IMG_20150316_174002637aSometimes it’s a little difficult to get excited about the upcoming faire season, but not when you’re sewing costumes months in advance! This month we completed basic peasant costumes for a very nice couple. They were pretty please with the outcome and looked great in their new garb.







The pieces we made were:

For him:

  • a collared shirt in natural muslin
  • a brown linen flat cap
  • brown linen trews
  • a dark green linen jerkin with plain epaulets

For her:

  • a banded collar shirt in natural muslin that has more feminine gathering into the neckline (but reduced bulk in the body) and a ruffled cuff (making it higher class than peasant)
  • a full circle, six gored skirt in chocolate brown linen
  • a custom pattern bodice in (reversible) dark green and rust linen with plain epaulets and tabbed skirting


These are the basic pieces for the peasant wardrobe, though women usually wear two skirts or an ankle length shirt and one skirt. Adult women also always wore some type of head covering (only young/unmarried girls and loose women left their hair down for all to see). Other basic items include a belt, shoes/boots, a belt pouch, eating knife, and mug. That’s all you need to be an English Elizabethan peasant – and likely all you had clothing-wise.

IMG_20150228_185912347The most complicated item to make is the bodice. At first glance it’s a fairly simple item of clothing, much like a tight-fitting vest that laces up the front. If it fits well it functions as the renaissance bra, lifting and squishing invitingly, forces your posture to be straight, and keeps your waist in check. A well-fitting bodice should end at the natural waist on the sides and the point, which is boned along the front, should extend to roughly the hip-line. This helps flatten the stomach, but, that squishing has to go somewhere and it often goes to the sides. This is bad from a modern standpoint, but desirable from the renaissance standpoint as it enhances the hips, and women wanted to look healthy enough for child-bearing. I’m not sure what came first, the desire to enhance that healthy look, or the desire to emulate the young queen, who looked slim and straight in the same shape garment (she also had a corset under her clothes, and superior materials, particularly the bones that kept the figure straight). In some ways the two looks are at odds, but they are also the result of putting very different figures into the same shape garment.

Tabs pinned into place

Tabs pinned into place

The making of the bodice involves exact shapes for the individual being clothed. Most lower class bodices opened in the front (if it opened in the back how would you dress yourself?) with lacing and this would be the only point where the garment can be adjusted. Period seams weren’t where we place ours now. Shoulder seams were fount further back, as were what we now consider side seams. I have to admit that I don’t actually know why this was, but suspect it had to do with fabric usage.

Showing the flatlining inside as I worked

Showing the flatlining inside as I worked

This specific bodice is constructed in three layers, with a stiff layer of plain-weave canvas flatlined to one of the visible layers. The epaulets are added as the armhole seam was stitched and the tabs before the bottom was hemmed. Both are reversible, to match the body of the garment. In a correctly shaped bodice only two pieces of boning (and the modern seamstress prefers 1/2″ spring-steel), which are placed down the entire front to the inside of where the lacing holes are. This particular bodice got 1/2″ button holes placed every inch. hand sewn eyelets, where the fabric was pushed aside and held by the thread, instead of machined and cut holes, may be more accurate, but I find the former more difficult to lace. This bodice is laced up with strong twice.

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