German by Twelfth Night

16142528_10155043733090921_6486914045759143418_nLevel of Authenticity: I intended to enter this in a Baronial level A&S competition although because of various reasons I didn’t.  My research process for this piece was to look at a bunch of pictures of outfits I assumed were from the German renaissance on Pinterest and then pick one I thought was pretty.  I then drew on my general knowledge of Italian renaissance tailoring with a couple of emergency late-night texts to my Laurel and to HL Adelheid, both of whom have done a lot more German than I have.

What/When/Where:  This outfit is my interpretation of the outfit worn by Margarethe vom Rhein in this portrait.  The portrait is dated 1504.  That is all I know about it right now.  My cursory internet searches have actually not turned up very much about this portrait or its sitters, and interestingly the portrait doesn’t even seem to be on my favorite internet source for period paintings, the Web Gallery of Art.  I tend to use English language terms for the parts of the outfit and I’ll do that here as well for sake of consistency with my previous blog posts except where there is an element that doesn’t have a clear English language equivalent.


That is not my phone you guys; I am consulting my perfectly period wax tablet!

Why: I made this outfit for Montengarde Twelfth Night, where we were scheduled to get a new Baron and Baroness.  As Their (now) Excellencies Peter and Brangwayn have German Renaissance personas, they encouraged those of us who were so inclined to wear our German finery for the event.  I’m always up for a new challenge so I decided to play along.

As for why a German lady might have worn this gown, I’m currently working my way slowly through “Dressing Up” by Ulinka Rublack, which is about social meanings of dress in the German renaissance, but I don’t have an answer yet.

Who: I have the name of the sitter, Margarethe vom Rhein, but I don’t yet have any further information about who she was or why and under what circumstances she had her portrait done.  I also don’t have any information about the identity of artisans who might have been involved in producing a full outfit in Germany in the early sixteenth century.  I’m hoping some of this information might come out of “Dressing Up”, but for right now I think we’re going to have to say that I went about this project as though I was an Italian tailor who had seen a couple of fashion plates from Germany and was then asked by my client to make a gown in the German style.

How: I’m going to exercise my very rusty HTML skills and try to present this in tabular form.  Wish me luck!  Except where noted specifically otherwise, all of my information on “period approach” is based on my research on Italian and English styles rather than German styles.

Aspect Period Approach My Approach Reason for Variance
Shift – materials Despite a couple of references in Frick* to silk “underblouses”, I believe the vast majority of shifts in this period were made of linen.  Linen sewing thread was also available. Linen cloth; linen sewing thread. I don’t yet have good information on what weight and thread count of linen might have been used; probably some room for improvement here.
Shift, gown, stomacher – tools Tailors used shears, pins, and needles in a variety of materials (metal and bone) Shears, pins, seam gauge, chalk, metal needles. I would like to do more research on whether chalk and methods of marking seam allowances and other small distances were used.  Would also be interesting to try cutting fabric with sixteenth century shears, which are a different shape.
Shift – cut Rather than being c0ntracted to outside tailors, underclothes were usually cut and constructed by the women of the house (even women of very high status, like Katherine of Aragon).  In Italy this was often done according to a pattern traditional in the family.  I chose a low necked shift because my exemplar portrait did not appear to show a great expanse of shift. I plugged my measurements into the Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator** and followed the instructions. Shift was not the main focus of the project and I didn’t want to spend too much time or brain power on it.
Shift – construction A variety of seam styles and finishes can be found in various garments across a range of time periods. I first finished the edges of each piece with a narrow hem, then whip stitched the finished edges together to form the seams.  This was a technique I’d wanted to try with the shift for my elevation gown but didn’t have time for. I believe this is a period technique.
Shift – embellishment Extant shifts, as well as shifts that can be seen in portraits, mainly seem to be embellished with monochrome or polychrome silk embroidery.  Some later examples also have openwork seams. This shift is not embellished. Shift was not the main focus of the project (and is not normally within my focus area) and I wanted to complete it quickly.
Kirtle This is a standard layer in sixteenth century Italian clothing but I don’t know if it was as common in Germany. I used the kirtle I had previously made for my elevation and which I still haven’t blogged about. Because the exemplar I chose has a gown skirt that is open in the front, I felt it was necessary to wear a kirtle underneath.  I also used the kirtle as a foundation to pin my stomacher to.
Gown – materials, fashion fabric In Florence, wool could have been used for either a day gown or a more important gown.  I have done less research than I would like to on what weaves and weights would have been available.  Dyeing was done with natural materials and black was normally achieved at this time through overdyeing a cloth dyed red with kermes or grana in indigo. I used wool crepe produced and dyed using modern industrial processes.  Together with others I carried out some desultory research about whether a crepe texture was appropriate to 16th century weaving processes but the research was inconclusive.  This is the primary area where I would expect to lose marks for authenticity if I entered this piece in a competition. Goal with project was to use materials from my stash where possible instead of buying more at the store.  I do have wool tabby suiting in a number of dark greens and blues that I could have used instead, but I chose to use fabric that was the same color as the exemplar.

