Posted by: Lucrece | April 17, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gown

A friend of mine asked me to help her with patterning and making a Burgundian gown.  Before starting on her expensive and gorgeous brocade I thought it might be a good idea to try the dress myself in a less expensive fabric.

I have had mixed feelings about this gown as I went along.  I normally do not like to use man-made fibers and I like my clothing to feel like clothing not a costume.  None-the-less court apparel is a bit like a costume anyway.


The main fabric is a deep-red micro-fiber velvet backed with a white cotton canvas which makes it look like it’s lined.  I liked the way the light caught the folds in the store making it look like something out of van der Weyden.

The fur collar and cuffs are “budge” the period name for lamb or sheepskin with the wool left on.  Budge was a cheaper fur in the 15th century, it’s not too likely that a lady who could afford a velvet gown would have it trimmed in a low-end fur but since I’m using a man-made velvet I wasn’t prepared to spring for a more expensive fur and I preferred the look of the real budge over a faux fur.

The hem, however, is made from a long pile faux astrakhan (lamb fur)  which matches the real fur fairly well (I needed a LOT for the hem, couldn’t afford the real stuff for that!).

Design and Pattern.

Some time ago I worked with a group to recreate Mary of Hapsburg’s Coronation gown seen here.

When I look at M of H’s gown it always seems out of place for the 1520’s.  I can’t help but wonder if it, or at least its design, was reused and is of an older style.   Many of its features, the deep V neck, the collar, the cuffs, the overall silhouette have some similarities to Burgundian fashions from 40 or 50 years prior.

In this project I wanted to explore the idea of using the same cut to create a Burgundian Gown.  Mary’s gown has a waist seam.  While it’s generally thought Burgundian Gown’s did not we usually see them worn with a wide belt which would tend to obscure a waist seam if there was one.

Waist seams on kirtles are depicted in art work from the period so it would seem that the idea of making the dress in two parts was not unknown.

Here you can see the layout of the Mary of Hapsburg gown.  A bodice with a full circle skirt attached.  The waist is off-set toward the front of the circle making the front floor length and the back longer.

For my gown I’m using about 2/3 of a circle instead.  Unlike the M of H gown, the front and sides are floor length and the skirts only extend into a train at the back as this is the silhouette most often seen for Burgundian.

Note the skirts for the lady on the left.  They appear fairly narrow from the front, are floor length at the sides and the train extends out the  back.

Here you can see my pattern pieces for the gown.

Below is a slide show of the gown in production.

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Posted by: Lucrece | April 16, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gowns: Partlet

Here is my finished vest-partlet based on the theories I talked about in my last post.  I’m quite pleased with the way it’s turned out.  It fits well and gives the look I wanted.

It’s made from a fulled wool that doesn’t unravel.  Since I don’t need to hem the edges, there won’t be any bulky seams that might show.  I might eventually blanket-stitch or bind them.

The front panel is finished with a layer of velvet.

I’ll eventually post some pictures of the whole outfit one layer at a time so you can see how it fits over the kirtle.

Posted by: Lucrece | April 11, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gowns: Yet another placket theory

Portrait of a Woman, van der Weyden 1464

There it is

That mysterious V of fabric,  in the neckline of Burgundian-era gowns, so long the source of fierce debate.

This type of gown was usually the outermost of three layers of clothing.  A chemise would have been worn next to the skin, then an under-gown (the “kirtle”) often short-sleeved, topped by the V-necked gown itself.

In the deep V of the neck one of the under-layers, or something attached to the under-layer, shows:  the much-conjectured “Placket”.

The most popular theories about the placket are:

It’s a rectangle of fabric pinned onto the kirtle.
I don’t like this theory, never have.  It seems to me it would be fussy and might not stay taught.  Lucky for me this theory has been tested and written about by the lovely and talented Maistresse Mathilde Bourette  (see her excellent article at:

She says it “wrinkles easily and if pinned tightly, pulls in shoulders of under dress visibly”.  Good enough for me!  I hereby cheerfully drop-kick this idea right into the poubelle .  I’m so thrilled not to have to even try this;  I will buy her the beverage of her choice at the Inner Vagabond next Pennsic (really, I will).

It’s a square necked, side-laced kirtle.
I like this idea much better, but many pictures show hems that aren’t the same colour as the placket.  Also, many of the plackets appear to me to look like velvet.  It seems unlikely many ladies would really have been wearing two layers of velvet gown.  I’ll call it plausible though.

To these two I add:

It’s an attached placket
A permanent part of the outer gown sewn onto one side of the neck and fastened up the other.  Why doesn’t this idea come up more often? I think it’s a sensible solution.  None-the-less there is some good pictorial evidence against it.

In the picture on the left, the placket looks as though it’s under the gown, not attached.

On the right, you can see that the sheer tucker is layered OVER the placket and pinned; not possible if the placket is attached.

This brings us to my current personal favorite theory….

It’s a vesty-partlety-thingy!

Sure it is!
Just look at these pictures, would I just make something like this up?

Stark Triptyque 1480 -detail

Well, yes I might*, and I am.  There’s no extant evidence for this.  But my theory is that the placket could be a type of partlet or short vest-like garment worn over or under the kirtle (depending) and under the gown.

This idea is inspired not only by depictions in art from the period but also by the extant stays of Eleanora of Toledo.  Yes, I know she lived from 1522 to 1562, some 50-100 years too late and in another part of Europe, none the less I believe her “stays” may provide a tantalizing glimpse into what “might have been”.

The stays are puzzling in of themselves.  From what I understand, they have no stiffening as you would expect from a payre of bodies.  They are made of velvet, an expensive fabric for a garment that didn’t show under the gown (I assume it didn’t).  Their purpose is sometimes given as having been worn for “warmth” in which case, wouldn’t wool have been just as good or better?

