Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Progress: Blue Wool Fitted Gown

Last year, I purchased 5 yards of a beautiful blue twill wool with really no idea what to do with it. At various times I thought it would be good for a raglan-sleeved kirtle a la Rogier van der Weyden, or a slightly fitted surcoat with bell sleeves like those seen in the Taymoth Hours. But then I fell head over heels for just about every dress I've come across from the Virgil Master's Grande Chroniques de France.* My gold wool streamer-sleeve gown was the first result of that infatuation. Then I found this beauty:

Grande Chroniques de France, c. 1402
Sleeves aside (I don't need another streamer sleeved gown), I love the fullness of the skirt, and I most definitely love the very French color. Which made me remember the wool I had on hand. My blue is not a French, indigo blue, but rather a brighter cornflower blue, but I'll take it!


I had to do a great deal of color correction on the photo to get it to match reality. It shows up much grayer otherwise (which you can see in the unedited photos that follow).

What I was particularly drawn to on the source gown was the flattering fullness of the skirt. I looked around for some examples of recreated dresses that came close to that fullness, and saw that Cathrin's green dress was pretty close. She used Herjolfsnes no.38 as a base pattern (knowing, as I do, that the Greenland gowns were not tight fitting garments), and assembled the dress using 8 panels. With this construction, the four "extra" seams cause the fullness added in by the gores to be pushed away from the sides, evening out the drape a bit more around the whole body.

For a while I've wanted to try creating a fitted dress by starting with a rectangular-constructed base. Using the "8-panel" idea, with the goal of attempting a fuller skirt, this seamed like a good chance to do so. I didn't take any photos of the layout or initial cutting, but here's the pattern I used to get all my base pieces:


After quickly basting the pieces together, it fit pretty horribly, but since I still had all the fitting to do, I wasn't too concerned.


For the moment I'm opting for a non-seamed front. I was able to accomplish a good fit without one on my blue linen day dress, and I dislike the look of a fixed center front seam. This is a gown, an overdress, so it will not be required to shape and support on its own. Any number of my fitted cottes or kirtles will do that work. For these photos, I'm wearing my linen short cote, but I believe that it had missed a washing since it was much too loose and the non-supportiveness of my sports bra wasn't helping either.


You can see pretty clearly on the side view that I overcompensated the required width on the front panel, so the center side seam is riding further back than it should. The back isn't too narrow, though, so when it's fitted, the front should reduce considerably, and the seam should be properly placed.


The other part of the dress that will change considerably is the rear. Once the back center godet is in place, with its tip high above the largest part of my rump, I should theoretically get a much more flattering waist and bum shape. (How many different words can I use to talk about my butt in one paragraph?)


I'm glad my husband snapped a photo while I was pulling the front a bit. The look of the skirt, in particular, was what I was happy to see, since it shows that there is already the potential for a good draping fullness. I do wonder, however, if I'll end up adding additional side godets to increase it even more.


Finally, the armhole will also greatly change the finished look. Right now, there is far too much material on and around my shoulder, so it's a bit difficult to see now how the bust and upper back will ultimately look. There is also no angle to the shoulder seams themselves, and that will also need to be adjusted.

In order to proceed with this dress, I'll need to make the neckline, shoulder and some armhole adjustments, then I can begin the actual fitting. With a properly fitting supportive cote on underneath, of course.

*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.

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