The Finished Elizabethan Lady!

Falalala-ing with the Madrigal singers

Soooo…. this is what 66 hours of work on a costume looks like!

My final spending, only on items that went into the dress as shown in this photo, was ~220 dollars.

Even though I didn’t end up being able to add as much trim as I originally planned or being able to modify the sleeve poofs, I’m still thrilled with the results! The fabric did a lot of the work for me.


I survived the blazing hot first weekend of the Mid-South Renaissance Festival in style, with a lot of help from the Porta-Cool unit in the cast tent and a whole lot of frozen gatorade.

I also have awesome friends. From left to right is Whitney (costume mentor par extraordinaire), me, Lauren (cast director and milliner), and Lauren’s boyfriend Aaron (our brave Lord of the Court).





Accessorizing the Elizabethan Lady

Coif: $$ cost: $5, time cost: one evening

Hat – $$ cost: $20 for fabric and trim, time cost: my awesome friend Lauren knows….

Bum roll – $$ cost: $5, time cost: one evening

Jewelry – $$ cost: $21, time cost: Evening 1 for belt, Evening 2 for necklace

Hoop slip/farthingale: $ 25 including shipping from Amazon

I made the coif out of two 11-inch diameter circles (one gold lace, one solid white), and a brim made out of a fabric sample of gold poly shantung. This strip of fabric for the brim ended up being 2.5 inches wide and 22 inches long.  I sewed a comb into the brim to keep it on my head.  The 11-inch diameter makes a good size for a coif that sits far on the back of the head and doesn’t contain too much hair. I have hair down to the middle of my back that I put up in a high braided bun, and it works OK. If I were to make one again, my circle would be at least 12 inches in diameter.

I was the lucky recipient of my friend Lauren’s experimental foray into millinery! She made me this darling small hat designed to perch on my head. I gave her 3/4 of a yard of blue micro-suede fabric and 2 yards of navy blue upholstery trim and she did magic with it.  I decorated it with a know of navy velvet ribbon, a button, and an ostrich feather. It as thread loops that I use to bobby-pin it to my head.


The bum roll is from the Simplicity 3782 pattern. It was simple to make up, fits well, and give a subtle version of the Elizabethan Shelf Butt ™ that poofs out all the cartridge pleats so well. If you want a more extreme Elizabethan Shelf Butt ™, you can just alter the crescent of the pattern piece to be fatter. I wear the bum roll over my hoop slip.


I strung alternating pearls and gold spacer beads onto beading monofilament to make the belt and the necklace. Both are detachable, and are attached to the bodice with loop-and-toggle closures. The necklace is tacked to the bodice with thread, as is a small brooch thing. The pendant around my neck is the cast pin.

I got the hoop slip from Amazon here.  It’s a good price and a give a nice shape under the dress, but I’m 5’4 and about as tall as you can be and not have the lowest hoop be way too high. Just something to keep in mind for the taller ladies out there.  I might adjust the top hoop to be just a little bit smaller.



Elizabethan Bodice

$$ Budget: $3 in muslin, $20 in fashion fabric, $6 for 3/4 yard cotton duck, $4 for lining fabric, $5 for fiberfill

Time budget:

  • Easily twenty lunch breaks of agonizing over possible designs on Pinterest, most of which I didn’t do anyways because of time constraints
  • Evening 1 – draft pattern
  • Evening 2 – cut pattern out of muslin, sew mockup, try on mockup
  • Evening 3 – cut main bodice patterns along with skirt pieces
  • Evening 4 – draft tabs (did not end up using) and mockup sleeve poof design
  • Evening 5 – sew boning channels into interlining, sew side seams on main bodice pieces, make bias tape and piping, cut sleeve poof pieces
  • Long Evening 6 – sew back underlap, sewing sleeve poof pieces together, boning front of bodice, adding piping to waist and neckline seams, sewing bodice together
  • Evening 7 – try on bodice, find good shoulder strap placement, hand sew straps in place
  • Tipsy evening after my birthday party – adding eyelets to bodice
  • Evening 9 – hand sewing sleeve  poofs to shoulders, hand sewing sewing underlap to bodice
  • Evening 10 – Bling

The greatest plans of mice and men…

I had all kinds of HUGE plans to modify this bodice pattern to look like portraits from the time period. I drafted patterns to make the sleeve poofs with blue straps around fluffy white fabric like in paintings I had seen, and curved tabs around the waist like a dress I saw on pinterest. In the end, my procrastination caught up with me and I did the sleeve poofs just like Simplicity 3782 suggested but with all one color. No tabs for now. I did, however, make some big changes to the actual construction methods of the bodice. I used the pattern pieces from Simplicity 3782 but basically threw the instructions out.

