This is a quick cheats guide to making a Tudor gown.
First it will make it easier to decide what style of gown you would like ,I have included a short gallery of the more well known gowns and outfits.
.It will also be easier to choose your dress if you understand how many extra layers you will need to wear for the style of gown you choose so you may find it helpful to check out the Tudor clothing layer page that goes with this cheats guide
I also have a post on how to make a very cheap ,easy and quick to make chemise here
The instructions given here are hopefuly clear but as most of the steps involved are identical to those for making Victorian gowns ,the Victorian gown guide may also be helpful
You will need no special tools or skills nor will you need access to a fabric store ,but this would be an advantage.
You will need
A boned top
A big pair of curtains
a necklace long enough to go around a square neckline
some cord or ribbon to lace the gown at the back
something to poke holes in your fabric ,,a carpenters bradel is ideal as is an awl but a meat or kebab skewer will work if its thick enough
Your gown will look much better if you can also have access to somewhere to buy trimmings such as strings of faux pearl ,this doesn’t need to be a furnishing or dressmaking shop , good quality pearl ,gold and jewelled trims have now become fashionable for flower arranging and cakes so you can find dress trims being sold in craft shops.I found this really good quality dress trim being sold for decorating wedding cakes.
Also ideal would be somewhere to buy narrow cord to use for lacing your gown at the back in a colour matching your gown ,curtain cord is the usual choice .
Firstly you will need a top for your Tudor bodice base ,this can be a clubbing corset top ,evening top ,prom top ,wedding dress bodice ,it doesn’t matter what fabric it is ,the essentials are that its well boned ,ideally back fastening and roughly your size.If its a little bit too small you can very easily add an extra panel when you recover it but this does add another stage to the process ,if its too big that’s an easier fix as you can just cut a little bit out of the back at either side before recovering it.For your first bodice its best to find one thats got straps ,ideally that’s square necked .Its also best if your bodice already has the waistline you need for your gown but if you cant find one with the correct waistline you can always modify the waistline by either cutting it straight at the front of by adding a piece of fabric to create a v shape.My favourite bodices are Wit and Wisdom as they are very well boned
To choose the correct waistline for your gown you need to decide what kind of gown you want ,early gowns had higher waists that went straight across
Later gowns have pointed lower waistlines
Next you will need skirt and gown fabric.If you dont want to pay much for the fabric then looking around charity shops will probably be the easiest way to find your gown fabric.Many beautiful Tudor fabrics can be found there masquerading as curtains .Most Tudor gowns that are made from scratch by skilled seamstresses for re enactors and for TV and movies use furnishing and soft furnishing fabrics so using curtains wont make your gown any less stunning.The gown below was made from a pair of deep red cotton damask curtains and the head dress was made using scraps left over
You need a fabric which is not printed and ideally a plain colour velvet as this is the most fool proof fabric ,you wont have to worry about if the weave or design is authentic but its a very bad choice if you have any pets as it picks up hairs very easily.It does also have a pile which means that if you sew two pieces together and one is a different way up to the other there’s probably going to be shade difference.The gown below was red curtain velvet.
You can also use brocade or damask which is easier to work with .The patterns must be authentic looking anything with flowers woven in the design is not good .Look at Tudor portraits to get an idea of the designs you can use.
You could use modern fabrics such as flocked taffeta which looks really good and is washable.
You are probably best buying fairly low key colours of fabric ,Tudor and Elizabethan gowns were often in very bright colours and in colours we do not now associate with Tudor costume such as blues and pinks but these are not colours people associate with Historical costume so I usually avoid them .Gold is a good choice either in a plain fabric as seen below
or in damask
Another good choice is black either plain black or pattered black
or as a mix with gold
and green though this is best as a plain fabric
Purple also looks great either as velvet as seen below
or as taffeta
However purple is sometimes restricted at events to royalty only .
You will need the curtains to be long enough to make a skirt .Decide if you are making a simple closed fronted gown.
or an open fronted one
To see if the curtains will be long enough and wide enough hold them against you to check the length ,hold them from below their header tape as that fabric wont be usable .You need the fabric to be slightly trailing on the floor so you can have full skirts and a lot longer if your going to have a gown with a long train (trained gowns need more work as you have to make a new hemline and hem it instead of using the curtains existing hem ).
