An old picture resurfaced from an acquaintance’s phone last week. During the 2016 Mid-South Ren Festival, it POURED both Saturdays. The site turned into a mud pit, Queen Bess hurried for cover, and multiple vendors’ trucks got stuck. It turns out that my peasant costume has an advantage. The linen chemise and the green linen/rayon blend overdress dried so quickly!
This photo was taken thirty minutes after I had struggled in the rain to get multiple tents up and supplies distributed. The only part of my costume that was truly bedraggled was my cotton underskirt. I wish I had made it out of the same blend as the dress. With the help of some extra safety pins to hold my skirts up my big straw hat (almost an umbrella, right?) and a pair of cheap, short black rain boots from Target I managed to avoid getting bogged down in the mud. I’m thinking of being a noble next summer, but this dress is so comfortable!!
My look last year was authentic for Elizabethan England last year, but something within me pined for the poofy sleeves and round neckline that make up the renfaire wench look. An hour on Pinterest and Google showed that this look was vaguely Italian and in period, as shown by the paintings of working-class women by Vincenzo Campi. Sofie Stitches has a great gallery of these over at her website.
I made mine based on the pattern over at Festive Attyre, with a few changes. First, I made the sleeves narrower – 1/2 of my fabric width, or 25 inches instead of the 36 that her pattern calls for. The really wide sleeves would be great if you were playing a higher-class character who had puffed sleeves, but the narrower ones work just fine for me. I scored some handkerchief-weight linen/cotton blend on sale at Joann Fabric.
I finished all the seams with french seams, except for the armpit gusset insertion which I edged with a zigzag stitch. I gathered the neckline by using a zigzag stitch over twine. I cut four lengths of twine – one for each sleeve and the front and back – so that when I had encased them in a zigzag stitch I could adjust the length of each section individually. This worked out really well! Once I had gotten each section to the length I wanted (which ended up being 8 inches for each) I just tied the lengths of twine together and trimmed the ends. I then hand-sewed a bias tape binding, using backstitch initially to sew the back of the bias tape to the wrong side of the chemise, and then an invisible whip-stitch to sew down the front. I realized after I finished that the neckline that look good was approximately my bust measurement, so maybe you can use yours as a guideline?
I finished the sleeves with drawstring casings that I never ending up putting drawstrings in, and put a deep hem on the bottom so it hits right below my knees.
Something to note, if you’re making one for yourself, is that the neckline will stretch with wear if you bind it with bias tape. Mine was initially 32 inches around and is now more like 34.
If I were to make another one, I would make the front and back panels 6 inches narrower or so and add side gores if needed. There’s so much fabric in the front and back gathers that I feel rather like I’m swimming in fabric, not to mention that it’s bulky. If you’re closer to Jen’s measurements you shouldn’t need to do that though, I’m just shrimpy.