Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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The Medieval Wedding Dress- the velvet gown

This is the final layer I made for my wedding outfit, it is a silk velvet dress inspired by the late 15th century over dresses. The gown is open at the front to allow for easy undressing, and to show more of the white dress underneath. This can be seen in paintings, though a closed gown would have been more common.

This was one of the most difficult garments I have ever made. The fabric is a silk velvet, sensitive, very thin and extremely flimsy; I so understand why silk velvet has been replaced by synthetic alternatives on the market (and it is not just a matter of price). The gown is fully lined with silk dupioni for support and look, and has linings in black silk taffeta and on the bottom, the same black high quality wool as in my love’s joined hose. I opted for the golden coloured silk because it did so well under the velvet, and made the velvet shine even more. if using a transparent velvet; try out different shades of lining fabric to find the one that gives you the look you want.

The gown closes with a small hook and eye at the waist, and then this belt is added. The bronze buckle and strap end is made after a painting from the period, and can be seen on houppelandes and similar overdresses from the period.

Working with the fabric. Here you can see the silk lining being laid out at the velvet to act as a pattern piece. The velvet was very sensitive, so pinning was only an option in seam allowances.

The fabric being so thin and flimsy, pinning it to the sturdier silk lining was a good help for cutting, basting and sewing. I treated the two layers as if they were one when sewing, making the seam allowances visible on the inside of the dress. Since the velvet is transparent where the pattern is, it was not an option to have the seams between the both fabric layers.

Front and back pieces of the body being laid out. With a patterned fabric, you might want to consider where to put your pieces, and in what direction. I let the two front pieces have the pattern laid out in the same direction, and then turned the back piece upside down, since the skirt would have the pattern visible in the same direction at the back of the gown. The two fronts doesn’t have to be similar in pattern, all contemporary art depicts uneven patterns on the front of dresses.

You may also note that the front lining pieces have the selvage running along the openings, since the velvet was stretchy, and silk stretch when cut on bias, I laid the pieces out diagonally on the silk fabric to have a non stretchy front, and instead add some flexibility across the body. This way, there is some small movement allowed over the rib cage, while the front lays flat against the body.

I sewed the gown together on the overlock machine, this was one of my best choices ever since the seam both helped with protecting the seam allowance and allowed for some stretchiness in the skirt. After the gown was put together, I hang it on my doll to let the skirts fall out. Fabric cut circular like in this case always seems to hang out unevenly…

And yes it did! I ended up cutting away between 10-15 cm in some places, but only 2 in the areas running along the fabric length. I was quite nervous- cutting a little each time and allowing for the fabric to adjust. There was some massive pinning and measuring and swearing going on at this part and frankly, I just forgot to take pictures because I was so frustrated. Here you can see the velvet skirts hanging out, the silk lining behaving all nicely and staying in shape.

After this, I worked with the hems and inside seams by hand. All the seam allowances were folded down, basted to the lining and then covered by a strip of silk fabric, whip stitched down. No ironing though; velvet does not go along with pressing so the seams were just smoothed out by hand. The front opening and the sleeves were lined with black silk taffeta, the same as love’s doublet were edged with.

The bottom needed a little more heavy lining, and I wanted something that could take some more wear than silk so I chose a thin wool tabby weave. Here it is, laying on the floor.

One of the seams, seen from the outside when finished of. The whip stitches securing the strip inside is not visible on the outside velvet, neither is the machine seam that holds it together.

I am very pleased with the dress, I really plan on using it in the future on events. It was not easy to make, but hopefully some of my experience shared with you will make you want to try one for yourself if you wish!

 

 

 


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Sewing in velvet- a guide

Today I am sharing my best tips for making garments in velvet!

