ends, and did a narrow, rolled hem on the other long edge. I encased a piece of fishing line type filament in the hem that was not going to be pleated.

First I tried the box pleated method, but as it was to be a ruff with a relatively small depth of ruffle,
I used only two sets of box pleats per stack, and I omitted the folding and double stacking step. I did not mark my one-quarter inch pleats and did them all free hand. In spite of my lack of precision in regards to the size of the pleats, this yielded a ruff with nicely turned figure of eights. The final size of the sample was seven inches.

Next, I tried the teeny cartridge pleats. My pleats were about one quarter inch across, so approximately one eighth of an inch in depth when gathered up. I drew the sample up until I felt it looked right, so this gave me a piece that was six and a half inches in length.

I think I have made the decision to go with the cartridge pleated ruff, but I am still working out some design issues. When I made Arilyn's ruff in 2oo8 for Kentwell, I turned under the selvage edge, gathered with cartridge pleats, and I attached them to the top edge of the neckband with a single stitch per pleat, so that the entire ruffle stood perpendicular to the neckband. I may be reading PoF4 wrong, but it looks to me like the ruffs made in the 16th century were all attached to the neckband and then the band was folded over to encase the edge of the ruffle, and then very carefully hemmed over it. This presents two dilemmas for me. Firstly, how to attach the gathered edge to the neckband if it is not finished in some way, for I foresee that edge coming unraveled very easily and not providing a stable base for the stitches that the ruffle would be pulling against. Miss Arnold does not make any notation about that edge being finished in any way, and it is obvious from her drawings that the selvages are actually on the short end of strips that are joined together to make up the length of the ruffle. Secondly, I feel that the resultant joining would be very thick and bulky. Not exactly sure how I am going to proceed from this point, but those are issues to ponder over and work through soon.

1 comment:

  1. The first glimpse of that drawing and I just knew you would be recreating the design on the right!