Further opinions below***.

Gown – materials, interlining It’s been kind of a while since I looked at my sources on Italian methods of construction, though I know I was able to piece together some evidence for interlining.  For this aspect, I followed the information set out by the Tudor Tailors in their various books and presented at their advanced workshop which I attended in July 2016.  They had evidence for use of canvas and/or buckram for stiffening in bodies. I used two layers of canvas, stitched to the lining.  I don’t have any information on what the fiber content of the canvas was and I didn’t conduct a burn test. Goal with project was to use materials from my stash where possible instead of buying more at the store.  Fabric I used had working characteristics appropriate to end process.
Gown – materials, lining Again, it’s been a while since I looked at my Italian sources.  Possible that period weaves of wool would not have required a lining in order to achieve the correct weight and drape. I used linen, woven and dyed using modern processes. Linen was available in period, though uncertain what weights and thread counts were available.  I needed a lining because my fashion fabric on its own was too light to achieve the correct weight and drape.  Instead of choosing a linen that was black like the fashion fabric, I chose a colour that looked a little more diffuse as it’s my understanding that linen does not take natural dyes very easily.
Gown – cut Evidence of the cut comes from examination of the portrait as well as cutting diagrams from Barich and McNealy*****.  Although this was an area where I could and did delve a little deeper into the transalpine methods, it’s also an area where I could and would like to do more research.

From a known pattern style, Mathew Gnagy posits that a master tailor could chalk out an individualized pattern using a proportional measuring system.

Further information in Frick is that the tailor would conduct a fitting on the woman to wear the dress, possibly using a mockup fabric if it was an unfamiliar style.

I began by studying the portrait to note where the seam lines appeared to be.  Although Margarethe’s arms are held in front of her, it’s still possible to see that in the areas where her waist is visible, there is no waist seam.  Although this could have been artistic license, generally painters of this time period put a good deal of effort into ensuring the realism of their paintings.

A gown without a waist seam could have been cut in four panels with inset gores, as one would make a “Gothic Fitted Dress”, but I recalled that in the Drei Schnittbucher I had seen a very interesting cutting pattern with the skirt cut in one with the bodice but sticking out at each edge of the bodice.  The portrait is from 1504 and the Master Tailors’ Books are from the 1570s but it seemed like an opportunity to test this pattern.

I have a recent toile that still (mostly) fits, though I have grown a little more, er, shapely than I once was (round is a shape, right?).  I first traced the toile out on butcher paper and then made the alterations I would need to achieve the cut-on skirt shape (Figure 1).  Then I put together an initial toile out of one layer of non-stretchy poly blend suiting (Figure 2-3).

This showed that the concept was going to work, but I could also tell that I needed to construct a mockup that had all of the same stiffening that the final product was going to have in order to properly test the fit, especially through the shoulders (Figure 4-5).  The fit of the shoulders turned out to be okay but you can see by the wrinkles around my waist in the full mockup that the skirt is sitting a little bit too low because the bodice is too long.

The cutting patterns for women’s dresses in the Drei Schnittbucher are quite different to the patterns I’ve come across in other parts of Western Europe in this time period.  With the amount of research I have currently done in this area, it’s difficult to know whether the idiosyncracies (such as the cut on skirt) can properly be conjectured for a garment painted approximately 70 years before their publication.  In addition, it’s likely that a sixteenth century tailor would primarily be making garments for other people where I am often tailoring for myself.  I think that my processes are otherwise fairly similar to the period processes in this area, although I suspect that a period tailor would have far more proficiency with the narrow subset of styles he was frequently making and would therefore likely have needed fewer rough drafts than I tend to.
Gown – construction A variety of seam styles and finishes can be found in various garments across a range of time periods.  In Florence, sewing was often sent out as piecework for seamstresses to do in their homes, with the tailor supervising the process and participating where more specialized techniques were called for.

The Tudor Tailors recommend basting the interlining to the lining, then turning in all of the raw edges on the fashion fabric and the shell and whip stitching them to each other along the folded edge.  This is generally in keeping with the methods described by Janet Arnold.

As there are to my knowledge no extant sixteenth century garments using the cut on skirt shape, I referred to the technical descriptions of seventeenth and eighteenth century garments cut in this style in Janet Arnold******.  These show the pleats being supported on the inside of the garment with a secondary band of fabric cut along the straight grain.

The hem of Eleanora of Toledo’s gown is finished with a strip of bias tape pinked along the bottom and turned up to the inside of the skirt.