I made a mockup first and tried it on over my corset. This step isn’t listed in the 3782 pattern instruction sheets, but it’s important to getting a good, comfortable fit. I shifted and widened the shoulder straps based on this mockup. I should have tried on the bodice OVER all the layers of skirt waistband, it gapes at the bottom of the lacing!

  1. I added piping to the waist seam and the top of the front of the bodice for a more finished look and to make the edges behave better.
  2. Because I’m wearing this dress over a corset, I didn’t bone it nearly as much as the pattern calls for. I sewed two bias tape boning channels onto the center front of the interlining and stuck some cable tie in there to keep the front from wrinkling.
  3. I didn’t use the trim laout that the pattern suggests. If I add trim I’ll whip stitch it on by hand later.
  4. I bag lined the bodice, just because I like the finished look better (no exposed edges!) and I’m used to it.
    1. Separately sewing the side seams of the lining, interlining, and fashion fabrics.
    2. Sewed the bottom of the fashion fabric piece to the bottom of the interlining piece, right sides together and with piping
    3. Flipped it right-side out
    4. Basted the edges of the fashion fabric and the interlining together
    5. Basted the piping to the right-side of the top edge of the front fashion fabric.
    6. placed the lining fabric layer wrong-side-up on top of the right side of the fashion fabric, pinned, and sewed all seams except for the waist seam
    7. turned everything right-side out and poked the shoulder straps out with a knitting needle.
    8. tada! See the photos below…
  5. I then whip-stitched the lining onto the waistline, sewed boning channels along the back closure edges, and borrowed Whitney’s grommet kit to add the eyelets.
    1. I used a spiral-lacing pattern instead of the criss-cross grommet pattern that the pattern calls for. I just like the look better. I copied the lacing pattern directly from my peasant dress to save time of measuring distances, and it worked out well.
  6. Tried on the bodice over the corset and skirt, marked where the straps should lie, hand-sewed straps down.
  7. Once I had stitched on the shoulder rolls and underlap, the bodice structure was done and it was time for bling!



Below, the photos show the layers of the bodice with its lining (solid navy), interlining (white canvas), boning, , piping, and fashion fabric…

…and the grommet-setting process.



Overskirt: Adventures in Cartridge Pleating

$$ Budget: $40 for fabric, $2.50 for heavy-duty thread, $3.00 for skirt hooks

Time budget: 16 hours

  • Evening 1 – cutting fabric for skirt and bodice
  • Evening 2 – sewing 6/7 skirt panels together
  • Evening 3 – sewing the last skirt panel seam, sewing waistline facings together, hemming front open sides of skirt, sewing facing to skirt, flipping, ironing, and pinning
  • Saturday afternoon – cartridge pleating, sewing skirt to waistband
  • Evening 4 – adding skirt hook closures
  • Long evening 5 – hemming the bottom of the skirt

Yes, it’s possible to pleat 10 feet of skirt into two feet of waistband. It just takes  a while!

The overskirt is one of the biggest changes I made to the Simplicity 3782 pattern – I made it front-opening and separate from the bodice. I find the back gap in the pleating in the original pattern unattractive.

I wanted to make the dress in two pieces for a few different reasons. Firstly, for ease of sewing – the #1 complaint online about this pattern is how hard it  is to sew the gathered bulk of the skirt, bodice layers, and skirt tabs. Secondly, for ease of putting it on. And lastly, for ease of rescuing in case on piece of it gets damaged!

