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

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Three: Boning & Binding


  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 the boning channels had been sewn in, as outlined in my previous post, the three sections of the bodies were then whip stitched together from the wrong side as Janet Arnold has noted was done in the original.[1] For this I used linen thread, not silk, as it is much stronger and would be able to take the strain of movement much better.


The unboned bodies after the pieces were whip stitched together at the side seams

Once the three separate pieces that make up the bodies were sewn together I then added the boning. There is a gap between the binding and the boning channels of “between ¼ inch (6 mm) at the centre back to 1 inch (25.4 mm) under the arms, and ½ inch (12.7 mm) at the front” in the original effigy bodies.[2] Not only would this have been more comfortable for the wearer, particularly under the arms, but according to an experimental investigation into the ‘Holbein look” of the early sixteenth century, Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila noted that on both the Von Neuburg and Effigy bodies it was found that leaving this small area around the neckline unboned achieved the “sprayed-on look” of the period, and stopped the bodice gaping at the front.[3]

Gaps between the boning channels and raw edges of neckline and back clearly visible


Like the baleen, called whalebone during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, originally used in bodies, I was able to cut and shape the modern plastic boning in order to fit into the differently shaped boning channels.

Plastic whalebone substitute was able to be easily cut to fit tapered boning channels
Baleen that had be cut and shaped to fit into a pair of stays c. 1750 from the Powerhouse Museum Sydney. Photo by author. Stays, sateen/linen/metal, England, c.1750. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – A8211-33


Traditionally, after the baleen, a substance made of keratin that is part of the filter-feed system of baleen whales, was extracted from the whale it went through a process in order for it to be used in clothing.

Baleen found washed up on a beach. Source

This involved heating or boiling the pieces of baleen until they were soft and pliable, then they were cut into thin slices of the desired width using a special knife as is shown in this eighteenth-century French engraving.[4]

fanons de baleine
Fanons de Baleine, Encyclopedie Mathodique ou Par Ordre de Matiers, 1783, engraving. British Museum

For an extremely interesting post on cutting and using baleen, check out Abby’s blog post here.

In order to stop the sharp cut edges of the boning from punching a hole in the silk taffeta as I inserted them, I used a cigarette lighter to slightly melt these sharp edges. After the boning was inserted into the channels, I then sewed a line of half back stitching in silk thread above the top of the boning channels to secure the boning inside.

Half back stitiching around top of boning channels


In other examples of seventeenth-century bodies, extra binding has been added around the bottom of the boning channels, underneath the binding ribbon, in order to stop the boning perforating the binding and poking through.[5]

Binding reinforced with strips of matching silk satin on Dame Filmer’s Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester. Photo by author.

The effigy bodies, however, do not have this extra protective binding. According to Luca Costigiolo this is probably because these bodies were quickly made for the Queen’s funeral effigy and were never intended to be worn and therefore wear and tear of everyday life.[6] I decided to stay true to the original and not add this extra protection to my reconstruction, as, besides the movement experiments I intend to perform, these bodies will also not see normal wear.

For the binding I used nearly 5 metres of 16mm-wide grosgrain ribbon. To attach the binding first I used a half back stitch to stitch the binding to the right side of the bodies, leaving a couple of millimetres between the edge of the taffeta and the edge of the ribbon.

Binding half back stitched, right sides facing

Then I folded the ribbon over the raw edge and then felled using a whip stitch onto the wrong side.

Silk ribbon binding felled using a whip stitch. As you can see the silk taffeta by this point was starting to fray quite a lot and the edges were definitely in need of binding

These whip stitches did not have to be super close to each other, as other surviving examples from the period show that there was at least a gap of a few millimetres, sometimes even 5mm, between each stitch.

Inside of bodies, with whip stitches of felled binding visible around the waist tabs


Lessons Learnt:

Adding boning shrinks the bodies, so my reconstruction is actually a tiny bit smaller than the original. I lost about ½” on the waistline because of this. As the measurements and therefore pattern for these bodies was taken from a completed surviving garment, the original measurements used by William Jones, the Queen’s tailor, would have been slightly larger. This is something that all tailors would have had to have taken into account when constructing bodies or other fully boned bodices for their clients, and is something that I will definitely keep in mind for the next pair of bodies I intend to make.

Centre back waist measurement BEFORE boning was added
Centre back waist measurement AFTER boning added. Nearly a 1/4″ was lost.


If you’ve read my first post about the materials I intended to use for this project, you will recall that I was originally going to use leather or faux leather to bind the bodies, as was done in the original. However, when I started the construction process I realised that the fabric I had chosen for the lining and outer fabric, silk taffeta, was far too lightweight for faux leather binding. Even if I could have sourced light kid leather, I still think that it would have been a bit too heavy for the fabric used. Instead, I opted to use a grosgrain ribbon, as was used in later seventeenth century bodies, such as the Filmer bodies (c.1630-1650) in the Manchester Galleries and the Pink Silk Stays (c. 1660-1680) in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The only surviving bodies contemporary to this pair, the Von Neuburg bodies (c. 1598) from modern day Germany were also bound with silk ribbon.[7]

Silk ribbon binding is visible on the bodies of Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg c. 1598. Bayerisches nationalmuseum, Munich.


4. Wool, silk, linen stays 1670-80.2
Late seventeenth-century example of a green silk grosgrain ribbon used to bind the edges of these stays. Photo by author. Wool, Silk and Linen Stays, c. 1670-1680. Museum of London.


In surviving bodies from this period the ribbon binding was felled with thread the same colour as the ribbon, so it blends in with the ribbon and the finishing appearance is quite neat. Due to the limits of my funding, I couldn’t go out and buy silk thread to match the ribbon, and so it isn’t the same colour. This does leave the inside of the bodies looking much less neat than those originals from the century. Analysis of surviving bodies from the seventeenth century also reveals that the binding was sewn on with single ply silk thread. However, I opted to double my thread as the modern silk threads readily available to me are not as thick as the single ply thread used nearly four hundred years ago.

The single-ply whip stitching of the silk grosgrain ribbon binding on this pair of stays c.1660-1680 is nearly invisible, as the thread matches the colour of the ribbon. Photo taken by author at the Victoria and Albert Cloth workers Centre.


I’ve also learned the merits of binding raw edges in this period. Whereas in modern sewing we would turn the seam under and sew or hem it, it makes sense that on the outer edges of garments during this period they didn’t do this – as fabric was incredibly valuable, costing more than the labour to construct the garment in most cases, and so waste was minimised as much as possible. It also gives a much neater finish to the garment.

After the bodies were boned and bound, I then moved on to creating the eyelet holes and other finishes touches, which will be outlined in my next blog post.



[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. 4.

[2] Janet Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 3.

[3] Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila, ‘And her black satin gown must be new-bodied’: The Twenty-First-Century Body in Pursuit of the Holbein Look’, Costume, vol. 42 (2008), p. 26.

[4] Lynn Sorge, ‘Eighteenth-Century Stays: Their Origins and Creators’, Costume, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1998), p. 19.

[5] 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.

[6] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, p. 10.

[7] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620 (London : Macmillan ; New York : Drama Book, 1985), p. 46.


2 thoughts on “Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Three: Boning & Binding”

    1. Thanks Kay! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying it! I will be constructing another pair of bodies and a couple of farthingales in the future, so stay tuned! 🙂

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