After hand basting my canvas interlining to my lining fabric (Figure 6), I hand basted each piece of lining to my fashion fabric before cutting the fashion fabric (Figure 7).  This ensured that the lining pieces and fashion fabric pieces were the same exact shape as each other.  I then used a sewing machine to sew all of my long seams before turning under the seam allowances and finishing them by hand.  At this stage, the cut on pleats for the skirts were still hanging loose inside the garment (Figure 8).

Using the machine, I sewed the tops of the pleats closed and pinned them in position where I wanted them to sit once they were fixed in place (Figure 9).  Then I fixed the pleats to the band as securely as I could by hand (Figure 10) before stitching the band down to the lining.  The pleats needed to hang on the band, and the stitching of the band needed to not show through on the right side of the garment, because there is no visible waist seam on the portrait.

Then I used the sewing machine to attach a linen bias strip all the way around the edges and hem of the gown, hand stitching the other side down on the inside to enclose the raw edges of the fabric.

Some of the processes and approaches I used are likely very similar to how they would have been in  period.  With the cut on pleats, I needed to rely on evidence from a later time period where a similar cutting pattern had been used.  Usually I would enclose the raw edges of the fabric on the bodice by sewing the lining to the fashion fabric either using the technique the Tudor Tailors suggest or by machine, but because there was no waist seam and the skirt was open below the waist, this approach didn’t seem like it was going to work.  Instead I applied the bias hem method to the whole dress, which I believe is also a technique recommended by the Tudor Tailors.

I did use my sewing machine in places, and for a garment like this I don’t think it’s inappropriate to do so.  In period, the tailor would have done some of the more difficult techniques himself while sending the more straightforward work out to seamstresses; my equivalent is using my machine for the more straightforward work (though sometimes I give easier stuff to my students instead).

Gown – embellishment The gown in the portrait appears to have a hem and possibly also a lining of ermine.  The gown also has two guards of different widths that could potentially be of velvet.  The Tudor Tailors recommend attaching your guards to each cut piece of your pattern before constructing your garment.  I would like to do a more in-depth study of materials and colours used in guards in the sixteenth century, as well as the techniques used for attaching them to garments. The hem guard of my gown is figured (polyester) satin and the remaining guards are crimson silk.  I attached all of the guards after the gown was constructed and I hand stitched them using a back stitch that shows as running stitch on the right side of the garment. I choose not to use real fur for ethical reasons and I choose not to use fake fur because it looks, well, fake.  When I discussed this conundrum with my Laurel some time ago she recommended using velvet because it, like fur, provides a difference in texture and sheen from the fashion fabric.  I’ve successfully used this advice before, but I just couldn’t find any white velvet that I thought would look nice here.  Instead I delved into my stash and retrieved the ends of the fabric I’d used for the gown I was made an apprentice in.  Although not velvet, it provided a colour and reflectivity contrast.  My hem band is quite a bit deeper than the one in the painting because I didn’t consult the photo right before cutting and attaching my guard like I obviously should have.

I meant to use black cotton velveteen for the other set of guards though I admit I was not looking forward to the prospect of cutting all that bias tape out of velvet and then trying to hand sew it.  In the end, when I went looking in my stash for the black velveteen I thought I had, it wasn’t there although I don’t remember giving it away.  In the meantime, I still had a ton of crimson silk bias tape left over from my elevation and it was all the same width, but it was also all premade and I didn’t have to do more work.

I waited until my garment was entirely constructed before attaching my guards.  I actually prefer the method suggested by the Tudor Tailors, but when I was putting this garment together I didn’t know how much time each step was going to take me and I wanted to make sure I had a garment that was as wearable as possible before starting embellishment.

Stomacher – materials This is a type of garment that doesn’t appear in Florence in my time period so my level of research on it is pretty sketchy.  From what I’ve been told by others who’ve done more research than me, the German stomacher (brustfleck) was always gold. For the fashion fabric, I used metallic silk tissue where I suspect that the gold colour is provided by a cheap modern material rather than anything like real gold or another metal.  I backed this with one layer of canvas and used a changeable silk taffeta for the lining. I chose materials that were available in period, although the gold silk tissue would have used real gold and therefore been both much more expensive and also much heavier.  I need to do more research to determine if there is any evidence of what materials would have been used specifically for brustflecks.
Stomacher -cut Adelheid told me that she is not aware of any extant brustflecks, so cut needs to be determined by reference to visual sources. In my case I used both my observation of the brustfleck in my exemplar portrait, as well as my observation of the brustfleck that my Laurel has made for her Cranach gowns.  From this it appeared to be a rectangle or trapezoid roughly the shape of the front of the bodice from the centre to past the bust at the top and approximately halfway to the side at the bottom.  I first constructed a mockup based on my existing bodice toile (Figure 11).  When I put this together with the gown mockup (Figure 4) it gave me a profile that, while not too low-cut for my comfort, was more low-cut than the exemplar.

