Friday, September 18, 2009

The Tudor Lady's Wardrobe Pattern is now shipping!

At long last! The Tudor lady's Wardrobe Pattern, with patterns for Smock, Kirtle, Gown with three sleeve styles and optional train, two partlets, two coifs, English gable Hood, French Hood, apron, and sash.

In addition to being the most complete Tudor pattern package ever published, it includes our largest instruction manual yet: 194 pages, and over 300 illustrations.

Click on this post's title to see details and order.

I'll be taking a much needed break for a week or two, and then starting on the Tudor men's pattern.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Faux (don't call it fake!) Fur

The Tudor Lady's pattern is almost ready, and I'm sure a lot of you are thinking about fabric and notions.

One of the strongest identifiers of the Tudor woman's style is those long, wide sleeves, turned back and lined with rich fabric or lush fur. But where do you get the fur?

You can, of course, use real fur. I don't, personally, choose to use new fur, which means I know next to nothing about how to find or buy it. You're on your own on that one.

I do occasionally use second hand vintage fur, figuring I'm not doing any more damage to an animal that's been dead for 50 years. However, the chances of finding a vintage garment large enough to cut these sleeves is highly unlikely. That leaves us with "faux" fur.

To find faux fur, go to your local Big Fabric Store. Then go home and cry.

Okay, sorry, but the truth is, most retail fabric stores have awful looking fur. It's there for making Halloween costumes and toys, not for looking like the real thing. For that, you'll probably have to go online.

One of the best faux fur companies available to the consumer is Donna Salyer's Fabulous Fakes. This company started by selling kits to make a close copy of a high quality fur coat.They've transitioned to ready to wear, but they still sell yardage, although they keep it tucked away on their website. To find the yardage, go to the "Home and Throws" section, and then look in the list on the left to find "faux fur fabric".

Now, these fabrics aren't cheap. In fact, they're $150 a yard, and you need 1 3/8 yards to line the gown sleeves. But they do look, well, fabulous. Edited to add: I had a link to a discount coupon here, but it's been pointed out to me that they may not appreciate me handing it out to you all. I'll try to find out if it's okay.

For those with lesser budgets, I'm Stuffed Fur has a huge selection of all kinds of fur, from lime green Wookie to some very real looking animal furs. They deal in job lots and sales, so if you want something, buy it now. You can also call or email them and ask for something specific.

Fur isn't a requirement. You can line the sleeves with fabric instead of fur. Or, you can go the opposite direction, and copy Jane Seymour's gold bullion embroidered sleeves:

Just for the fun of it, I used my pattern drafting software to plot and measure that embroidery pattern. Then I priced gilt bullion thread. To do the sleeves and the band of matching trim around the neckline would cost $700.

It makes $150 a yard look downright reasonable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Your Usual Sewing Machines

Some fun sewing machines, working and not:


The Crafty Chica does her thing

This is the same model as my main LEGOS. How awesome is that?

Is it wrong that I want to use these instructions on a sewing machine?

Perfection Is the Enemy Of Good

Okay, I confess. When I last posted, I promised a Big Juicy Post. then I got busy. So busy, in fact, that I managed to forget which of several juicy possibilities I'd promised you. And then the whole project jammed up against "But I promised a really great post, I can't settle for something moderately interesting"...and, well, here we are months later, with no posts at all.

I'm going to try to change my mindset, and just post a couple times a week, with what ver I think you'll like. Possibly, some of these posts will end up being fabulous, but it's okay if they're just moderately useful, cool, or amusing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nobody's Perfect

It's been too long!

Those nasty taxes have been taking up too much time. I promise I'll have a juicy new post soon, but in the meantime I wanted to update my last post, about English gable hoods:

Turns out, everything I said about them was pretty much wrong.

When I made my first gable hood last year, I based it on a well known source. I thought at the time that the odd engineering, with the flared front, seemed awfully complex, but any costumer knows that people in the past did weird things for weird reasons. So I went ahead and made it that way.

Then I started work on creating my own version for the Tudor pattern. You saw my previous conclsusion. But when it was time to actually make the final graded version of the pattern,I just could not come up with a method that would create a consistant pattern that wouldn't drive my customers to drink.

I kept thinking this couldn't be right, so I decided to take another look at the original source material, and the notes from my researcher, the wonderful Kimiko Small.

The first thing I noticed was Kimiko's statement: Something I do want to point out for both redraws is that the narrow band/frontlet ‘E’ is attached to the under structure close to the face, and hides the edges of the padded band RS. I have seen several recreated English hoods where the narrow band/frontlet ‘E’ encloses the face inside a box, which it does not do.

Now, I swear I have read every word of her research report several times. So why didn't I remember it when it actually came time to make a hood?

Part of the problem was a drawing I was following. It does show the frontlet sitting on the outer edge of the hood on one side, but on the other side of the face, it's done an Escher-like twist and is on the inside of the face! So it's no wonder I was confused.

