Saturday, 23 August 2014

Project #7. F.64a - "Laced mourning coat of cloth for a woman"

For project 7 I'm tackling a gown which has many stylistic similarities to the bodice and skirt of Project #6, with the exception of a 'sack' back. The back is cut all as one with the train, instead of a separate doublet back and skirt. (In the translation in the book they title it a "coat", but I refer to it as a gown. Potato, potato.)

There are two variations in the book, one cut from the wide 'cloth' similar to Project #6 and another version (f.65) cut from the narrow silk fabric seen in the layouts of some of the other projects. I'll be using the pattern layout from f.64a (the wider fabric), however the text for this pattern layout is very brief so I'll be augmenting that with some of the expanded instructions from f.65. For example the text for f.65 explains the use either a full false bodice back cut from another fabric, or part bodice back (side strips) that can be set into the side seams and laced across the back in order to make the bodice front lie close to the body.

Alcega states that this pattern requires a piece of cloth 4 1/3 ells long x 2 ells wide, or 364cm (approx 11' 11") long x 168cm (approx 5' 6") wide. The fabric is folded in half lengthways, with the fold at the bottom of the diagram.

Some mathematics and dimensions
Many components of this gown are identical to the previous project, the "Skirt and bodice of cloth with puffed sleeves", with the exception of the gown back. The skirt front, bodice front and sleeves are identical in size and shape, so that is a big yay! from me because it means I can reuse some of the work I have done previously. (And apologies if any of the following seems repetitive.)

The piecings are a little different however, on account of the different fabric layout. There is no mention of nap in the fabric layout, but I think it's worth noticing that like the same width of fabric in the previous project all of the pattern pieces are lying in the same direction, as if the nap is running from right to left. The skirt front and gown back are cut along the fold, and the gown back is shaped to allow for the curvature of the upper back.

The skirt:
The front of the skirt (on the left in the pattern) is the same dimensions as the skirt front in Project #6, "bm" or 126cm (approx 4' 1 1/2") long, with a waist of "t" or 28cm (approx 11") and a bottom hem of "b", 1 full ell width or 84cm (approx 33"), without any godets. The back of the skirt is formed by the lower part of the gown back and train.

The bodice and gown back:
The bodice front is identical in dimensions and shape to the doublet from Project #6 and very similar to the doublet size and shape from Project #2. The bodice front is shown as "QQQ" or 63cm (approx 2' 1") long, the side seam is "Q" or 21cm long (approx 8 1/4"), and both the shoulder seam and the front neck opening are shown as "s" or 14cm (approx 5 1/2"). Unlike the previous project, this bodice includes a collar and it is made up of four pieces, two front "s" sized pieces and two back "o" sized pieces. Unlike the doublet in Project #2 the collar back is not cut as one with the back of the gown.

The gown back shoulder is also shown as "s", while the back of the neck opening is unlabelled but is presumably "o" or 10.5cm (just over 4"), which is the same as the back collar piece and other doublets in the book. The length of the centre back of the gown back is "bbm" or 2 1/2 ells, 210cm (approx 6' 10 3/4"). There is no specific length given for the side seam including godet A, but the length from the shoulder seam to hem must be equivalent to the length of the bodice from shoulder to waist plus the length of the skirt front side seam from waist to hem. In other words "Q" + "bm", or around 147cm (just under 4' 10"). There is no specific measurement given for the arm hole, but as in the previous projects it can't be larger than the sleeve head or the sleeve will not fit.

The sleeves:
The sleeve has a very distinctive shape, with a large curving back seam and a shallow curved sleeve head. The sleeve head is not labelled (but is most likely "m" or 42cm (approx 16 1/2") as per the same shaped sleeve in other pattern layouts). The sleeve length is "sb" or 70cm (approx 27 1/2") long. The wrist opening is shown as "t" or 28cm (approx 11"). The layout in both f.64a and f.65 requires a fairly large piecing in one side of the sleeve back, which is marked as B in the layout.

