Tudor Costuming 101

There is nothing in my life that I do which isn’t a riot of trial and error, thrown in at the absolute deep end, and this was no different. Here is a step-by-step guide to making a full Tudor gentleman’s outfit, which you too can wear to the National Portrait Gallery to harass the paintings and make the security staff giggle.

Step one: obsess about owning a doublet because you’ve been reading about Tudor history.

Step two: finally commit to buying a pattern.

Step three: buy curtain fabric off ebay, some cheap ribbon, and another set of curtains from TRAID during their £3 sale.

Step four: I don’t have a sewing table, by the way, so I did pretty much all of this standing up at an 18-year-old ironing board that was shedding padding onto the carpet the entire time, and I spectacularly burnt myself. But at least I didn’t take a chunk out of my knuckle with the shears this time! I did burn the next knuckle up on the same finger.

Several pattern pieces pinned to their patterns

I also didn’t cut enough of some pieces but I didn’t find that out until later so I had to go back and cut more.

Incidentally, standing up for sewing is much less awful for my back than sitting hunched over a machine has ever been, and makes me less impatient, which means I’m more likely to do things properly! Incredible. Yes, this disaster counts as doing things properly

Step five: While still in the early stages of construction, run out of trim and have to order more, thus effectively forcing a pause.

ribbon trim laid out on velvet

Step six: while waiting to get more trim, make life even harder for yourself by deciding you want “slashy Tudor hotpants” (not their correct name, astonishingly! Apparently they’re called “paned slops”); search for a pattern but find them all astonishingly dear. Instead end up on an SCA/Renfair guide site which uploads written instructions on “quick and dirty pumpkin pants”, which acknowledges that once you put in panes, which requires another layer of fabric, you can’t really call it “quick” any more.

Step seven: arrogantly attempt it anyway. Do the base layer fine. Do the next layer fine:

slashed tudor shorts held up to show slashes clearly

Step eight: promptly make the exact mistake you were trying to avoid vis-a-vis which side goes over which (it’s wrong side of inner layer to right side of outer layer then invert, genius), and have to unpick about 50% of it. NB: you are also sewing an elasticated waistband into the curtain pole section of the old curtains, which you will not do in any kind of rational or logical manner.

Step nine: having completed your PANED SLOPS WITH POCKETS IN THE SIDE SEAMS, BECAUSE MAKING CLOTHING WITHOUT POCKETS IS FUCKING ILLEGAL, CLOTHING COMPANIES, STOP THAT SHIT, you will now get the remaining quantity of trim: it sill won’t be enough so you’re going to have to make do.

Step ten: Oh shit do I have enough grommets? Yes I have enough grommets, but can’t fuck this up at all. You immediately fuck up the first one and break it, because you cannot remember how to apply grommets and have lost the instructions, and are squatting in the bathroom doorway using a plate weight from your dumbbells as an anvil because the floor in your flat is too soft. Buttonhole that hole with embroidery thread instead, and move on.

Step eleven: sew on buttons, button loops, and attach cord through grommets. Immediately have to shorten the button loops. The aglets still haven’t arrived for your jacket: don’t let that stop you from wearing it to Bageriet for semla and getting compliments from nice Swedish bakers on your sewing.

close up of me wearing the jacket, with fraying cord

Step Twelve: the cord will unknot if you try to tie it in a bow. Repeatedly. You will have to perform emergency surgery in a Nero toilet and later remove a grommet that’s come loose and replace it with more scarlet thread buttonholing.

