Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Housebook Dress for my Daughter

The other day, on a fabric buying spree, I picked up a remnant of wool to make a dress for Kara.  It's the exact same navy blue wool I have for my Garb Quest.  It's a single yard piece, and it should be just enough if I don't do long sleeves.

Over on my other blog, Growing Up Medieval, I wrote a post about kids' personas.  Owen is only just now coming into the age where he'll want to make his own decisions about what he'd like to wear, but my other three children are still too young to know the difference between a Viking outfit and an Elizabethan one, which means I still have final say.  Lee's barrel chest and skinny legs are very well suited to Viking, and Archer's stockier build screams 13th century.  Kara's personality, on the other hand, made it a little harder to pinpoint a persona to start her with.  At first, I thought she'd like the physical flexibility of the Viking apron dress, but her personality is just a little more "girly" than that.  She's a full-blow dress kind of girl.  She's also a firecracker.  That kind of rules later period (16th century) styles out, since they would be too restrictive for her.

My instinct was to start putting her in 15th century styles, like my own, but it still didn't seem right.  She's got a quirkiness that 15th century Flemish just doesn't do justice (which is pretty funny, considering 15th century Flemish is pretty quirky already.)  But the later Medieval period seems to be the best option.  Then I got thinking about late 15th century German styles, and the light bulb turned on.

Kara is definitely a 1490's Housebook dress kinda girl.

"Housebook dress" and "Durer dress" are often used alternatively to describe gowns of extreme-late 15th century German middle class women, but neither of these names really identify a particular dress.  The most popular style, however, appears to be one with a panel of pleats in both the center front and center back.

Left and Center are by Durer, Right is by Master of the Housebook
 The pleating on the front appears to be split in the middle to allow an opening to get the dress on, the hidden lacing secures it closed.  There also appears to be a waist seam that doesn't carry over into the pleating.  I've seen various recreations of this style online (including here, here and here) but they each approach the dress in differing ways.  Adding in the fact that I'll be making a dress for a toddler and that it needs to last at least until next winter, and I've really got to start from scratch.

So, my concept is to cut the dress like a normal waist-seam kirtle, but with a lower, wider neckline.  Then, create the three pleated panel sections (one full width and two half-width), which will also encompass the center front and back gores.  The remaining skirt panels will include gores at the sides.  Then, I'll notch out the bodice pieces to accommodate the pleated panels and insert them. This is all wild theory, but it makes logical sense to me!

I've got a matching linen that I can use as a lining, but I'm not sure that's necessary.  I will need to make a smock for her, though.

I'd also like to attempt the "grande assiette" sleeve, but only make them 3/4 length.  This may not work too well on a little girl's torso, but it will at least give me a challenge.

Kara's not a hat girl, though she does let me at least put them on her, so I'd like to make her a wulsthaube-type headdress, even if she won't wear it for very long.  Just because I'm into that kind of frivolous hat making.

Now that I've figured all this out, I've just got to wait for her to wake up from her nap so I can get her measurements!


  1. So I just finished my Housebook for an A&S entry, and I was always confused as to why people cut out a hole to put the pleated panel on. Bettina mentioned that putting in her closure in the center front pulled open the pleats. I left the bodice panel whole, and sewed my pleats to the bodice.

    Of course my judges pointed out that most of the images don't have a seam line at the top of the pleats, and now I have to figure out what the heck is going on there.

    1. You know, that's a good point- about cutting the notch out. I suppose I was thinking of reducing the layers, but it probably doesn't really matter. I also can't quite figure out the no top seam thing. I wonder if it's a trick of the cutting- that it's cut at a severe angle at just the right point that after the pleats are in place, the edge is straight. Completely untested theory right there, but that's all I can come up with!

    2. My judges let me sit down and talk about it with them, and I couldn't come up with anything I reasonably liked with over 4 years of draping experience. There are a few images with pleats that radiate out from the center front, reminiscent of houppelandes, but the vertical pleats are bizarre. One of the Judges pointed out the circle cut houp as a method, but I think it would be difficult to regulate the spacing of the pleats. I chose rolled pleats because of how the pleats look below the waist.

  2. It is hard to tell in the pictures you've posted, but could the waist seam be hidden in the pleating?
    The pleating is being used to tighten the bodice and accent the bosom. Cut as a straight blouse and pinch in the fabric to create the pleats.
    Unfortunately I don't think that will work for a toddler whose chest and waist measurements are either the same, or more likely, the waist being larger than the chest.