HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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A gown fit for a queen

You know when you are browsing fabrics, looking for something practical and discreet to make a working garment with? Yeah, that didn’t go as planned here…

I fell in love with this silk brocade and bought several meters of it during Double Wars. I had no plan at the moment, but it was lovely and the pattern a replica from the 15th century, so I figured I would find it useful. However, it took a couple of years to come around to cutting the fabric and making it into this gown:

15th century silk brocade dress
buying the fabric

Research:

I collected some examples of dresses that I liked that would fit the time period, social status and use for this fabric. This one is a favourite, painted by Pedro Berruguete around 1485, but I already made a tight fitted one when I made my velvet overgrown for the wedding, so I opted for a looser style now.

The weave, material and pattern of the fabric place this project at the top of the social structure in 15th century Europe, something to be worn by royalty. Brocades are most often seen as outer garments, with wide panels and a loose fit (the better to be taken apart and remade for the next wearer?) Here’s my pinterest board with examples. This fits my fabric well, since it is quite stiff, with a dramatic drape.

The model is best described as an overdress or houppelande, with narrow S-sleeves. The panels starts to get wider below the armhole, and adds as much volume as possible to the hem. The neckline is cut in a V-shape and slightly rounded in the back. I made the back panels longer to get a train and cut the middle front straight and floor-length to be able to walk in it without tripping over the hem.

Working with brocade fabric:

When making silk brocade garments for yourself, remember that you need more seam allowance than you use when sewing in wool or linen. First, the fabric will often shred and loose threads everywhere, and second, the brocade is often stiff and does not give any flexibility when worn. I calculated 1 cm extra seam allowance (2,5 cm instead of 1,5 cm) and another 2-4 % of the total measure for movement (if your pattern is 100 cm around the bust, the total will be 102-104 cm + seam allowance).

I do not wash silk brocades before sewing, instead, I steam them with an iron. This will lose the weaving tension without altering the fabric appearance overly much.

When drafting the pattern pieces, remember to adjust them to the fabrics pattern and right/wrong side. This means that if you want to use your fabric wisely, half the dress will have the pattern running in the ”wrong” direction. On my dress, the pattern is ”upside down” on the back panels, and the right way in the front. The fronts are not matched pattern-wise but cut out to maximize the use of the fabric. To the modern eye, this might feel wrong, but never mind modern ideals! Also, piecing in the skirt or sleeves does not have to follow the pattern direction, just use what scraps you have.

zigzag your edges after cutting

After cutting your fabric pieces, I recommend zigzagging or overlocking the edges on your sewing machine, even if you are about to hand sew your garment and will have to rip away the threads while you work. This will prevent the seam allowance to disappear before you have even finished sewing the pieces together.

For hand sewing, silk thread and running stitches or backstitching will do fine. Try pinning only in the seam allowances to avoid damage to the fabric, or use small clamps instead of pins. I also like to bast; here is the sleeve sewn into the armhole with a linen basting thread, before backstitching it with silk thread.

brocade sleeve inserted to armhole

If you prefer to sew your garment on a machine, use a silk thread and a little longer stitches than normal, to allow for a good looking seam. You might want to adjust the thread tension a bit- try on some scraps first!

I press all my seams while working (with steam and a cloth), to make them tidy and easier to sew down. If you don’t want to fell the seams, leave a zigzag or overlock on the inside. If you prefer to fell the seams, use silk thread and try to press and fold the seam allowance as tight as possible for a nice finish. The hem is also pressed and folded over twice before I whip stitch it in place.

The gown, before the finishing pressing with steam. Notice that the sleeves pulls a bit toward the back? The seam is a bit on the tight side, I should have used looser stitches when closing the sleeve. Now I had to adjust it with a good steam and press to reset the shape. Never underestimate steam!

trying the dress on a mannequin
the back of the gown after pressing, the train turned out great!

I have yet to wear the dress to an event, and I am really looking forward to it. This type of dress needs to be paired with nerdy headwear, sparkly jewellery and a great party!

