16th century, 17th century, Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Two: Cutting & Sewing



  1. Effigy Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Effigy Bodies Part Two: Cutting & Sewing
  3. Effigy Bodies Part Three: Boning & Binding
  4. Effigy Bodies Part Four: Eyelets & Lacing
  5. Effigy Bodies Part Five: The Finished Product

After researching the materials that I needed and scaling up the pattern provided by Janet Arnold when she examined the garment in 1994 I then had to cut my pattern pieces. This was done easily and quickly on the grain of the fabric.

Pattern pieces (consisting of baking/parchment paper) pinned to fabric, ready to be cut


Once I had my pieces cut I had to work out how to put them together. In Janet Arnold’s analysis of the bodies she noted that the side seams of each sections of the bodies, before they were attached to each other, “were overhanded together from W.S. (wrong side), then pulled very tightly…”[1] In order to be able to do this, when scaling up the pattern I had to allow some extra seam allowance on each piece, as you can see in this photo below:

Extra seam allowance can be seen on pattern piece to the far right

With this extra seam allowance, I then I follow Arnold’s instructions and overhanded the pieces together, right sides facing each other (so inside out), from the wrong side, and then pulled them right sides out:

Pattern pieces right sides together, seam allowances folded over.
Over handing seam, pattern piece right sides together.
Pattern pieces spread out with overhanded seam visible.
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Pattern pieces right sides facing outwards. This is how the seam looks from the right side.

The lining of the back panel was originally done in two parts, possibly to save fabric, so I did this too, allowing extra seam allowance so they could be sewing together via the method outlined above, before being sewn to the outer fabric of the back piece:

Centre back lining seam from visible from wrong side of back panel.


It was a this point that I realised that my shot silk taffeta was fraying quite a lot in some areas particularly at the centre front. In order to stop this whilst I handled the pieces to sew in the boning channel I added a very non-historical material, sticky tape, in order to stop it. I carefully removed this later when I bound them.


Historically, in order to achieve the neat straight boning channels seen in surviving bodies from the seventeenth century, the lines of stitching were evenly mapped onto the right side of the fabric with black ink and then this was stitched over. The traditional method of using backstitches would have then covered most of this visible ink.[2] However, the effigy bodies are different in that the boning channels are running stitched, which is far less sturdy a stitch than the backstitching seen in every other historical example from this century. Luca Costigliolo has noted that this was possibly because these bodies “were made quickly for the Queen’s effigy and were never intended for normal wear.”[3]  As my intention was to faithfully recreate most elements of the effigy bodies, I decided to also use running stitches and so did not attempt the ink mapping technique as I knew that the ink outline would be quite visible through the running stitches.

Instead I decided to utilise another early modern technique: pricking. This technique was most employed in embroidery. When a design was bought or drawn, the outline was transferred onto the fabric by laying the paper with the design on top and pricking the paper and fabric underneath with a needle. Then chalk powder inside a cloth bag was “pounced” (dabbed) over the holes, forcing this coloured chalk through the holes and transferring the design.[4]  The Folger Shakespeare library contains a botanical print that had been used to do this as pin pricks are visible on the paper:

Front of plate 20, Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC
Back of plate 20,  Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


As my silk taffeta was a shot silk, when I pricked the fabric, the darker ‘shot’ thread that runs through the fabric became more visible, so pouncing was not needed. For the most part this mark in the fabric is only temporary, so in order to map out my initial boning channels all I had to do was lay down my pattern on top of the pieces and prick the outline of the centre front boning channels through.

Once the outline of the first few had been done, particularly the 13mm (1/2”) wide boning channel at the front, I didn’t need a stencil anymore as each subsequent lines of stitching simply needed to be 6mm (1/4”) parallel to the last. To do this I used a ruler to measure 6mm then made a mark on the fabric with the needle point, then I joined all the points together by running my needle down the fabric, temporarily leaving a line in the shot taffeta that I was able to follow:

Mark in fabric made from running point of needle over shot silk taffeta.
Finished front panel, running stitches in linen thread.


Lessons Learnt

Initially I found the process of achieving the tiny running stitches of the original quite hard. At first my stitches were quite big and wide, so I changed to a smaller needle and this improved. Still it is no match for the original, nor for the minute even stitches that I have observed on other seventeenth and eighteenth century garments.

