Tudor Kirtle: Finding the Fit, Part 1
What did you make?
This is a Tudor Kirtle, I had previously made a Tudor Smock, and intend to eventually make an entire Tudor Lady outfit, consisting of smock, kirtle, under partlet, partlet, gown, coif and hood.
The Tudors ruled England from 1485-1603 (National Geographic Kids, 2023). The kirtle (also called a petticoat after 1550) is a foundation garment worn over a smock and under a gown. Since this garment is meant to provide support, the bodice is typically stiffened in some fashion, and the skirts are fairly voluminous, to provide extra floof under the skirt of the gown. (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006)
How did you make it?
All hand sewn. I followed (mostly) the directions in Margo Anderson’s “The Tudor Lady’s Wardrobe”. (Anderson, 2009) Her directions assume a base knowledge of garment and garb sewing. There were some points where I had to rely on my previous experience to fill in the gaps in the instructions.
- The pattern instructions start with taking measurements of the bust, waist, front across shoulders, back neck to waist, waist to floor, shoulder point to wrist, and bicep.
- When comparing my measurements to those in the table, I found that my measurements spanned from a size 4 to 30. Although most of them were between around 10 and 18. This is still a very wide span.
- From there the pattern instructions recommended altering the provided pattern to create a custom pattern that matched my measurements in various dimensions. I had never customized a pattern before, so this was terra incognita for me.
- Following the instructions I combined sizes, altered the arm hole and length of the bodice. In addition, I changed the angle of the side to attempt to accommodate my inverse proportions. The instructions discussed and showed in detail how to alter the pattern for those with a significantly larger bust than waist measurement. However, those with a larger waist than bust were left to figure it out for themselves.
- After ironing the pattern pieces, I ironed them onto some fusible interfacing to help them be sturdier, since they would be traced multiple times.
- I then traced each piece in multiple sizes onto Swedish tracing fabric that I got from Amazon (Amazon, 2022). I found this recommendation in the Elizabethan Costume Facebook group.
- I traced each of the relevant pattern size lines in a different color, and then used yet another color to trace lines that combined the sizes in the way that the instructions directed.
- From there I cut out the new custom pattern pieces and traced them onto some random fabric that I had around.
Tudor Kirtle Mockup
- At this point I created a two-layer Muslin (or mockup).
- With two layers of fabric, meant to simulate the interlining of the bodice, I assembled them using my sewing machine and inserted holes using my grommet thingy.
- I laced them up with more random odds and ends and tried on the mockup over the Tudor Smock that I had previously made.
- As the fit appeared to be correct, I then moved on to cutting the pieces out of my intended fabric.
- Front view of mockup. Note that even here the shoulders are uneven. It’s me, not the pattern.
- Side view of mockup.
(Finally) Cutting the Real Fabric
- I cut the interlining of the bodice from white handkerchief weight linen. The pattern instructions recommended lightweight linen (Anderson, 2009), and I had some leftover from making the smock, so it made sense to use that. The interlining is 2 layers thick and using a lightweight linen helps to keep the bulk down, as the bodice will also have a lining and main fabric.
- I cut the main fabric from a medium weight (pg. 12) (Anderson, 2009) green linen. The pieces were the bodice front and back, the skirt front, skirt side front, sleeve and 4 skirt back pieces.
- This pattern offered the option of using linen (pg. 13) (Anderson, 2009) contrast bands along the top of the bodice front and back, as well as contrast bands along the bottom of the skirt and a contrasting forepart for the skirt. Since I prefer to hand sew all my garb, it takes a while to complete a multipart outfit, such as this. I wanted to have the option to wear just the kirtle and smock, yet still looked dashing, so I opted to use the contrast fabric in blue linen. (100% Linen Fabric, 2022)
- The historical notes (page 57) (Anderson, 2009) mentions that plain contrasting bands and wearing the kirtle with just the smock would be appropriate for a working-class impression, and that also seemed appropriate for what I’m hoping to accomplish.
- The bodice and sleeve are lined in the pattern, and I choose to use the same blue linen that I had used for the contrast bands.
