Blue and Burgundy Wool Gown in 16th c. German Style

Out and about at a fair sporting my non SCA event accessories.

In December 2022, I made another wool gown and hat for the cooler weather events. Again, I was inspired by the woodcuts in Town and Country 1517-1550 (McNealy & Geisberg, 2021). I had some fabric on hand that would be perfect for this project. This dress is similar to the blue 16th-century townswoman dress I made several years ago. However, I went with different style elements in the sleeves and guards. I sketched out all my plans before starting; I currently cannot find this sketch and I will add it when I run across it. I used a mix of modern tailoring and historical techniques for this project. This article is a dress diary, not a tutorial; I will highlight any information I think would be helpful.

When making a gown I leverage existing ones I like the fit of and pattern off those. Provided I have the time to follow my own best practices (time does not always permit), I use paper to develop a pattern and then transfer that to a similar type of scrap fabric. I then baste and fit the mockup or toile (pronounced twarhl – I’m sure I do not pronounce this correctly…). I test the fit and adjust the toile over and over, then transfer it to my final fabric. I hand-baste and/or pin my seams and edges when sewing. I test the fit of the gown before going from the basted seam to the final. I also iron all the seams, use a ham and clapper, and use seam tape or a seam felling method. I highly recommend watching tutorial videos on modern and historical tailoring; I’ve picked up many great techniques that way.

Wool Wool Wool!

Years ago, I was gifted some lovely 100% wool flannel in dark burgundy perfect for dress guards and bands. I also had some blue 100% wool broadcloth, a boiled or fulled wool that would take a cut edge without fraying, perfect for slashing. Both were light(ish), maybe around 11 oz per sq. yard (372 grams per sq. meter). I also had some mid-weight black linen (IL019 5.3 oz per sq. yard) for the bodice lining. I pre-washed on gentle and cold, using a detergent I trust not to mess with the dye. Then hung it to dry in the shade. Last I steam ironed all the fabric before starting. I bought some color-matched wool thread from a local embroidery store that I used for the hand stitching.

I decided to go with a supportive underdress again for my first layer. I could use the brown underdress again and pattern off of that. I used some tracing paper and traced the brown bodice onto it. I made minor changes to the outline to ensure the gown fully covers it and allows for sleeves. I used some of my scrap fabric with a similar feel to make the toile and transferred the pattern to the fabric with the tailor’s chalk. I cut out the pattern and used the sewing machine to put it together. Then I tested the fit. I did not take any photos of this part.

Dialing in the the cut of the bodice.
Finishing the pattern on the wool.

Once happy with the toile, I took it apart and trimmed it up. Using chalk, I traced it onto my blue wool and black linen lining. Then I cut it out, leaving very generous allowances. Once cut out, I sewed the neckline of the bodice; using the sewing machine, I sewed wrong side of the wool outer layer and linen lining. Then, carefully cut the excess, flip it, and steam iron the edge. I use a simple wooden clapper to set the steam and heat in the wool, adding the desired touch.

Once the neckline edge was finished, I basted the front pieces to the back on the sides and at the shoulder and tested the fit, pinning the front closed. When making a dress like this, I generally wear my underdress while sewing; it makes it easier to do all the fitting as I go.

When I was happy with the fit, I machine stitched the sides and shoulder seams. Then I went on to finish the front edge and bottom of the bodice, trimmed the excess, and then pressed it down. I whipped stitched the layers together. I put it on again and stitched it closed for a final test before adding the front closures. I add the closures early in my process because I like to have it set for when I pattern and add the sleeves.

My clapper at work.
Testing the front closures and fit before I put on the hooks and eyes.

Next, I added the hooks and eyes. I cheated and used a hook and eye tape. I whip-stitched the tape down and secured the hook loops through all the layers. I did this because I wanted a secure fit and knew I would cover it with the burgundy wool guards. I also whipped stitched down the bottom edge of the bodice where the skirt attaches and attached seam tape for added support.