Gather the curtains around your waist in big folds to see if they will be wide enough for the gowns skirts if your at all unsure then don’t buy them .Narrower curtains can be still bought to make the petticoat which is the skirt that shows in front of open skirted Tudor gowns
And. for the wide flowing sleeves seen on some gowns
Alternately you can buy some furnishing fabric the only fabrics really still available now to make Tudor clothing are furnishing fabrics as they are the correct designs and textures. Fabrics can unfortunately be very expensive ,from £10 per metre to buy and you will need at least 5 metres of fabric that is 52 ins wide or 6 metres of fabric thats only 44 ins wide. In addition by using fabric you will add extra time and effort as the skirt will need to be hemmed whereas you can use the hems already on curtains.The gown below was made using faux silk gold damask which would usually be used for curtains
yet its a perfect match to Elizabeth 1 coronation gown
You can sometimes find roll ends of furnishing fabrics as 5 metres is not enough fabric for curtains so fabric around this length is sold off cheaply ,you could be lucky .I bought the blue damask below for £1 per metre
If you cant afford furnishing fabrics the remaining choices are cotton velvet which is also very expensive it seems cheaper that it actually is because velvet is usually sold in narrower widths of 44 ins rather than 52 ,this means you need more velvet than other fabrics . By far the best choice is faux silk or faux silk taffeta,It give a beautiful flowing look.
Shot fabrics especially look excellent
Taffeta can often be bought on line on ebay for around £3 per metre and as its so much cheaper you could more more and add extra width to the skirts .
If using fabric and you dont make a good job of the hem or prefer not to try to hide stitches you can add a trim.
Dont be tempted to use satin which is too shiny and puckers easily or synthetic velvet which looks too shiny and doesn’t drape correctly ,Crushed velvet is likewise out as its inaccurate.Unless you want a Tudor feel gown that doesn’t need to be accurate in which case use Ice velvet.
which is a better quality crushed faux silk velvet.
You will need to decide on what style of sleeves you want to have on your gown ,this might be limited by how much fabric you have or how wide the curtains were .
The hardest style and the ones which will require more fabric hunting are the traditional Tudor sleeves that are tight at the top and very full wide further down.
To make the fur sleeves you need fake or real fur both are very expensive,I used a vintage faux fur coat for the ones above and below
You can use velvet but that’s also expensive you will need two metres to make generous ones .They will also need lining which is awkward.
or you could use taffeta which is cheaper and could be folded over rather than lined
Whatever fabric you use to make the full sleeves correctly does require dressmaking skills and idealy a pattern (The Tudor Tailor has excellent guides and patterns) .
However to make a cheats version doesn’t need a pattern or as much skill as you make the dress with just the top tight fitting sleeve then make the full sleeves separately and pin them on.
this is not necessarily inaccurate there is some evidence to suggest this is how the Tudors wore gowns with expensive full sleeves .I will cover how to make them later .They do unfortunately take a lot more fabric and time than the remaining styles of sleeves.They also need a pair of wide contrasting over sleeves to look authentic.
The over sleeves are separate items .
The easiest and most impressive sleeves are the puffed very full and open sleeves which are also very flattering.
These are very easy and look amazing,your also likely to stand out from the crowd as most people tend to choose the traditional full sleeves styles.Each sleeve is just a gathered oblong of fabric edged at its ends then left open or you can tack it closed at intervals.This style of sleeve is cheaper and easier to wear as you dont need to wear over sleeves which are the wide full sleeves seen under Tudor gowns
And its also just possible to get away without wearing a chemise as you can stitch strips of fabric inside the sleeve and add a faux chemise cuff.
For Elizabethan gowns you can use a similar sleeve style but with closed sides
Fitted straight sleeves another fairly easy option
or tie on sleeves an even easier option to make but harder to wear
This style of sleeve can either be the same as the gown as above and below
or in contrasting fabric to match the petticoat ,,which is a good way around having too little gown fabric
These are not particularly difficult but do need access to furnishing trims and take a lot longer than other types of sleeves.These are tie on lower sleeves that attached to a short sleeved gown
The gowns short sleeves are basically strips of fabric edged with trim attached at the gowns neckline and then attached to a strip of fabric at their base .You then make tie on straight narrow sleeves.
Tudor necklines were usually edged with something either braid or more frequently jewelled or fake jewel trimmings
Sometimes this matched the headdress trimming
sometimes headdresses were simpler
For the cheats gown necklines can be left plain if the fabric itself is impressive enough to hide the absence.
But is does mean you wont be able to hide any mistakes made around the neckline and the neckline may not stay as stiff as you like .Gowns are therefore usually better with a trim around the neckline .Below I used a simple pearl trim made from a necklace to suggest the idea of the gowns front being a panel that pined across
While the trim on the gown below helped hold the curved front of the neckline up
Trims can be bought on-line from Etsy and eBay or plain strings of faux pearls can be bought in most craft shops . But the easiest things to find are necklaces ,Pearl necklaces can be bought cheaply in many dress stores (primark often has strings of pearls) and make excellent trimmings for both gowns and hoods
Upholstery braid is also fairly easy to buy and was used on the lilac gown
The best trim is a faux gold or jewelled trim ,these are usually made in china and you need to buy them on line but look stunning on both gowns and headdresses ,these let you recreate authentic Tudor designs
The petticoat of a Tudor gown is not the underskirt we think of when we hear the word today ,it was a skirt that was designed to be at least partly visible.It was sometimes of more expensive fabrics than the gown.
or was more elaborately worked decorated with pearls etc as above.