- One note here is that the pattern diagram shows the cutting recommendation for the bodice front and back, however, it fails to mention that you should cut the lining for the sleeves as well.
- In fact, as I would find out later, the instructions for sewing the sleeves are completely missing and must be downloaded separately. This is inconvenient.
Tudor Kirtle Assembly
Interlining and boning.
- The two layers of interlining are sewn together. I generally find a running stitch or basting stitch works well for putting the two front pieces together and the 2 back pieces together.
- I marked the boning channels as per the instructions. For the boning channels, I choose to use a sturdier backstitch, as these would possibly need to take more strain.
- One important note is to leave one end of the channels open so that you can insert the boning.
- On page 90, (Anderson, 2009) the instructions are clear that you should always sew in the same direction to keep the fabric from skewing.
- The instructions recommend using “Cable ties” which seem to be heavy weight plastic zip ties or ½ inch flat steel boning. In researching material, the plastic was in my price range for this project.
- I used the recommended nine boning channels and bones for the front of this kirtle. One in the center, one on each side, and three evenly spaced, on each side front.
- For the back interlining, I used the recommended one boning channel and bone at each side seam and added the twill tape at the center upper back, just below the point of the “V”.
Bodice Contrast Bands
- I added the contrast bands to the main fabric on the front and back of the bodice.
- This was a new thing for me. The pattern instructed to use piping along the top edge of the front and back of the bodice to help with fitting.
- I chose to make my own piping so that it would match the contrast band fabric.
- I made bias tape from the contrast band fabric and folded it over, enclosing some of the linen stay cord.
- The first step in making bias tape is to make a parallelogram by cutting off a triangular piece from a rectangular piece of fabric.
- Next you mark lines parallel to the diagonal line and sew it into a tube, matching the lines, but offsetting them by 1 so that when you cut along the line, it cuts in a spiral pattern into one long strip.
- One long strip of bias tape
- The linen stay cord laid on top of the bias tape. Since the whole thing is cut on the bias, you have to be very careful not to stretch it as you sew it closed around the cord.
- The piping was then sewn to the top of the front and back bodice using stab stitch. Stab stitched make sense when the number of fabric layers is larger than 2, or when the fabric is heavier weight.
- You can also see that it is sewn, sort of, upside down and to the right side of the fabric. This is so that when the lining is added the seam will be encased between the fabric and the lining.
- I did also trim the seam allowance down to reduce bulk.
- Make sure when you are assembling the piping that you leave some of the cord sticking out to use later in fitting. Also, be sure that you sew close to the cord, but don’t catch the cord in your stitches.
- The bodice lining was attached to the bodice with a stab stitch.
- The manner is to put the pieces right sides together, sew along the sides, arm holes and top. You want to leave the bottom open because you need to then turn the bodice (front or back) inside out. This allows the right sides to be on the outside while enclosing all the stitching on the inside.
- The other reason to leave the bottom of the bodice open is because this is where the skirt will eventually be inserted.
Attach the Bands
- First was putting the contrast bands on the bottom of the skirt side and back pieces.
- For this you fold over the top of the band and sew it to the skirt. This side and bottom don’t need to be folded over because they will be enclosed in the seams.
- This was slightly more challenging than I had anticipated because the top of the contrast band needed to be carefully pinned or else it would wander all over the place and not be even.
- One thing that I found helpful was to start at the top corner of the band, sew down one side, across the bottom and up the other side before trying to pin and sew across the top.
- The side and bottom can be stab stitch, running stitch or basted. The top needs to be slip stitched, otherwise the stiches will show on the right side.
Add the Forepart
- Next was putting the forepart on the front piece of the skirt.
- Since these are the same size, you can just sew them directly together.
- From here I attached side pieces to the front of the skirt, creating a front of the skirt that is 3 pieces wide.
- Since the skirt is unlined, all seams had to be finished. I chose to use a Run and Fell seam. (pg. 71) (Anderson, 2009) on all exposed seams.
Assemble and Attach the Back of the Skirt
- Next was assembling the back of the skirt from the 4 skirt back pieces.
