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.



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.


Preparing for Ren Faire Season # 3!

The Mid-South Renaissance Faire has relocated to a more scenic corner of the Shire of Shelby! (actually the Shire of Tipton now, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it) Still the last two weekends of August, and it will still be fantastic! Huzzah!

This year Mad Queen Beth (Beth Kitchens, our fearless leader) and Good Queen Bess convinced me to leave behind my peasant roots and be promoted to a lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty. Which of course involves a lot more quality time with my sewing machine.

Designing a noblewoman’s persona and costume for fair is a whole different kettle of fish from a more everyday persona, and comes with some unique concerns.

  1. $$$$$$ An accurate Elizabethan noble costume, purchased from a seamstress, will run between $550 and $1,200 dollars in labor fees alone, and the fabric runs between $12 and $30 per yard for the 12-18 yards needed for the various layers of the outfit.  The nature of these costumes with their fitted bodices means that every dress has to be custom, and the price that goes with that. To see what I mean check out the stunning works of sewing artistry at Venifica’s Corsetry and Designs from Time. The materials for my relatively modest dress and accessories will set back hopefully less that $300, which is still double what my peasant costume cost.
  2. I can’t outdress the Queen! Our fair is still in its early days and our Queen’s costumes aren’t as over-the-top as some others fairs’. I can’t dress like the decadent ladies of the court at the Bristol or SoCal Faires, but I still want to look convincing and pretty. I can’t go overboard with the gold trim or brocade trims, though.
  3. Don’t get heatstroke / natural fibers rule! Noblewomen wear a LOT more fabric than commoners, and our fair has daytime temperatures in the high 90s. Polyester brocades are gorgeous, shiny, and feel like a portable sauna in the heat. In order to avoid heatstroke, I have to stick to cottons, rayons, and linens. I’m also making my sleeve detachable, and putting boning in my dress instead of making a separate layer.  An Elizabethan lady would never have dreamed of going outside without dress sleeves over her chemise, but this 21st century Memphian has different priorities.
  4. Why am I here? Gone are the days of being a comfortable anonymous peasant, just at the fair to get a glimpse of the queen and introduce children to the joys of the craft booth. As a member of the more visible cast of the fair I need to have a character with some set personality quirks and goals for other cast members to bounce improv acting off of. In my case, I’m a lady-in-waiting to Queen Bess, charged with entertaining the queen and keeping her company. If I have to pick a historical character, I might be Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick? I’ll be running errands for the Queen and running after my errant Spanish friend Lady Jacqueline, whose backstory is a hoot that I’ll cover in a future blog post.

Have I mentioned that Pinterest is addicting and wonderful? In order to wrap my head around the options for a noble dress, I surfed through existing portraits and costumes to see what caught my eye.

My inspiration board can be found on this pinterest board here.

dress doodle
Here’s my initial dress design – a sleeveless, back-lacing dress in a navy blue cotton jacquard, with blue velvet ribbon trim on the front flanked by gold-colored satin piping. I’ll wear a high-necked chemise, a underskirt with decorative forepart, and a hoop slip under it.

I’m thinking that the forepart and possible tie-on sleeves would be robins-egg blue or champagne-colored, but don’t quote me on that? They may end up being bright red depending on what Joann’s has on sale.

color palette

I’m going to try to use view A of the Simplicity pattern 3782 as a base, with some tweaks.

I'll use this pattern for the skirts and general bodice layout, but will probably fudge some different sleeve poufs and make the sleeve tie-on.:

(OK first off the hairstyle on the model is ridiculous, what were you thinking, Simplicity?! Andrea Schewe worked too hard on a remotely accurate pattern to top it off with 1980’s prom hair)

  • I’ll use my custom bodice block that I made for my peasant dress to make sure the  bodice pattern really fits.
  • I’ll cartridge-pleat the overskirt onto a front-opening waistband and keep the back-lacing bodice separate.  While researching the pattern I found that the most common complaint was that it was exceedingly frustrating to sew ALL of the layers or bodice, interlining, lining, skirt, skirt facing, and tabs together at the waistband. I might as well skip that drama entirely.
  • I’ll make the sleeves detachable.
  • I’ll leave off the waist tabs.  I can’t find a single historical example of tabs on a french-style gown like this, only on a doublet worn with a non-matching skirt.
  • I’ll use a different trim pattern and hand-sew it on.
  • I’ll fuss around with the sleeve puffs to make them a softer shape that won’t look ridiculous on my scrawny shoulders.

In addition to the main dress I’ll need a french hood, attifet, escoffion, or some other kind of arcane Elizabethan head wear to top off the outfit, but I’ll cross that bridge when  come to it.

I’m thinking of making a second underskirt and set of sleeves to change up the dress between days at the fair, which the rational part of my brain is trying to dismiss until the first set of everything is done.

So far, I have the chemise cut out and ready to sew. That’s it. But it’s a start! I’m looking forward to my newfound my upward mobility and to learning to sew an entirely new kind of garb!