Sunday, September 14, 2014

1590s Gown: The Design

Design time!

Even though this style was short-lived and very distinctive there's still some wiggle room in terms of design.
The ruffs and headwear offer the most obvious points of departure (as some of the images --even the later one-- show hoods). However, even though I'm probably going to have to scale back my ambition for the hat I think I'm still going to try for the tall hat ruff combo that are in so many of the portraits.
So my big decision now is trim...primarily where the sleeves are concerned.
There are several different sleeve treatments in the historical sources, but primarily they fall into two categories: Plain or striped (either horizontal or vertical). There are a couple of exceptions, but for my own sanity I think it's best to stick to one of these 5 options:


By a wide margin plain sleeves seem to be the most pervasive in the historical sources...however that's only if you include funeral monuments.  Though there are fewer portraits of this style, most of them show some sort of sleeve embellishment. But putting that to one side, let's look at plain sleeves!

Of course this lady (John Dunch's nurse) has to be first on the list! As this was the image that kicked off the research for the secondary plain (white) front style.  

Nice, clean simple...and let's not forget: easy! I'm not going to lie, that's a strong argument in its favour.

Other examples of plain sleeves include (but are by no mean's limited to):

Jane Compton, d.1586
Wife of Arthur Pennyng, 1593
Silvester Browne, 1593

Elizabeth St.John, 1592
Anne Perry, 1585
Constance Lucy, 1601


Here's where things start to get interesting...

a) Vertical

Where else would we start, but with the lovely Esther Inglis! 

Since this is the inspiration image there is a good reason to favour these closely spaced, medium stripes. 
Lots of visual interest, without being too complicated. 

There are also examples of more widely spaces stripes... or at the opposite end of the spectrum very narrow stripes (again, spaced more widely or close together).

Joan Popley, 1580s-90s
Unknown Lady, 1590s
Unknown Lady, 1580-90s

However, I've come across almost no examples of vertical stripes in effigies or funeral brasses.  It may be because they are just too difficult to convey in that medium, but if stripes do appear they are almost always...

b) Horizontal/Angled

I bet you thought I would use the Woodward portrait here? A fair assumption since it's been my go-to image in every other instance...but as much as I love those accordian-like armour sleeves I have to admit that I haven't the faintest idea of how to reproduce them!

So in the meanwhile let's look at this much more reasonable example of horizontal trim on the lovely Mrs. Jennyngs.
The shapes are nice and rounded, and while this style isn't often represented in portraits it makes up for it by regularly appearing in tomb monuments. 

Elizabeth Death, 1590
Alice Boggis, 1599
Mary Hinton, 1594

So there are the sleeve options!
I have to admit that I like the angled sleeves, but I suspect I'll end up leaning towards a vertical option since it's a bit more straightforward and easier (hopefully!) to lay out.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

1590s Gown...More Thoughts on Historical Sources

So...I'm waffling a bit.

Not on a loose gown.
No...the pattern is scaled up, the mockup is made (more or less), and the fabric is purchased.  I'm definitely making a loose gown. But after re-examining some of the images, I'm not as sure as I was that it actually is a loose gown that I'm seeing in my inspiration portraits.

Certainly there are loose gowns which seem to be in keeping with the style I've chosen (more on that below), but I don't know if that's the case in the Inglis and Woodward/Alleyn portraits.
The Inglis image is just too stylized to tell for sure. I still think the lines on the side might indicate folds, but it could go either way.
But having found an even higher resolution photo of the Woodward portrait I'm starting to have my doubts. I based my original assumption primarily on the fact that she was wearing a belt...but as other portraits clearly show, that doesn't preclude her wearing a bodice and skirt (which I'm starting to think might be the case).

Here is the original portrait and another version adjusted for high contrast.

My problem is with the dark lines on on the "skirt".  Some of them clearly indicate shadows and folds, but there seem to be two parallel lines (one fat and one narrow) that appear on either side of the "skirt" opening. I think it's likely that these lines represent trim.
If this was a loose gown the trim lines should continue through to the body section as well...but in this case at least one of the lines appears to stop at the belt.

So if that second narrow line is in fact trim, than there is a good argument for this not being be a loose gown after all.  It may actually be a fitted gown (ie. a fitted bodice with integral/attached skirt). If I was still intent on doing a direct reproduction this would probably send me back to the drawing board. 
Since I'm hoping that this outfit can double for what I'm calling the "Pigeon Breast" style from the previous post, I'm going to continue with my plan for a loose gown. 