- The center back of the skirt is made by sewing 2 of the back pieces together on the straight grain.
- From here the 2 remaining back pieces are added on either side, sewing the bias of the center back to the straight grain of the side back pieces.
- At this point you have a complete front and back skirt.
Connect the Front and Back of the Skirt
- The final part of the skirt assembly is to attach the front skirt to the back skirt.
- You need to leave the top of the side seams open to give you space to get in and out. The key thing here is making sure that your side seam finishing will work with the eventual finishing of the side skirt openings.
- The back and front of the skirt shown draped over the entirety of my loveseat for size refence. Pg. 65 (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006) says that hems should be at least 110 inches round.
Joining the Bodice to the Skirt
- The skirt front is left flat to show off the contrasting forepart of the skirt, the rest of the skirt is pleated using knife pleats.
- Getting the pleats to be even and to lay correctly was incredibly challenging. It probably shouldn’t have been, but it was.
- The skirt back was just pleated all the way across. The only trick was to make sure that they went the right direction so that the back of skirt looked right when right side out.
- The bodice front and back main pieces are sewn to the respective front and back of the skirt. Again, given the number of fabric layers that you are sewing through, a stab stitch works well.
- Finally, turn the lining under and sew the lining to the skirt. At this point a whip stitch is a good way to attach the lining to the skirt.
- The pattern calls for a spiral lacing the sides.
- I followed the pattern instructions to mark and create eyelets on the side front and back.
- When planning for spiral lacing, the holes must be slightly offset so that the garment doesn’t shift when worn. (pg. 99) (Anderson, 2009)
- My eyelets were spaced about 1 1/8 in apart on the bodice front and offset by 9/16 inch on the back.
- This time I made the eyelets by pushing successively larger instruments through the fabric, rather than puncturing it as I did with the muslin. I started with a heavy duty needle, moved to a yarn needle, then a wooden skewer, finally a knitting needle.
- From there I reinforced the eyelet holes with a heavier weight thread and a sort of a whip stitch.
- This served to further open the hole, and also give it more strength to bear the stress of being laced.
Fitting the shoulder
- The pattern recommends getting a helper, and while I initially tried to do it myself, the pattern proved correct. Even with a helper, fitting is very difficult. We broke several pins trying to get it to fit correctly. Pinning through the many layers of fabric is challenging. At this point, both the front and the back were 12 layers (2 layers of interlining, front fabric, lining, contrast band, piping), since the shoulder attaches at the point where all these layers are folded over into a seam.
- This is also a point that holds a lot of tension, especially until you get the sides laced up.
- Additionally, I am very lopsided in all three dimensions. So, getting the shoulders to appear even, when my body is not at all even is especially difficult.
- Finished bodice with lacing.
- It was at this point that I realized that I had sleeve pieces, but no directions for attaching them.
- Internet research led me to find them in the files section on the Margo’s Patterns/Historic Costume Patterns Facebook Group.
- It was upon downloading these additional instructions that I learned that I need to cut out lining for the sleeves and make piping. Fortunately, I had ordered plenty of fabric. It was, however, annoying to have to go back to the beginning with digging out pattern pieces, fabric, etc.
Reinforcing the Lower Edge
- I wasn’t sure if my fabric qualified as “Light weight”, so I went ahead and reinforced it with interfacing along the lower edge of the sleeve lining, just in case. When I eventually make the fore sleeves, they’ll tie onto this part, so reinforcing them made sense.
- I used sew in, rather than fusible interfacing. I felt that was more period relevant.
Adding Piping at the Upper (Shoulder) Edge
- Measuring to make sure that I have the right amount of bias tape and cord to make the piping for the sleeve.
- All of the piping that I made earlier had been used on the bodice. I would have made enough for the sleeves AND bodice if I had known at the time that I needed that much. In any case, the piping gets sewn to the right side of the main fabric.
- The piping pinned to the top of the sleeve.
- The piping sewn to the top of the sleeve.
Sewing the Sleeve Together
- Then the sleeve is sewn together along the back seam.
- And sleeve lining is sewn together along the back seam.
