Reconstruction of the Bodice
I have some ideas about this reconstruction that may clash wildly with anything you have ever seen in period clothing. However, my construction is based on extant garments I have personally examined, most notably the 16th century Irish common woman's dress known as the Shinrone Gown, a dress roughly contemporary with the pictures painted by Aertsen and Beuckalaer.
As you've read in Part 1, I noticed a decided difference in construction and pattern shapes between the clothing of the wealthy and that of the working classes. The extant garments that have survived in burials and bog finds do resemble fashionable clothing (although 20-50 years out of date) but are different in more than just the expense of materials. They are almost entirely composed of rectangles and derivatives thereof (triangles, squares, et cetera).
Most discussions of the evolution of clothing construction mention this phenomenon but the discussion ends at the beginning of the Renaissance when shaped armscyes, set-in sleeves, and other curved pattern shapes enter the archeological record. Clothing historians seem to neglect the fact that all level of society (and indeed all countries and cultures) didn't become wealthy and blessed with vast yardages of fabric at the same time the Venetians did. Even in properous cities, the clothing of common people remained functional, utilitarian, and conservative in cut and fabric use.
That's not to say that common people didn't try to emulate their betters. This phenomenon is too well-established throughout time to dispute. However, a certain look can be achieved without breaking the bank. Indeed, the construction I am going to show you today takes only two yards and 8" of 60" wide wool.
When looking at Aertsen and Beuckalaer's paintings, there are two things I do not see: a side seam or a back seam. The truth is that paintings are not photographs and painters are not tailors -- missing a seam isn't that important. We also cannot see the backs or sides of many of the dresses. But in those paintings where the back and sides are plain, there are no seams.
So the first step is to construct a bodice without side or back seams.
This construction is not without substantiation. The Shinrone Gown, while possessing side seams that slant backwards from the armscyes, has a back piece that is nothing more than a 18" x 18" square. The armscyes aren't shaped -- they are simply the place where the front stops being attached to the back.
The front of the Shinrone Gown bodice is also a square. The straps are integral and their backing is created by slicing horizontally at the base of the strap and folding an equal width under, doubling the fabric of the straps. The bottom of the bodice is folded up and under, providing a self lining, and these two elements meet at the bottom of the shoulder strap inside and are whipstitched to each other.
I would like to clarify at this point that I am not insinuating that Netherlandish Working Women's dress is identical to the Shinrone Gown. However, both dresses are under-bust, lace up the front yet don't close, and were worn by working women during the same time period. It would be less than wise to disregard the breadth of evidence and construction techniques that the Shinrone Gown can teach us about common people's clothing.
So let us assume that the bodice of the Netherlandish Working Woman's dress is a simple rectangle. If you take a piece of fabric as long as your back waist (plus a couple of inches) and as wide as your waist minus four or five and lace it up with 12-stand embroidery floss, this is what you get:
<-- A close up of the lacing.
Notice how the edges of the fabric tilt in the same way the edges do in the pictures. This demonstrates to me that the bodice of this gown is a rectangle. A straight warp edge will also take the straight of lacing far better than any other type of edge.
But the fabric is disappearing as we travel up the body. And we need a shoulder strap.
So with the intention of making the shoulder strap like that of the Shinrone gown, I snipped down from the top and over a distance equal to my intended shoulder strap width times two.
And if you weren't convinced it was working, here it is on a real body:
Next, I made a horizontal cut at the base of the slit shown above and folded under the excess, forming the shoulder strap. I cut off the excess fabric on the underside of the bodice from above the bottom of this slit. The pictures below show the bodice self-lined by folding up the fabric from the bottom and folding over the fabric from the shoulder strap. The back above slit level is unlined, exactly like the Shinrone Gown.
Although a piece has been cut away from underneath, the bodice remains a rectangle. It is 27" long by 25" wide with 7" of the length tuck up inside the body. The top of the back is folded over as well. I have not yet decided if I will cut off that excess. Nothing has been sewn yet, but you can see from the pictures at left that the bodice fits my mannequin quite well and conforms to its curves.
- McGann, Kathleen. Unpublished notes made at the National Museum of Ireland, July 1998, and July 1999.
- McGann, Kathleen. "An Irish Gown from the Elizabethan Age: The Shinrone Gown." In Tournaments Illuminated, Spring '99 and http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/irish/shinrone.html.
© 2007, 2008 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.