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Okay, I am beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, I will have a new gown for 12th Night.

That is, provided that I don't get too distracted with life crap and get interrupted in my endeavors . . .

Oh, well, the worst that can happen if I don't finish is that I will do a quickie alteration of my Florentine black gown and call it a day. But I'd rather not. I have been really spazzing over this French gown for about two years, gathering materials, researching construction, figuring out the fit, etc. and then not finish it in time.

Here's to hope.

So here's the current state of affairs:


Chemise = check
Ruff (which I had to redo after learning new stuff) = check
Farthingale. This is the one that I traded with Alina. It needs new waistband, but that goes fast. = check

In progress:

Corset = Front completely hand stitched and almost completely boned. Need to stitch and bone the back, sew eyelets, fit, and put tabs. I am shooting for finishing it this weekend.

Partlet = I haven't cut it yet, but I put it in the "in progress" category since the ruff that will be attached to it is already finished and starched. And the partlet construction is fairly simple.


Don't even get me started. The answer is everything else. And in the words of Miracle Max, you cannot hurry miracles. You hurry a miracle, and you get a rotten miracle.

So there.

At any rate, the most important part, which is the underpinnings, is almost ready. And that is the most critical part. If you have the underpinnings, you have everything. The underpinnings and the adornments is what takes the longest. And without the right ones, your garment will look like crap.

Every once in a while I get the occassional question: "Bel, can you make me look like *that* without wearing a corset?"

In case you were wondering, *that* is usually a painting or engraving of a 16th Century woman. More often than not, a high class 16th Century woman.

My answer? No, I can't. No one can. And even if you go for the unboned version of a (very)lower class woman, you would still have to make that bodice self-supporting. Wearing a bra is not an option.

My philosophy about costuming is that it's all about the boobs. It doesn't matter whether you are making a 16th Century gown, a Roman outfit, a Viking apron, or a 1940's dress. If you don't have the right underpinnings, you cannot make it look right, no matter what you do.

Take for instance the 1950's look. Yeah, you can get to wear a nice 1950's inspired dress, and even a vintage dress. But unless you are wearing one of those torpedo-bras underneath, the kind that you can poke a guys's eye out (even with with a size A cup!), you won't really look like a 1950's woman.

Same goes for the Gothic fitted gown. No, you don't get to wear a torpedo-bra with that, but you will need to make it self supporting in order to look right. In other words, your bodice is your bra. And no messing.

And that's the story of women's fashion. Whether you bandaged your breasts (Greek and Roman, among others), made a self-supporting gown (Gothic and others), or wore a corset (16th Century and others), or a bra, you would design your garment around the centuries old question "What do I do with my boobs now?" And unless you come to terms with the fact that brassieres were not invented until the turn of the 20th Century, and figure out what people did before that, you will not look like that woman in the painting, engraving, print or illumination.

Looking at making your first pair of bodies (or corset), can be daunting. However, once you realize that it is nothing more than a three piece, boned garment, it won't seem so daunting. Also, it is not a one person endeavor. Unless your bodice closes in the front, you will need a friend to help you fit it.

Fortunately, there are a number of decent patterns and instructions out there. From the Reconstructing History pattern, to the Janet Arnold drawings. The trick is to pick the right one for the look, and have a friend help you fit it. No period pattern, whether commercially purchased or redacted from someone else's work (Arnold, Alcega, etc.) will fit right out of the envelope. This is true for any other garment. They will all need a little bit of tweaking. But it will be worth it.

And like the "Law of Repeat," once you figure it out the first time, you will be able to repeat the feat over and over and pretty soon you will be able to churn out those babies like nobody's business.

Last but not least, people think that period bodices are constraining and uncomfortable and impossible to wear for any lenghty period of time. This is because when we think "Bodice" or "Corset" the first thing that comes to mind are the Victorian corsets or, worse, those leather and steel corsets that are sold at Ren Faires and that are painful to wear. If that is the case, fear not. A properly fit bodice will not be painful. Moreover, if you bone it with actual reeds (for basketry, and they are cheap) or even with broom bristles, they will be lighter, more flexible and more comfortable than any steel stays that you can find in the market.

True, they will not fit like a modern bra. However, a well fit corset will make a large chested lady feel much better since the weight of the girls will not be in the shoulders, but distributed in the waist and up.

So next time that you start planning on a new gown, remember. No matter what it is, what period or region of the world you are thinking of, the first thing that you need to figure out is what's supposed to go under the hood.

If your first question is "What am I going to do with these boobs?" you will know that you are in the right track.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:53 pm (UTC)
"What am I going to do with these boobs?"

Yanno, I often ask myself that - thanks for the great post!

I will have to go back and think about how it relates to my garb, I end up wearing a bra or shelf tank with just about everything.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
Fabulous! That is the first step! :-D
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)
To me, it's really more about creating a stable support structure for the rest of the outfit to build on. (Women's torsos do tend to have jiggly bits -- even the really skinny-minnies. Would you build an impressive building without any sort of foundation if you knew the ground was unstable and jiggly?)
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
That's exactly right. A proper foundation creates a proper garment.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
That reminds me that I need a new corset/pair of bodies. Mine is 20-25 years old and hasn't fit for about 5 years. I'll admit to cheating lately - by lightly boning my gown.

