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.


I just found a pic of our illustrious Lord Mayor on Ravin’ Mayven‘s Pinterest board for ren costumes. She’s got links to some nice costumes, though not all are Ren or historical. There are a few custom order listings for Ren/Tudor/Snow White costumes, among others. She also links to some other Ren / SCA costume boards that seem to be worth taking a peek at.

Thanks to Ravin’ Mayven (and Rachel for originally pulling the pic of our Lord Mayor onto the realm of Pinterest).

Corsets come in many shapes, from long line, to gusseted, to modern and many variations between. The universal point of corsetry is to shape the body and provide a foundation for the garments, whether that shape is flattened and lifted, the cylindrical shape of a Renaissance corset or the slimming, bulge free, pointy breasted look of a Merry Widow. This  image gives you an idea of the variations in just a 20 year period, from 1900 – 1919.

Not all corsets are created equal. Not by a long shot. There are some specialized materials and techniques that go into the making of a corset. Most corsets require a busk, which is a particularly shaped front piece that holds that part of the corset flat. There are spoon busks, wooden, horn and split busks with knobs and loops for front opening corsets. The corset will have some kind of boning or stiffening. This can be spring steel bones, plastic, whale bones, reeds, or cording. Some people substitute heavy-duty zip ties with the end parts removed. Farthingales is one of the most complete sources for corset making supplies.

When I look at corsets people have for sale one of the first things I look at is the fabric. A corset that is meant to actually alter your shape and survive the strain will be made with at least one layer of coutil. Coutil is a dense herringbone weave fabric. The directions of the weave do not stretch and this is key to a corset that alters your shape without its own shape being altered over time. No, denim or duck won’t do; they are plainweave and will stretch. It’s not the thickness of the fabric you are after, it’s the weave. Would some other herringbone that is not strictly coutil work? Possibly. That could be something to explore. If the corset is to be pretty it will usually have a layer of fashion fabric over the coutil. A corset may also be lined with a third fabric, but only the coutil is strictly necessary.

Coutil is expensive. A look at Farthingales today shows that it can be in the $45/yard range. I’ve purchased their coutil and know they sell excellent quality. Recently I found a non-pre-shrunk coutil elsewhere and have decided to give it a try as the prices was very attractive. Below you will find the inexpensive sample on the left and the excellent Farthingales stock on the right.

Notice the difference? The herringbone weave on the right is much smaller. The one of the left almost looks like it has alternating stripes of denser and less dense weave. I’m not entirely sure how the one on the left will perform. That said, it may perform marvelously. After pre-washing it, where it will lose roughly 5% of its size (which means the weave will be tightened), I’ll have to see how it fares. I am planning to make either a waist cincher or (my approximation of an) Elizabethan corset with this.

Linen is a great fabric for historical costuming. It’s sturdy, versatile, takes color well and washes ever softer and softer. And it’s historically accurate – ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ireland, Israelites, the Mediterranean, Cornwall, as armor, in the Renaissance, Victorian England and beyond, until cotton became cheap to manufacture.

Elizabeth's late 1500s Italian working class costume via FabricsStore Chronicle

My favorite linen source, has a piece on enthusiastic historical costumer and author, Elizabeth, who works in linen. (more…)

J. was the first person to introduce me to the phenomena that is the Renaissance Faire. She left the faire circuit a few years ago, but recently decided to come back to it.

In coming back and joining our guild she decided that a whole new costume was needed. She also wanted it to double for both Peasant and Pirate.

We went with a Scottish style bodice pattern by Simplicity, that intentionally does not close all the way at the front. As she likes the more natural colors, we chose a chocolate-brown medium weight linen fabric. The inter-lining is a natural colored cotton duck cloth, and the lining is a similar colored cotton fabric.

The chemise is a natural muslin with cotton drawstring for the neckline and wrists.

The skirt is the same brown linen as the bodice. It is left open at the front and is tacked open for aa nice draping effect.

The pants or bloomers are a red and black mottled quilting fabric also of 100% cotton

Don’t let the title of this post fool you into thinking that the hat in question is dead. It is very much alive and well (unless you count Faire-sweat). The point is how it came to be.

I’ve long enjoyed being a peasant at the Renaissance Faire. Who doesn’t love the irreverent attitude, the ability to wipe your dirty fingers on your clothes (you quickly get over the fact that you are ruining the costume you labored over – those are marks of good times had, not stains!) and the occasional peasant pile? Those noble looking tall hats have long intimidated and intrigued me. As my guild slowly moves up in standing from lowly peasant to something like lower middle class, we’ve all started looking at things that actual Renaissance Sumptuary Laws and social standing would have prevented real peasants from having.

Sheriff in an Elizabethan Tall Hat

A tall hat meant status. It’s no Pope’s hat, mind you, but the only tall hat a peasant would have gotten their hands on would have been tattered and almost unrecognizable as headwear. Our new Lord Mayor and Sheriff both needed a tall hat.

As with any other costume piece, there is a lot of variation on the theme when it comes to the exact size and shape. Look here, here, and particularly at period portraiture. Our two men wanted hats that weren’t too tall and brims that were big enough to shade their eyes. Unlike Elizabethan England climate, the CA Ren Faire is full sun and 95+ degrees 95% of the time. There were particularly fond of a leather version we had seen, but I was hoping to give them something cooler and opted for the linen of their doublets.

5 paper mock-ups later I had a good shape that worked on both men. (more…)

Have you ever wondered about who creates all those wonderful (or sometimes horrible) period or period-inspired costumes for film and theater? I happened upon this post be Fashion-ready-to-Wear-You-Out (which was in turn borrowed from this post) on a British costume exhibit, Cut! Costume and the Cinema at the Glenbow Museum.

The costumes above are,  left to right:

Ever After – This Renaissance-themed gown made Angelica Huston’s evil stepmother an attractive adversary to Drew Barrymore’s updated Cinderella.  Designer: Jenny Beavan.

Sense and Sensibility – A simple day dress, made from cotton muslin instead of silk, highlights the reduced circumstances of Kate Winslet’s Marianne. Designers: John Bright and Jenny Beavan.

The Phantom of the Opera – Worn by Emmy Rossum, this ballgown was one of 300 costumes hand made to meet director Joel Schumacher’s high fashion standards. Designer: Alexandra Byrne.

The Duchess – A military-style day ensemble helped Keira Knightley channel 18th-century iconoclast Georgiana Cavendish and earned its designer the 2008 Oscar. Designer: Michael O’Connor.

Finding Neverland – Kate Winslet’s dressing gown, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, is one of exhibition co-curator Nancy Lawson’s favourite pieces. Designer: Alexandra Byrne.

The first two costumes were designed by British costume designer Jenny Beavan, who is worth looking into, should you feel the need to do a little costume research. She has worked on films such as the upcoming second Sherlock Holmes film in the most recent incarnation, The Remains of  the Day, Anna And the King (the Jody Foster version), The Black Dahlia, and A Room with a View, to name a view. She has done several Merchant Ivory films, you know, those “costume dramas,” not that I’m poo-poo’ing them in any way, mind you. I like a good costume drama, just so long as the script and acting are at the same level as the costume and sets! (more…)