Wednesday, January 1, 2014

16th Century Peasant Dress: Research and Planning

One area of the costuming community that I have not yet ventured into is the world of Renaissance reenacting. When I was very young, I enjoyed visiting the local Ren Fair with my family, but until this past October, I hadn't been to one since I was in high school. (My 16-year-old self was rather proud of the "Renaissance-inspired" costume I put together, consisting of a generic laced bodice worn with layers of hippy-ish skirts and jingly jewelry -- you know the look.)

Earlier this year, when a girlfriend at work suggested I come with her to one of the many area Renaissance fairs, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to revisit something that I had enjoyed as a child and that had fostered my early love for costumes. But this time, I would approach my costume from a more educated, enlightened perspective.

And so, in usual fashion, I began researching. Right off the bat, I knew I would do better to start with an outfit appropriate to a lower-class impression. All the glitz and glamour of an upper class Elizabethan court gown is lovely to look upon, but expensive and difficult to do properly. Accordingly, I set my eye on a comfortable, tidy, working-class ensemble like the ones shown in all the Dutch genre paintings of the period. In particular, these paintings by Pieter Aertsen inspired me:

The lady on the left is wearing a practical and versatile ensemble: Her sleeveless dress is enhanced with an apron, a removable partlet, and pin-on sleeves.

Here are the same pin-on sleeves and partlet, but this time with a wide-brimmed straw hat (very appealing to this sunburn-prone girl).

This lady has on a simple white head-wrap of some kind to keep her hair covered and clean. 

More straw hats, aprons, and pin-on sleeves. 

As I began wading through the wealth of research and information on this period that can be found on the internet, two sites in particular stood out from the rest, both for the volume of information, and for the detail and clarity of instruction. The first is Drea Leed's excellent Elizabethan Costuming Site, which catalogs her own research on many related subjects in addition to linking to many sites. The information is very helpfully arranged by subject. I spent days following almost every link on the page.

The second is this site, which details the construction of an outfit very much like the one I wanted to make: simple, working-class clothing that is highly accurate in look and construction.

The other resource that I stumbled onto early in my research was The Tudor Tailor. This book is a definite must for anyone wanting to recreate clothing from this period. It is brimming with useful information and anecdotes, period portraits and images of extant garments, and a series of patterns that can form the basis of a wardrobe for the humblest of working-class laborers or the queen herself.

After studying these resources, I determined that the simplest and most accurate ensemble would consist of the following items:

linen smock 
wool kirtle
pin-on wool sleeves 
black wool partlet 
linen apron
linen coif and forehead cloth

Quite a lot of stuff to make! And of course, I decided early on that I would have to sew it all by hand for accuracy. Stick around to find out how I put it all together!


  1. Fun! I can't wait to see your progress as you branch out into new areas.


  2. It's a darling dress! i like the colors.
    I love small ruffles on some things, however most ruffles square measure slightly an excessive amount of on behalf of me, and that i like single-edged ruffles over ambiguous, therefore i might most likely leave these off too.
    From watching the pattern page, it is not straightforward to urge those ruffles aligned... the instance ruffles are not dead straight or dead placed either.
    wedding dress

  3. Hi! I'm new to your blog and I really love all of your costumes. I'm very young, but very eager to emerge myself in costuming, especially from the victorian era. I'm still learning to sew, but do you know of any easy patterns to start me off? Thanks!

  4. I have awarded you the Liebster Award! Check out the details at my blog.

  5. HI -

    I want to let you know that I’ve nominated you and your blog for a Leibster award. It appears I'm late to the party and I can see that you haven't posted an entry in a while, but the nomination stands. Your blog has great writing, good information, lovely projects…and I feel more people should know about it. Accepting the award is completely voluntary, so please don't feel pressured.

    Here’s wishing you continued success with your sewing and your blogging!


  6. Hello. I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated your blog for the Liebster Award. You can find out more here -

  7. I really love all of your costumes. ..

  8. Very nice work
    I invite you on my blog of old magazines and old french sewing patterns

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