I wonder about the “stays”.  Were they really worn with the gown in life?  Were they contemporary to the gown or could they have been older?

Elenora is purported to have been ill and to have lost quite a bit of weight in the time before her death.  Could the ‘stays’ have been older, pulled from some trunk to help pad the gown over her thin frame either in life or in the rush to dress her for burial?

Whatever the case,  her “stays”,  worn under a Burgundian Gown would certainly give the desired look (except that they have a front opening).

This, to me, is a good answer to the question of the placket, and comes closer than some of the other solutions to giving the right results:

  • The vest-placket can be made of a small amount of expensive velvet.  The garment is small overall and the parts that don’t show could be made of other less costly fabrics if necessary.
  • It is separate from the kirtle, explaining kirtle hems that don’t match the placket in colour.
  • It would stay smooth without tugging at the kirtle or gown.
  • If made side-laced, would look like the illustrations in contemporary art.

So with all of that said.  Step two – make one!

Now that I have my burgundian “harnys” (buckle) I need the girdle to go with it.  Ideally I would like it to be tablet woven, however I can’t tablet weave (yet!:)) and, as much as I’d love to, I can’t justify investing in one made by someone else, like this amazing red girdle by Gina B:

I’ve chosen to make mine of silk damask.  There are a number of references to girdles which seem to be made of fabric including silk and “tissue” in the 1484 will of Dame Jane Barre (read a translation of her will by going to Google books and searching “will of Dame Jane Barre”), and damask in one of the wills of the Paston family in 1487 (see

After considering every colour of the rainbow, I finally settled on a deep green like Margaret Van Eyck’s (below); I like olive-y greens with red or burgundy like my gown will be.

I found a checked silk that I liked and dyed it green.

Go to my flickr page to see the girdle’s progress diary:

My friend Helena and I were discussing the naming of clothing articles, the red herrings and misunderstandings that have occurred over the years resulting from the broad application and lack of specificity of such names.

Hennin is surely one of these.  To the best of my knowledge the first occurring reference to hennin in historical text is from 1428.  The Carmelite friar Thomas Conecte urged street urchins to shame and pester ladies wearing extravagant headwear by chasing after them shouting “au hennin” “au hennin” (google Thomas Conecte if you’d like to know more about this).

1428 is too early to be referring to the cone-shaped headdress most often called hennin.  During this time the “heart-shaped hennin” and horned headdresses would have been the fashion.

“Au”, according to my english french dictionary can mean “at the” “to the” “in the”  or “on the”.

If “hennin” means a type of hat, that would leave the boys shouting something like  “to (at, in, on)  hat!, to hat!”.  What message would that convey to the ladies?  Talk about stating the obvious.  Yes. It’s a hat.

Helena also pointed out that hennin sounds a bit like “Gehenna”.  In latin, roughly, hell or hellfire.

Perhaps “au hennin” is something closer to “to hell! to hell!”.  An admonishment of the ladies’ vanity indeed.

When one considers it in that context, it makes a “hell” of a lot more sense!

Coventry Doom Fresco  – Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
Alewives, accused of watering the ale, are ushered into hell.
Naked but wearing “heart shaped hennins”

Posted by: Lucrece | October 22, 2010

15th century belt parts

So, I have an ongoing obsession with finding “just right” belt parts.  It’s proved to be much harder than I would ever have imagined.  Recently though, I came across in the Ukraine.

They take PayPal and the shipping time was not bad at all.

I ordered a large B shaped buckle for a houppelande belt and two sets of belt ends. 

The one set, straight out of a van der Weyden painting are pretty darn awesome I must say!

They used to have a Burgundian belt set that I LOVE but that, TRAGICALLY, they don’t make anymore.  I’m currently trying to get them to make me one as a custom order.

Check them out, they roke!:

Posted by: Lucrece | October 4, 2010

Museum of London Costrel: finished!

After many months of distraction by other projects I finally got around to making the whole costrel from beginning to end.  

I’m quite pleased with the result.  It is dyed with an Oak Gall (for tannin) and Copperas (medieval term for Ferrous Sulphate (a solution of iron dissolved in acid) dye.  The outside was waxed with beeswax and the inside sealed with a mixture of brewer’s pitch and beeswax. 

Next I will need to make a stopper for it, and perhaps some sort of strap.  Note that the strap holes were just cut in this photo so I had to re-dye the holes. 

I got an excellent tip for cutting the slots with a wood chisel at where you will find a great deal of usefull information and history on costrels and jacks.

The MOL costrel on the left - mine on the right (as if you couldn't tell:) )

Posted by: Lucrece | September 7, 2010

Transition: Cap and Frontlet done(ish)

Still a few details to add, but final result is looking fairly good!

Posted by: Lucrece | September 7, 2010

Transition: Frontlet and Cap progress

I’m trying some thing new – I’ve posted progress pics on flickr as I find it hard to add here when there are many.

Here are some photos of the frontlet in progress:

And here are some of the cap:

Posted by: Lucrece | August 30, 2010

Transiton: Frontlet and Cap pattern

This is the pattern I’ll be using for the Frontlet with veil attached.  It has a layer of wool felt to add stiffness to the frontlet , silk satin for the veil, and silk velvet for the outer layer of the frontlet.  I’ve included the measurements I used but it could be made longer or shorter depending on the person and the over length wanted.  I draped the tape measure over my head to get and idea of how long I wanted it.  

Frontlet with Veil pattern

The cap is made from eight wedges that form a hemisphere when sewn together.  This is the approximate shape and how to figure out the dimensions needed. 

Cap pattern piece

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