Step Thirteen: the aglets have arrived by the time you get home. They look suspiciously big. You fit one with your bare hands. It is too wide and won’t go through the hole. Unfurl it with jewellery pliers and carefully wrap it properly. Repeat this 23 more times.

close up of shoulder attachment, with aglets

Step fourteen: insist on a photoshoot, wearing eBay-purchased ruff made out of yet more curtains (net ones), and a pair of extremely elderly thigh socks from the late American Apparel range. Realise with a heavy heart that, unless someone has a costume party, you have absolutely nowhere to wear this outfit.

photoshoot of full black and red tudor gentleman's outfit: red stockings, red and black paned slops, black doublet with red and gold trim, white ruff. no shoes or cape

Step fifteen: mysteriously receive praise for this disaster from multiple professional costumier friends even after pointing out that it’s a hanging thread mess that you failed to iron effectively and that you also managed to sew the lining wrong twice and that the unpicker is now more familiar to you than your own body, to which they will inevitably reply: that’s how it is, bro.


If, for some mad reason, you enjoy this blog in general, you can fund my coffee problem here (please fund my coffee problem/rent, as you can see I keep making terrible, terrible choices and at least it will be funny while the world is on fire)

Sewing: “You look like partially-dressed LARPer”.

Title quote helpfully provided by Delightful Boyfriend, who has as much right to comment on my fashion choices as anyone who clothes himself ENTIRELY IN ROLLERDERBY MERCHANDISE and the same pair of jeans he has worn since we started dating twelve years ago

The item to which he was so politely referring was a recent addition to my wardrobe, as I power through a slew of projects I started an embarrassingly long time ago, abandoned due to the constraints of time and the demeaning fact that winter turns me into a slug. One of the side effects of having waited so long to finish some of these projects is that I am now a completely different shape and have to re-work everything, but using slightly less fabric.

I started on the idea a long time ago, trying to find a use for a very fetching top I’d picked up at a clothes swap, which was no longer equal to the task of restraining rolls of Me. Inspired by some sort of confluence of post-apocalyptic Rob Liefeld Pouch Hell and the kind of psy-trance gubbins favoured by Psylo, I started off trying to make a wrist wallet job, got as far as sewing together a lined pocket with a helpful zip in it, got very into pinning fabric to make the damn thing conform to the curves of my then rather chubby arms, and promptly forgot all about it.

But now I have beige grommet tape. And I have string! And a small amount of patience! And the knowledge that having something that laces up isn’t actually much more of a nuisance than something that zips up, as was the original intention.
underside

As you can see, it’s not a strife to lace it and the pinned-under folds I had before have just been sewn in as thicker lining.

pocket

The pocket holds quite a lot. I could easily fit my phone, travelcard, cash, debit card, etc – the essentials – in here. Also it can contain that most necessary of necessities – upwards of 200g of holographic glitter dust. For, you know. Emergencies. Gay emergencies.

top view

The only downside is that I have to get someone else to tie off the ends when I’m done lacing it up due to my inability to bend my arms into actual pretzels. But it is a fabulously useful bit of kit and allows me to leave the house ready to face whatever glitterless days lie ahead (or indeed to carry around money and transport-enablers and a phone while wearing, for example, Very Small Hotpants).

Solving the problems no one wants solved

So I dunno about anyone else but every so often I get dumb ideas stuck in my head, and cannot let go until I have solved whatever it is that’s bothering me. These ideas are almost never actual problems that real people in the world need solving or I’d be a hero to the masses and a millionnaire. Instead, they are bullshit like this:

“Can I make a drape cardigan out of scarves?”

“Can I do that without cutting/wasting the fabric at all?”

My explanation is this: I own a very, very nice yak wool scarf. I love it and I want to live in it. Technically, yes, it is actually a blanket. Happily big scarves are in, and if they weren’t in, they are fucking in with me when I have to travel home from work during peak “fuck you” temperatures and wait >20 minutes for a night bus (sort it out, London). 5am is no one’s friend. At some point while collecting a magnificent array of layers I contemplated the idea that one of my many, many, many cardigans could do with being made from yak wool too, but the idea of sewing one made me blanch as the woven material is expensive and wasteage is inevitable.

Or is it?

sketches

As you can see, my ferocious and entirely coherent 4am drawing skills handled this idea quickly. What can you do with three scarves?