I wondered if attaching the frontlet to the inside edge, rather than the outer, was part of the problem I was having. I cut a new one and made yet another manila folder mockup. It was better, but the difference in width between the back of the hood and the frontlet still caused the front opening to flare, making it twist.

So I cut another frontlet, the inner edge of which exactly matched the back piece. Voila! No twisting, no torque, and the whole thing sat properly on my head and hugged the sides of my face the way it should. The hood understructure is simply a set of flat panels, and could have been made of thin wood, possible shaped into a curve with steam.

So, I take it back. It is like wearing a box on your head, but a very carefully tailored, well fitted box covered with silk and velvet.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mad as a Hatter!

If you remember your Lewis Carrol, you know that March hares are as mad as hatters. So here's a hat post, in honor of the last day of March.

I've been working on the pattern for the English gable hood. That's the goofy one that looks like this:

The Gable hood is a surprisingly complex bit of engineering. If you make a simple "roof" shape, the thing looks like a cardboard box sitting on your head. The trick is to cut the frontlet, the border part around the face, with a wider angle than the back piece, so that it flares in the front. But if you cut the frontlet too wide, the whole thing wants to twist and looks terrible. The only way to get this right is to experiment a lot.

One of the things I like best about working with CAD software is that it's so easy to scale drawings. Rather than make full sized mockups, I scale the pattern pieces down to 1/3 size and print them out on card stock. Then I tape them together to test the patterns. This works best for things that are going to be stiff when finished, such as hats.

This has come in handy with all the iterations of the Gable hood I've made. Every little change of angle affects something else, resulting in many trial versions. Here are some of them:

After futzing with them all day, and littering a 20 foot blast radius around my desk with schnibbles of card stock, I think I'm satisfied with this one:

And that's just the undercap. There's still a box piece that fits on the back, the lappets, and two different veil styles. And of course, they need to be embroidered and jeweled.

If that's too much trouble, you could always go with the Margo's Patterns Deluxe Super Presto Easy Version:

What can I say, things get a little punchy around here when we're working hard. I'm not alone in this. Here's our General Manager, Doug, in what he says is a Tudor Baseball Cap:

Happy Springtime!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Court Costume Re-make

I'm selling an costume on Ebay.|66%3A2|65%3A12|39%3A1|240%3A1318|301%3A1|293%3A1|294%3A50

It's actually a remake of this mess:

Here it is now.

What a difference. I took the skirt and bodice apart, re-trimmed them, and put them back together. Then it sat around for a few years because I still hated the way it looked on me. I added beads and jewels to the forepart and underskirt, made a new French hood, and wore it for about two hours at a CostumeCon. I finally faced facts that the gold colors just don't work for me. I was planning to make new sleeves and forepart in some other color, when I broke my Ipod, so I decided to spruce it up and put it on Ebay.

I thought that was going to be an afternoon's work. Ha! It ended up being easier to pretty much remake the bodice than it would have been to get rid of the fraying edging. Thank Goodness I still had scraps of the fabric. I added tabs to the waistline, which made a huge difference in the looks. The tabs were cut out of my last remaining scrap, and the largest piece I had left after they were cut was about 1"x2".

We'll see how this does. I have a few more outfits I'll probably never wear again, so maybe I'll get them up for sale, too. Tell your friends!

Blackwork(ish) Fabric!

JoAnn fabrics has a fabric in stock right now that is a pretty good simulation of blackwork embroidery. It's a lightweight cotton, like a batiste, and the embroidery is in lengthwise rows, alternating one that's about 1" across and one that's 1/2".

This fabric could be cut into strips to make collars and cuffs, or you could make an entire smock or shirt out of it. You could also be very Elizabethan correct and stop the embroidery at waist level, using a plain fabric for the lower half.

If you want it, get to JoAnn as soon as possible, because this stuff is flying out of the stores. If your store doesn't have it, they may be able to get it from another store. Here's the SKU number: 128-6889

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


One of my favorite embellishments for Tudor and Elizabethan costume is blackwork embroidery, also known as Spanish Work or monochrome embroidery.

I enjoy embroidery, but time and a progressive hand condition mean that I can't do much of it. Yet, my costumes cry out for embroidery.

I could buy a fancy sewing machine and learn to design and digitize blackwork patterns, but do I have room and time for another fascinating hobby? No. Don't even tempt me, not if you want to see new patterns!

So, I was delighted to find Thistlebees. They make and sell incredible machine embroidered blackwork cuffs, collars, and other items. Custom work is also available.

I recently received these in the mail:

They're even lovelier in real life. Next, I'm going to have them embroider a smock for me, and the lining for a Mary Tudor partlet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How I Do What I Do

Have you ever wondered how a pattern is created? Here's how I do it.

First, I do market research. This is a very formal term for what is often a very informal process. In the case of my first 3 patterns, the Elizabethan Lady’s Wardrobe Ensemble, my market research consisted of doing Faire and SCA for many years, and hearing and participating in bitching about why there were no good patterns and speculating on what they should contain.

I have a list of future projects that will keep me busy for at least five years. so now my market research is aimed at finding out exactly what pieces people want in a package. I do this by asking questions on Internet lists and at events. “So if I were to produce a Ruritarian pattern, what would you want it to include?"