I then did a second mockup (no pictures) that came up higher in the front, though this presented different challenges because it needed to curve to fit over my bust in ways that most period patterns don’t curve.  At this stage of the project I was feeling rushed and made a number of silly mistakes, but in the end I settled for making a trapezoid that gave the right amount of decolletage and trusting that I could find someone at the event who could pin me properly (see Stomacher – construction below).

In the absence of extant pieces, I relied on parallels in English dressing practices from the sixteenth century.  I have seen other solutions to the brustfleck cut and construction issue and I might need to experiment with a few styles before deciding which one works best for me.
Stomacher – construction As mentioned above, I’m told there are no extant brustflecks.  I think it’s reasonable to rely on evidence from other extant garments about the kind of stitching that could be used.

I chose to use an approach based on English dressing practices and had my dressing helpers pin the edges of my brustfleck to my kirtle so it would stay in place once the gown was on.  Other German renaissance costumers I’ve seen have tended to make brustflecks that lace into the front openings of their gowns.  I would need to do more research to determine whether there are any visual sources that give more detail about how brustflecks were cut and worn.

We are just not going to talk about all of the silly mistakes I made in putting this thing together.  You’ll note that I did not struggle much with the far more complicated construction aspects of the gown, yet somehow a simple trapezoid eluded me.  Let’s just say that I used a combination of machine sewing and hand sewing and that it’s a good thing I had by this point decided not to enter this as a competition piece because I just didn’t do a very nice job. After all the other aspects I’d worked on, I had one evening left to work on this and some wine may have been consumed.
Stomacher – embellishment Again, I haven’t done that much research but many of the brustflecks shown in paintings are highly adorned with embroidery and applied pearls and jewels.  Are they a showpiece for the wearer’s fine handwork skills? I applied a single line of a broad band of trim encrusted with fake jewels.  Don’t look too closely at my stitching.  Especially don’t look at the back. I knew from the very start of this project that I would not have the time to do the nice embellishment job this piece deserves, so I bought a piece of trim I thought would probably look the part from 10 feet away.  Some day I would really like to do this bit justice with some really nice embroidery and beading.
Head covering I relied entirely on the research and experimental archaeology of Marion McNealy on how to put together and wear this wonderful monstrosity (called a wulsthaube).  Here are the two videos I watched: Making a Wulsthaube and How To Wear…Early Modern German Veil Wraps.  Some wulsthauben in portraits are plain but many ones for upper class women, including the one in my exemplar portrait, are highly decorated with embroidery and/or beading. I mostly followed Ms. McNealy’s instructions as closely as I could.  I didn’t have any milliner’s wire or willow bents on hand so I stuffed my roll with wool roving.  I also used a hemmed yard square I already had instead of making a rectangular veil.  I topped the ensemble off with a base metal laurel wreath tiara I bought for $5 at a cheap modern accessory shop. I don’t think there are any extant wulsthauben either. Ms. McNealy used a willow bent wrapped in cotton batting because she reasoned they were easily available cheap materials that women of all social classes could have accessed (as women of all social classes wore the wulsthaube).  For a similar reason I believe that wool roving is a suitable stuffing.

The veil wraps Ms. McNealy demonstrates are designed for rectangular veils and for a camping event I can see wanting to use a rectangle for protection against sun, dust, etc.  I already had a square veil on hand and I didn’t want to make another one, so I adapted the veil wrap technique to a square.  That said, the veil on my exemplar portrait doesn’t seem to have any tails hanging off it so it might also be square.

When I was looking at exemplar portraits, I didn’t specifically notice any of them having tiaras or billiments instead of embroidery and/or beading, but I did come across this pin  on Pinterest of some lovely Laurel in a Kingdom unknown to me and I thought the idea looked nice, so I co-opted it.

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Figure 11


*Carole Collier Frick, “Dressing Renaissance Florence”

**Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator

***A Florentine tailor of the sixteenth century would have received fabric for his**** work directly from his client or might have bought it himself in the marketplace.  As with many other areas of Europe from the High Middle Ages on, Florence had a very well-developed textile industry with many different types of artisans involved in the processes that led to the finished cloth a tailor would have used.  The processes were strictly governed and standards of quality were required to be adhered to.  For these reasons, I feel that it’s not inappropriate for a medieval or renaissance tailoring project to use storebought fabric made and dyed with modern processes.  It can even be okay to use fabrics with a less than 100% natural fiber content, as long as it has the right weight, drape, colour, and other working characteristics.

****It seems that in Florence at this time only men were working as tailors (though women could work as seamstresses).  There are a few references to women master tailors in Venice, and I’m seeing some evidence that North of the Alps more women could aspire to guild membership.

*****Katherine Barich and Marion McNealy “Drei Schnittbucher: Three Austrian Master Tailor Books of the 16th Century”

******Janet Arnold “Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction c. 1660-1860”

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