And going back to my trusty tomb brasses at least some of them do seem to indicate a loose gown was worn with an embroidered stomacher (granted there are much less of them).

This brass of is probably the best example, since it also shows the decorated forepart present in the Woodward portrait.  

In a somewhat different style there is this full effigy of Constance Lucy, which has loose gown worn open over a stomacher and a petticoat.

But my favourite brass is still this one.  Granted, this is the gathered front style...but it's a really nice example of different trims on the bottom versus the turned back rever (and close enough the Woodward portrait in terms of overall silhouette and aesthetic).

So given the historical sources I'm still happy about moving forward with the loose gown, both as an analog for the initial inspiration and as a style in itself.
Now all I have to do is decide on accessories and trim placement!
But this post as gotten a little long so I think I'll hold off on the final design until next time...

(which I guess means this was just one long rant to basically get back to where I started and to justify a decision I had already made. Ah, well...)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

1590s Loose Gown Inspiration & Research

***, remember when I said I was finally going to get back to my fitted gown project?

Well, this time it only took me --what?-- 4 weeks to abandon it again? (Even less, because I actually bought the fabric for this new project 3 weeks ago).

But I just couldn't help myself, and here's why...

Esther Inglis, 1595

A little under a year ago I fell in love with this portrait of Esther Inglis, a French born calligrapher and miniaturist whose family fled to England after the St. Bartholomew Day massacre.
The hat, ruff and blackwork combo was just too good to ignore and for the first time I really wanted to reproduce a known portrait.

It quickly became evident that Esther's costume was typical of a short-lived fashion of the 1590s.

Two almost identical portraits exist of Joan Woodward (wife of the Edward Alleyn, the famous Shakespearean actor) and a Mrs. Jennyngs, both appearing to date from 1596...just a year after the Inglis portrait.

Joan Woodward, 1596
Mrs. Jennyngs, 1596

Now I knew I had to make this outfit! I'd never seen this style reproduced and really wanted to give it a try.
But exactly what are we looking at here? It can be very difficult to determine shape and form in English portraiture from this period (which is notably flatter in style than its European counterparts). Add to that poor scans and reproductions (resulting in the 'floating head and hands against a black background' scenario that is almost present in the Jennyings portrait) and it becomes even more daunting.

As the silhouette is clearest on the Woodward portrait let's focus on her for a moment.  We seem to have black gown (probably with with revers) over some sort of blackwork front piece.  The gown has a full skirt, large sleeves and a conical shape typical of the period.
But is it a fitted gown? A bodice with a stomacher? Or something else?
Do these gowns look flat and conical because they were, or is it an artifact of English style mentioned above.

Certainly there are examples of similar gowns (from the early to mid 1590s) which clearly show embroidered stomachers.

Francis Howard, 1590s
Lady Bennet, 1590
Unknown Lady, 1592

But they didn't quite have the same aesthetic and I became more convinced that what I was actually seeing in the 1595/6 portraits was a loose gown that was belted at the waist.

There is a belt/sash visible in the Woodward portrait and what I suspect are folds or gathers radiating up from the waist to the underarm in the Inglis portrait (as would result from a belted garment).

Woodward Portrait, belt detail
Inglis Portrait, gathers (?) detail

John Dunch and his Nurse

It was around this time that I received my copy of "The Tudor Child" and noticed this image.

In the catalog for "Elizabeth I & her People"  (National Portrait Gallery) the painting is listed as "A child, possibly John Dunch and his Nurse, by an unknown English artist, c.1580s-early 1590s."
I very much suspect the later date is correct.  The overall aesthetic and silhouette is extremely similar to the 1590s portraits, albeit in a much simpler style (as befitted a servant).
The front piece is lacking blackwork and the gown is largely undecorated, but apart from that she seems to fit right alongside Esther Inglis and the other ladies above.

This portrait is also slightly better executed than the others...with a greater sense of depth and form, which I believe indicate a loose gown (in the is case belted with an apron).

But I wasn't totally convinced until I discovered the treasure trove that are English Tomb Brasses!
Brasses are wonderful, because unlike portraits and paintings (where there is a higher emphasis on colour, texture and patterns) brasses are all about form and shape.
And what I found is that an overwhelming number of brasses from the mid-late 1950s seemed to show a loose gown in the style that is very similar to the Nurse portrait...complete with gathered front piece (more on that later...)

John Gage and wives, 1595
John Gage and wives, 1595 (detail)

But my favourite image is probably this detail of the wife of Arthur Pennyng, 1593.