Update summer 2022: I finally took the gown out during Skellefteå Medeltidsdagar! I actually packed it early in the season, but the weather was so rainy and muddy I didn’t want to wear (and ruin) the dress until July. It really turned out great, and was really comfortable to wear during the party.

first time wearing the gown!


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Loose sleeves with ribbons- a tutorial

More sleeves! If you have checked my “Pin on sleeves” tutorial, you will find some likeness with this garment, but I wanted to some nice tips when doing these ones. First some inspiration:

I started by drafting the sleeves from the pin-on pattern; the same as I used for my golden sleeves below (laying under them, you can see my original sleeve pattern for comparison)

First, I have tried out two kinds of sleeves that are tied at the arms; my wedding dress and lately, my 15th century Italian silk dress. The difference between these two sleeves is that my wedding dress is just opened at the seam in the arm and then closes with strings, while my green/black sleeves are cut out to make the chemise even more visible. Also, the green sleeves are tied at the shoulders and therefore loose; I can change them for others at any time. The wedding dress is sewn together, the sleeves sewn after the sleeve tutorial I have on my blog.

Here you can see the wedding dress, the sleeves are quite straight, and the chemise is puffing out between the laces. When making these sleeves, you just sew a regular S-sleeve but leave it open above the elbow. Hem the edges, and make lacing holes and sew on laces on the edges. These ends with a pearl decorated cuff, but a regular sleeve will do fine.

The green sleeves look like this when cut out:

I started with my basic loose sleeve pattern in scrap fabric, pinned it on my arm and tried out where the gaps with chemise sleeves visible should be, then I cut away the excess fabric, and here you can see the result. The sleeves are in pure silk fabric, and I wanted to make them reversible to be able to choose between green or black ones for my dress. So I cut out two identical pieces of fabric for each arm, here you can see the black sides. Remember to make them mirrored, one for each arm.

I then pinned the fabrics together and marked out where the ties were going to be. Here you can see both layers of fabric.

I decided to sew them on the sewing machine since they are going to be turned inside out afterwards, so the seams would not be visible. But if you like; just follow the steps but sew them with runningstitches or backstitches instead.

To make it easier; sew the ribbons at the same time as you sew the sleeves together. I cut out the silk ribbons (40-50 cm each) and then pinned them by the seam allowance around the sleeves, on the inside between the two fabrics.

And sew around the sleeves. Leave an opening for turning them; I left the wrist open. Here you can see the silk ribbons in the seam allowance, just make sure they don’t slip away or get under a seam when sewing.

All done! Trim the edges by cutting away tips and seam allowances at the corners, turn the sleeves inside out and iron them flat. Since I want them to be reversible, I will make sure the two layers of silk fabric lays smooth and even edge to edge around the garment so the black won’t be visible when turning the green out, and vice versa.

Now it is time for some hand sewing; start by making lacing holes for the ribbons. I make them with a sharp awl, and whipstitch them with buttonhole silk thread.

After that, fold the fabric edges at the wrist to the inside of the sleeves, and sew that side closed with small whipstitches by the edges. If you use fake silk ribbons, you may burn the edges carefully to make them melt and not thread. If using pure silk, you will have to sew the edges or finish them in some kind of way. I folded mine twice and sewed them down with whip stitches and a thin silk thread (for sewing machines). This part took the most time on the sleeves, with the making of the sleeves on around two hours and the ribbon hemming around 2,5 hours. I failed to photograph this part, apparently, there was some movie time on the sofa instead. But this is what it looks like when done:

The silk ribbon has two lengths and these are pulled through the hole and then knotted. Either a simple knotted loop like this or a regular bow can be seen on art. At the shoulders, the sleeves are attached to the dress by similar holes and ribbons, three on each shoulder.

And finally, some good advice when making silk sleeves:

  • Silk often needs to be lined to get that really good look, chose a thin fabric in silk, cotton or linen or a mix of these to get a historical lining which also works great.
  • Silk is not a stretchy material, so make your silk sleeves a bit larger than your woollen ones.
  • Try them on while working to be sure you get the look you want.
  • Straight sleeves lay more flatly on your arm (white dress), while cut out sleeves gives more volume, pick the model that fits your project.