As some of you may know I'm working on a new sewing proect for some weeks: my first Tudor gown! I've always been in love with that period of English history and - of course - I love the dresses worn by women as Anne Boleyn or Jane Seymour (the style under Elizabeth I is quite different and is known as "Elizabethian"). I was planning to sew a dress like that from last year but I didn't feel good enough to start it and so I postponed this shopping. After a year I felt ready and I bought the famous pattern by Simplicity (and I've been lucky because it has been announced discontinued in March 2014!). While I was waiting for it I started to do a little bit of historical research about the real Tudor dresses and I discovered something really interesting: Tudor women wore skirts with a long train and a hoopskirt (the variation of the spanish farthingale brought in Englad by Catherine of Aragon) and - this was really surprising! - without pleats. If you look at period paintings you'll notice there are almost no pleats on their skirts so this is a big difference if compared to the pattern which requires cartridge pleating (cartridge pleating is when small pleats have to be stitched on a very thiny bodice - it's a long process to be done by hand exclusively).
I didn't have enough money to buy the huge amount of fabric for the overdress (8 metres!!) and so I started working on the underskirt and the foresleeves. Tudor ladies wore a multi layered outfit, from the white underdress to the final overdress, which was rich and extremely decorated for the court ladies; it's really important to wear the right undergarments with this kind of costume, so don't forget your chemise, your corset, your hoopskirt and at least one underskirt. I'll wear a black pleated satin skirt over my hoopskirt which won't be visibile once the dress will be finished: the central panel has to be worn as a small apron tied on your waist by a band and this fabric has often to match with the foresleeves.
What are foresleeves? This is the most difficoult step I met during my research. Finding a good tutorial about them has been really hard. Foresleeves are a sort of fake sleeves, often rich and decorated with pearls or buttons, which were tied to the main sleeves and could be changed when women wanted to. This is supposed to be due to the hot weather during summer or to simple fashionable reasons. Women could change their sleeves when they want and they can have several pairs. Don't be afraid when you'll look at pattern instructions: foresleeves HAVE to be big! The best result will be achieved with a lot of white lining pulled through the side and central openings, like in italian renaissance period dresses.
So I started working on the foresleeves and I've been immediately surprised by their size. They're really big and wide, I think I'll made them a little bit smaller in the next costumes because I feel them quite uncomfortable. After cutting the pattern and the fabric I cut the central stashes and I decided to trim them with some burgundy crushed velvet I had at home. It's not period at all but making an historical accurate garment is not my actual aim. Only this process took me a week only, I didn't have enough time and stashes have been really hard to be stitched.
Now I can say I've a new friend: bias tape. I never used it before and I was really surprised by the price (0.30€ at metre! Lovely!) and the huge amount of things you can do with it. It's surely better than the classic satin ribbons which can be ugly to see on the corners. Bias tape is perfect for trimming raw edges and corners, try it and you'll love it! You just have to take a moment to understand how to sew it: there are fast and simple techniques but a little training may be required. After learning how to sew it I trimmed the edges of my foresleeves and then started to search for a lining. Ok, I know. Lining should be stitched before the trim, but at first I didn't want it. Then I remembered to have some white cotton at home and I was pleased to discover it was enough for my lining. Unfortunately it doesn't come out from the stashes as I wanted/expected so I've learned something new for the future: cut your lining bigger than your sleeve, otherwhise your fabric won't be fluffy. Shame on me. I love how they turned out, the white lining gave a completely different look to my foresleeves! Then I sewed some ornamental buttons to keep sides closed and I LOVE, totally LOVE how they came out.
|The easiest way to stitch bias tape.|
|The pinned lining.|
Now the final touch: the ribbons. Foresleeves were tied with ribbons inside the dress to the main sleeve (the upper one) and so explains the rigid posture of Tudor court ladies.
Actually I'm waiting for my fabrics to come so I cannot explain you how to finish your overdress. I hope you've found this part interesting enough and feel free to contact me for any question!