Velvet has a beautiful shine to it, with highlights rather than shadows. This can be seen in paintings, where the clothing is pictured with highlighted areas rather than darker folds. Like this; (though this may also be woolen cloth, but it goes for illustrating highlights in fabric)

  • The choise of material is important. On the market today, you can find different kinds of velvets, in both high and low quality. The original velvet fabric was made of silk, insanely expensive, and probably also sensitive for wear and washing. To buy a good silk velvet for your project is of course historically accurate, but also very expensive, and you will have a garment that is sensitive. But the look and shine of the fabric will be outstanding.
  • Cheating? For a silk velvet look, you could instead choose velvet made of viscose, rayon or a mix of synthetic fibres. This fabric is a lot cheaper, more durable, and is (depending on the quality and materials) close to how silk velvet looks. Avoid fabrics made of pure polyester, since these will be warm and uncomfortable to wear; a mix based of viscose is often the best. You could also go for cotton or cotton mixed velvet, the look is a bit more matte than silk velvet but black is quite close in appearance. The good thing with cotton velvet is that it is made of natural fibres so it is easy to wash, feels good to wear and is durable and fire safe (it will not melt on your other clothes if you are unlucky) as well as cheap. As an example; my wedding gown made of silk blended velvet costs 4 times more than a medium cotton velvet.
  • Ironing velvet fabric is often unnecessary, instead just hang it out. If you need to press seams or iron out stubborn folds, you need to iron the fabric on its wrong side, with a cotton cloth over and a bath towel underneath. This will protect the fabric, and the towelling (in swedish; frotté) fabric with its pile will act as a soft bottom so the velvet pile doesn’t get flat and pressed down. Iron gently, and always try it out on a spare bit first.
  • Hang it before hemming; to make the skirt hem as even as possible; hang the dress on a doll for a couple of days to let the fabric hang out, then pin/mark the hemline and cut it. The skirt on my velvet over dress is cut in a half circular piece (almost) making the fabric drape nicely, but also hanging out uneven in the hem. Look at this picture- this is the dress skirt before cutting the hem, it differs over 10 cm!
  • The pile is what makes the velvet special, and it is important to take care not to crush or flatten it out. When ironing; do so gently. When machine sewing, choose a foot/presser that is narrower, and loosen the pressure on the machine a bit if possible. Or sew the fabric together on an overlock machine or by hand. When cutting out your pieces, don’t step on or lean on the fabric, as this may crush the pile unevenly.
  • Baste- don’t pin! Silk velvet is quite sensitive, the pins might rip threads from the fabric so basting with loose stitches is a safer way to go. If sewing in other materials, it is still better to baste because the pile of the velvet, when put together with another fabric, tend to “walk” over the surface no matter how much you pin it.

A picture from our wedding day, the velvet dress looking all nice and innocent, not at all like me and the dress really hated each other while making it…


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Houppelande in velvet and silk

This was a very spontaneous project with no customer commissioning it, and not for my own wardrobe either. I just wanted to try out how the velvet would work in a full circular houppelande (late medieval over dress) and experiment a bit with pattern construction, seam techniques and silk fabric. I am actually very satisfied with the result; for a cotton velvet the fabric is in a nice quality and with a good drape, the pattern turned out very well, and the silk lining in the sleeves add that extra touch I wanted.

The materials in the dress is cotton velvet (black) viscose/rayon velvet (moss-green) and silk (sleeve lining) with a total of about ten meters for the whole dress. The cotton velvet is really affordable comparing to silk velvet, and is very easily maintained; I actually just put it in a washing machine, air dried it and it came out as new; no shrinkage, no creasing and no sad silk velvet after water washing… If you want to learn more about velvet fabrics, I have a guide about the subject under “tutorials”.

I finished the dress during our brewer’s guild meeting in early December, and would usually iron the silk lining first before wearing it, but it was such a good opportunity to take good photos in gear so the sleeve lining is a bit bulky still. But soon to be fixed!

The skirts are really full; the pattern is based on a circle and the houppelande is also called a full circular houppelande. Lots and lots of fabric.

I have some tutorials about making your own houppelande if you are interested (and also makes them on order by your measures). To make them dramatic, historical and with this massive draping of skirts, it does take more meters of fabric and patience than difficult sewing techniques…

I fell in love with the colour combo of black, moss-green and bright grass-green in the dress. Under is my late 14th century dress, going historical there shouldn’t be a visible lacing underneath this kind of over dress. The gloves are also modern, but was so very nice to avoid freezing my fingers of.