Tiny stitches on a pair of silk stays c. 1660-1680 that I examined at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Hilary Davidson also noted this in her reconstruction of Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, noting that because the stitching in the original was not exceptional it “was easy to reproduce the stitching to the same scale, unlike many Regency gowns displaying stitches of an even fineness it takes hundreds of hours of practice for the modern sewer to achieve, especially in muslin.”[5] Pictures of my stitching at the start compared to those at the end do show how much they did improve over the hours I spent doing the reconstruction, however, they do not at all compare to a master tailor or even seamstress who had been hand stitching day in and day out from a young age.

Comparison of running stitching sizes at start (top) and finish (bottom)


After completing the boning channels in the first centre front piece I realised that linen thread, although used in the original effigy pair, was much too heavy for these bodies that are made completely from silk taffeta. For those experienced with using these expensive fabrics and historical threads this is probably common sense. However, I had to learn the hard way. As the point of this reconstruction was not only to test ideas of movement and restriction, but also to learn about production methods, I decided to do one of my panels, the second front panel, entirely in silk thread instead. In all the extant seventeenth century bodies that use silk as an outer fabric, silk thread is used to stitch the boning channels. I also decided to use backstitches instead of running stitches, again to see what difference it would make to the garment.

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Difference between running stitch in linen thread (left) and back stitch in silk thread (right)


Immediately after switching threads, I realised that the silk was MUCH easier to sew with and back stitching, as anticipated, was much more secure. I also realise that I probably should have lined these bodies with a more sturdy fabric such as linen, as was done in the rest of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth. Surviving wardrobe accounts from the period do list lightweight fabrics being used to line bodies, sarcenet (a fine soft silk) was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Taffeta was also widely used as Elizabeth’s wardrobe during the same period list: “Item for makinge of a pair of bodies… of black veluett… lined with Taffata…”[6] An inventory taken in 1608 of Anne of Denmark’s wardrobe described: “One payre of Ashcouler cloh of siluer bodies, bound with siluer lace lyned wth carnacon taffeta”[7]   Although these examples do confirm that taffeta was used as a lining fabric at the start of the seventeenth century, it never seems to have been used both as the outer fabric and the lining. There always seems to have been a mix of heavy and light fabrics – such as in the example above where a heavier velvet was used for the outer fabric and taffeta was used for the lining. In many other examples from Elizabeth I wardrobe accounts when taffeta was used for the outer fabric, fustian was used for the lining. When two lighter fabrics were used, such as in the example from Anne of Denmark’s accounts, it is quite possible that these bodies were either more lightly boned or not boned at all.

It will be interesting to see how my finished effigy bodies made entirely of silk taffeta will compare to the next c. 1630s-1650s bodies reconstruction that I intend to make (with my own pattern taken from Dame Filmer’s bodies from the Manchester Galleries) which were made with silk and linen, and that I will make with silk taffeta and linen.

Filmer bodies
Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester

These are just a few ways in which this reconstruction process is helping me to understand the archival record a bit more  as bodies was quite a generic term and could be used to refer to a corset-like garment or a close fitting kirtle bodice. Once I’ve finished my reconstructions and move to the experimental stage of testing size and movement, it will be interesting to see if these different materials make a difference.

Until then, my experience with boning and binding the bodies will be outlined in my next blog post, so stay tuned!



[1] Janet Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’ and ‘a pair of drawers’ dating from 1603 which Clothe the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey’, Costume, Vol. 41 (2007), p. 6.

[2] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 10.

[3] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 10.

[4] Melanie Braun, ‘Preparation of the Embroidery’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 56.

[5] Hilary Davidson, Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812–1814, in Costume, Vol. 49, No. 2 (2015), p. 210

[6] Elizabeth I Warrant for the Robes, 28 September 1592, ER 34 (PRO LC 5/36), fol. 251.

[7] Cambridge (1607), fol.1, 4.

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Two: Cutting & Sewing”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    Noted you were doing a running stitch for your channels. This should be a consistent backstitch. When done correctly it will look like a running stitch with no spacing. Just like the originals you have looked at.

    1. Hi Angela, thanks so much for your comment! I was wondering if my back stitching was correct, as you’re right, some examples show no spacing between the stitches. However, I have examined the Dame Filmer bodies in Manchester galleries and although these are noted in the museum records as being backstitched, there is visible spacing between the stitches… So I guess I was using that to justify being lazy! In my next reconstruction I will try to be more consistent with the stitching and eliminate the spacing 🙂

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