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I cut a strip of fabric 4 inches wide and 6 inches longer than my waist measurement, folded in half with right sides together, sewed the long edge, turned it right-side out, and topstitched it. Voila, a waistband!
  2. Because I was sewing the skirt to a standard waistband instead of having to gather it to a point that dips down in the front, I used 8 of the side/back panels instead of 6 side/back panels and 2 front panels. I sewed these panels together with french seams. Holy cow I thought the seaming would never end. 36 feet of them! You might be OK with seven panels instead of eight, depending on the size of your hoop skirt.
  3. In order to properly wrangle the fabric into cartridge pleats, I cut 8 waistline facing pieces based on the the top four inches of the side/back panel pattern. I pieced them so the free edge (bottom edge) of each piece lay along the selvedge of the fabric – a cheat so I didn’t have to finish yet another hem!! I sewed then all together into a long curving strip and then sewed it (right side together) to the joined skirt panels.
  4. I pleated the central 6 panels of skirt used the cartridge pleating tutorials from Jennifer Rosbrugh at Historical Sewing. Her explanation is really clear and helpful! She writes for a more 1800s audience but the advice is good for 1500s too. I ran three rows of stitches with heavy-duty thread. Each row was 0.5 inches apart vertically, and every stitch was separated by 0.75 inches. I really like how it turned out!!
  5. I put two knife-pleats into each of the two outer panels that would form the front of the skirt, and basted them in place. I wanted a sleeker silhouette in front, and in this respect my skirt has something in common with the pleats on the original 3782 pattern.
  6. So I drew up the fabric into knife and cartridge pleats, adjusted it to it fit the waistband, pinned it to the waistband right sides together… then I had to hand stitch them in place. I stole my mother’s favorite chair/ottoman and Ott-Lite daylight lamp for this effort, and propped the fabric on my bent knees.  Because my fabric weighs so much I erred on the cautious side and ran three whip-stitches through each pleat.
  7. After I tried it on over my corset and hoop skirt, I realized that the waistband stretched under the weight of the fabric. I rearranged the front pleats to take 1 inch off of the circumference of the waist and re-sewed them, and then finished the waistband with dress hooks.
  8. I sewed decidedly non-period lace hem tape to the right-side of the bottom edge (hey, if the Elizabethans had it they would have loved it, right?), and tried the skirt on over my hoop skirt, underskirt, and bum roll.
  9. My patient and amazing mother pinned and hand-hemmed the bottom edge! In her comfy chair with her feet propped up and her Ott-lite. I was A-OK with being exiled to the couch to hand-sew my bodice that evening. We sewed and drank tea until 12:30 AM.

I’m delighted with how it turned out. The added bulk of the waistline facing plumps up the cartridge pleats – they look wonderfully sculptural! It pleases my inner perfectionist to no end. My mom did a wonderful job on the hem.







Corset: Not as bad as it sounds

$$ Budget: $19.00

  • scrap muslin from stash for drafting
  • $7.00 for 15-pack of 18 inch cable ties at Lowes
  • $8.00 for one yard of cotton canvas
  • $4.00 for one yard of plain cotton fabric
  • grommets: free from my lovely friend Whitney

Time Budget: 20 hours

  • Saturday afternoon 1: planning, modifying Dorothea paper pattern to my measurements, making lacing strips to try on corset
  • Evening 1: transferring pattern to muslin, making muslin, trying on
  • Evening 2: drafting modified pattern and boning layout
  • Evening 3 – cutting out pieces, sewing pieces together
  • Evening 4 – sewing boning channels
  • Evening 5 – cutting boning to fit, inserting
  • Evening 6 – grommets
  • Evening 7 –  hemming
  • Evening 8 – getting straps finished off

The Simplicity 3782 pattern than I’m using doesn’t call for a corset, but instead to heavily bone the bodice of the dress itself. I was worried that the boning would show through my fashion fabric if I did that because my trim layout is simpler, and Whitney was leading the MSRF ladies in a corset workshop, so I decided to go one step more towards historical accuracy.

We all based our patterns off of the corset pattern based on the Dorothea extant garment in  The Tudor Tailor. Whitney blew up the pattern to 100% scale on her  printer so that we could each then tape the sheets into a pattern piece, cut it up along the adjustment lines, and expand or overlap it to get a pattern based on our measurements.


I made a muslin based on that pattern, tried it on, and went to town with a Sharpie editing it for fit. I had helped Whitney make lacing strips to pin on, and it made trying on the corset so much easier! Plus I got to play with her giant industrial grommet machine. 🙂


I got lucky with my pattern and only had to make one muslin with small edits. I used tracing paper over the marked-up muslin to create a custom pattern and add seam allowances. I then traced THAT tracing, and measured out where to put boning. In my case I had to raise the bust from the original and add 12mm boning channels to fit my 9mm cable ties. Whitney and the other ladies of the court ordered real steel boning and corset coutil fabric, but I had to get this done earlier and made do with what I could buy locally.


UPDATE: If you can use steel boning, I really recommend it. After a long, hot day at fair the plastic boning bends significantly and allows the bodice fabric to wrinkle. It doesn’t matter too much with my dress, since it’s a matte fabric with a nice distracting pattern, but with a solid or shiny fabric it would look messy. Also, if you are a lady more gifted than me with “tracts of land” it wouldn’t give you appropriate support. However, for a scrawny, cheap, time-crunched girl like myself the plastic boning was a reasonable option.

I boned every other channel. I don’t need all that much support, and I didn’t want to feel like I was wearing a plastic suit of armor. After cutting, filing, and inserting the bone I ran a row of stitching to keep it in, using my piping foot to avoid the bones.