It's almost contemporary to the Inglis/Woodward portraits and clearly shows a loose gown with folded back revers, belted with a sash at the waist. It also appears that there may have been at tall hat (worn over a coif) which has since broken off the monument.

As far as shape and construction go this will probably be my jumping off point.

However, there are some additional elements worth considering... most notably the highly decorated forepart present in this and many other brasses, which seems to be typical of this particular style.

With this information I took another look at the Woodward portrait (the only one which extends further than waist level).  And sure enough --with the levels adjusted to show greater contrast-- there does seem to be a hint of a brocade underskirt.

Woodward Portrait, forepart detail

Success! With so many converging elements things are looking good for reproducing this style!

That being said, all this is beating around the bush somewhat since it's leaving out the most distinctive feature of the Englis/Woodward/Jennyings portraits...

The blackwork.

What the heck is going on here???

Well... at face value there is a large blackwork front piece that extends from (we assume) the waist to the bottom the the ruff.  There are vertical lines radiating slightly from the waist upwards, which might suggest folds in the fabric but more likely indicate that the blackwork piece is covered by a sheer protective fabric.
A similar treatment is also seen the the Woodward portrait.

However, that doesn't necessarily indicate that the blackwork piece is rigid.

This portrait of Lady Harrington (1585-90) predates our period, but shows a similar front piece in which the pattern is clearly broken by crisp folds which start at the waist and became wider at the bust.
The pattern flattens out as it approaches the neckline... Almost as if a square or rectangular blackwork piece was gathered/folded into a more triangular shape.

Although it is difficult to tell where the blackwork ends, the piece seems to extend past the ruff to almost the base of the collar bone.

Then there is this image of Anne Carew, Lady Throckmorton painted after her death (sometime between 1589-93).

Again, instead of a rigid stomacher the blackwork piece seems to be arranged in soft gathers, more reminiscent of the Nurse portrait and the tomb brasses.
If a loosely gathered, almost pigeon breast style was popular then it could be argued that perhaps the blackwork pieces were fashioned in a similar way, and only appear flat in some portraits due to painter placing more emphasis on accurately portraying the pattern of the blackwork than the form of the clothing.

It's difficult to tell how far up it goes, but it seems to extend past the nape of the neck and towards the shoulder on right side.

Throckmorton portrait, detail

But then there's this portrait of Elizabeth Parker, 1593.

Here the blackwork piece appears much more like a classic stomacher and extends to only just above the bust.

It is very similar to the Inglis portrait...and it could be that the two styles are the same but the larger ruff obscures this view in the later painting.

However, this piece does not seem to feature a sheer overlay typical of the other portraits.

So long story short...I have NO idea what's going on with the blackwork piece!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fitted Gown design...again

Hey, so I'm planning an English fitted gown based on the Tudor Tailor pattern! (sound familiar?)

I've changed the design somewhat.
I decided against the puffed sleeves...both because they were difficult and scary to construct and because I think the plain sleeves look more mature to a modern aesthetic (and in period I would be very mature indeed!).

But the biggest change is the colour of the kirtle.  I still have the burgundy wool earmarked for this project (eventually) but for now I thought I should go with something that will also go nicely my new waistcoat.

So that's it for now! Hopefully this won't languish for another 3 years!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blue Waistcoat (v2.0) "Sunday Best"

I had a week off work before the last weekend of this year's SoCal Faire, so I was able to make some new pieces to wear with my waistcoat for a much posher look.


What a difference some accessories make!

I based the silhouette primarily on this Hollar print (I even modified a 1960's fur hat and had some gloves in my basket, but California heat made them way too impractical).
Some elements --such as the cuffs-- were borrowed from similar prints.

The skirt is a medium weight mustard linen, though unlike the last one it only has 3 panels (which are not shaped).  As a result the circumference of the waist is larger, but the hem circumference is smaller (aprox. 180" for each).  It is cartridge pleated with 3/8"pleats all the way around, with the front 8" left flat. It's trimmed with 3 rows of 1/2" orange cotton braid.

The cutwork at the bottom of the apron has been salvaged from a 19th century piece and then attached to 3.5 oz linen.  It's 40" across, gathered to approximately 9" at the waistband.

The linen ruff is from The Renaissance Tailor (a style which, sadly, has  since been discontinued).

The cuffs are simple linen squares, edged with cotton lace and then pinned to the sleeve.

I had started a blue/black wool caplet to complete the outfit, but couldn't decided on the length and what colour to line it with so it is still languishing on my dress dummy...