Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Pumpkin Dress - Florence, 1520

After four years in the DFW area, we finally made it down to The Scarborough Renaissance Faire in Waxahachie this year... and we did it in style!

Thank you for the picture, Andrea!

I knew it was going to be hot, but convinced that I would be happier going in garb, I decided to see what I could do with what I had on hand. I had some orange linen blend fabric left over from Mom's Age of Exploration unit, and some white muslin left over from another previous project. 

And the underdress? Well, if it's not quite right for the picture, then I'm not terribly concerned. You can't see much of the underdress in the paining for one, and then... well, it was the absolute first complete piece of SCA garb I ever made, sewn entirely by hand back in 2001. I'm just stoked it's survived this long - and that I can still wear it! I freshened it up with some new ribbon for the drawstring neckline and sleeves, and it was good to go!

In the end, I created a lovely linen dress from a measly three yards of linen, scrap muslin, and the three purchases I did have to make: 1/4 yard of black linen (for the big stripe and sash), 1 spool of linen weaving thread for weaving the thin stripe and top-stitching, and the black ribbon for lacing it up the back. 

Before the ball got rolling, I started clicking around on Pinterest to get some ideas, and my eyeballs screeched to a stop when I landed on this painting labeled, "Detail from Francesco Bacchiacca's Preaching of Saint John the Baptist, approx. 1520."

I Googled around, and discovered that it was supposed to be a Florentine design. Well, that cinched it. I adored the time Jake and I spent in Florence, and the idea that my dress design lived there hundreds of years ago was just too cool to pass up.

I allowed myself to get a little impatient with this project, and instead of following a pattern in greater detail, I just based the cut off another dress. I wish I had spent a little more time on it now, as the shoulders don't match the painting very well.
All the construction was done by hand, so turning it right side out at last was a treat. I do prefer flat construction whenever possible (remember my key-hole necklines and gore inserts?) and doing it this way allowed me to get a lot of precision in the cut of my wider black band around the neckline.
Finally, it came time to sew the straps together. I pulled one inside the other - wrong side out - and then matched up the black stripes as best as I could. There was a little adjustment to be made, but overall it went swimmingly!

After I connected the straps, I tackled the skirt section. I wanted to keep the two pieces apart as long as possible in order to reduce extra wear and handling. In this picture you can see the un-dyed linen thread I used to backstitch the seams. For the top-stitching, well, I went insane. I tried pulling threads from the edges of the fabric and using them for a perfect thread match. The idea is quite period, and maybe if this had been full linen instead of a linen blend I might have been more successful at it. As it was, many many... words of not-so-polite encouragement were hurled as the thread broke again... and again... and again. I managed to finish the back seam (the only one actually on the skirt) but then said "screw that!" and did the hem with some of my linen weaving thread.

In this picture, I'm pinning together the bodice and skirt sections. After the whole pulled thread fiasco, I felt the need for order. A lot of order. Guess my sign: Virgo!

Here you see the two sections combined, with the bodice's lining tucking away all the raw bits.

In the last picture, you saw the top of the back seam. Here's the bottom, with the hem. While it was a frustrating bit of business, I'm happy that it turned out so cleanly.

Once the two sections were together, it was time to add the narrow black band. The black linen fabric wasn't cooperating, so I got out my loom, rigid heddle, and black linen weaving thread to make my own. Not my favorite project, as it's hard to tell the threads apart, but it got the job done.

Finally, it was time for the eyelets. Not my favorite part, but hand-sewing them is much more period than the metal grommets you see so ubiquitously. At least it gave me a chance to use the bone awl I picked up in the outdoor market in Bologna!

Here's the back of the completed dress, with the underdress underneath. I ended up combining my favorite elements of the two main orange dresses, but I really like the black sash with it. Eventually I may try to figure out the tassels, but for right now it's working just fine.

Here's a better view of the dress. I love it!

At some point I may the black stripe around the bottom, but for right now it's a wonderful, wearable piece that makes me feel pretty!

Works Referenced:

Please note that this was intended as a heat-influenced homage and not an actual documentable piece. I did apply my knowledge of stitching types and lacing eyelets, but this owes too much to modern influences to be anything but that. Both the underdress and the overdress originated with commercial patterns.

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. McMillan London Limited, Hong Kong: 1989. Figures 128, 137, 163, 163 and 164. (For eyelet/lacing details)

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. "Sewing Techniques and Tailoring." Museum of London: Textiles and Clothing c1150-1450. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge: 2002. Page 150-164.

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