Question: When you use reeds, or broom straw as you suggest, can you wash the bodies?
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
Not in a washing machine. The best way to go is in the tub, with a delicate soap, soak, rinse, and hang to dry. Mainly, don't wash it unless you have to. :-)
Dec. 4th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
depending on the era, it makes more sense to bone the gown than have a pair of bodies (this is true for upto 1540s, I believe
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Yep -- I often think that -- even in modern clothing -- and not in quite those words. I think I just snorted my tea. That's OK, though, I needed the laugh.

Since you mentioned it I have to ask, either of you or your audience, what _did_ the Vikings do with the girls?

Secondly, how did the duct tape dummy project go? I know, that's ages ago, but I'm curious.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I don't know what the Vikings do with the girls, as I have not done research in that area. However, I have heard from different people that bandaging the girls could have been done, and from others that some garments were self-supporting. It bears finding out since it is very comfy, practical garb.

The duct tape dummy actually came out great. I have not used it to fit my corset, but it has been great for fitting a cassock. It will be put to the test this weekend when I use it for fitting my current corset and will let you know. :-D
Dec. 3rd, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
I've made the gusset and gores gowns that are snug enough that I can do everything except run in them. I can run in my apron dress (it doesn't have arms so I can make it tighter around the chest and still get into it). I do not know if that's what *they* did, but I have found that it works quite well for me.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
What's your opinion on boned kirtles? All but one my kirtles is boned with jute rope. Did they ever wear a boned kirtle with a pair of bodies?
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
I absolutely adore boned kirtles. They are the bomb and extremely versatile. The boned kirtle was usually worn in lieu of a pair of bodies. That's why they are also called "petticoat bodies."

Boning with rope is fine. There are some theories that boning with rope could have been used, but no proof of it. Mostly, hemp rope. It won't work very well for the more structured later period silhouette, especially French or Spanish, but for lower classes, and other regions where the silhouette is softer, it works great.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
Dec. 3rd, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
Very nice!
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, and those steel-boned Renn Faire jobs? It's like anything else, but moreso: they must FIT. If you happen to be the lucky soul who happens to be the same shape as their pattern, they're wonderful. I have a Moresca that pinched like crazy, but I also had a Brute Force that I wished I could wear daily. The difference is all in the fit.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Yup. All the secret is in the fit. However, one must be careful on the Renn Faire jobs, since not all of them are the right silhouette for period garb. But depending what you want it for, if it's well fitted, it can be quite comfy.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
True - most are not the right silhouette. Of the two I mention, the second *might* work, but even it isn't quite right. It gives a bit too much of the "continental shelf" effect. Someday I'll finish the Eleanor of Toledo bodies -- that might even inspire me to do some Elizabethan.
Dec. 3rd, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and that's the thing. A pair of bodies that are the right shape, do not give you that "continental shelf" effect. I have fit some rather generously endowed ladies, and it has more of a flattening effect. It's extremely well supporting, but does not give you the dreaded shelve effect. :-D
Dec. 4th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reminding me I need to finish my effigy corset (only eyelets and binding to go). I have gotten in the habit of wearing lightly boned kirtles, but really need a corset for some of the other stuff I would like to do. I spent so much time trying to draft and fit it, hopefully it will fit after I lose a few pounds.
Dec. 4th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I am all about lightly boned kirtles. Those things are awesome. But for some things, you will want the corset. Go for it girl!
Dec. 5th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)
I'm one of those who doubt that corsets were worn in Italian Renaissance fashion, at least the first half of the 16.th century. Simply because there are no proof of it, no mention of it in period sources (including inventory lists and period painting), no jokes made about it, as most other unmentionable undies, no... just no sign of it.

Both Janet Arnold and the researchers of the Moda a Firenze deals with the corset issue, and both concludes that stays/corset as we know it most likely weren't worn (there were metal correcting corsets for ill people, but that's another story). Moda a Firenze mentions cardboard being inserted to bodices for stiffness, and I can see that. I have experienced with various forms of boning/stiffing, and it works fine. I used rigilene for a Bronzino dress, and hemp cording for a Raphael dress. Both are straigh and smooth in front, without the necessity of a corset underneath. (Pics here: http://www.geocities.com/pisslei/bronzino and here: http://www.geocities.com/pisslei/unicorn ).

The new "Patterns of Fashion" sais that "In some parts of Italy, especially the North, tight lacing was not practiced as it was in northern Europe". However, the same book mention sumptuary legislations passed in 1547 and 1562 forbidding "...a new type of bodice which being very high and going very low over the stomach...". This means corsets were introduced to the fashion in Italy sometime around this point. If there's a law against it, it has existed somehow.

But when all this is said... I agree a lot with you. The right fundaments will be a make-or-break of a good outfit. Seeing a dress without proper underpinnings can be a sad sight, no matter how lovely the actual dress is. And if the bust/bodice isn't properly supported, it can ruin a lot!
Dec. 7th, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
Yup. I agree that there is no indication that corsets were worn in Italy in the first part of the 16th C. And their silhouette is a lot softer than those of the French and Spanish. :-)
Dec. 13th, 2008 05:12 am (UTC)
Hey, I stumbled upon this post while looking for something quite different (but sorta related) and I love it! "it starts with the boobs", Brillant!
Dec. 14th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. *Bows*
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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