Thursday, 31 July 2014

Project #5. F.59a - "Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk"

Project 5! 

I had a slight change of heart after the last project, and instead of using layout f.60 "Kirtle and low cut bodice of cloth rash for a woman" for this project, I decided to use f.59a the "Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk" instead. The skirt length and a few other dimensions on f.60 were different from the under layers I have already made, and so I decided to use f59a for the sake of consistency. This is the same garment, but with sizing consistent with the patterns I have made and a pattern layout very similar to the kirtle I just made in project 4 (but with the addition of a bodice, natch). 

Alcega states that this pattern requires a length of silk fabric 6 3/4 ells long x 2/3 ells wide, or 567cm (approx 18' 7 1/4") long x 56cm (approx 22") wide.

Some mathematics and dimensions
The beginning steps to this pattern are identical to my previous project, #4 the "Kirtle of silk for a woman". The skirt dimensions are the same, and similarly the fabric is folded across ways instead of lengthways when cutting the skirt. The big change however is that the bodice is cut from the remaining fabric which has been folded lengthways, and Alcega points towards this change in the diagram by reducing the remaining width to half in the layout.

So, based on the fact that the previous kirtle with an identical size and layout took 6 1/8 ells x 2/3 ells, or 514.5cm (approx 16' 10 1/2") x 56cm (approx 22"), we know then that we have around 52.5cm (a bit under 20 3/4") of the 56cm wide fabric left for the bodice. In the translation it states the recommendation that first you cut off a piece of fabric long enough for the bodice, and then proceed to fold the remaining fabric crossways and cut out the skirt. The bodice is cut with the front on the fold, eliminating a centre seam, and with the centre back of the bodice cut along the selvedge edge.

The skirt is the same length as previously, "bm" or 126cm long (approx 4' 1 1/2") long and with an identical generous waist size which can be pleated to fit (see Project #4).

The bodice is (as described in the title) cut quite low across the front and with a centre front that dips down to a point in a similar fashion to that of Project #2 - the "Silk doublet for a woman" and is cut a little higher in the back across the shoulders. The dimensions of the bodice pattern pieces are given as "t" across the bust edge, which is 1/3 ell or 28cm (approx 11") and "Q" across the waist, which is 1/4 ell or 21cm (approx 8 1/4"). The bodice centre front is "m" from the bust edge down to the point, which is 1/2 an ell or 42cm (approx 16 1/2"), and the under arm side seam is "Q", which is 1/4 ell or 21cm (approx 8 1/4").

The bodice back is "t" in length from the top edge to the waistline, which is 1/3 of an ell or 28cm (approx 11") and both the back waist and top edge are given as "s", which is 1/6 of an ell or 14cm (approx 5 1/2").

These dimensions would give a bodice with a finished waist measurement of 70cm (approx 27 1/2") which is quite small compared to the doublet in Project #1 for instance, which had a waist of 90cm (approx 35 1/2"). It's probable that the doublet and this bodice are designed for two different sized women, as 8 inches of waist compression would not be likely even in a stiffened and tightly laced bodice (or with some form of corset).

Developing the pattern
Much of this entry will relate to patterning the bodice, as the skirt pattern will be a repeat of that in Project #4 but with some changes in construction.

In previous entries I described the creation of a basic sloper, and then the process of removing any darts required in the sloper to try and achieve the best fit possible. Fortunately the low neckline of this bodice eliminates the need to worry about bust darts.

First attempt at draping the bodice back. Click to enlarge.

I decided to take a first stab at the pattern by tracing off the back and front of the basic sloper without bust darts onto paper, raising the armhole slightly and drawing in how I thought the basic design lines would sit on my mannequin and pinning it to the form.

First attempt at drafting the basics of the bodice front. Click to enlarge.

Straight away I could tell that a few things would need more work. I was concerned that if I drew the bodice front as low as it appeared in the pattern that it would barely cover the nipple line of the bust, so I initially cut it out with a slightly higher front. I knew that I probably didn't have the curve of the bodice front correct either, but I was initially trying to establish the height first. Also the angle of the strap is not right, creating a fold in the pattern, and on reflection I think the strap actually begins further back under the armhole and comes forward at more of an acute angle.

At this point I decided to go back to the pattern and I had a little play in photo editing software and duplicated and flipped the bodice pattern pieces from the book to see how the finished bodice pattern might look.

What becomes immediately noticeable is the way the front curves gently upward across the bust, and is in line with the bottom of the armhole. With a slightly raised armhole (compared to a doublet, for example) this would be low without being indecorous. Perhaps something closer to the neckline of this gown in the portrait of Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre (1570).

Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre (1570)

The other noticeable feature of the pattern is the acute angle of the strap on the bodice front, and how impossibly short the straps are in the pattern. I can't read the original Spanish text, and there is no mention of any extensions to, or fill in pieces for, the shoulder straps in the translation. Perhaps it is one of those things that was so obvious it didn't need to be spelled out to the tailors the book was intended for? Given the length of available fabric, and the placement of the pattern pieces butting right up against the fabric edge or other pattern pieces, I think it's fair to assume there was a separate connecting piece to be cut and added between the front and back, rather than the straps just being cut larger than shown. The excess fabric should furnish enough to make connecting strap pieces.

Bodice front, 2nd revision. Click to enlarge.
Front view, revised bodice. Click to enlarge.

I think this is an improvement, although I could still possibly curve the front higher. (You will also have to imagine this with a slightly flattened bust, as a stiffened and laced bodice like this would compress the bust somewhat and my mannequin has quite a prominent and unmoving bust line.) I'm still curious about that strap angle. I moved the strap slightly backwards towards the arm hole so that I could try and keep that angle without having the strap come too far forward (as if it was going to be a halter neck!). In my next version I think I'll curve the angle of the strap more as it comes up to try and hug the line of the armhole better. (Also, the straps are a little thicker than in the pattern, but that is the limitation of trying to work at such a small scale.)

It's interesting, in most other recreations of this bodice the designers seem to have made a more square neckline by changing the strap front to be almost at a right angle to the bodice front, compared to the very acute angle drawn in all of the variations of this bodice in the book. Such as this one by The Curious Frau, this brown wool kirtle by Centuries Sewing, and these beautiful examples by Mathew Gnagy. It makes a lot of sense if you are adding sleeves to a bodice like this, as unless the strap was perhaps super tight you would need some opposing directional force to the tendency of the sleeve to drag the strap off the shoulder. I'm keen to explore this pattern as faithfully as I can however, so I'm going to see if I can make this strap work as drawn, within the limitations of the shape of my mannequin.

Some portraits do seem to indicate that this style of acute angle is achievable.

Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry.
Margaret of France, detail with bodice and strap highlighted.

I know Margaret isn't Spanish, but I'm using her portrait here as the gown seems to replicate many of the features of this bodice and kirtle.

So, angles, bodices and straps, oh my. Time to move on to the rest of the bodice...

The bodice back, 2nd revision. Click to enlarge.
Back view, revised bodice. Click to enlarge

I also redid the back slightly; if you look at the pattern piece from the book the back also has a slight curve across the top edge and I wanted to make sure I had that, the angle of the back of the armscye, and the relative height of the back compared to the bottom of the arm hole correct.

Final pattern layout, with bodice and kirtle. Click to enlarge.

Putting it together
The skirt will be attached to the bodice, so up to the point right before pleating and attaching the skirt to a waistband the patterning and construction of the skirt for this project is identical to Project #4 - "Kirtle of silk for a woman". Also, with the exception that I will be leaving the front seam of the skirt open. Adding the godets, sewing up the side seams, and closing the back seam up to the point of the back opening are all the same.

According to the text Alcega states that the bodice front "will be in one piece" as it is cut on the fold, while the bodice back will have a seam. So I am electing to make this with a centre back opening to the bodice and attached skirt. Some reconstructions have an opening in front of the bodice, and there is certainly evidence for that in similar garments (as there is for either 1 or 2 side lacings replacing side seams). I'm sticking with what I think was the intention of the original pattern however.

Also, there is some evidence for this style of bodice being heavily stiffened itself, rather than having been worn over a corset (although the inverse may also have happened). I'm going to sew in a layer of stiff interlining to try and create a stiffened effect to this bodice. If you wanted to create a full sized version of this gown I would encourage you to research appropriate techniques for boning a bodice. It's also worth noting that the pattern layout places the side seams off grain, not quite on the true bias but enough that they would be subject to some stretch. Interlining, boning etc would all help to control this stretch and allow the bodice to be laced tightly without distortion.

Checking the bodice fit (without the skirt attached yet). Click to enlarge.

I cut identical pieces of interlining and the fabric outer layer, and trimmed the seam allowance off the interlining everywhere except the side construction seams, so that I could just turn the edges over and sew them down. If I was making this as a full sized garment I would first construct the stiffened inner structure, probably from several layers of stiff canvas with some reeds or boning added for extra stiffness, and then cut an identical inner lining and outer fabric shell. Because of scale I couldn't do much with the straps, it was just too fiddly to interline them and turn the edges under, so for the purposes of this reconstruction I am leaving them as just the raw top layer.

