Friday, July 31, 2015

Question from Helena - Katherine of Aragon costume

For an upcoming faire I intended to masquerade as a young Katherine of Aragon (with by boyfriend as Henry VIII and a friend as Cardinal Wolsey). As such I was hoping you could help me answer some costuming questions. I have done my own research of course, but it's always nice to get answers from a real-time person, not a long stagnant website.

First, I want to put it out there that I am a college student and do not have the money to spend on a completely accurate costume. As such I am leaning heavily towards a pattern that is relatively simple to sew. As of now I have two, which I have included below. One is based off the famous Princess Elizabeth portrait, while the other is more generic and more Elizabethan. Your input of which to use (or an alternative) would be greatly appreciated.

For colors I was thinking green, it seems fresh and young and fitting of a Queen. Katherine seems to favor red in her portraits, so that is an option, along with blue. Fabric is where I am really stuck though. Because this event is in the summer (late August/early September) I would like it to be as light as possible. I have read everything from wool, to silk, to velvet, and I was really hoping I could have your expert opinion there.

Thank you so very much,


PhD Historian said...

Period costume ... one of my favorite subjects!

The Simplicity pattern number 29387 is the more nearly correct of the two if you want something suitable to Katherine of Aragon's era. But instead of the French hood, make a gabled Spanish hood to wear with it. There are lots of "how-to" webpages and videos available for making gabled Spanish hoods. Here are two:

One or two pointers to achieve accuracy without spending lots of money in the process:

Color: I would not use blue. The ready availability of woad dye to achieve blue colored fabric made that color less desirable among the wealthy. Desirable colors were difficult to achieve and used costly raw products. These included black and deep reds. If you decide to go with a shade of green, make it a very subdued and darker shade with overtones of grey or brown, such as "British Racing Green." Shy away from lime or grass green, since very bright colors were not usually achievable using 16th-century dye processes.

Textiles: Obviously polyester, nylon, rayon, acetate, and other artificial fibers were not available in Tudor England. And though cotton was available in England in the 16th century, its use was not widespread. Historically correct textiles for the nobility would include linen, plain silk, silk velvet, silk taffeta, and finely spun wool (suiting material). Still, you can certainly "cheat" a little and use a faux silk, velvet, or taffeta made of less-expensive artificial fibers. But if you really want to go all out, a gold or silver metallic jacquard or brocade would be most appropriate and make you the best-dressed lady at the ball! Something like

would be ideal for the underskirt and the lining of the farthingale sleeves (since it is summer you do not want to use faux fur), then use a solid, non-patterned color or a same-color (black-on-black would be SUPERB! as would a very dark red-on-red) jacquard for the overskirt, bodice and upper sleeves. The design of the brocade example is a little “Chinese-y,” but no one will notice. Do steer away from paisley, and use heavy floral patterns only if it is color-on-color matching (a jacquard weave, not embroidery).

EBay is a great resource, by the way, for finding things at lower prices than at your local fabric store and for finding fabrics and trims that might not be available locally.

Boning: The bodice of an early Tudor gown should NOT follow the natural contours of the torso. Instead, it should be relatively flat up the front and relatively rigid. Joann’s Fabrics usually has boning available, though sewing it in so that it does not show is a little tricky.

Bodice trim: Do be sure to trim out the neckline edge of the bodice with some kind of three-dimensional jeweling rather than flat ribbon. Maybe some individual large fake pearls (available at Joann’s Fabrics) in clusters of between 2 and 8, arranged symmetrically in a rectangle, interspersed with some matching cheap costume flat buttons set with fake gemstones or very small brooches.

Avoid clear stones, since diamonds were very rarely sewn onto gowns.

No zippers. The did not exist in the 1500s. Gowns should have lacings up the back of the bodice.

Ouches: An important but often overlooked detail. They are the small jeweled items attached at the 3 or 4 points where the sleeves of the gown come together to form an open seam along the underside of the arm, allowing the underlying white chemise to show through. Again, you can use large flat-backed fake-gem buttons or small inexpensive matching brooches.

PhD Historian said...

Rather than the somewhat tacky drapery cord being used as a girdle chain in the illustration of the Simplicity pattern (no Tudor era noble woman would have been caught dead wearing such a thing!), use an inexpensive thick chain of fake gold like this one:

Just make sure that it is heavy enough to be readily noticeable ... 15-20mm links. It may require two, one to encircle the waist and another for the drop. Use wire cutters to open two links and gold-colored jewelry wire (available at Joann’s) to carefully splice in a large fake gem bauble for the waist

Then add a large three-dimensional pendant to the end of the drop chain

Or, if you really want to be clever, make a small (2 x 3 inches) fake book covered in faux leather to look like one of the pendant prayerbooks that were so popular in the period. You can even embellish the cover using a gold-ink pen to resemble gold tolling of the leather.

Earrings: Avoid them. They were not part of early Tudor fashion.

Hope this helps. And do send a photo of the finished product so we can all see you and your companions in your finery!

PhD Historian said...

Two more thoughts:

Depending on how historically accurate you really want to be and how much effort you want to expend ...

The skirt of the gown should not hang naturally. Instead, if should be supported by underlying hoops. They need not be elaborate, and they are fairly easy to make yourself. Just use 1.5 or 2 inch cotton twill tape (from Joann's Fabrics) and small-gauge spring wire (from the local hardware store). Again, there are lots of videos online about how to make them. Or you can get my email from Webmaster Lara and I will explain it in detail.

If you go with farthingale sleeves (the big puffy undersleeves of the gown that extend all the way to the wrist), the portion from the elbow to the wrist should be stuffed to give it volume. They should NOT be floppy and droopy. Use artificial-fiber pillow stuffing to stuff the sleeves (again available in bulk from Joann's).

Foose said...

Katherine of Aragon, wearing a pimp chain. I love it.

Karen Elmquist said...

Really good answers, PhDHist!
Please do NOT go with the Elizabethan pattern, it's 50 years after what you want.
Katherine did wear French hoods if a Gable hood is overwhelming (I wouldn't want to tackle one!)
For footwear look for a shoe with NO high heels and as wide (round) toe shape as possible. Not pointy. They could be brocade, tapestry or leather to match your costume. They usually had a strap over the instep but a ballet flat will be fine.
Minimal to no make up at this point in time. Maybe a dusting of powder but forget the Queen Elizabeth look!
Hope you have a wonderful time!

Karen Elmquist said...

One more thing, the veil of your hood should be black velvet, NOT anything sheer or colored at this time period. Velvet seems to be the only thing in the portraits, and would probably have been a light soft silk velvet, not a stiff heavy cotton, so it would drape nicely.
However I've read a few times that when Katherine was newly married she sometimes wore her hair loose with a cap or hood, a privilege of queens, so if you have blonde or reddish hair you could do that too.