Honey is going away to Hooke Court on a school trip, as part of her studies of the Tudors. They will be having a tudor banquet at some point (no larks heads or stuffed swans, I hope) and have been asked to attend in full tudor dress.
Never one to miss an opportunity to play at costume making, I offered to make her tudor outfit for her … we had great fun researching tudor dress, and despite my best efforts to steer her towards the simpler peasant and servant dresses, she fell in love with this picture of the young Princess Elizabeth:
Reading up on the detail of how these dresses were put together on the Elizabethan Costume Pages was a little daunting – these are not single pieces, rather multiple layers, and without the benefits of zips, buttons and lycra, they needed help to get themselves dressed (hence tiring women and gentlemen of the chamber). This presented a challenge – Honey’s costume needed to look authentic, but had to be practical so she can actually get into it herself, and not so heavy and cumbersome that she can’t move around easily into it.
To understand the structure of the garments I borrowed “The Evolution of Fashion: Pattern and Cut From 1066 to 1930” from the local library – an incredibly useful reference, that I’ve got on my amazon wishlist now …. again, the complexity was a bit daunting, but it gave my some useful insights into how to put the thing together.
So, having done the initial deliberations and got to the point where I understood how to put the thing together, I needed to get fabric!
Charity shops were my first port of call … I had in my head that if I could find a good thick pair of velvet or brocade curtains (or other fabric), then that’d be my best bet … as it turned out, the only curtains even vaguely suitable were pale green dupion silk, and to be honest I just felt it wouldn’t be right to cut into them because they were in such perfect condition (and, of course, that silk wasn’t contemporary to the period).
Instead, I rummaged through the clothing racks, and found a white gypsy-style shirt, a black bustier (size 8), a purple crushed-velvet dress and a gold-crochet smock top … possibilities started to open up! I made her a Narnia costume earlier in the year, and it occurred to me I could use the skirt from that as the underskirt for the princess costume … the colours weren’t exact, but helpful folks on forward motion and wardrobe refashion mentioned that there was a certain amount of mix-and-match in dressing so I figured that would be OK.
In the end I made the costume in three parts – mostly so Honey could get into it herself.
The underskirt … initially I stiffened it (seeing a skirt stand up by itself is an amazing sight!) but Honey complained it was too scratchy and uncomfortable so I washed out the stiffening solution and left it as was. For the same reason, I ruled out bum-rolls, farthingales, hoops and multiple petticoats, andI looked a little earlier in the period where the costume was slightly more fluid, closer to medieval dresses but still recognisably tudor. I decided to use the gold crochet as the forepart and as decoration on the top half of the “french gown” element of the dress, so I unpicked the back and sewed it onto the front of the underskirt – to minimise the amount of work Honey would need to do.
The bodice – I turned the black bustier I found upside-down and back-to-front, so that Honey could zip it closed herself. I dyed the gypsy-shirt a burnt orange colour, and fixed the bustier over it (trimming away the excess fabric underneath), and then slipped the gold crochet front-and-sleeves over it, and sewed it in place, shaping the neck square as I went.
The third and final piece was the ‘french gown’ itself – for that I simply slit the purple crushed velvet dress up the front, and took a panel out of the bodice. I opted for a buttonhole fastening – non-authentic, but Honey-friendly, with a big, ornamented button that looked the part, and then finished it with a string of beads … after I’d hooked a cheapo stash crucifix onto it.
And then … the headdress. Ulp. Actually, not so horrendous. I started with a plain alice band – I cut a piece of stiff card and covered it in the purple velvet off-cuts from the dress, and made a snood out of an old bit of glittery black lycra … and then an old diamante necklace provided the required bling on the headdress itself.
Come the try-on, and Honey was thrilled! We’d been through an element of “having a homemade costume is embarrassing” (but she didn’t want me to buy one for her) which I found terrible confusing … but she’s really happy with what I’ve made. I made her a skirt before Christmas, and off the back of that (she wore it for the Christmas party) her teacher has been looking forward to seeing the tudor outfit (no pressure, then 😉 ). Hopefully, though, it will all go well and everyone will be happy.
What do you think?
And a close-up:
Phew! I enjoyed the process …. and of course I’ll get to do it all over again in a couple of years time when it’s Rumpus’ turn to go through the tudor experience – a male costume should, I hope, be much easier. I wonder if I can persuade him that cardinal wolsey is a good look?