Developing the pattern
This was a comparatively easy draft as I could trace pieces from previous projects for all but the gown back. For more detail on drafting the bodice front and front collar piece please have a look at Project #2 the "Silk doublet for a woman", and for more detail on drafting the skirt front and sleeves please have a look at Project #6 the "Skirt and bodice of cloth with puffed sleeves". The back collar piece was simple to draft, the bottom edge is the same dimensions as the neckline back, "o" or 10.5cm (just over 4") and the height is the same as the back edge of the front collar piece. (The height of the collar is never given, so presumably that's a matter of the wearer's taste and/or neck height.) I then sliced along the sleeve to form the piece B required for this layout and I was done with all except the gown back.

Rotating the back piece.
For the gown back I used the doublet back from Project #2 and first placed it on the centre back line so that the top half of it was angled upwards sightly, to create the slightly curved upper back. I then traced around this shape and extended the centre back line down to the centre back hem. I then pivoted the doublet back on the outer shoulder point so that the underarm side seam matched the angled side seam of the gown back, and extended this out to the edge of the pattern piece. It was then fairly simple to grab another scrap of paper and continue the hem curve and side seam out to form godet piece A. I then double checked that the side seam including godet was equal to the length of the doublet back and the length of the skirt front side seam. A bit fiddly but helped by having these other pattern pieces I could lay out on the paper and rotate into place.

It's worth noting that in Alcega's layout godet A is actually flipped over, so if you were making this in a fabric with a right and wrong side (such as a fabric with a nap) you would need to swap the godet pieces between the pieces cut on the top and the underside of the folded fabric, so that you had right sides and correct nap direction.

Putting it all together
Before I put the gown together I went looking for as many portraits from the period as I could find, and actually struggled to find any that appear to show this exact sack back style of gown. If they exits, and I'm sure they do, I sadly couldn't find any. (Google-fu fail.)

I was especially keen to see if I could find alternative sleeve treatments to the one I used in Project #6, such as the front slashed open from armhole to cuff for example. Sadly I couldn't find any portraits that showed that style of opening in this style of sleeve, only in larger hanging sleeves of a different shape. (Please let me know if anyone finds a portrait that contradicts this!)

Infanta Isabella of Spain, showing 2 curved sleeves and one large open fronted hanging sleeve.

Margaret of Austria, another horizontal front opening sleeve.

So, the same style of horizontal opening it is then.

Sleeve piecing detail. Click to enlarge.

As with all the projects so far the first step was to add the piecings to make up the main pattern pieces. Once I had added the sleeve pieces B, and the back godet pieces A, I then dealt with the curve of the upper back.

The back of the gown is cut on the fold, and there seems no evidence or reason to believe that this fold is then cut open to create a seam. (That would create an ugly seam running down the centre of the train, just for starters.) In modern sewing we would use a slightly curving dart to create this upper back curve on a piece that doesn't have a centre back seam, but darts in this period are a pretty contentious issue. There seems very little evidence that darts were understood and commonly used to shape fabric around the body as we use them today, and when something resembling a dart turns up in period clothing it's always cause for much discussion. I would conjecture that this back curve was probably cut out while the fabric was still folded, and then closed up with a small seam allowance. Because I am working in such a small scale I had to use a dart however, there just wasn't enough fabric at this scale to take any sort of seam allowance.

I sliced open the fold of the front skirt piece to create the centre front opening and turned back a small seam allowance to neaten. After a bit of pinning on the mannequin, I decided the easiest way to deal with the front of the gown would be to sew together each bodice front and skirt piece, so then I could assemble to main body of the gown by sewing a long seam from under the armpit all the way down to the hem.

Gown front, comprising bodice and skirt pieces. Click to enlarge. 

The skirt front is not shaped to allow for the curve of the low pointed bodice front, so it is assembled by overlapping the bodice on the skirt. So I finished the front and bottom edges of the doublet by turning under the seam allowances before adding the skirt front. I pinned the waist of the skirt to follow the line of the bottom edges of the bodice at the sides sides, and then allowed the front of the doublet to overlap.

