The cheats guide to making a high waisted Medieval gown .

This is the simplest complete gown to make.It also uses less fabric than the lower waisted dresses and even less if you make a narrow sleeved version.

henins front tippet

You will need

some fabric ,old curtains or bought fabric

(I will mention the fabric choices futher down the post)

A bodice /top

Something boned ,one that might have been used  for clubbing ,evening ,prom,it doesnt matter if its long as  the bodice will be cut off to the correct size,the fabric is not  important ,though its less messy and easier to sew  if you avoid pvc /fake leather ones.If your going to wash the dress then using pale colours is probably safest so the bodice colours dont run into the dress

wit and wisdom denim bodice

Some lacing cord ,cord or ribbon

this is to fasten the dress with ,as the bodice is not very long you wont need very much maybe two metres ,you can use ribbon but its not very effective and can be impossible to untie.Gold braid or cord looks excellent if your using a front lacing style if not then try to get as close a match to the dress fabric as possible

Something to make holes in fabric with

,,a bradel,kebab skewer  etc

cellotape or masking tape ,,only a tiny piece

a needle and cotton

optional

a fake or real fur collar,,a modern fur scarf works well

white queen gown

a belt  any sturdy leather belt works  as below or a piece of trim fastened with a safety pin

blue dress

Fabric notes

Old curtains will work well and mean you dont need to bother hemming your gown or you can buy fabric in which case you will need between 4 and 6 metres depending on the fabric width and your height.To decide on how much fabric or the curtain length you need hold fabric below your bust and then work out how long it will need to be to touch the floor in the shoes you will have one.If your going to make a wide sleeved gown you will need up to two metres extra fabric depending on how wide you want the sleeves.

bluebells woods

Fabrics to choose

This is the most important part of the costume making ,many entirely accurately made  gowns look bad because the wrong fabrics been chosen.

The fabric needs to be non shiny and though synthetic fabrics are great as they dont crease and are usually washable ,the fabric shouldnt look too modern.modern. Crushed velvet,crinkle taffeta ,satin,anything printed and any design thats floral  or striped even damask or brocade.Brocade is a nice fabric if your buying fabric as it looks luxurious but inst as expensive as velvet ,it can be bought for around £6 or even less a  per metre if you buy off ebay from china .

brocade gown alone

Best choices are velvet ,Taffetta(which gives a good alternative to modern rather lightweight silks  )I dont have a taffeta medieval gown but I didn make a taffeta  tudor gown and a high waisted regency gown and the fabric looked quite good

golden gown cross

 

regency golden gown

You can also use damask ,brocade or wool,you might find other fabrics fake linen or jacquard fabrics .The  main thing is for the fabric needs to hang nicely ,floaty fabric wont hang properly.For a handy guide I have added some photos of medieval women ,if the fabric you find drapes like their gowns it will be fine.

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_-_The_Magdalene_Reading_-_WGA25721

Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait

 

cleves amberger portrait

medieval women head dresses

Colour.

There is only one colour which its best to avoid at all costs which is yellow ,during both the middle ages and Renaissance yellow was the colour outcasts were made to wear,those that society marginalised such as lepers ,those who were socially outsiders   Jews and Muslims and those it condemned such as prostitutes, Brown is best avoided as is grey  as these tended to the the colours worn by peasants and the lower classes They are also hard colours to match to head dresses or to trim with fur as the fur wont contrast properly .Purple was a colour which was reserved for royalty and gold or silver for the upper aristocracy but this might not be an issue at most events .A  gold  medieval gown from the middle ages actually exists  at Uppsalla cathedral so we know of at least one gold fabric which is authentic.

ClothOfGoldReconstructionLG

The dress if from the 1400 and gold fabric does look amazing.

queen margreat golden gown 1400

 

As can be seen in the paintings theres quite a range of colours ,By far the most popular for almost all classes seems to be blues,reds and greens and these all work well with most shades of fur .Quite bright colours were worn but as bright blue isnt a colour most people associate with the middle ages its probably best to avoid it and use deeper shades.I personally like to use red and gold damasks as these wash ,dont need ironing and dont show marks .If your buying new fabric faux silk damask is a really good choice as thought its quite light ,its looks a much heavier luxurious fabric once its been worn.

henin-gown

Velvet is also excellent if you can find vintage curtains .Both the gowns below used old velvet curtains

leah blue gown

blue dress

Unfortunately  buying new velvet is very expensive ,the fabric is usually narrower than other fabrics such as damask or taffeta so you need much more , using fake velvet/velour  isnt very effective for these styles of gown  as its too shiny and hangs more loosely ,it does make a good fabric for low waisted medieval gowns)

med black gown

.Taffeta is a  much cheaper choice if you have to buy fabric  but it needs to be a crisp dress taffeta not  lining fabric.Taffeta wont work if you want to me a wide sleeves gown as the sleeves wont be stiff enough

brown borgia gown

I am sorry I am no longer able to sew so I dont have photos of  one dress being made from start to finish but the photos used are from past garments

