Wednesday, 27 March 2019

The Tudor Tailor

I came across this photo from 1988. Tudor Day at Brampton Road Primary School, Bexleyheath.
At the end of the row of children performing their Tudor Dance is a little girl in a white cap, and red dress with lace sleeves.
I'd modified my 1968 red maxi dress into an Elizabethan gown for Liz to wear.
Her cap was made from an old white shirt of Bob's. In fact I made about 20 of these for her friends using their Dads' shirts [at least 3 others appear in the photo] To be honest, it is a mismatch- the cap is 'peasant-style' and the gown is from a well-to-do wardrobe.
If only I had possessed this book back then. Steph and Gary gave me this for my birthday last year. I had mentioned it after watching the author, Ninya Mikhaila, on Amber Butchart's series "A Stitch in Time" [recently repeated om BBC4]
I cannot begin to tell you how much I have revelled in this glorious publication. I have been reading and rereading it for almost a year and I should have reviewed it months ago. I love it!
I doubt I shall ever have to produce a Tudor gown for Rosie, or dress Bob as Henry VIII in doublet and hose - but if I do, then everything I need is here. The pictures, the patterns, the illustrations, the carefully written instructions and helpful diagrams.
I keep the book by the bed, and sometimes just read through a few pages and dream of cutting and stitching billiments and bongraces, galligaskins and gable hoods...
Not only is there all the practical stuff, but the first third of the book is wonderful historical detail.
Information about the fabric, and the weaving, the changing shapes of garments, and the underpinnings. The influence of European fashions on English style. It is fabulous!
And if you like reading CJSansom and other authors who write about the Tudor period then you can make sense of words like kirtles, and linsey-wolsey [which is a fabric, not a character]
One major problem with maintaining historical accuracy is the lack of surviving clothing. Very often a garment would be re-made or repurposed after its owner had done with it. Two of the most helpful sources of information are [1]the garments recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose [which sank in 1546] and [2] the Essex Wills - a collection of Tudor wills maintained in the Essex County Archives - ten volumes of 10,360 documents, which make 2230 references to clothing.  The testators vary from wealthy landowners to sailors, servants, butchers and bakers. In these wills can be found detailed descriptions of garments being passed on to friends and family.
There are also many paintings from the period- but the majority of these, unsurprisingly, display the wealthy patrons rather than their servants.
And the vocabulary...Elizabethan women wore two pieces of fabric, over their breast, and their back, called bodies - from which we get the word bodice. Who knew?
Even if you are not into sewing, and have no practical need of this book, but like reading Tudor stories, I would recommend borrowing it from your library.
Fustian and frizado, sarcenet and stammel, bay and buffin - if only Fabricland stocked these, alongside the polycotton and scuba jersey!
Definitely *****
I'd give it 6 stars if I could.


  1. Much to my surprise Suffolk libraries have a copy so I'm going to borrow - I'll never make anything but the historical stuff sounds fascinating

  2. What a fascinating-sounding book!! My Mum would enjoy that, I suspect! The costume you made for Liz looks fantastic! How clever!! I'd love to see you make a costume like this! My old primary school used to visit Kentwell Hall as a school trip and the children always had to go dressed in Tudor costume so that would have been perfect! I hope Rosie needs a costume!

    1. Check out the library Kezzie- you have such a fondness for costumes, I am sure it will inspire you.

    2. I should! Must visit my local library!

  3. This was very interesting, what a great book! And not only the history, but patterns and instructions too. I think you will have to dress up your whole family in Tudor style! :)

    1. Bob would make a great Henry VIII - both around 190cm.

  4. Sounds like a very interesting book!

  5. This book sounded so fascinating I showed your blog post to my PhD student who is working on historical textiles. She ordered a copy instantly and it arrived the same evening and she brought it in to show me today! She is happily looking forward to reading it this weekend - and so am I when she has finished it!

    1. I do hope you both find it as fascinating and informative as I did. How lovely to be doing a PhD on historical textiles - I wish her well with her studies.


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