Then it’s time for historical research. I had been doing research on the Elizabethan period for over 20 years when I started the company. At 51 years old, I don’t have time to do that with every project! So I’m working with consultants. The consultants are people who are experts in their own historical period. I contract with them to give me the information I need.

Once I know the basic shapes of the garment pieces needed, I start drafting the patterns. I do this using a CAD drafting program called Symmetry, from Wild Ginger Software. Symmetry is no longer available, but they have a wide variety of new products. If you’re interested, check them out at

To draft the patterns, I start with slopers or blocks, which are basic bodice, sleeve, skirt, and pants patterns.

Most blocks used in the garment industry are size ten. Since I have such a large size range, it makes more sense to start in the middle, so I draft in size 16.

I manipulate the slopers to give them the correct lines, using techniques such as changing non period darts to shaping seam lines or rotating them into areas that will later be removed, slashing and spreading to create fullness, and drawing in the correct necklines and other details. This creates the master patterns.

After the master patterns are created, I add seam allowances and match points such as notches.

I check the patterns to make sure they line up properly, and that the garment looks and fits the way it should. Some of this can be done by computer, and some by sewing a mockup, also called a muslin or a toile, of the garment.

The next step is grading, the process of creating larger and smaller sizes from each pattern. Till now, I’ve done the grading myself with the Symmettry program, but for my latest patterns, I’m using a professional grading service. The patterns are graded into multisized “nests”.

I “style” the pattern by changing the lines to solid, dashed, or dotted, as needed, and making the lines thicker so they’ll be more visible.I add the sewing markings, such as notches, circles, grain lines, and size numbers, and assign each pattern piece an alphanumeric label and label them with the pattern name and number and the piece name.

The final step in pattern creation is to arrange them the way they’ll be printed. Getting all the pieces to fit on the designated size sheet can be a tricky challenge! My partner Doug does this part.

Then we create a PDF of each sheet. The PDF’s are emailed to the printer. We contract our printing through McCall or Simplicity, the only tissue pattern printers in the US.
The printers make a printing plate, and ship a paper copy to us. We then go over it one last time to make sure everything is in place. We always have a minor moment when we’re convinced that they’ve printed the sheet in the wrong scale. After months of staring at it on a computer screen, it looks so big! But careful measurement proves it’s correct, and we tell the printers to go ahead.

After I’ve finished creating the pattern, I take my family out for pizza, buy myself a good book, and take a day or two to lie around reading and doing nothing. Sometimes I get really carried away and clean my house, too. Then it’s time to turn my attention to creating the manuals.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Loose Gown

Recently I was asked if the loose gown, or surcoat, in my Elizabethan comfort package was historically accurate. The element in question was the upper back, which some people maintain should be pleated.

Yes, my surcoat pattern is authentic. It's based on the 1570-80 kirtle and loose gown from the collection of the Germanisches National Museum, In Nurnburg, Germany. Detailed drawings and descriptions can be found on pages 109-112 of Janet Arnold's Patterns Of Fashion. The back is, as in my pattern, unpleated and only slightly shaped to the waistline. and then modestly flared.

For many years, Faire costumers made surcoats that looked like the Nurnburg gown, but with the pleated back. I do not believe this is correct. The style was popularized by the book "Elizabethan Costume" by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy.

They wrote the book before Patterns of Fashion was published, and I believe that they based their surcoat pattern on photographs from several costume books. The front view was the Nurnburg garment, but the pleated back was based on a photograph of another garment, a loose gown from 1610-15, also to be seen in Patterns Of Fashion, pages 118-119. This surcoat was pleated under the arms and across the back, but cut to be worn completely open in front.

So, a good educated guess, that happened to be incorrect.

This is not to say that some surcoats of the 1570's and 80's didn't have pleated backs, but it does prove that the flat, semifitted back is also correct.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Have you ever wondered what all those fancy sewing machine feet do?  This website has dozens of short videos that will explain it all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Tudor

Click on the image to see the "flats", or technical drawings, of each of the Tudor Lady's Wardrobe garments.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Welcome to my blog!

Let's start with an exciting announcement:  The Tudor Lady's Wardrobe Pattern is at the grading service, and we expect to release it in mid March.

Like our other wardrobe patterns, the Tudor Lady is a large package with numerous variations.  It contains a smock, detachable wrist ruffles, a kirtle with supportive bodice, a gown with three sleeve styles and an optional train,  three undersleeves, two partlets,  and three hats: A linen coif, a French hood, and a gable hood.   Instructions will also be given for simple patternless accessories such as an apron, headrail, and sash.

Since any woman can be a lady, no matter what her social station, the Tudor Lady's wardrobe can also be made in lower class style, by using the appropriate options.  The Tudor style is also perfectly adapted for pregnancy. 

The artist is still at work on the package cover, but clicking on the image above will give you a detailed look at some of the options.

We will begin taking advance orders when the patterns go to the printers, in aproximately 2-3 weeks.