I cut the lining near the front at one point when I was working on the sleeve. Luckily it whip stitched down and you couldn’t tell.
I’ve shaped and pressed where I think the sleeves will fit into the arm scythe.

Next up, I worked on the sleeves. I’ve made a lot of sleeves, so I had a general idea of how I wanted to cut. I drew out the plan on some tracing paper. I used the circumference of the bodice armhole for the top and my wrist for the bottom. I created the round swoop for the top of the sleeve to fit the arm scythe. I started by drafting the sleeves with the seam on the bottom. On the toile fabric, I went wider and longer with the sleeve and attached it to the bodice with a basting stitch. I kept adjusting the seam until I was happy with the fit. Then I tested out the location of the slits.

Testing the sleeve toile.
Transferring toile outline to the wool.

I detached the toile sleeve from the bodice. I left the seam that ran on the underside of the arm and instead cut a new seam along the back side of the sleeve. Of course, I do not have a good picture of this attachment in the back. I will take a picture the next time I wear it to update. Before I added the slits, I tested the fit again, basting the sleeve pre-slits back into the bodice. Then I used the toile sleeve as a template and traced slit marks on the sleeves. I used a rotary tool and ruler to cut the slits. Once I was happy with the sleeve, I added the burgundy flare guards at the wrist before attaching it to the bodice. I folded it back on itself, finished the sleeve seam, and attached it to the bodice. I attach the sleeves to the bodice by hand, it makes it much easier to get the best fit.

Before moving onto the skirt, I cut out a template for the burgundy bodice guards on paper and then transferred it to the wool. I carefully pressed and checked the width and pinned it to the bodice. I mitered the right angles for a nice, crisp angle. Once happy with the look, I used a hidden felling stitch and attached the guards. I left the guards at the bottom of the bodice opening unsewn for now.

Checking the arm seam and fit before adding the slashes.
Finishing the arm seam with seam tape.
Marking the wool sleeve with the slits using the toile sleeve as the map.

Adding the wrist guards and finishing them with seam tape.

I used seam tape for all my seams and machine stitched it to the seam allowance, then carefully steam-ironed the seams down into the desired shape using a ham. I then whip-stitched the seam tape to the garment and pressed them to ensure the wool was set.

I used my usual method for creating my skirt panels ( see blue 16th-century townswoman dress for more detailed info). I make my skirts about 3 X the desired finished waist circumference, plus seam and front opening allowance. I have a long torso and do not have a well defined waist, so my bodices look a little long for these styles, I may try going an inch shorter than this next time I make a wool gown. I sewed the panels together using the machine, then added a front opening slit midway through the front-facing panel. Along the top edge of the waist, I added seam tape for support to attach the skirt to the bodice. I then folded that seam tape under (to the inside). Then, I folded box pleats along the waist equally up to the front seam. I leave the front slit edge raw until the skirt is attached. I stitch the box pleats in place to make sure they are even and set. I sandwiched the bodice to the skirt, right side to right side, then using some heavy thread, I whip stitched the skirt to the bottom of the bodice. I tied off every 5 inches to ensure that I would not lose the whole thing if the thread broke down the road. 

After the skirt was attached, I finished off the front slit so it lays nice and flat when I closed the bodice. I also finished up the guards on the bodice at the bottom front opening. I didn’t use any hooks or anything on the skirt slit; the overlap was just right, and it sat smooth inside two box pleats. On my last try-on to figure out the hem, I wanted it longer and added a 3 inch strip of blue wool at the bottom. I then pressed it to the desired length and hem-stitched it by hand.

Overall, I’m happy with this dress. It is the best fit I’ve achieved thus far. I followed my best practices I mentioned at the beginning closely and I think the pay off came from that effort and taking my time. I also made a hat, but it was a super quick project, and I did not take good photos. I make a lot of hats. I need to write a good post about those adventures. I also doubled back and made a new white linen underdress not too long after this and wear it now as my underdress ( I hope to post more on that soon).

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