I'm pretty happy with the fit. If the mannequin was smaller or softer chested then the top of the bodice would not sit out quite so proud of the bust, but without any capability for compression in the mannequin then it will always sit out a little. I think the height of the front is good and not likely to cause any wardrobe malfunctions. Worn with a sheer partlet the effect would attractive and not at all scandalous.

Adding the kirtle. Click to enlarge.

I then sewed together the skirt, leaving the front seam unsewn, and I turned under the front edges to neaten. As Mathew Gnagy mentions in his reconstruction of a similar gown there is at least one extant example of the excess fabric behind the lower bodice front just being left there, or it could be trimmed away after the skirt is added to the bodice. By overlapping the top edges of the skirt front slightly and pinning them it place, it was actually pretty easy to establish an attractive opening in the kirtle front and then pin it to the bodice. It helps to have all the under layers of underskirt, farthingale and overskirt on your dummy so that you can arrange the hang of the skirt nicely.

Cartridge pleating and adding the skirt. Click to enlarge.

Once the skirt front is attached it's then an easy matter to cartridge pleat the remainder of the skirt on each side and sew it to the bodice side and back. (There is a nice cartridge pleating tutorial here.) If I was creating this as a full sized garment I would probably also insert a placket behind the bodice centre back opening and the skirt opening so that a neat finish is achieved when the centre back is laced closed.

Finished low cut bodice and kirtle. Click to enlarge.

I'm very pleased with the end result. In part because this is the first project that feels more like a complete outfit I think.

Bodice front detail. Click to enlarge.

I would like the straps to be thinner and neater, but at the scale I am working at that just wasn't doable (they are less than 1cm wide at this scale, or about 1/3 of an inch). I think they prove the theory behind the acute front curve on the straps though.

Armhole and strap detail. Click to enlarge.

The strap curves quite nicely around the armhole. I think it would probably not be as load bearing as a strap that met the front bodice at a right angle, but the interlining, boning and firm lacing of the bodice would make it largely self-supporting I would think. There are no sleeves detailed or mentioned for this garment in Alcega, but the resulting armhole is pretty much a standard armhole shape (although raised a little) so I don't think drafting a sleeve for this would be too onerous if one wanted to add them.

Bodice and kirtle side view. Click to enlarge.

I think the back height of the bodice is pretty good. The back seam is a straight edge that is cut along the selvedge, so does not allow for any curvature to follow the spine. You can see in the side view that it sits a tiny bit proud from the upper back of the mannequin. Any higher and it would sit out even further, as the upper back curves forward. On a real human being with real human shoulder blades it would probably not sit out much at all, but I would certainly not take it any higher and I think it would pay to watch this fit if you were drafting it as a full sized garment.

Kirtle and bodice back view. Click to enlarge.

In my head I planned to whip stitch the back seam together on the mannequin with a contrasting thread, so it would look a bit like lacing. However, problems with my hand at present meant I kind of ended up with what can only be described as Fraken-lacing. Sigh. Oh well, let's just pretend.

The back sits nicely across the shoulders, and the back strap placement gives quite a nice design line I think. Once again I cartridge pleated the skirt, and with the kirtle from the previous project underneath (also cartridge pleated) I think it creates a nice line across the hips and back. A small bumroll could be used to change the look further, but there are varying opinions on if/with what/when these were used. I think this would work nicely without, providing the correct underpinnings were used.

Idea for trimming the bodice and kirtle. Click to enlarge.

I think this gown has all sorts of potential for decoration. I mocked up just one idea for braid trim, but a solid coloured underskirt would also be lovely, perhaps in a rich damask. The bodice and kirtle could be a rich silk or velvet (although anything with a nap would require a different fabric layout). The bodice could be richly embroidered and beaded with pearls for a very high status look as in the portrait of Margaret of France, above. If this was to be worn as an intermediate layer under any of the over gowns coming up in future projects, I would avoid shoulder rolls or any bulky sleeve and shoulder treatments, if not then they would be lovely additions. A very versatile pattern I think!

Next I'll be attempting f.63 - the "Skirt and bodice of cloth with puffed sleeves", which judging by the pattern looks pretty dramatic. What's not to love about a long train and puffed sleeves, I ask you?

Also, if you have any feedback and agree/disagree/love to bits anything I've done so far then please drop me a comment. I'm doing this as a learning experience, so if you have any feedback I'm more than happy to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Some Frustrating News

Hi all. I got some bad news today, after a few weeks of having problems with numbness in my right hand I was diagnosed as having a combination of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and carpal tunnel syndrome. This relates to the amount of data entry and typing I do in my daytime work, but unfortunately it also means I will have to moderate the amount of time I spend at the keyboard after hours as well.