Instructions

One chop off the bodice to the right length ,it should rest at about the same height as your bra bottom ,or slightly  lower if you are quite a large cup size.Luckily this is a v shaped bodice which is an ideal shape for medieval gowns .

spencer 1

Decide if your dress is going to be front or back lacing ,front lacing is much easier to get in and out of but does mean you have to sew the back opening of your bought bodice together and cut a line down the front instead.If you do this, try the bodice on before covering it to make sure the back isnt too narrow,if it is un tack it add a narrow strip of fabric and sew it back together

Cover the bodice by taking fabric onto it ,decide if your dress will be front or back lacing then add the first panel to the centre of the bodice front and tack each extra panel onto these.

spencer guide 2

Stitch the edges down over the top and bodice bottoms,dont worry if it looks untidy ,only you will see this part of the dress.

spencer neck13

add the next panels by placing them good side to good side on top of your first panel  with a decent amount of overlap so that  if part of this seam comes undone you will only see the same fabric so it wont be as noticeable. sew the wrong sides together to the bodice ,flip it

spencer 12

and do the next piece carry on until you reach the edges of either the  front or back of your bodice

spncer body done

.Make the sleeves.

For narrow sleeves

Cut two long rectangles of fabric wide enough to go around your arm at the top with a little spare and long enough to entirely cover your hands.

Stitch one into a tube and put it on your arm pull it up until it meets the bodice arm hole  and check the length of the sleeve ,if its ok then you can work on narrowing the arm to fit snugly ,if not chop off more of the sleeves length,,if you decide to have pointed cuffs bare this in mind when cutting the sleeve to length.

Shape your sleeve by pulling the fabric tube snug against your arm ,,starting at the top pinch the fabric together ,keep hold of it pull the tube off and tack the sleeve to the pinched in width ,put the sleeve back on and do this with your elbow and then your lower arm.

Dont cut the fabric ,turn the sleeve inside put if it fits ok then turn it back the right side and cut it where the tack lines are ,turn it inside out and sew it together.use this sleeve to cut your second sleeve to shape ,,leave a little spare fabric  width  even when cutting this sleeve just in case you make a mistake.

Sew both sleeves onto the bodice.

Wide sleeves

drape the fabric around your wrist and arm  tuck it into either the dress bodice ir your bra strap to work out how long it needs to be and then decide how wide you want the cuff snip a small nick in the fabric to mark the width you need to cut.

If you have enough fabric its safest if you cut two rectangles  of the right length and width utilising  the curtain hem for your cuff hem if your using curtains.To work out the sleeves shape drape one cut rectangle on your arm and pinch it together under your arms ,cut the under arm piece  and tack it to make the right size for attaching the sleeve to the bodice.

The remaining step depends on what shape you want the sleeve ,you can leave it very wide down its entire length  ,these would look like a houpland

houpland

You might find it more comfortable though to make the top part of the arm slightly more fitted than is strictly accurate as it makes the sleeves less awkward and also much less draughty if your outside.

These wide sleeves need lining to look their best but you can get around this by sewing fur around their ends or a trim around the ends .

bluebells woods

 

 

Make the skirt.

This is the easiest part especially if you bought curtains as they wont need to be hemmed .

hold the fabric or curtains against you and leaving a few inches spare cut them to the length you need for the skirt to meet the floor,wear the shoes you will be wearing for your event so you can get this as close as possible,if in doubt err towards the too long ,medieval gowns tended to be slightly longer than floor length ,but they were never short enough to show ankles.Though in the late middle ages narrow skirted gowns were briefly popular most medieval gowns ,most of the time had generous skirts,even the pale blue velvet one I made while it seems narrower skirted had quite full ones.

bleu velvet gown seated

To make the skirt ,sew  the fabric into a tube leavings a small gap about as big as that a modern zip would need ,,you wont need a zip but this hole is to allow the dress over your head.

pleat the fabric until its the right size to stitch onto the bottom of the bodice,make the front pleats slightly less full than the sides and if its back lacing add  deep ones at either side of  the back where the bodice laces to cover the  gap in the skirt.If the dress is front lacing then pleat the front so the gaps covered  ,its not as big a problem at the front as more if it will be covered by the fur collar and belt.

Stitch the skirt to the bodice ,you can make a waistband for the skirt first by sewing it onto a ribbon but as the waistline of this dress is quite high its better to use as little as possible at the bodice bottom to avoid bulk that might dig in when the gowns laced up.

Now make holes for the lacing cord ,use the pointy object ,bradel etc ,to thread the cord in cellotape the ends flush so they dont fray as you try to thread them into the holes.Thread the cord in so it makes a herringbone design not the x shape normally seen on modern dresses as not only is the x shape inaccurate it also doesnt close as neatly or lace up as easily.

