Cheats guide to making a Tudor or Early Elizabethan gown

purple gown 2

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.

eliz red dress

white band-Catherine_aragon



.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

some cotton



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.

aqua sill coif

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

wit and wisdom bodice


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


kat howard 4

Later gowns have pointed lower waistlines

eliz red dress

elizabeth coro dressweb

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

red cotton damask gown

elizabeth princess red gown

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.

Picture 498

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.


meltonconstableparr raised vlevlet

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

golden gown bingley gable hood

or in damask

gold tudor gown close

Another good choice is black either plain black or pattered black


black and purple sleeves

red plain

elizabeth princess red gown

or patterned

reddresseated tudor gown

or as a mix with gold


and green though this is best as a plain fabric

green tudor gown

Purple also looks great either as velvet as seen below

cliff castle door mary gown

or as taffeta


or damask

purple dresscoif

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.

green tudor gown front

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

purple tudor gown

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

tudro gown

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.

green tudor gown

Shot fabrics especially look excellent

purple taffeta tudor gown

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.

cliff castle door mary gown

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.

back arwyn

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.

grreen tudor gown

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

kat parr gown front

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.

black and purple sleeves

or  you could use taffeta which is cheaper and could be folded over rather than lined

golden gown cross

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 .

duck egg sleeves



Other options

The easiest and most impressive sleeves  are the puffed very full and open sleeves which are also very flattering.

katherine howard new

kat howard 4

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.

red sleevsand cuff

red t gown

For Elizabethan gowns you can use a similar sleeve style but with closed sides

gold elizabethan front edite

Fitted straight sleeves another fairly easy option

coronation gown seated



or tie on sleeves an even easier option to make but harder to wear

black gwn hd

This style of sleeve can either be the same as the gown as above and below

eleanore gown wt partlet

or in contrasting fabric to match the petticoat ,,which is a good way around having too little gown fabric

eleanor gown f

Complicated sleeves

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

eliz shot gown 2


ven 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

princess mary tudor neckline

Sometimes this matched the headdress trimming


sometimes headdresses were simpler

FrancoiseBrezeHead french hood

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

purple gown 2

While the trim on the gown below helped hold the curved front of the neckline up

green tudor gown front

grreen tudor gown

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

french hood 1

bolyen hood


regency gown sleeve

Upholstery braid is also fairly easy to buy  and was used on the lilac gown

eliz shot gown 2

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


narrow red hood



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.

red pett

white pettc

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

40s and elizabethan 032

And it may have  matching sleeves

flora pet red ruff st

But it was much more common to have only a front panel of expensive fabric and the unseen fabric would be something cheaper

purple pett

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

gold elizabethan gown side

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

duck egg sleeves

How to make your bodice

You will be simply covering over the bodice you currently have ,

wit and wisdom denim bodice

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.

bodice front

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

bodice stage 2

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

wit and wisdom bodice

with its existing waist left as it was

golden gown

golden gown bingley gable hood

,if not you can change the waist for a pointed waistline cut two curved pieces from either side of the front

bodice three

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

gold tudor gown

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

bodice top layer

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

bodice inside

bodiceblack panel


You are trying to recreate the straight Tudor front of the gown


mart tudor gown1

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

bodice boning back

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

ven gown


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.


Making sleeves.

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 .

golden pett

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

partlet black damask gown

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

corontation gown alone

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

restoration chemises

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.

purple cuff

To make open sleeves or puffed sleeves

NPG 1119; Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger

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

red sleevsand cuff

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

green brocade dress

ivory sleeves

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

Mary gown white cherry tree

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

me and tilly gold dress

or if you are making an open fronted one something this shape

damask sleeves

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

tudor inner sleeves

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 here

An intermediate hood guide will follow shortly

All the Head dresses below  were made using Cardboard and tape covered in assorted fabrics





tudro gown

green tudor gown front

reddresseated tudor gown

gable hood gold

french hood 1

white fur hood

gable hood front


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in 16thc/17thc, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Cheats guide to making a Tudor or Early Elizabethan gown

  1. Pingback: A cheats guide to Medieval dresses ,how to make a medieval gown with no sewing experience | Hathaways of Haworth

  2. Talar Asdourian says:

    Where did you buy the bodice? I’ve been looking all over the Internet, and nothing looks like the one you have. I googled the name of it, and nothing showed up.

  3. Talar Asdourian says:

    This is really nice! I have to ask, where did you find the bodice for the gown? I’ve looked high and low and NO ONE seems to have the one you used or similar!! HELP!!!!

    • Hello
      It you cant find a “wit and Wisdom ” one you might find a Laura Ashley or Next one ,but any boned bodice will do ,you want something with no bust shaping ,but straight up and down ,with front bones somewhere ideally also at the side or back but its not essential ,a neckline rather than strapless is easier to work with but my first gown used a strapless one ,you can use a Tshirt or strappy top to get the straps of your bodice to add to it ,I am really sorry for the late relpy I have been offline for sometime

  4. Pingback: Elizabethan – Xenia's Medieval Miscellany

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