Make a Y shape with two straight lengths, then add a U shape made from another straight length, and sew together as clumsily shown? Shouldn’t work. I mean, things that I come up with in my head at an obscene hour in the morning and which seem like they’d be cheap and easy to make with the 100% viscose £1.50 pashminas I just accidentally ordered from Amazon never turn out as intended…

back

Wait

hood

It worked?

cross

And it took at most half an hour to make?

loose

Three scarves, two buttons (for the crossovers), a bit of string (for the crossover loops), and a bit of sewing in straight lines (with a little foldover in the sides to take in armpit excess)… no cutting. No marking. Barely any pinning? And a serviceable, nay, elegant dressing-gown-cum cardigan at the end?

WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT?

(Also: Happy Birthday, mother.)

Sewing: Moleskin Greens

The 30s women’s trousers pattern with adaptations is working overtime: after the scarlet breeches and the tweed breeks, and the joyous perfecting of no-hassle elasticated waists (the trick is to make the entire waistband, including elastic, separately, and have the cloth the same length as the undarted waistline, then you can just attach it to the finished trousers in one easy go), I put together these:

No amount of tapering prevents these very full trousers from turning into plus-fours.
No amount of tapering prevents these very full trousers from turning into plus-fours.

Fabrics: furnishing fabric from Saeeds Fabrics in Walthamstow, leftover tweed from the breeks, and leftover £1-a-metre cotton from making a toile for future coat magnificence.

unflattering angles

The elasticated waist looks a bit ridiculous but as it’s also going to be somewhere above my navel no one is going to see it under normal circumstances.

And gold thread to lace it together.
And gold thread to lace it together.

Necessity as always the mother of invention, I didn’t have quite enough on the strip for both the waistband and the cuffs, and didn’t want to cut more from the material, so I “mounted” the moleskin on some tweed, which extended it enough to meet against itself (and damn my fat calves). Reinforced the back of the tweed with tape, got the other half to slam some grommets through it, and laced it up with silk cord. Magic.

The transformation into an Elizabethan stock theatre character continues…

Sewing: Bottle Pyjamas and tweed breeks

One upside of the godawful recent weather has been the somewhat contrarian desire to head out and then to promptly dive into the nearest shop in order to shelter from the downpour, which has led to interesting discoveries, like the presence of a tweed-a-like blanket for sale in a local charity shop for under three quid – immediately seized upon with a cry of “TROUSERS”. “Trousers” for me does generally mean that the item of clothing does not extend much below the knee (I wear knee boots most of the time and long socks all the time and thus deemed it pointless to waste fabric on the extra inches of leg), but in the case of some light pyjama pants made with £1-a-metre cotton from the end-of-roll shop which also supplied me with this wool, I made an exception.

 

Wrinkles were not originally included.
Wrinkles were not originally included.

Those are not my trainers.

Side view

The blur is also not original but my other half left a load of forms on the floor.

I am enjoy this stitch and will be using it more.
I am enjoy this stitch and will be using it more.

The breeks were a slightly more involved prospect and involved lining up some patterned fabric (always a nightmare); they also go lined with some old army thermal pants because I was entirely too lazy to cut lining (and didn’t have enough material for that). Happily, no one can tell from the outside how snug they are on the inside.

back view stripes

Also I made them with an elasticated waist, because I have figured out how to do that in a way which allows me to skip the darts and zip/button stage of making trousers and I am all about the laziness both in making and in wearing. Pockets, of course, because pockets are important.

So what with these and the scarlet breeches, I’m a good deal closer to being ready for whatever a weak El Niño winter brings. Providing what it brings is “moderate cold”, because if it snows I’m going to bed and staying there.

