The Lady Adventurer

Costuming shenanigans

An Experimental Kirtle

So, I’ve started to get bored of my current garb again.  This time, though, I decided to try something a little different – a petticoat with attached bodies.  I’ve heard plenty of references to this sort of garment – essentially, a kirtle with enough support to be worn without bodies (in other words, no corset!)  I’ve actually worn my blue linen dress without a corset before, with surprising success.

Fair Oaks Astronomy

Blue dress worn without corset (During an astronomy lesson. I am Earth. At the center. Naturally.)

It was very comfortable, especially in the heat, and was sufficiently supportive for dancing and running around.  But unless I stood with perfect posture (which in this picture you can see that I am not…) the dress wrinkled under the bust.  And while this is not un-period, it is also not particularly attractive either.

I read, a while back, a selection of wills written by Elizabethans from all walks of life.  They’re particularly interesting, because many if not most of them talk about clothes, as even aprons were something that got handed down.  One of the things that comes up fairly frequently in the wills are red petticoats.  Now, at faire, we’re encouraged not to wear red as it is the “color of nobility”, but in reality, many shades of red are easily achieved with period dyes, making them accessible to people of many statuses.  I’ve already got a red silk petticoat, that goes with the brown wool dress, but I like red, and I like poking at silly rules that exist because its the way it’s always been.

I had a very large yardage of red linen that Kevin found at a thrift store (yay!), but it was a very unfortunate shade of red, almost more of an orange.  As shades of orange definitely do not suit me, the first step in the project was overdying the fabric to a more pleasant shade of red.  RIT in the washing machine made short work of it, and for dying linen, there is no better way.  I swear one of these days, I’ll do a proper diary, and not a retrospective, but I just get all into it, and forget to take pictures or anything.


The red dress!  Complete!

The red dress! Complete!

The first step was to create the supportive bodice portion of the dress.  I knew that I wanted it to be corset- like for the support, simply less restrictive, so I started with my basic corset pattern.  Mine is drafted up from the most excellent pattern in the Tudor Tailor, and I simply folded my pattern so the tabs were hidden, since on a dress, the bodies would have to end at the waist. I also decided to partially cord the corset, as I had found it wonderfully structural and comfortable in the corset.

I used two layers of a heavy brownish linen to create the  inner bodice.  Sew the cording channels (by machine, because I am no masochist), sew the boning channel for the front lacing, and then sew the panels together.  For the cording, I used cotton macrame cord available at the larger Joann’s.

The inside of the bodice, back.  The lines are cording, to help keep it smooth

The inside of the bodice, back. The lines are cording, to help keep it smooth

The inside front.  I have since learned to hide thread ends better than this...

The inside front. I have since learned to hide thread ends better than this…

The outer layer of the bodice was cut from the red linen, slightly smaller than the pattern to allow for the shrinkage from the cording.  Also, linen is stretchy by itself, and I wanted it to lie smoothly.  I sewed the outer fabric to the corded lining along the center front opening, and turned it.  I decided on this garment to go with hand bound eyelets.  I gave up uncovered grommets a long time ago (and would encourage those who are trying for a more period faire look to start by sewing over your grommets with embroidery floss).   I’ve used sewn- over grommets on several garments, but I’ve also used plain hand bound eyelets, and have been finding them to hold up better than grommets over time.  Hand bound eyelets are not hard, just sort of time consuming, and for the novice eyelet- maker, I highly recommend several practice eyelets, as your work will significantly improve with practice, and there’s nothing worse than realizing, as you finish, that the bottom eyelets look so horrendous compared to the top that they simply must be re-done.

Bodice front, with spiral lacing.  Yay for spiral lacing!

Bodice front, with spiral lacing. Yay for spiral lacing!

I decided to edge the neckline and arm holes of the bodice with bias tape made of the red linen.  The construction is much easier, and I didn’t want the brown inner fabric showing at the edges.  I machined it on one side (right over the cords, the machine handles it no problem, and it keeps them in place), trimmed the edge, and then hand sewed it down on the inside.  I also used scraps to cover the seam where I had attached the straps, to add strength and prevent ugly innards.

The strap is just one layer of linen.  I put the horizontal strip in to cover the rough edges

The strap is just one layer of linen. I put the horizontal strip in to cover the rough edges

The skirt is a simple circle skirt, cut with the waist large enough to do some pleating in the back.  I know that circle skirts are really not exactly period, but they are SO much better for dancing than pleated/ gathered tubes, I cannot begin to tell you.  I machine- sewed the bottom hem, because I will be damned if I am going to sew it by hand.  It’s an inch from the ground, and if someone really wants to look, they probably understand why no sane human would hem a full length circle skirt by hand.

The verdict on this dress is that it is very comfortable… and not very cute.  I mean, I like it, but I think I’m mostly going to be wearing this as an undergarment or when it is freakishly hot (Fair Oaks, I’m looking at you…) It fits differently than my regular corset, but in a good way.  Definitely the kind of garment I could imagine wearing for very long periods of time, doing lots of work.



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