Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: French Renaissance gown



Gathered Kirtle

Gown & Sleeves

updated 2/16/04

updated 3/14/04

January 28, 2004: Aha! Two uses for one kirtle.

If you've been following my Florentine dress diary, you know that I really wanted to make one kirtle that would work for both that gown and this, but was having trouble finding the right fabric. I finally have solved that problem by making my life more difficult: I will be appliqueing white silk velvet onto a white silk satin kirtle in order to get the textured damask feel - rather like the period's cut and voided velvet - of both the painting and extant garments.

In order to make the kirtle workable for the Florentine gown, I will only need to get the bottom edge appliqued. The more elaborate design that goes up the front and shows beneath the split skirt of the French gown will come later, and I guess will be addressed on this page? I'm not sure what would make the most sense. Meanwhile, everything on the Florentine gathered kirtle page is progress toward this French costume, so if you haven't already, read on, MacDuff!

Meanwhile, a few observations about the Isabella de Valois's forepart. As I said on the Florentine kirtle page, close examination leads me to believe that the forepart is a creamy-white damask with several of the motifs picked out in some sort of beading. (Click on the image above right for your own close examination.) It's also possible, I suppose, that the ground fabric might be some sort of silver tissue, although I don't know if that type of material was woven in damask designs - but there is a sort of silvery gleam to the fabric. That might just be the satin reflecting, though. There is definitely added texture to just some of the damask elements; I really can't tell whether those are sequins, beads, pearls, or what. It's even possible that there are two different types or sizes of beads or whatever; for example, if you examine the central motif near the top of the image, it seems to have heavier or larger beads in the middle, surrounded by lighter or smaller beads in a sort of broken ring of elements. Then again, I could be drawing too much from the vagaries of a painting.

However, it's not vitally important; I'm not trying to recreate this gown exactly, just take inspiration from it and try out some period techniques that I haven't used before. Since my damask motifs will be appliqued in velvet, and probably edged with cord, I will get a similar raised effect to the beading, but with a different period technique. However, I suppose it might be interesting to try beading a few central motifs, or adding some well-placed beads to the velvet motifs just to highlight them.

We'll see if I have any energy or interest left after doing all that applique!

March 14, 2004: Further forepart thoughts.

I'm really not going to be able to get to this outfit for a while - my sewing schedule is looking busier and busier through mid-May, and it's not as if I really need another Renaissance court gown. However, I wanted to put down a few more thoughts about the Isabella de Valois forepart and my plans.

After seeing the images and descriptions of velvets with a metallic looped pile in Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, I immediately began to suspect that this was what Isabella's forepart was made from. Sure enough, in the middle of the book is the portrait of Isabella, with a caption offhandedly mentioning her looped-pile forepart! Unfortunately I got the book on inter-library loan and didn't get a scan of this type of material before I had to return it.

Now, I'm not really trying to duplicate the portrait, so I'm not going to use metallic thread and complex embroidery techniques to imitate looped-pile velvet! But I thought it was very interesting to get a better idea of what's going on in the portrait. It's also yet another reminder that when you don't have enough information about the materials used in period, it's easy to draw the wrong conclusions when looking at portraits.

As for my own gown, I have found that the white silk satin is just hopeless to keep protected. After two wearings in a well-kept setting, the longer portion of the skirt was dirty, but then I had to perform again in a very dusty gymnasium sort of setting, and when I got home the state of the hem was just revolting. And this is a sheltered underkirtle! So I simply can't use it the way it is. I'm going to have to add a deep border of a colored fabric to use it under my Italian gown, and then I will make a separate forepart for use with the French gown.

However, I still plan to use the same technique: appliqueing velvet to white satin. It will just be removable, and will only be in front - the part that stays the cleanest, since it doesn't get stepped on and I can keep an eye on it!.

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Copyright 2004 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.