Sewing: Captain Scarlet Breeches

Normally I knock out a pair of trousers in about two hours, but these blighters kept me going for days: in part because I kept running out of concentration… points… whatever it is that limits your ability to think without finding yourself just repeating the lyrics to “Hooked on a Feeling” or sewing over your own fingers several times; in part because it turns out thick wool is hard to sew through. Happily, there was only one instance of the machine needle snapping and flying at my face this time, which is an improvement on the canvas shorts.

Photograph taken in the bedroom for added mess to crop out.
Photograph taken in the bedroom for added mess to crop out.

Fabric: end of roll wine-coloured Melton wool from the glorious wonderland of Walthamstow’s fabric shops.
Cuff fastenings: four wooden toggles and some ribbon, from the glorious republic of haberdashery that is The Cloth Shop in Wood Green market.
Zips in the pockets: because why the hell not.
Pattern: adapted from the same old, same old 1930s/40s women’s trouser pattern. The only part of the pattern I use is the front-and-back templates with darts, the cuffs and waistband are my own and the decision to cut off the pattern at just below the knee is both fabric-saving and sensible considering how often I wear knee-high boots.

Toggles magnificently hidden for some reason.
Toggles magnificently hidden for some reason.

Buttons: cut from a pair of old button-fastening socks I bought from Top Shop many years ago and which were beyond their last legs. Waste not, etc.
Interfacing: HA HA HA WHO BOTHERS USING THAT I am a terrible seamstress.

I am either ahead of my time or very much behind it but I do enjoy a semi-Tudor silhouette.
I am either ahead of my time or very much behind it but I do enjoy a semi-Tudor silhouette.

A slightly better view of the toggles. I’m hoping these are going to be toasty and comfortable this winter, and validate the fact that overall they cost me about £18 to make. For a pair of wool trousers, though, I suppose that’s not all that bad, especially given the perfect fit and the colour.

Next: A test run for a coat pattern I’ve cobbled together, but in cheapo cotton so that screwing it up isn’t a painful waste of money!

All Green, All The Time.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve made a Print All Over Me t-shirt, and here is the evidence:

t-shirt t-shirt t-shirt

The quality of print on their t-shirts is significantly better than on the Spoonflower fabric sample I received. I know that getting this particular pattern right, especially on fabric – the degree of detail is pretty absurd – but I think PAOM have definitely managed more crispness and colour fidelity than Spoonflower. This is a shame because PAOM are more expensive and Spoonflower have a huge variety of fabrics I could have used to make shirts, dresses, and coats, but for the price of what they’re offering I would expect something crisp.

Expect away, I know.

I’ve tried out a couple of new patterns recently and some of them have been terrible disasters because my body is a weird shape: I choose a pattern size which fits the ghastly chest protuberances and my rolling stomach vistas, and it slips off my disproportionately tiny shoulders.  This happens as much with women’s patterns as men’s, unfortunately, and while with a known pattern I can make adjustments with a new pattern it’s just a question of crossing fingers and hoping.

This dress is an adaptation of a Tudor gown pattern from Simplicity:

shiny tum

I think it illustrates perfectly the “do I even have shoulders” problem.

Also if anyone is trying to replicate that scrunch there, you just hem your lining and outer together in a way that I keep managing to do by accident. The pattern itself is actually quite easy, and I substituted the usual skirt for my favoured full-circle, there are no darts, and the whole thing would have been tremendous apart from the aforementioned No Shoulders Whatsoever problem being readily apparent in this style.

fatty

The fabric is taffeta which for some reason I can get for £1.50 a metre in the magical wonderland that is Walthamstow. One of the better sides of trekking up to E17 is that I can afford to fuck up a pattern and not feel like the world has ended or that I’ve wasted something important and pricey.

back

Here you can see the lining, and why I have taken to calling this the Tudor Sprite Dress. The perfect illustration of my weird body shape: narrow shoulders, broad chest, high waist, stupid butt. As a consequence I look like I’m exploding out of this dress. Contemplating replacing the suggesting lacing with a zip.