You might not even see any change here, because I generally write these entries as I construct the garments, and type a little bit each time I sit down to work at each garment over the space of a week or so. If the frequency of the reconstructions slow a little it's just because in the short term I might be slowing the pace of sewing and writing. I start physiotherapy immediately, so I'm hoping this will be taken care of fairly quickly.

Some happier news, my next project is about 90% done already so it should be up in the next few days.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Patterns: Progress So Far

Some of the patterns in Alcega's tailor's pattern book are very clearly identified by title as being for a man or a woman, although not all and not consistently. Generally the book seems divided largely into male patterns in the front and female in the back, but there are exceptions to this rule also. The book kicks off with a woman's doublet initially before a long section of men's and possibly unisex patterns. Some patterns that aren't identified by gender can be determined from a look at the pattern pieces, but others such as the cloaks and mantles are less obvious.

Here is my progress with the women's patterns so far, with some notes regarding repeats that I have skipped and the projects completed so far (or in progress) highlighted in red. With regards to the repeats that I have skipped, some of these are quite interesting because they use very different fabric and/or have unusual piecings to make up the garments, so I may come back and revisit some of these later as they might be interesting to explore. Time and enthusiasm permitting.

f.14 - "Silk doublet for a woman" [See Project #2]
f.14a - "Silk doublet for a woman, from open silk" (Repeat of f.14, with an alternate layout.)

~ Men's and various unisex patterns ~

f.55 - "Skirt of cloth for a woman" [See Project #3]
f.55a - "Skirt of a woman" (Repeat of f.55 but with slightly larger sizing and mention of nap of the fabric.)
f.56 - "A narrow skirt of cloth" (Repeat of f.55 using a slightly longer piece of fabric and less piecing.)
f.56a - "Skirt of silk for a woman" (Repeat of f.55 using longer and very narrow piece of silk fabric many piecings.)
f.57 - "Skirt of silk for a woman" (Repeat of f.55a using longer and very narrow piece of silk fabric many piecings, and the same length of skirt as f.55a.)
f.57a - "Child's kirtle of silk" (A child's sized version of f.58)
f.58 - "Kirtle of silk for a woman" [See Project #4]
f.58a - "Silk kirtle for a fat woman" (Repeat of f.58 using a longer piece of silk, and an alternate layout with larger waist and larger godets.)
f.59 - "Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk" (An alternate layout of f.59a, using slightly less fabric and with godet B made from 2 pieces.)
f.59a - "Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk" [In progress as Project #5]

~ More women's patterns, yet to be analysed and attempted ~  

f.67 - "Silk farthingale for a woman" [See Project #1]

~ More women's patterns, yet to be analysed and attempted ~  

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Project #4. F.58 - "Kirtle of silk for a woman"

This is my fourth project, an overskirt for a woman. 

The patterns for "vasquina" or kirtles as they are described in the book seem to fall into two categories, those with an accompanying bodice and those without. Of those that are a skirt only, such as this one, the variations are shown as a pattern for a child, several for a "fat woman" (as it states in the translation) and several variations to allow for wider fabrics. With the exception of the child's kirtle, the skirt lengths seem to be pretty much all the same, with some small variations in the fullness of the skirt depending on the fabric widths.

There is no narration in the translation as to whether this skirt is worn as an outer or intermediate layer. In portraiture of women wearing high status clothes there is often an outer layer worn over the doublet and skirt or bodice and skirt, usually with a front opening skirt that is frequently worn closed. The centre front seam of this skirt would mean that it could possibly have been sewn closed as an intermediate layer skirt (over the farthingale but under any form of over gown) or worn open.

Anna of Austria by Martin Kober. 

Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633), Infanta of Spain,
by Pourbus, Frans the Younger (workshop of)

This skirt requires a length of silk fabric 6 1/8 ells long x 2/3 ells wide , or 514.5cm (approx 16' 10 1/2") long x 56cm (approx 22") wide.

Some mathematics and dimensions
Alcega states that the fabric for this skirt is folded across ways rather than lengthways, resulting in pattern pieces that use the full width of the fabric, and therefore there is no centre front or centre back fold. The skirt front is cut on the left, and the skirt back is cut on the right. If damask or a fabric with a nap is to be used, the fabric should be laid so that the pattern and/or nap run in the same direction (presumably by cutting the fabric in half and rotating one half, rather than folding it).

