Sunday, May 4, 2014

Project Complete: Rose Red Kirtle

A fitted dress inspired by patterned kirtles found in a Flemish oil paintings of the mid- to late-15th Century, intended for use as a fashionable single dress layer or as an under-layer.

This dress is pretty much all about the fabric. After coming across the linen jacquard at, I knew I had to have it. I ordered 6 yards, figuring that would be sufficient for most dresses I could come up with, but I didn't really have a plan. I just knew the fabric needed to be in my life! Since it's linen, I wasn't completely sold on the idea of making a top-layer gown out of it. While that's certainly acceptable among the re-creators I hang out with, I've endeavored in these past few years to do better with reserving linen for bottom layers.

Detail from Hans Memling's Crucifixion, 1491.

While patterns on kirtles are sometimes depicted in the early 15th century, they are more commonly seen in oil paintings after 1430. A great example is from Hans Memling's 1491 Crucifixion, but patterned kirtles can be spotted earlier in the works of Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden.
These dresses are meant to be worn as a base fashion layer. While likely not worn alone in social company (like when your wealthier neighbor comes over for croissants), the wearer would have wanted them visible at least in some minor way. A patterned material on a layer meant to be covered was a sign of wealth, after all. The dress could be worn alone, however, when the situation didn't require a visual statement of relative affluence.

In keeping with that idea, I chose to use the patterned linen to create a dress that could be worn alone, and be acceptable in that mode, as well as work under other dress layers in colder months.

It took me a bit to settle on the form I wanted the dress to take, but I knew that I wanted to try out the V-neck back seen on the Memling dress. I also decided on long sleeves for layering purposes. While I could have gone with short sleeves, if I wanted to layer in under a short sleeve gown, I'd need to add pinned-on sleeves. Nothing wrong with that, but I just wasn't interested in doing that for this dress.
I also decided on a waist seam construction. Since my typical period is earlier, before waist seams became a regular thing on kirtles, I haven't had much opportunity to work with waist seams. The last (and only previous) dress I created with a separate bodice and skirt was my gray wool dress. Suffice it to say that I've learned a lot since then. I've wanted to try something similar to Baroness Sylvie's back pleating for a while now, and this was a pretty good opportunity.

The skirt is composed of 12 trapezoid panels. I included 30" of extra length in the top for the pleats. The pleats are simple box pleats across the back. There are none in the front.

I also had Sylvie's personal guidance (through the magic of social media), along with another plus-sized 15th century friend, to help me with the subtle fitting of the bodice. Just through looking at some photos, they were able to point out areas that needed adjustment.

Left: Initial neckline | Right: Adjusted neckline

One thing that made a great difference was their encouragement to open the front neck line a bit more. I'm thankful that a I listened, since the finished neckline was perfect.

The bodice is lined with a 8.5oz white linen (remember this?). I machine sewed everything together for the sake of time, but the finishing is all done by hand. The skirt and sleeves are unlined. Admittedly, there's still a lot of finishing to do.

I have no complaints about this dress. I received a great many compliments when I wore it yesterday, and I certainly felt beautiful in it! It's comfortable, supportive, and even a bit sexy. I owe a lot to the fabric, which is a very beautiful, romantic cloth.

The only thing I'm contemplating is a slight refit of the sleeves. While they are fine as-is, I'd like to see them just a little tighter. I had planned on added buttons at the forearms originally. That's still on the table, but I don't think they are at all necessary.

This project was a whirlwind to get completed in time to wear to Coronation yesterday. In comparison to most of my other projects, I had very little planning on this one. That resulted in more instinctual decisions, and I'm glad that my instincts didn't steer me wrong. I'm also incredibly thankful to Sylvie and my other friends. It is rewarding to be part of a community of costumers that reach out with constructive, non-judgemental help!

Better photos are forthcoming. Unfortunately, we failed to pack sunscreen yesterday, and my chest, back and face are nearly as red as the dress! When the redness fades to a more photogenic tan, I'll do my regular photoshoot.

EDIT: I have uploaded the "official" photos of this dress on Facebook and Flickr. Enjoy!


  1. D'vorah bint Da'udMay 6, 2014 at 5:52 PM

    I've been a silent fan of yours for a few months now, and yet again I find myself squealing at something you're wearing. I adore this dress, and you've settled my mind about the possibility of getting some of FS's linen jacquards. It's one thing to look at a carefully photographed square, and another entirely to see it out in the sunlight, in a shape on an actual body. I definitely want some of this (maybe in a different color, as I look very, very ruddy in reds). Thank you for sharing all that you share with the world in this blog. You're one of my favorite online teachers, and it's about time I expressed my admiration to you. PS, I'm on Facebook, under this name, if you care to connect, and I live in Caid.

    1. Nice to hear from you! I am definitely happy with the fabric. I also saw at Coronation a Countess wearing a different jacquard- the purple vines- and it looked great too. It's a bit slubby, and you really need to inspect the whole piece for areas where the fibers got a bit out of control, but it's a great weight and so much more special than the solid colors. Thank you for letting me know you're out there. I'm so very happy to hear that you like what I share :)

  2. D'vorah bint Da'udMay 8, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    I really do! :) I've gone from wanting to portray a Yemenite Jew to being an Arab Jew living in Spain and married to a Spanish Jew (there's a theme here), and I never had much garb to begin with, but your blog and a handful of others have been extremely inspiring and enabling. I'm determined to look good, and to do it by my own hand rather than buying stuff. Thanks for continuing to lead me and others like me.