I might be the same fabric all the way around and could be worn alone
And it may have matching sleeves
But it was much more common to have only a front panel of expensive fabric and the unseen fabric would be something cheaper
If your making an open fronted Tudor gown you will need to make one of these petticoats and they do take a lot of time and are another layer to wear and most gowns with petticoats were worn with matching over sleeves
.Closed fronted gowns are a much better choice for your first dress of for a gown to wear somewhere hot
I will give instructions on making petticoats and over sleeves in a later post but including instructions here will make this current post too long
How to make your bodice
You will be simply covering over the bodice you currently have ,
then you can either leave it plain or decorate it.Decorating need not be difficult or expensive,though I had to rearranged them to sew them on the gown ,the jewels here came from a vintage Asian wedding gown.
To recover your bodice.
(I will add a lot more photos to this part of the post in the near future as I realise there are not enough of these to make the instructions as clear as I would wish )
Assuming the bodice fastens at the back with a zip cut the zip out leaving a back opening ,if you cut the top and bottom off the zip you can use the strip of plastic runner or teeth to strengthen the back of your gown later
If the waistline and neckline are as you need them then you can start to recover the bodice.The gown below used a bodice such as the ones in the bodice instructions
with its existing waist left as it was
,if not you can change the waist for a pointed waistline cut two curved pieces from either side of the front
These pieces could them be tacked to the already curved pointed front to make a very deep point or left to give an gentler shape
If there is any very sharp pieces of boning now exposed you can do a quick fix by sealing then with sticky tape but a better option is to make sure there is an extra layer of fabric over these places.
To make the neckline higher it best to simply fold over twice at the neckline the fabric you will be using to recover the bodice ,to widen it cut out part of the should strap part of the neckline.
To start covering the bodice stitch on the front panel either use a decorated piece of fabric or fabric the same as the rest of the gown.I have shown a decorated panel here is its easier to see the shape.Tudor gowns need a very wide front panel that goes from neckline edge to edge
Turn the fabric over at the neck and waist if you turn it over twice at the neck now you can make a square neckline
You are trying to recreate the straight Tudor front of the gown
You then stitch the next pieces on at either side and in a straight line do this by overlapping them slightly and laying them the patterned or right side facing each other ,use two layers of stitches but any stitch will do.Turn the new panels over at the tops and bottom and around arm holes
When you reach the back panels you can either try to create a v shaped neckline or just continue to recover the bodice as it is.I would suggest for first attempts its best to just carry on around but you could cut the back neckline of the bodice base to a slight v before recovering it .When you get to the last panels of fabric at the back of the bodice turn them over at the end but before stitching the ends at the bottom and top thread the zipper pieces through the gap and tack at the end of the fabric (see above )Do this on both sides as it will stop the fabric ripping around the lacing holes
Your bodice is now more or less complete ,dont put lacing holes or cord in until you have added sleeves unless the gown will not have any.Also keep back a panel of the bodices fabric thats at least 6 inches wide and around 6 to 10 inches longer in length than the bodice ,this will be your modesty panel it goes at the back under the lacing cord to prevent a chemise showing though any gap and its longer so that it also covers any gap in the skirt.The gown belwo is the same in both cases
the only difference is that in the second photo the modesty panel has been pulled across the front of the gown under the lacing cord.
Sleeves are simply assorted shaped oblongs of fabric you stitch into the gowns arm hole.Their length and fullness will depend on what style you decide on ,
for short tight fitting sleeves hold the fabric against you at shoulder level to work out how long you need the piece to be and then hold it against the bodice armhole to work out how wide leave at least an extra 6 ins on top of what to think is correct for both length and width before cutting out the shape ,Now tack the oblong into the arm hole ,when its completely attached you can cut off any excess fabric and sew the edges together .before doing a sturdier layer of stitches pull it on and see if you got the length right if so cut off any excess at the bottom of the sleeve (remember to leave some extra to turn over for a hem to the sleeve.Now add sturdy layers of stitching at the seams and were the sleeve is attached .
You should now have something roughly like this bodice.To this you can attached ful tie on wide sleeves to create this finished result.I will do a later post on ways to create these full sleeves but a very easy quick option if to find some crisp but light fabric cut two very wide and long stripes, sew each strip together along its long edge and then sew them as carefully as possible together along their ends ,this wont make a invisible join but if you tack these sleeves on with the seam at the top its possible to hide the seam .Gathered the top together inside and pin on ,as long as the fabrics not too bulky and is stff enough to hang well this will work fairly well
You could also make over sleeves by cutting strips from a faux fur throw and stitching them in the same way.
