As they say, the beginning is a very good place to start. for 4 years, I had plotted and planned an immersion Elizabethan feast event. I knew I wanted to create a new outfit to showcase at this event. It had to be amazing. It had to be blue, preferable with white and gold, as those are our Baronial heraldic colors. It would be a work of art.
I had a general idea in my mind of the design I wanted. (I wish I had taken pictures of the many, many sketches and modifications I made to this gown throughout the process. There were SO MANY iterations.) From the onset, the idea was an overly ornate stomacher and forepart, with paned sleeves, an Elizabethan tall hat, and a train. I know, you're thinking, "that's definitely not what's pictured" and you're right. That was the first iteration. We'll talk more about this later.
So, off I went to find fabric. First and foremost, let's talk about the correct fabric choices. From my 9 SCAdian years of knowledge accumulation, I've determined silk, wool, and linen were the primary fibers used in 1560 England. (For sources, open any book that discusses Elizabethan clothing, agriculture, merchant trade, etc.) I also know brocade and velvet fabrics were available at the time. ** Through my travels I determined silk velvet ($18.00/yard was the least expensive I found it), and silk brocade ($52.00/yard in a pattern and color I liked) were not possible. That said, If you have never had an opportunity to pet silk velvet, you absolutely need to do this. Trust me.
Moving on, I was gifted some stunning green (acrylic?) velvet by Mistress Annastrina, with whom I am apprenticed. I absolutely love it, but it isn't the blue I was hoping for. So, I kept putting off the gown. And putting it off. And putting it off.... I got a message one day from a friend who was heading to an estate sale. Though, this was not just an estate sale. It was an estate sale for a civil war costume shop (bare with me here) that was going out of business. Well, if anyone was going to have the fabric at an affordable price, it would be them. Upon my arrival I immediately bypassed the 30 or so other bins of fabric, and headed straight for the lone velvet bin. They had brown, red (nope, I don't need to buy more red. I have plenty of red!), navy. I took out the navy to see how much there was. It was still not the ideal color, but we were now 4 months from the event and I NEEDED to start making this gown. There were only 4 yards of navy blue. I was sad, nearly defeated. There was an extra piece of brown under the blue. It seemed to be on the bottom. I picked it up to confirm.
There. Under the brown. A small bundle of a brilliant cobalt blue. This would surely not be enough to make a full gown, but I was once again hopeful. I took this 3 yard segment out of the bin. Then, the next bin over was labled "scrap velvet" THERE! More of the blue! a 4 yard "scrap" and a 1 yard scrap! This would be enough! I would make this work! I was, of course, hoping for 10-12 yards to make an appropriate fullness of my skirt. However, I would take the 8 yards and be happy.
The next fabric I needed was that for my stomacher and forepart. I ventured out to Springfield, MA to head to Osgood's. After an hour and a half walking through the warehouse, I made my way to the clearance bin. I pawed through lots and lots of different bins until I came across this green and gold bundle of some kind of synthetic, but deliciously rich chenille and satin brocade. I picked it up and said, This doesn't go at all, but I want to embroider and bead this like crazy! Mistress Annastrina, who had come on the trip with me, replied, "Why doesn't it go? Ignore your modern sensibilities for a moment. Put some white embroidery on it, and white trim on the gown. It will go beautifully." I thought to myself, "You know, I think she might be right!"
The only thing left, fabric-wise was the trim. How fortunate am I to have such a kind and generous Laurel! She had a vintage cream silk wedding gown she was planning to use to trim her gown and said I could have a chunk of it for my gown as well!
So, I had acquired 8 yards of blue cotton velvet, 3.5 yards of synthetic but deliciously rich green and gold brocade, and approximately 1.5 - 2 yards of cream silk. The total cost for all of this was around $40.00!
Now, the real challenge would begin!
Click here to read Part 2: The Gilding.
Click here to read Part 2: The Gilding.