Once Upon a Time in 1980, when I was a young student at University, I started a medieval group in Sydney, Australia with a bunch of friends…
18 months later, we decided to hold a big 12th Night feast and started planning fancy outfits. I made my first ever noble German gown. It was full of mistakes, but started my love affair with this style.
By this point, I had made a few medieval outfits – a V necked gown, and some Tudor(ish) kirtles, but I wanted something really special for our big feast. I found a picture in Costume (M Lister, 1967) – one of the few books on medieval costume available in the early 1980s – and fell in love with it.
I had never seen a painting by Lucas Cranach, so I took the image at face value and worked hard to copy every aspect – sweetheart neckline, cross-lacing, lack of body linens and all! I could see no way to get into the gown, so I assumed a back lacing.
The comparison with an actual Cranach painting of a similar outfit above shows there were so many wrong details, including the date – this style of gown was not in fashion until the mid 1520s.
The Lister picture did not show any sight of undergarments, so I assumed there were none!
I patterned the gown and worked out the minimum possible fabric required, then saved hard for the red rayon velvet – a major investment of my student funds. I lined the bodice in cotton and the skirt in acetate lining fabric. I was lucky to find a roll of black velvet and gold trim going cheap, which I used for all the contrast lines.
I sewed everything by machine – at the time I saw hand-sewing as inefficient and only used it as a last resort 🙂 I cursed the velvet…
I was thrilled with the result and wore it bursting with pride, despite the melting heat.
A year or so later, I discovered the paintings of Cranach, and realised that Lister’s interpretation was wrong in so many ways. I was SO disappointed. It was a formative lesson in research – to always go back to the original source, rather than rely on someone else’s interpretation.
Luckily, I was able to buy a small amount of matching red velvet. I re-made the bodice with a solid back and open front and re-made the closed sleeves into ones with open slashes. I wanted something really rich for the Brustfleck, so I re-purposed an embroidered Indian handbag which I bought in a charity shop.
I added a petticoat layer to bulk the skirts out – and a fine cotton Hemd (smock). Not perfect, but moving in the right direction (and a lot more comfortable to wear).
I wore the renovated gown for many years, until I lent it to a friend who left a steam iron mark imprinted on the velvet. It is now packed carefully away as a reminder of that time.