When I'm making a historical costume the most important aspect for me is the silhouette. I'm not a stickler about hand sewing the entire garment or using 100% authentic materials. I do those things when I can, but they aren't my top priority. The most important part for me is capturing exactly the shape and style details of a particular outfit. The bodice shape is the most important part and one of the hardest things to capture, particularly in a 16th century Venetian. They are pretty weird.

Lady in White - Titian
Portrait of a Woman - Veronese

Portrait of a Woman Holing Gloves - Veronese

These three portraits are pretty close, chronologically speaking, and have nice clear examples of what I'm going for. So what are we looking at here? The bodice is a typical 16th century cone shape, narrow at the waist, a low point in the front (which is actually rounded off), and wide-set straps. In the first one, Titian's Lady in White, you can very clearly see the straight slope in the bodice from the bust down to the point. The second image gives a nice front view. Again, it's pretty flat, and possibly slanted like the first one. The third image shows some hint of padding around the belly, almost like a peascod belly, which would require padding to achieve, just like a men's doublet. I also was heavily influenced by Laurie Tavan's Showcase on The Realm of Venus and my own research into bust support and 16th century corsetry. The main problem with heavily boned, cone-shaped bodices (on my figure, at least), is the bodice collapsing into a concave shape under the bust and flaring back out again over the belly. You can see that here, on my old Venetian.

You've seen this, but in case you forgot.
The first step, as in any dress-making, is making a pattern. I based it on a former version of this bodice, with a few tweaks. The left is the front, the middle is half of the back, the right is half of the  stomacher.

After I got the bodice pattern finished, I started this dress with a padded stomacher stiffened with buckram. The majority of the padding is right under my bust to prevent the whole thing from collapsing at that point. The stomacher itself is shaped like the front of the bodice, going almost all the way to the side seams. It has one layer of buckram on a linen canvas foundation, many layers of padding (which is pad stitched to the base), and another layer of linen canvas to finish it off.

Because we have so few examples of 16th century Italian gowns I had to get a little creative when it came to stiffening the bodice. Moda a Firenze confirms for us that buckram (or buckram-like substances) and padding where used in 16th century Florence, but we don't know exactly how they were used. I was skeptical that the bodice was one continuous piece of buckram, because it tends to collapse, but I wasn't sure how else to arrange it. Then, I got Seventeenth-Century Women's Dress Patterns and saw that fabulous x-rayed bodice. It has boning in it, certainly, but also it has buckram. It's also a fully century too late, but beggars can't be choosers. I used the placement of the buckram strips as inspiration for my lay out.

It's a combination of vertical and horizontal pieces, doubled up in some crucial places like the center back, side seams, and center front. The straps are also lined with buckram and I added diagonal pieces to help keep it from collapsing. It's all stitched down by machine to a linen canvas interlining. 

Then, I added a thin layer of cotton padding to the outside to make a nice smooth foundation. Someday I want to try that with felt as well and see what that looks like.

Then I assembled the whole thing, leaving the stomach loose (for now), and tried it on with some lacing strips. 

Oh look! The unflattering bathroom mirror shots are back!
So slanty!

Pretty solid, right? I added more buckram after the try-on but even with minimal stiffening it held its shape pretty well. My theory is that the padding supports the bust and smooths out the figure and that's what helps keep the buckram itself from collapsing in places it would be prone to, like right under the bust. These period materials are steering me right.

Next Up: Sleeves! Pretty fabric! Roller Derby World Championships!


  1. Ohhh... great work! I think your padded stomacher is pretty brilliant!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts