That's how the saying goes, right? By the title, you guessed it: I was asked to make a Renaissance dress, and I'll be getting paid for it! Woo hoo! I still don't count myself a professional...yet.
So here's the story: last fall at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival a new person started volunteering. She was "recruited" by her co-worker, one of the Festival Royal Court regulars. Kate wasn't volunteering last fall, so this introvert drudged up all her socializing skills and started a conversation. This new volunteer - code name "L" to protect the innocent - was wearing a borrowed dress which was all polyester. She couldn't come back the next day due to heat stroke and I thought that was the end of it.
But no - she was serious! And had talked to the resident court tailor, Lady Diane. Lady Diane has provided custom costumes to the royal court for years, and charges a fair rate for it, but this was sadly more than "L" could afford. Plus Lady Diane's son was marrying the daughter of the umbrella seller just one tent over (Yes, in real life. Yes, like a fairy tale!) and was busy making costumes for that wedding to take place in the spring.
I had assumed Liza found a costume to wear, but through the grape vine I got in contact with her after I learned Lady Diane was busy. "L" was looking at a listing on Etsy that, while beautiful, wouldn't have worn comfortably all day. And at around $350 I knew I could make one just as nice for much less in initial material cost.
I've collected free costume pattern sources that have worked for me over the years, but that's another blog post. Anyway, after tossing out a completed dress cost, I officially had a dress commission! I knew I wanted to use silk, so I had "L" pick out an Amazon listing right away, since the sellers take about a month to ship a sari from India. In the mean time, I had "L" narrow down her costume choices through some sketches. I am no artist.
Apparently I got my point across, because "L" came back the next day with choices made! I used some fairly crude skills in Microsoft Paint and Publisher and did a mock up of her style choices with the fabric she had chosen.
The fabric itself is silk, with white cotton underneath. To keep costs down I used the same trick for getting cheap silk as I did for the green/black dresses. "L" picked out the fabric she wanted right away, but it took nearly a month to arrive, which is about normal.
I'll go over sources for free online patterns, silk saris, cheap cotton, and all the other supplies that go into making a dress. Just not in this post. :)
So, in the near future, look for updates on this dress and that outfit for my husband. I'm still working on that one, even though he's tried to change his mind on the design more often than your classic pop diva. Sigh.
The Latin saying goes, "vestis virum reddit," or clothes make the man. But I've found with Renaissance costumes the hat makes the dress. You can tell the serious reinactors from the ones who just like swishy skirts by whether they have a hat to complete the outfit. And boy, howdy, are there plenty of hat styles to choose from! In weeding my library last year I came across an older copy of this book: The Mode in Hats and Headdresses by R. Turner Wilcox, published in 1946.
Of course I replaced my library's copy with a new version and snagged the old. It has plenty of black and white drawings from all different times and cultures and is a really good overview. But I was looking for more, namely actual patterns and instructions. Through some good 'ole internet searching I found a blog by a Swedish tailor/reinactor named Catherine with instructions for the German utilitarian headwear called a wulsthaube. You can see this headpiece worn by almost all classes and regions of German Renaissance ladies in paintings and drawings. However, very few examples survived, and certainly none that would tell us modern costumers how best to recreate one. Possibly, women with long hair braided and pinned it into this shape, but the "fake hair piece" is called a wulst. The fabric it's attached to is called an unterhauben, and the whole thing together is a wulsthaube. There. German language lesson (almost) over. The veil worn over it is called a steuchlein, and is sometimes embroidered, sometimes long, sometimes stitched with beads, and sometimes very short.
So, I cheated. The wulst historically was likely shaped with reeds, and instructions online recommended a tube with stuffing. I found a styrofoam wreath form at JoAnn's and seized the opportunity. Cut in half, tapered at the edges, and wrapped with quilt batting and fabric strips and it was the perfect shape! Honestly, it only took about an evening to put together and will be GREAT with Kate's costume. I can still wear the steuchlein under the black hat for my outfits, and it really does complete the costume. I promise I'll get completed pictures soon!
And for those wondering - I have short hair and this headpiece ties on with as much security as any modern working women's bandanna. Costume success!
You may recall these green/black Renaissance dresses I'm making are meant to be matching. As such, the pictures of the garment construction up until the little differences DO start to appear is a little confusing. I didn't even try to post photos on Facebook, although I did keep Kate up to date with progress pictures.
Sewing this chemise the second time around took waaaaay less time. This could also be because I already had the pieces cut out, but I'm sticking to my initial sense of accomplishment.
Similarly, the underskirt took almost no time at all. Granted, the pleats aren't even, and I didn't even use a style of skirt closure that requires me to get even close to Kate's waist measurement. If I ever sell these skirts on Etsy, this is how I'm making the closure. So, so easy and can cover a variety of waist measurements! Plus, I didn't even melt any fabric with my iron this time around!
Part of the reason the underskirt took less time was because this time around I knew exactly how much fabric I could use for it and how much would need to be left over for the color blocking on the bodice and skirt. I didn't take any pictures of the construction process, and the bodice even looks the same as my own, even if the decoration on the sari is different.
What I didn't get last time was a progress picture of my cheater's method of putting in even-ish box pleats. Having a dress dummy around for this part of the construction saved my bacon. And sanity. Also, because of the way Kate's sari was embroidered she actually has a little more fabric in her skirt than me, but I did have to do some extra hemming and the pattern at the waistband meant the seam allowance on the bodice/skirt seam has no extra wiggle room. I serged the inside edges just to be safe.
And that's all she wrote folks!
No, I did actually get her dress done and delivered. Funny story about the sleeves though: I ran out of wunder-under for the black bands on her sleeves. (Wunder under is a sort of iron-activated web of glue to fuse larger pieces of fabric together.) 3M heavy duty spray adhesive to the rescue! Seriously, it worked almost as well.
And of course there were slight adjustments to be done to the shoulder seam, but otherwise it fit pretty well. Kate and I were also able to work on the headpieces to be worn under the black hats for this dress, and for the outfits she's designing.
I was relieved because now I can concentrate on Ryan's outfit and...my dress commission! I'm excited, so look for future posts about the dress for Ms. De La Cruz. :)
Twins each with half a brain in reality; the other half displayed here!