Inside detail of the gown front. Click to enlarge.

A bit clunky to explain, so hopefully this inside view will give you the idea. If you were making this up full sized you could mark a line around the bottom of the bodice and trim the skirt front down to a seam allowance and attach, but there is precedent in period for this skirt excess just being left behind the doublet front.

Checking the fit. Click to enlarge.

I then closed the long seam from under the armpit all the way down to the hem, and pinned it on the mannequin without the sleeves or collar to check the basic fit. The bodice will have lacing strips added inside so that it can be laced across the back, so I pinned the bodice to conform to the mannequin's shape and you can see the shape of the "sack back" starting to take shape, which is the main feature of this gown.

It was then fairly straightforward to add the collar and sleeves. The collar is made up up of 4 pieces, 2 back and 2 front, and has an outward flaring shape. Once I had sewn the 4 pieces together I matched the seam lines to the centre back and 2 shoulder seams, and eased the straight edge of the bottom of the collar around the neck curve. I inset the sleeves in the same manner as the previous project, taking care to make sure the piecing was on the inside of the arm where it was less obtrusive.

Inside back lacing detail. Click to enlarge.

One of the more unusual details of this gown is the back lacing inside the gown to create the sack back, and still allow the bodice front to sit nice and snug. There is a more fulsome description in the next gown in the book, f.65 the "Laced morning coat of silk for a woman". According to the translation in the book, Alcega states that false bodice pieces can be sewn to the side seamlines of the bodice front and fastened at the back, which would make the bodice front fit tightly like a real bodice. Alternately, an entire false bodice back can be made from another fabric.

I made two doubled fabric strips that were fairly wide, but less than half the back width, and the length of the bodice seam from armpit to where the skirt joined the bodice. I sewed these to the seam allowances inside the gown. I then used a strong thread to mock up some lacing.

Laced back interior detail. Click to enlarge.

Once the gown was on the mannequin and I had temporarily whipstitched closed the bodice front (in lieu of teeny tiny buttons), it was fairly easy to lift the back of the gown and draw up the lacing until the bodice had a nice snug fit. In the photo above you can see the lacing pulled tight, and the garments underneath are the underskirt, farthingale, kirtle and doublet I made in previous projects. I like the adjustable nature of this back lacing rather than inserting another false back, once laced initially it would only need minor adjusting when the gown was worn, and it would ensure a perfect fit every time.

Bodice side and underarm detail. Click to enlarge.

The bodice sits beautifully across the torso and then becomes the volume of the back. A lovely effect.

Gown front, with skirt shown open. Click to enlarge.

The end result is lovely. From the front it looks very much like Project #6 with the addition of the collar and a slimmer fit over the hips due to the absence of a cartridge pleated skirt.

Gown back. Click to enlarge.

The back is quite dramatic however, with the volume of the sack back and train. In this pic you can see the upper back seam also, and the red line under the sleeve is the piecing used to make up the full sized sleeve.

Sack back and train, with skirt godet shown. Click to enlarge.

Eleganza! I think this is a lovely gown. Imagine sweeping into a Court wearing this little number in a silk, damask or beautiful rich velvet. You can see from the images at the top of this post that garments similar to this would be highly decorated with braid, tabs, embroidery, pinking and slashing, decorative buttons... you name it. Not the sort of garment that would call for too much restraint. Unless of course you really were in mourning?...then who can say what would have been considered appropriate.


  1. How lovely! I mainly make 18th Century clothes and the same false bodice back are used to keep the bodice of a robe a la francaise close to the body. I had no idea that it was used earlier and I think it is enormously interesting!

  2. Thanks for your comment Isis! I love the style of the gown you mentioned although I haven't really explored it's construction as I have normally stuck within a pre 1600 framework with my costuming and research. I agree, it's interesting to see this technique used so early!

  3. Un trabajo magnífico nuevamente. ¡Enhorabuena!

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  5. Could these have a "sack back"?