Side note – does anyone know how the heck to pronounce “bliaut”?
I'm making this dress for my four-year-old daughter, who due to her hair color has acquired the nickname “Red.” Why am I sewing for her if I'm the one who wants to play dress-up? Well, in part because I much prefer playing dress-up with others; it's a lot more fun and she'll be with me anyway so she may as well look nice. It's also partly because sewing for kids takes just as much work and planning and time as sewing for adults, just with a lower materials outlay since they're so much smaller. I can make her a dress as practice, work out all the difficult bits, and then make my own.
The rationalization (er... reason):
I didn't get to go to TRF (http://www.texrenfest.com/) this year (or the last couple of years, for that matter), and my local excuses for dress-up have been limited to two-or-three times yearly steampunk outings. Playing dress-up is always more fun when other people are playing too. I bemoaned my fate to a friend, who told me that there will be a faire (http://www.sherwoodforestfaire.com/
I haven't done much with European clothing in this time period (very roughly something in the vicinity of Richard I, who reigned 1189 - 1199). I don't play dress-up with any organized groups and I'm not intending to enter any competitions, so for historical accuracy I'm accountable only to myself. Still, I'd prefer that any anachronisms be deliberately made for good reasons (cost, speed, comfort, etc.), and with as little impact on the overall look of things as possible, rather than accidentally made anachronisms that happen due to inadequate preparations. I wandered through a wide range of web searches, but found three websites to be especially helpful:
The Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/smoc
The Beautiful Bliaut (http://www.chateau-michel.org/belle_bl
Introduction to Twelfth Century Western European Clothing for Women and Men (http://www.scribd.com/doc/16783848/Int
Thank you very much to all the various SCA and other historical re-creationists who go do the research, and put your work online. I know the things I'm making are historically inspired, rather than entirely accurate, but they're way closer than they would have been without such easy access to information online.
The underdress (AKA smock): This is just a simple smock, made with a pattern directly from the generator (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/smoc
The fabric: 100% dead dino, a forest green woven suede with a slippery satin-ish back and a bit of horizontal stretch. It's got a nice weight and drape to it, and it was $4-something a yard on sale, and Her Highness (AKA my fickle daughter) approved of it. I expect it'll be hotter than a natural fiber would be, but that's not much of an issue since the event is at the end of what passes for winter here in central Texas. I like to imagine that with its drape and soft texture it somewhat resembles a heavy (non-satin) washed silk, but that may just be self-delusion. The pale lines in the photo are the chalk I used to figure out cutting lines; they'll rub off, or wash out.
I looked at various theorized patterns and cutting diagrams, did the math, and figured out that my 2 yards of fabric were *just barely* enough, with careful layout. On paper there should have been a small strip of waste fabric to the left (toward the middle of the cloth) of the body of the gown. In practice this didn't exist, and the edge of one piece met exactly to where the next began. I was careful to check the length of the sleeve extension, to make sure it wouldn't drag on the ground. I added a back gore to give her a bit more fullness in the skirt. I might have done one in the front too, but there wasn't enough fabric, so it was as a moot point.
The fabric was remarkably easy to work with; I was a little worried that the mild horizontal stretch would cause problems, especially with the bias-cut sections of the gores and the curve on the lower sleeve, but it went together without any problems. As with the underdress, I serged everything I could. Anything that didn't go through the serger got fray-check, since this fabric frayed terribly. I didn't have a big enough piece of the green fabric left to make a facing for the neckline, so it's faced with some leftover white muslin from the underdress. I followed the order of construction recommended in the instructions for the smock, since the garment is pretty similar in how it goes together. The white serging visible on the edges of some pieces is left over from when I serged the cut edges of the raw fabric before I washed it, and was all cut away in the course of construction.
I have no idea if these are even vaguely accurate to period, but there were two triangle pieces left after I cut the sleeves, and they begged to be made into a little bag. I lined it with white muslin left over from the underdress, and used some thin black ribbon left over from hair bows for a double drawstring to cinch it closed and to carry it. I don't know what a four-year-old might need to carry, but she loves it. She can't decide if the bag or the big, swoopy sleeves are her favorite part of the outfit.
Things I still need to deal with:
1. Attaching pointy little gores with a serger, without chopping off too much fabric, tacks practice. I'll need to go in and hand-stitch an inch or two on the tips of two gores that didn't quite get attached.
2. The sides need to lace up. I'm not entirely sure the best way to deal with them. I serged the single thickness of cloth just so it wouldn't fray while I was working with it, but obviously it needs some kind of edge treatment. I'll check the small amount of leftover green fabric I have; I tried to lay things out to leave myself some bias strips. If they're long enough, I can use those. I inherited some little round plastic rings (probably intended for curtain-making?), but I don't know if they'll look right as lacing rings.
3. Once the sides are laced and I've seen how the whole things fits on Red, I'll hem the bottom. I ran the bottom edge through the serger to minimize fraying during construction.
4. The big, swoopy sleeve hem seems like it should have some kind of interesting treatment beyond just a simple hem. I have some very soft fake fur in a milk-chocolate brown (done in sort of strips, maybe to imitate mink?) that might work. I'm a little intimidated by the thought of working with it, though, which is why it's still in my stash after I picked it up from the remnant bin years ago. I'm also considering lining the lower part of the sleeves, but I don't know what would look best.
5. The neckline seems like it could use some ornamentation, as could the seam on the bicep where the lower part of the sleeve attaches. Again, I haven't decided what to do there. I've got some (rusty, rudimentary) ability to embroider, but I don't know jack about tablet weaving.
6. There probably needs to be an ornamental belt of some sort, which will need to be attached to the dress in some way, since little kids really don't have the waist / hip differentiation needed to hold up a belt reliably.
I'm pleased with how it's turned out so far. Red likes it, never a sure thing when sewing for a small child. She tried it on before lunch today, and was running around the kitchen flapping her arms squealing “I'm a bird, I'm going to fly away!” I spent a couple evenings in research and drafting the pattern / cutting layout for the bliaut, one evening in making the smock, and two afternoons making the bag and bliaut. I may change my opinion after attempting to deal with the side lacings and various other remaining issues, but so far it's gone together quickly and easily, and I'd be happy to make it again. This is good, since I don't plan on going to the event naked, and I still need a dress for myself.
(x-posted to my personal journal)