Keep a panel of the fabric to put under the lacing cord make it long enough to go under the gap left in the skirt ,if its going at the back tack this on at the front you could just place it under the dress and lace the dress over it.For front lacing gowns you could also use a contrasting colour ,this is seen in a lot of medieval paintings and is probably another dress thats under the top gown.You could try getting the same effect by adding a contrasting panel to the centre of a front lacing gown but its much harder to get right.

red gown

This will give you a dress like this

medieval gown 3

 

Make or buy a fur collar

you can use a modern bought fur scarf which gives a good shape  but might not be long enough to go all the way around in which case cut it in half and sew each half to the gown at shoulder level.

You could use a collar cut from a vintage or modern fake fur coat or jacket if you use a coat you could also cut off the cuffs from the coat to put on your gown.

white queen gown

and use yet more of the fur to make a muff using a spare piece of the dress fabric

tudor muff

If you have neither you can buy a new or second hand fur hat cut the brim off cut the top into strips of a matching length and sew them together to make a collar ,this was how I made the original pale blue gowns collar,though it doesnt look as effective its much nice than having no collar.

blue med gown

If you have not stitched the collar to the gown then add loops or a piece of ribbon or cord to each end of the collar so you can pin it on using these or thread them under a belt.

Belt

to put the finishing touch to the outfit its good to have a belt ,a modern leather one is authentic and pulls the gown in nicely while giving something to attach the collar to  ,but you could use a length of jewelled trim ,a length of thick peals,braid or very wide cord.

Accessories

A head dress usually the head dress worn is a Henin

henin

I will give instructions on making these in another post and add a link shortly.

Gloves

gloves front

You can make an impressive pair of fake medieval gloves by using a pair of modern leather ,suede or fake leather gloves ,sew a piece of rich looking fabric or trim or fur to the top and add some pearl or gold trim to the edges .

If you dont have trims you could add more or the fur taken from a scrafe or fake fur coat.

ermine gloves

Prayer book ,book of hours

purple book full

Find a small book ,it doesnt matter what the book is about as long as its hard backed ,though its often easy to find  old prayer books cheaply online or in charity or second hand book shops .

Use a piece of velvet ,silk or similar and cover it ,turning in the fabric inside the covers as though you were making a new dust jacket  but  with fabric and securing it using cotton and stitching it instead of using tape.

Then decorate it will something that looks lavish ,the book above I used braid on .The one below used dress trim around the edges and a modern cheap costume brooch in the centre

red prayer book

The one below used just a brooch bought from china for a few pence

prayer bok i

.Muff

As mentioned above you could use any spare fake fur to make a muff ,I am not sure what medieval muffs looked like but a richly decorated one looks good and is almost essential if your going to be outside in winter

The one below used around a metre of gold braid stitched together for its centre

gold muff detailing

This used a small panel of embroidered silk.A piece of fabric this small could be taken from a cushion or bought as a sample

ivory and gold muff small det

To make any muff is very easy.

If your cutting off a fur coat sleeve its very easy ,just cut a long enough length so you can fold the ends in .tuck each end in until it meets the opposite end ,no sewing needed ,you now have a fur lined fur muff.

If your making one from scratch  then cut a long rectangle of the outer fabric sew it to make a tube ,cut a rectangle of the fake fur thats double the length of the outer fabric ,sew this into a tube push it inside the tube of our outer fabric and fold the fur back over the edges ,now sew the fur down .

or use two lengths of embroidered trim sewn together for your centre

blackwored white muff

Optional extras

You could make a cloak,I have instructions on how to make a cloak in my Victorian accessories cheats guide and its essential the same to make a medieval one .

cloak

or mantle style cloak

This is very easy its just a length of fabric or a curtain pleated to fit loosely across your shoulders then a wide band of fake fur added,if you use a curtain you can use the hem and curtain edges for the front edges of your cloak so theres very little sewing .If you have a fake fur coat cut a wide band of fur from its hem and sew this onto the top of the cloak.

bluevelvetcloakweb

l hope this has been useful ,if you prefer a different style of medieval gown I have instructions on making other styles.

An Italian style gown ,this is made in more or less the same way as this gown but with a longer bodice and tie on sleeves.

borgia med gown

It needs a chemise under it

ever after gown chemise

Or at least fake chemise sleeves sewn into the dress

under gown borgia

These gowns need more decoration to look authentic

white borgia gown

A very similar style is the over gown with and under gown

This is two dresses  made as for the high waisted gown and a chemise ,

leah and peter

Or a low waisted dress

leah river med gown

arwyn gown train

 

cloak and green eowyn gown

medieval gown snow

mainpagepinkdress

MED2

I will add a link to instructions on how to make these shortly but the instructions on making a Tudor gown can be used if the waistline is shaped differently and sleeves added.

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About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in 15thc, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The cheats guide to making a high waisted Medieval gown .

  1. Sharon Broadey says:

    Thank you for the information and examples shown on your site. I have followed your instructions regarding making a French hood and was very pleased with the results. I plan to use the item for a charity shop window display. Now looking to attempt to make a dress. Aiming for early Tudor before 1530. Appreciated your advice on materials and colours to use.

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