For longer wrist length sleeves
the process is almost identical except that you will need to slightly taper the sleeves so they are narrower at the cuff ,its safest to do this by making an oblong pulling it onto your arm and trimming off the excess below your upper arm towards the wrist ,,dont trim it all off at once trim some off tack it see if its fits snugly if not trim a tiny bit more where its baggy and continue in this way until you have a snugly fitting sleeve.(If you will be wearing any under layers on your arms take this into account when you are sewing the sleeves ,some chemises have very full sleeves which will add bulk
Trim your sleeves wrist either use plain pearls from a necklace or strip or use more elaborate mixes of gold and pearl strings of beads or jewelled trim,the more elaborate the trim the more impressive your gown will look.This is a cheap plastic faux jewelled trim which I edged with strings of plastic pearls ,together they create an impression of a rich and lavishly detailed gown.
To make open sleeves or puffed sleeves
These are bigger oblongs that are much wider but also slightly longer to take into account the fact they will stick out more
Sew the oblong on at the arm hole but this time gather it up as go along either use a running stitch to do this before you sew or just keep folding the fabric over as you sew.Make most of the gathers at the top .when you run out of fabric trim away any extra sew the seam together if its not going to be open and put it on to check its long enough ,then gather the wrist with a running stitch.Sew a piece of braid or trim over were you gathered it instead of making a proper wrist band.If your going to leave the side open it would look best if you could also trim these
Tie on sleeves
These are very easy and are just tubes of fabric which have been hemmed along all their edges ,Work out how long and wide by the same method of holding them against you .Stitch all the edges and decorate at the tops sides and wrist
Stitch pieces of ribbon onto the top of the sleeves and inside the bodice at least three one at the top and two either side.
Making the skirt.
This part is very easy ,you simply cut the header tape off the curtain and check the length will be correct if its going to be too long cut a strip off the top of the fabric.Gather the fabric together either by folding it into pleats and tacking them down or with by sewing it and gathering it as you go along ,keep trying it on to see if you have it the right shape and width.When your happy either stitch it together it almost to the top or if its going to be an open fronted skirt cut a small thin gap at the back and leave the curtain edges to form the front of the skirt
attach it to the bodice with sturdy stitches to the original bodice which is now the lining of your recovered bodice but be careful not to go through into the new fabric covering it.
for a closed skirted gown you simply add the skirt to the bodice with the back seam at the centre back and leave the gap in the skirt to correspond to the place where the bodice lacing holes will go.The lacing cord will be able to go into this gap rather than dangle down behind the gown.A modesty panel of fabric either stitched into the gowns bodice at the back or just a separate piece of fabric placed under the lacing cord will hide any gaps in the lacing of the bodice and cover the gap in the skirt.This is entirely accurate ,most clothing was fastened in this manner or some similar manner.
You should now have a finished gown if its closed at the front
or if you are making an open fronted one something this shape
I will prepare a post on petticoats and sleeves but if I do not finish it before your read the post there is a stop gap way to create a fake petticoat.Either buy a prom skirt in damask ,taffeta or velvet and use that .Or cut a strip of damask silk etc wide enough to go across your front and the correct length.Now hem it and sew on two pieces of ribbon ,one at each side to make ties ,this apron can be tied under your gown and if the over gown is heavy enough fabric this could be enough to give the impression of a petticoat .Or sew this panel of fabric to the front of a long skirt bought from a charity shop, To do this cut the charity shop skirt up the centre front and cut a narrow panel of fabric out by cutting across under the waistband then stitch the panel into the gap left tucking it over the top remaining bit of front waistband and tacking it in place ,then sew the edges of the skirt onto the edges of the fabric.
If you do have access to a place to buy trimmings or can get them on line and have enough time.try adding several trims to each part of the gown requiring them.If you have cuffs on your chemise try adding some gold braid to their edges
Or add lace to make it look like Tudor black work embroidery
Or add trim or gold braid to the wrist bands
add a layer of fabric the neckline to create a faux chemise or make a partlet with is something to go under or over the gown to fill in the neckline.These are fairly easy to make but you could just sew a strip of fabric under the dress neckline to get the same effect.
I have other Tudor clothing posts here
I have posts on how to make other Tudor items such as Head dresses herehttps://hathawaysofhaworth.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/the-easy-gable-hood-guide/
An intermediate hood guide will follow shortly
All the Head dresses below were made using Cardboard and tape covered in assorted fabrics