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 www.wildginger.com.

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.