- The lining is sewn right sides together along the upper edge of the sleeve, then turned so that the right sides are out.
Hemming the Sleeve
- The sleeve and lining assembled and the lower edge turned under once. This is at the beginning of hemming.
- The lower edge of the sleeve is then hemmed by turning under again, for a total of 2 turns. (1/4 inch, then 1 inch)
Attaching the Sleeve to the Bodice
- The sleeve is finally attached to the shoulder by “stitching in the ditch” between the piping and the main fabric. (Anderson, 2009)
- Note the sleeve is only partially attached over the top of the shoulder with the under arm left open.
- I had lengthened the skirt pieces because my measurements indicated that my waist to floor measurement was very long. As it turned out, that probably wasn’t necessary.
- On page 103 (Anderson, 2009) the directions recommended leaving the hem undone until the gown is finished, as that may impact the way that it lays. Since I want to be able to wear this in the meantime, I hemmed it, but left the hem very large so that I can undo it later and re hem, if necessary.
- My very deep hem, in case I need to lengthen it later, after finishing the gown.
How would they have made it?
According to The Tudor Tailor, (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006) it is much more likely that they would have used a type of wool for the kirtle. Additionally, front openings were more common. Although, in this case, the side lacing is appropriate, as I intend to make a front lacing gown in the future.
Another difference is that they may have chosen to use canvas as the interlining and foregone the boning entirely. (pg. 65) (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006).
Page 40 of the Tudor Tailor says that kirtles (or as they were later known, petticoats) were almost universally red in color. Blue was apparently, more so a masculine color.
On page 41 of the Tudor Tailer, it is said that most garments of this type would have been made by a tailor. As tailoring was a skilled job requiring at least 7 years of study under a master, and more years to perfect.
Page 42 of the Tudor Tailor (further referencing Arnold, 1988) states that the practice of making a mockup in a cheaper fabric, to check the fit of the final garment was common practice for tailors. Additionally, they claim that it was more common practice to edge the garment with the same fabric as the main garment, rather than use the piping that the Margo Anderson pattern called for. This was done to increase the wear of the garment, and to reduce the bulk at the edges. I can certainly see how that would be useful.
Page 43 (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006) tells me that most garments would have been lined, again to increase the length of service that the garment had. In addition, while interlining was very common to add stiffness as necessary to achieve the desired look, the use of thicker fabrics such as buckram or canvas was more common. Or if boning was wanted, it would more likely have been made of grasses or whalebone.
Both The Tudor Tailor and The Tudor Lady’s Wardrobe mention blinging an outfit up with biliments, embroidery or jewels. (pg. 103) (Anderson, 2009), (pg. 45) (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006).
What materials did you use to make the Tudor Kirtle?
All the fabric and thread are commercially produced linen. I used large plastic zip ties for the bodice of the kirtle. That is what the instructions recommended, and it was in my price range.
- The kirtle is made of linen purchased from Fabrics-Store.com. (100% Linen Fabric, 2022) See appendix for receipt from Frabrics-Store.com
- In addition, I ordered 1/8-inch linen stay cord from Burnley & Trowbridge (Linen Tape and Stay Cord, 2022).
- I already owned two handmade needles from Gaukler Medieval Wares, purchased at Pennsic several years ago. (GAUKLER MEDIEVAL WARES, 2023)
- I used 100% linen thread in colors that closely matched the fabric color. These were threads that I had in my stash.
- White linen thread 40/2 (unknown source)
- Green 100% linen thread 40/2 (White Wolf and the Phoenix)
- ¼ inch twill tape (purchased at Pennsic 2022, I forget which merchant)
- I have used a pair of snips for clipping thread for many years. I think they were purchased at Smoke and Fire, probably circa 1998. My husband (then boyfriend) made a leather sheath for them.
- For this project, I also used period style shears as much as possible to cut out the fabric.
- While I have used period style pins, also purchased from (GAUKLER MEDIEVAL WARES, 2023) for many years. This design required the use of more pins than that, so I switched to using modern pins. It was a couple of these that broke when fitting the shoulder.
What materials would they have used?
