Saturday, September 22, 2012

Grandes Chroniques Gown : Part I

Except for a few minor changes and finishing items, my two new supportive kirtles, or cotes, are ready to fulfill their purpose- to be covered up!

For my first gown I had planned to make a late 14th century surcoat, but after some thought, I decided that I was really more interested in doing something from the early 15th century. Thinking back on all the gowns I'd looked at over the years, I remembered one I'd seen that I liked. It is from the Grandes Chroniques de France (Please note: I have been unable to locate the exact source for this and a handful of other illuminations originating from the same manuscript. It is visually identical to most of the miniatures found in BL Royal 20 C VII, but is instead credited to BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Fran├žais 73, which does not appear to be online in any fully-intact format. I believe that the pair of manuscripts were completed through the turn of the 15th century, as the BL MS is dated after 1380, and I have been able to locate a date of c. 1402 for the BNF MS.)

Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1402
The woman holding the newborn wears a dark blue kirtle with cuff sleeves under a slightly lighter blue gown with white streamer sleeves. These streamer sleeves appear to be a transitional step between tippets and the integrated flap sleeves seen more prominently a short time later. has a handful of examples of this streamer sleeve style, including my inspiration image, but I'd like to particularly highlight this one from L’Estoire de Griseldis myz par personnages (BNF Fr. 2203) (1395) in which Griselda removes her clothing.

L’Estoire de Griseldis myz par personnages (BNF Fr. 2203) fol. 48v
She holds in her hands a gown with streamer sleeves drawn such that it provides a clue as to how the sleeves are constructed. The sleeves of the gown itself are very short. Their length is then supplemented by the top portion of the streamer, which is sewn into place, rather than being a separate piece, like a tippet. The streamer, then, isn't a narrow piece immediately at the top, but more gradually narrows instead. It is also positioned on the side of the arm, rather than the back.

All indications in the style of the illuminations indicate that the streamer sleeves are not fur. It makes sense that they would be wool in that case. In Larsdatter's collection, when the illumination is colored, the streamer sleeves are white.

My version, which I'm formally calling my Grandes Chroniques Gown, utilizes my gold wool for the body of the gown and some off-white wool for the streamers.

Gold wool hanging up to dry after washing.
For this gown, I'm using the same fitted pattern I've been using, but I want the dress to be pull-over with no center front seam. I taped the two front pattern pieces together to accomplish this. I also would like to attempt a different type of skirt to see if cutting the panels with angled skirts supplemented with gores only in the front and back (like this method) will provide the look of a fuller skirt. (With the added bonus of less sewing.)

I only had four yards of the wool, but I have the advantage of 60" of width and needing very little for the sleeves. My pattern layout looked like this:

Pattern laid out- skirt is outlined with chalk marks.
It's probably a bit difficult to tell from the picture, but the back gores are halved, and placed on either side of the front, while the front center gore is whole and placed between the back pieces. The side gores are actually integrated with the panels instead.

Now, because this is an overdress and there is no need for it to do any support work, the fit can be eased along the curves somewhat. This makes it easier to pull on and off, but it also allows the gown to be a bit smoother through the torso. Remember that the point of the kirtle in the 15th century was to do all the work of getting the body into the correct shape (or close to it, in my plus-sized case), it's NOT about tight clothing. The outer layer should tailored and fitted, but not be doing any of the "work". This is also the only reason I can get away with no lining (that, and because the wool is thick enough on its own and doesn't aesthetically need a lining.)

After stitching the three main panels together, I put the "dress" on over my pink cote to do some fitting, (since my pattern has proven thus far to only be a base.) I was delighted to discover that my pattern doesn't actually require alterations when used as an overdress. The neckline and armholes do, though, but that's an extremely easy adjustment.

I've sewed it together, sans sleeves, and I have it hanging to let the bias-to-bias seams stretch a bit before hemming. I also have to do some handwork on the front center gore to get it set correctly. Now seeing it in the photo below, I think it may also be placed too low.

Hanging up on in my garish craft room.
I hope to have the sleeves completed by the end of the weekend and just have the finishing left to work on next week.


  1. I can't wait to see the completed garment! I'm sure it's going to be wonderful!

  2. Looks like it's going to be great.

    I agree, I think the front gore should sit higher. I also think you've made the yellow portion of the sleeves a tad too short in your sketch, compared to the original illustration. (Also, in the original illustration the end of the yellow part is parallel to the floor, not parallel to the armscye).

    I look forward to seeing the finished dress - and how the fit of the overdress compares to the fit of the underdress, 'skimming' rather than containing.

  3. FYI - this wide style of streamer seems to be white in every case I've found (again, speaking just of the broad late-ish style of streamer), occasionally fur. I haven't found as many examples of this later wide style of streamer, but the lovely thing about webpages is I can update 'em any time, so I'll add 'em as I find 'em.

    As to colors - 14th century examples include several colors that are not necessarily fur -- look for the green and blue examples, as well as (IIRC) at least one red one. Again, white is predominant, but not exclusive. (Plus, there's a lot of depictions en grisaille, so they're not particularly helpful for determining the "actual" color.)

    1. Thank you for the additional info on the streamer colors, Karen. I went looking for more examples, but other than finding more from the sources you already gathered, I came up empty handed. I really can't imagine doing them in any color other than white with the vibrantly hued solid colored dresses. I think 15th century women, in general, had a different opinion on color mixing altogether than what their mothers and grandmothers did. Very much like today.