T-shirt, t-shirt, t-shirt, pattern, pattern.

The march of fashion and the fall of my own stylistic footsteps have rarely been in concorde: while the world raved about ditsy prints in the 90s I was militantly into plain colours, when it demanded acid hues I was all about metallic blue. Now that the tyranny of early-90s fashion and loose crop tops has revolved around to meet me again I’ve fled from photo t-shirts and a sea of endless daisy patterns into my own designs.

So far the William Morris Co continues to disappoint by not licensing a single William Morris t-shirt and most all-over print t-shirt companies object to the use of copyrighted material, so I am at present denied that particular satisfaction.

However. William Morris wasn’t the only person to design patterns. For a start there’s my friend Fi, the redoubtable Fiona Hogarth, who is currently in the process of coming up with a dense, foliage-heavy design in green and gold for me as per request:

This isn’t it, but it’s similar.

There are also places that sell printed jersey. While most of this is horrible and also expensive (as is often the case with fabric for some reason: bad enough that it costs and arm and a leg without making it look revolting as well, companies!), there is the occasional gem:

leggings

T-shirt

Leading to me going cheerfully nuts and churning out a pair of leggings and a t-shirt which I cannot wear at the same time because I look like I ought to be preaching in a Pentecostal church somewhere in Walthamstow: an admirable pastime, but not one to which I could non-hypocritically surrender myself, what with the atheism and the whiteness and everything.

However as separate garments they’re Tony-Tiger-Grrrrrrreat, and I’ve solved the previous problem of saggy leggings by being a rational adult and making the pattern a size smaller than usual because it is stretchy. I never claimed to be swift on the uptake.

As previously mentioned, there are also all-over-print services now of the sort I’d have killed for when I first started a Cafepress pit in 2003.

Print All Over Me allow the commercialisation of your designs, and I have one or two impressive and high-resolution patterns to drop on there (see below): however, while the base price of their t-shirts ($38.00) is already steep (and the leggings, at $55.00, even steeper), the shipping costs are at their cheapest $44.00. No, I have not put the decimal place in the wrong part of that sum. Yes it does cost more to ship the already expensive item than it does to buy it.

I do not think I will be making many sales, and certainly not enough to reimburse me the t-shirt I bought myself:

Frankly, I think the William Morris Co. need to pull their finger out and start licensing t-shirts of their patterns, or I’m going to have to start wearing the same godawful “clever” t-shirts I wore in 1997.

And no one wants that.

 

Collaboration in a Constellation

Some time ago, I embroidered the constellation of Scorpio in a combination of glow-in-the-dark machine thread and holographic machine thread, with silver metallic machine thread connecting the stars, because sometimes you just want to make something aggressively shiny. That’s some stiff-backed velvet there, of the sort used in displays. Not sure what the technical term is or how it came to be in my possession.

I sent it to a friend who binds books, because I haven’t seen many embroidered book covers – my grandmother until recently made embroidered slip covers for blanks for me – and wondered if there was something about embroidering a piece of cloth that makes it impossible to bookbind with it.

Anyway, that turns out not to be the case.

Notes from my esteemed collaborator:

using iron-on adhesive and tissue paper, i turned it into bookcloth. the book is 4” x 5”—small, but heavy because of how thick the pages are. the end pages are black cardstock with silver metallic sharpie borders. there are 150 white cardstock pages, edged in silver metallic sharpie, and a black ribbon bookmark featuring a glittery metal star charm.

As I believe I mentioned before, there are few feelings quite so satisfying as seeing someone take a piece of your work and incorporate it into a piece of their work, producing a collaborative product that’s more exciting than anything either of you could have done on your own, whether that’s writing a comic script or embroidering a book cover.

Being an evolutionarily-minded person I can only assume that’s a neurological adaptation designed to help a highly social species work together to ensure the success of larger projects and thus the heightened survival rate of the genes of the species.

Still feels good though.