The length of the skirt is given as "bm" or 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2"), which the same length as the farthingale in project #1, and pretty standard for most of the overskirts in the book. (This is fairly long, but as I discussed in previous posts I think most of the patterns in the book are intentionally fairly large in size to allow for maximum fabric usage required, as the book is primarily a guide for pattern layouts and fabric amounts required.) No mention of a finished waist size is given, and the pattern pieces are shown with a half waist front of "t" or 28cm (approx 11") and a half waist back of "m" or 42cm (approx 16 1/2"). This results in a waist of 140cm (approx 55"), so presumably the waist allows for gathers or pleats to reduce this to the wearer's actual waist size.

No specific dimensions are given for the godets A and B which are used to increase the skirt's fullness. However, the hem dimensions for the front and back pieces include the bottom width of the godets at the hemline and as we know the fabric width we can determine this dimension. The front hem is given as "sb" or 70cm (approx 27 1/2"), and as we know the fabric is 56cm wide that makes the bottom edge of godet A 14cm (approx 5 1/2"). The back hem is given as "b" or 84cm (approx 33"), making bottom edge of godet B 28cm (approx 11").

Developing the pattern
The pattern for this skirt is pretty straightforward. The only issue I noticed is that the angle of the godets are drawn slightly off from the angle of the pieces they are attached to. Not majorly so, but it would result in a slight change of angle in the bias edges during construction. The bottom edges of godets A and B are not cut to follow the curve of the edges they are attached to, but instead hang down a little below the hemline. This is the same issue I noticed with the godets in project #1, and it is quickly fixed during hemming.

Godets A and B rotated into position. Click to enlarge.

No mention is made in the translation of a waistband or any other other trimmings. There is enough straight grain fabric on the far left, centre and far right where the curves leave a little waste fabric to piece together several pieces to make a waistband. There is also no mention of how this skirt is pleated or gathered, but a quick survey of this type of skirt in portraits shows a very flat smooth front lying close along the farthingale front. As there is a deliberately large waist, this could only mean that the fullness is dealt with at the back of the skirt.

Putting it together
Similar to the previous pattern I reconstructed, this is a fairly simple sew.

The finished kirtle. Click to enlarge.

The first step is to attach godets A and B to their respective front and back pieces. If the skirt is to be worn as an intermediate layer as I am constructing it here, the front seam is then sewn closed and the back seam needs to be left open at the top enough to be able to slide the skirt up over the hips once it is attached to a waistband. (Conversely, if the front is to be left open, then the centre back seam can be fully closed and the waistband opening moved to the front instead.)

Side, showing shape and location of the godets. Click to enlarge.

I had cut my pieces to the exact dimensions of the pattern, resulting in a little bit of curving side seam weirdness from the small change in angles of the godets. Not dramatically so, but if I was creating this at full scale I would either amend the angles of the godets as much as possible, or trim the pieces straight after the godets were attached. You would lose a small amount of fullness but only a little.

The cartridge pleated back of the skirt. Click to enlarge.

Once the main construction seams were all closed I made up a finished waistband, and turned the seam allowance of the skirt waist to the wrong side and tacked it under. I had measured the front of the skirt flat across from hip to hip and discovered that there was still a large amount of fullness to be incorporated into the back of the waistband, so I decided to cartridge pleat the back of the skirt. The easiest way to deal with cartridge pleats is to finish the edge, gather the fabric into regular folds with a gathering thread, and then oversew the edge to the finished waistband.

Cartridge pleating on a tiny (and slightly insane) scale. Click to enlarge.

I started the cartridge pleats at the side, but you'll notice how the first pleat or two pull forward towards the front. If I was remaking this, or making a full scale version, I would experiment with starting the cartridge pleats a little further forward and see if this eliminated this pulling. The important thing is to preserve the flat front, and to allow any doublet, jerkin or other over garment to sit flat over the front of the skirt.

One suggestion for trimming with braid. Click to enlarge.

In all of the pictures above I dressed the mannequin with the underskirt I made in Project #3 first, then the farthingale I made in Project #1 before placing this kirtle over the top. This could make an attractive middle class outfit in combination with the doublet in Project #2, perhaps done in a silk, linen, wool or velvet. Made up in a rich fabric, perhaps a damask, with heavy braid trim, this would make a lovely underskirt to be worn over an open gown or second open fronted skirt.

Next up we are still in the land of the kirtle, but this time it gets a little more interesting with the addition of a bodice in the "Kirtle and low-cut bodice of cloth rash for a woman". There are a number of kirtle and low cut bodice combinations in the book, but I've picked the "cloth rash" layout because it is unusual and interesting.

UPDATE: Oops, on closer inspection the dimensions of the "cloth rash" version are a little different, shorter skirt and much wider waist. So in order to use the underpinning I already have, I've decided to go with one of the other alternate layouts, F.59a "Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk". It is essentially the same garment though.