- The main fabric for the kirtle might have been determined by the sumptuary laws (pg35) (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006), wool options were most likely Russet, Frizado, Frieze, Cotton, Worsted, Russells; silk options were Velvet, Satin, Damask, Taffeta, Grosgrain; or a mixed fabric such as, cloth of gold (or silver or tinsel), Chamlet, Mockado, Fustian. (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006)
- Page 43 (Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, 2006) tells me that most garments would have been lined, again to increase the length of service that the garment had. In addition, while interlining was very common to add stiffness as necessary to achieve the desired look, the use of thicker fabrics such as buckram or canvas was more common. Or if boning was wanted, it would more likely have been made of grasses or whalebone.
What did you learn from making this Tudor Kirtle?
- I learned that my body is very difficult to fit. I am lopsided in several different planes and that makes fitting to a form fitting garment challenging.
Check Your Pattern
- One thing that I learned a little too late was that I needed to determine, before starting to add the contrast strips to the skirt which side was the right side of the fabric. Initially, I just started adding the strips, and realized that they weren’t going to work because I needed right and left sides. I ended up having to tear a couple of them apart and redo them because of this.
- Fun fact, it’s a good thing that I owned 2 needles at the beginning of the project, as my favorite needle was lost part way through. This happened ( I believe) at PennDOT in Pleasant Gap when my daughter took her test to get her driver’s permit. I was working on the skirts at that time, and didn’t realize I had dropped my needle, until getting home, after making a couple other stops. I love using the handmade needles, they’re very comfortable for me, and they mold over time to my thumb. If you look closely, you can clearly see where the stiches changed because I had to start using a new needle that wasn’t molded to me yet. They got better over time.
- Also, this was the first time that I experienced dramatic stretching of fabric during the sewing process.
- This is the difference in length between to adjacent back skirt pieces, with my hand for reference.
- Another thing that I learned was to use LOTS of pins to put the skirt pleats in place. Then turn everything around and make sure that it will look correct from the right side. I think I had to tear out and resew the skirt about 4 times before I was content enough with the way it looked.
What do you want to do next, or what would you do differently next time?
I am in the process of doing two Tudor outfits in parallel. I have already completed another smock for my daughter, and am working on a kirtle for her next. Her form is drastically different than mine, so the form fitting issues will be different. Where I am a lopsided extreme pear, she is a very curvy hourglass.
I also anticipate that it will be easier to fit a garment to someone else, rather than trying to fit to myself.
As I know that the fabric will likely stretch on the bias, I will be much more careful in my handling of it, and may try stay stitching, to hold it truer to shape as I’m working with it.
100% Linen Fabric. (2022). Retrieved from Fabrics-Store: https://fabrics-store.com/
Amazon. (2022). Retrieved from Swedish Tracing Paper: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E3DG2KW/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Anderson, M. (2009). The Tudor Lady’s Wardrobe. El Dorado, CA, USA.
GAUKLER MEDIEVAL WARES. (2023). Blunt Sewing Needle. Retrieved from GAUKLER MEDIEVAL WARES: http://medievalwares.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=66_99_104&products_id=293&zenid=m3i4q0qt50rq5hskvuauof0ov4
Gray Lines Linen, Inc. (2022). Home. Retrieved from Gray Lines Linen, Inc: https://www.graylinelinen.com/
Linen Tape and Stay Cord. (2022). Retrieved from Burnley & Trowbridge Company: https://burnleyandtrowbridge.com/collections/tapes-trims
Mikhaila, N., & Malcolm-Davies, J. (2006). The Tudor Tailor. London: B.T. Batsford.
National Geographic Kids. (2023). 10 Facts About the Tudors! Retrieved from National Geographic Kids: https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/history/general-history/tudor-facts/#:~:text=The%20Tudor%20period%20is%20the,of%20Bosworth%20Field%20in%201485.
Order from Fabrics-Store.com
IL019 All-purpose Blue Heaven Softened – 100% Linen – Medium (5.3 oz/yd2)
March 14, 2022
Swedish tracing paper
Swedish Tracing Paper – Sewing Transfer Paper, 29″ x 10 Yards (White)