Creating a Court Gown

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Please take note: there will be many pictures on these diary pages, covering many garments and processes.  They may take some considerable time to load!

This project has been pending for quite a while...  It is a Work In Progress

It has also become such a huge project that I have divided it up into separate sections, so that it is easier to load the bit you want.  It's a sort of site within the main site now!  This first 'page' is the introduction.  Bits will be added to it as time goes on, as with the rest of the project.  Below you can find direct links to the pages for each section of the project.  New pages will appear as the project progresses.


Page One: The  bum roll and farthingale for the Simplicity pattern

Page Two: the under skirt and over skirt for the Simplicity Pattern

Page Three: the bodice of the Simplicity pattern

Page Four: The partlet for the Simplicity pattern

Page Five: The ruffs for the Simplicity pattern



Or, How I got started on the whole thing...

In the time it has taken from the first vague mutterings of an idea to now, several things have changed!  One is that I have become much more knowledgeable about the styles of the time, and another is that I have become a better seamstress - and a great deal fussier about what I use to make these garments!  Other changes include the re-broadcasting of the old BBC Elizabeth R series, starring Glenda Jackson (my biggest criticism of this was that while they aged her face beautifully, they didn't age her hands, so you get these shots of a seemingly raddled old hag with the hands of a lass in her 20's!), and the release of Shakespeare In Love on DVD, and I finally got to see it! It's irreverent, hilarious, and exceedingly beautiful, if not 100% historically accurate!  Both these events engendered some different ideas...

Another BIG change is that I have lost weight...  LOTS of weight...  Over 50 lbs so far!  This is excellent, but it means that things no longer fit (so the Wench Kit and my corset from other pages have gone to live in the USA!).

The last seriously different thing is that after Shakespeare In Love came out on DVD, Simplicity brought out their rather lovely pattern again, and I had this totally mad idea that what I really wanted to do was make both the Margo Anderson pattern and the Simplicity pattern in parallel, comparing the two for ease of use and authenticity of result.

One minor inconvenience (if it even amounts to that!) is that I have a first edition Margo pattern, and there have been a few changes to the pattern since the second edition came out.  Never mind: she has promised to put the changes on her web site, so I shall keep an eye open for them, and print off all the things I need.  There is plenty of time for that, as I need to start with the Underpinnings pattern, which I only got this week.

We start, as usual, on a weekend when I ought to be doing customer stuff, but hey - it wouldn't be me if I wasn't doing something I ought not to do as well as something I have a deadline and a deposit for!  This is me, you know...

12 February 2005

First impressions:

I started, as all good dressmakers should, by doing a new set of measurements.  Interesting...  Almost every measurement I took was a different size on the Margo pattern chart!  On the Simplicity one I seem to be a fairly standard 14 top and 16 skirt.

Apart from the measurements, the biggest differences in the two patterns is size!  The Simplicity one comes in a standard pattern envelope.  Like their wedding dress patterns, the large size of some of the pieces ensures a well filled envelope, but when you consider that this includes sizes 14-20, and a sleeved bodice, skirt with under skirt, bum roll, farthingale, partlet and ruff set, this isn't bad...  There are two sheets of instructions, which do seem to be more detailed than those of an average Simplicity pattern.


Margo's patterns arrive in large plastic zippy bags.  To go from the skin out, you need two: The Elizabethan Lady's Underpinnings and The Elizabethan Lady's Wardrobe.  The Underpinnings pattern comes with 103 pages of instructions, and the Wardrobe has 141!  They come punched for USA style binders, with three holes, so I spent 20 minutes re-punching them to fit my 4 hole Black Book - a zip closed binder and document case in one.   Once the instructions were in the book, I could read them a great deal more easily than those silly big sheets the major pattern companies use!


Margo's instructions seem very clear, and are truly 'step by step'.  The Simplicity ones are a lot less plain, and require far more reading between the pictures, as not every step is illustrated.  This is frustrating for a visual thinker in unfamiliar territory.  Now, I may be a very experienced dressmaker, and I may well be able to make up a pattern like this without any instruction sheets, but there are some things here for which even I prefer some directions, and these are a little strange in some areas...  One criticism I have is general to ALL major pattern company directions:  WHY do they want me to clean finish seam allowances on straight bits of fabric AFTER the seam is sewn?  What is wrong with doing it BEFORE the seam is sewn?  Humph!  I shall do it my way, thankyouverymuch!

There are major differences between the two patterns in lots of areas: Margo starts at the skin and works out from chemise, through corset, farthingale, and bum roll, before dressing the outer woman.  The Simplicity one has no chemise or corset, as the bodice is quite heavily boned, and the bum roll is on a sort of basque thing UNDER the farthingale.  The Simplicity farthingale is cut in lots of bits: upper and lower side front, side back, and back sections: Margo's is cut from waist to hem all round.  I'm yet not sure why there is this added complexity in the Simplicity pattern: there are no extra gathers at this point. Another big difference is that Margo's farthingale requires 5 rows of boning hoops, and the Simplicity one has 8.  Looking at BOTH patterns together, what with the bodice and the corset, and two farthingales, I see I shall need to buy shares in a boning company!

Eating into the stash!

For me doing two such large projects is expensive in both fabrics and time, but it looks like being so much fun!  Over the years I have collected some very fine fabrics that will see me a long way into the initial stages of this adventure.  I have piles of white cotton that will be perfect for chemises and farthingales, and for lining the bodices.  Outer fabrics could be a little more problematical, but we shall see what we have...  I have a couple of nice trapestryish bits and a sari I might be able to use for the Simplicity outfit, and some very nice silk and cotton mix satin for the Margo dress.

I keep returning to the fabric recommendations on the Simplicity pattern and thinking 'YUK!'  And 'How uncomfortable!'  Tapestry I can live with, but NOT crystal pleated gauze!  That stuff is evil to work with and scratchy as hell!  I need to get some silk chiffon for the Margo partlet, so I shall just get enough for both.  And why support the sleeve head puff on scratchy nylon net?  Especially the way they would have me sew it into the sleeve seam and have it exposed to skin on the armscye sleeve seam allowance!  AKK!  I feel sure I have some nice comfortable Vilene in the stash that will be just as supportive!  I have a nice 2m bit of navy blue tapestry weave with a small red diamond dot pattern in it that might do for bodice and sleeves, then I can do the forepart in sari fabric and the skirt in plain navy.  The rest of the underskirt can be a blue glazed cotton I have, and then it will all go together reasonably well, especially if I do the guards down the front of the over skirt with the edges cut off the sari so they match the forepart!  :)  Looks like I have a plan for this one!

For the Margo dress, I have two 6m pieces of cotton and silk mix satin in an elegant lilac colour.  I also have a silver and white piece of ecclesiastical brocade for the forepart.  There are several miles of silver lace about, which should be fun, and I'd like to get my mitts on some more wire weave braid in silver...


On to Bum Roll and Farthingale

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