I had never done bias binding before! It turned out a bit messy but good enough for me.


My mom saw it and exclaimed “doesn’t it hurt to pinch your waist in like that?!” The answer is – my waist measurement isn’t reduced at all. It’s just rearranged. My waist shaped went from slightly oval (wider side-to-side, narrower front-to-back) to something like a circle with a constant diameter.  With the corset laced up, I look thinner from the front but the side view makes up for it. Also, the boning in the corset distributes the pressure of the underskirt and skirt waistbands in a way that makes their weight much more comfortable.




Underskirt: the perils of polyester

AKA How Courtney Learned to Love the Rolled-Hem Foot

$$ Budget: $30

Time Budget: ~12 hours

  • One Sunday afternoon to cut out fabric, sew panels together
  • Evening 1 to clean-finish the seams and sew the drawstring casing
  • Evening 2 to roll-hem the bottom
  • Evening 3 to draft the hem facing for the forepart and sew the bottom seam
  • Evening 4 to take up the bottom hem for length and finish sewing on the facing

I found 5 yards of aqua polyester taffeta lining fabric in the clearance section of Joann’s and brought it home, intending to make a petticoat out of it. This stuff is impossible. It doesn’t iron OR stay put. I’m pretty sure this is what you make a tent out of.  The only things right about it are the the color and the swish. I failed miserably at doing my usual french seam or felled seam to contain the wayward plastic threads, but the third try was the charm.  In order to stop the fraying mess, I did a simple right-sides-together seam and then used a rolled-hem foot on the raw edge.

This is the first pattern piece I used from the Simplicity 3782 pattern, and I modified it to have a drawstring waist instead of one gathered onto a fixed ribbon band with an underlap. I pinked the top of the blue taffeta and turned it over to make a casing, and finished the top of the front with a length of white ribbon to conceal the raw edges of poly silk and felt.  I then attached the twill tape drawstring to the edges of the front and ran it through the casing.  I’m still hazy on how the pieces of the costume will fit together, and as I’m a perfectionist I didn’t want to have to go back later and tear the waistband out to get it to fit just so. Besides, 6/7ths of it is hidden under my overskirt anyways! The six seams on the bias made me realized why historical seamstresses of this period cut the skirt as a rectangle and cartridge-pleated it. Ugh. So much stretch. This fabric magnified all my sewing skill weaknesses. But the yellow front panel looks lovely, and that’s what matters!

I deviated again from the Simplicity 3782 pattern to draft and sew a hem facing for the yellow poly silk/felt front of the skirt out of the blue cotton from my peasant dress’s lining. I folded the pattern in order to only cut the bottom foot of it out of the lining fabric. The, I pinned it to the right side of the front, sewed at my desired length, flipped it to the back, ironed, pinned, and machine-sewed the sides down. I then hand-sewed the top of the facing to the felt only so the seam wouldn’t show through the yellow poly silk.


Fancy New Shirt

$$ Budget: 3 yards of 45″ Muslin = $12.00

Time Budget: 12 hours

  • Evening 1 – cut out fabric
  • Evening 2 – hem front opening, sew shoulders together, and iron interfacing into cuffs and collar
  • Longer evening 3 – sew ruffled cuffs and collar together
  • Evening 4 – sew collar to shirt
  • Evening 5 – sew cuffs to shirt
  • Evening 6 – sew gores to sleeves, sew sleeves to body, sew up the sides
  • Evening 7 – hand-sew cuff facings down
  • Evening 8 – sew buttons and button loops

I decided to make a new shirt/ ‘partlet blouse” to go with my noble dress, with a nice ruffly collar and cuffs. Any good Elizabethan noble lady wouldn’t be caught outside without an ACTUAL ruff, but alas that is not in the budget. Also, there is limited evidence for women wearing high-necked shifts like this. More probably, the lady of 1576 would have worn a square-necked shift with a partlet. I might make that later, but for now I was going with the simple option.

There are plenty of good patterns for ruffled-necked shirts out there, in the Tudor Tailor and by Margot Anderson, but I’m cheap and didn’t want to shell out for a pattern. Luckily, there are some great free guides out there on the interwebs. I used:

And I didn’t find this one until after  had finished my shirt, but it could be helpful:

Rectangular construction should be too hard, right? And the Rennaissance Tailor said that her shirt came together in 3 or 4 hours…. LOL I am not on that wavelength.

My main trouble came in the form of french seams. I kept on getting distracted and doing them backwards or inside out, and spent a lot of quality time with my seam ripper. It turned out all right though!