16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Stuart

Back to Basics: The Smock in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

As many of you know, during my PhD I decided to reconstruct four items of female structural dress from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, in order for the reconstructions to be worn during photoshoots the most basic female undergarment of the the early modern period was needed: the smock.

The Smock – A Brief History

Smocks or shifts (‘chemise’ in French) were the most basic undergarment of all women and men (men’s were referred to usually as shirts) in sixteenth-century Europe. Indeed they had been the base layer of dress for hundreds of years and would remain so, in one form or another, until the twentieth century. During the early modern period they were made from linen, sometimes silk, and later cotton, and sat closest to the historical body. Smocks and shirts were worn underneath every type of clothing, and as a result even the poorest person owned a few smocks, and rich elites often owned dozens. For a description of the chemises owned by Isabella d’Este and recorded in the inventory made upon her death in 1539 click here. 

Throughout the seventeenth century various styles of smocks and shifts developed – from those that were intricately embroidered such as the one below, to those that had elaborate frills around the cuffs and neckline. Interestingly, it was these frills that would eventually turn into a separate accessory in the second half of the sixteenth century – the ruff.

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Examples of early embroidered frill on cuffs and neckline.  Man’s Shirt, c. 1540, England. T.112-1972. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Smocks and shirts served two main purposes during the sixteenth century. During the early modern period outer garments, especially those made from luxurious fabrics such as silks and velvets, were rarely laundered in order to maintain the condition of the fabric. It was the smock then that absorbed sweat and other body excretions, and it was this item that was regularly cleaned and laundered instead.

Medical theory during this period also viewed the skin as porous and weak and the hot water from public baths or full immersion bathing was believed to create openings for disease such as plague to slip through.  Linen, as a porous fabric, therefore replaced the role of skin in bathing practices, as it was believed to absorb dangerous matter that could then be laundered and removed away from the body.   Thus, instead of cleaning the skin one would simply remove and clean their ‘second skin’ – their smock.[1]

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Woman’s Smock, c. 1615-1630, England. T.2-1956. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cleanliness by the seventeenth century therefore was not focused on the body of skin and flesh, but measured by the cleanliness of linen and the display of objects and garments in external appearance.[2] Kathleen M. Brown has noted that “a clean linen shirt, complete with ruffs and lace at the neck and wrists, indicated not only the wearer’s refinement, attention to fashion, and wealth, but his access to the services of a laundress”, and his attention to cleanliness.[3] Therefore the whiteness of smocks and shifts, rather than the body itself, was linked to cleanliness during this period.[4]

This idea is probably best exhibited through the following instance: at one point yellow linens became so popular in London during the early seventeenth century that critics were quick to associate them with the uncleanliness of the Spanish courtiers who used saffron dye as a way to deter vermin, and with the neglected hygiene of those Europeans in hot climates whose sweat and lack of access to laundering turned the colour of their white shifts to yellow.[5]

All smocks during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century (and beyond) were similar in construction, they were made from a collection of basic geometric shapes: rectangles, squares and triangles. These pieces were cut from standards lengths of linen. Although regional differences could exist. Smocks and shirts were usually sewn in the home by women, or female seamstresses were employed.

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A Seamstress sewing a Linen Garment . The Virtuous Woman, Nicolas Maes, c. 1655. Wallace Collection, London

Smocks also changed in style throughout the early modern period in England depending on the styles of outer clothing worn. Necklines could be high such as on the smock above, or fashionable bodices and gowns that had necklines cut horizontally off the shoulder during the mid-seventeenth century would have required smocks that also had this scooped neckline (such as in the Rembrandt below). Unfortunately, very few seventeenth century English women’s smocks survive in museum collections. So it is hard to establish a chronology of styles during this period.

Woman Bathing - Rembrandt
A Woman Bathing in a Stream, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1654. The National Gallery, London.

Tudor and Elizabethan-era Smock Construction 

The pattern I used for my smock came from Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies’ wonderful book, The Tudor Tailor. As the title indicates, the smock pattern provided only date until the end of Elizabethan era. However, Jacobean fashions were similar enough that this style would work for this era as well.

The book provides patterns for two types of women’s smocks, and five types of men’s shirts. I decided that in order to get the most use of my smock that I would make option g) a “smock with simple hemmed neck and sleeve.” So no fancy period specific neck or wrist cuff, or embroidery. However, the neckline is very similar to the neckline of the smock that Mary Queen of Scots supposedly wore to her execution in 1587 which is now held by the National Trust.

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Chemise belonging to Mary Queen of Scots in which she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle, c. 1580s. NT 135702. Coughton Court, Warwickshire

This style of smock would have been worn with a court style of gown that required a low neckline, such as the French gown.

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The Ditchley Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c. 1592. The National Portrait Gallery, London.
NPG 6918; Anne of Denmark by John De Critz the Elder
Anne of Denmark, John De Critz the Elder, c. 1605-1610. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Because the basic shape of the smock contains no curved lines (except the neckline), the pattern was easy to scale up onto my chosen pattern paper (which is actually the inexpensive baking/parchment paper from the baking aisle).  I decided to use a lightweight white linen that I already had in my supplies. It is not as fine as the Holland linen that would have been used by wealthier people during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it does the trick.

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I didn’t want to spend a lot of time of my smock, and as it’s not actually one of my reconstructions there was no need for it to be hand sewn. As a result, the smock was easily and quickly put together. Again, as this is not one of my reconstructions, I decided not to use period specific construction techniques in regards to hemming and seams (as it would take too long) – so I just did those the same way I would do on a modern garment I was constructing. The only difficulty I had with the smock was sewing the gussets under arms as this is quite an historical sewing technique that is rarely used in modern clothing. However, after reading some information on gussets they went together well.

The primary reason I made this smock was for my models to wear it underneath the reconstructions that completed as part of PhD (bodies and farthingales). The garment looked fantastic on them and I’m really pleased with how it photographed, and it ended up working for both an Elizabethan pair of bodies and an off-the shoulder civil war-era pair too!

I’m also pleased with how it sat underneath my Jacobean gown that has a low cut doublet bodice.

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So all in all, I think this is an excellent pattern, that, while not strictly historically accurate for these eras, is also suitable for most Stuart dress too.

For further reading on the linen smock, see the footnotes below:

[1] Georges Vigarello has explored this idea of the ‘second skin’ in his work on hygiene in France. See:  Georges Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 54.

[2] Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness, p. 3.

[3] Kathleen M. Brown, Foul bodies: cleanliness in early America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 31

[4] Georges Vigarello, ‘The Skin and White Linen’ in Textiles: Critical and Primary sources, Catherine Harper (ed.), (London, New York: Berg, 2012), p. 377

[5] Brown, Foul Bodies, p. 32.

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean

Preparing raw wool for use in Early Modern Historical Dress Reconstruction

Man shearing a sheep, early sixteenth century. The British Library, Egerton 1147, f. 11v.

 

Wool was a commonly used natural material in early modern Europe. Besides being spun for use in cloth production and knitted garments (such as men’s felted flat caps), wool was also commonly used in structural garments as stuffing. My construction of a French farthingale roll and French wheel farthingale, made as part of my PhD research, required the use of wool as stuffing.

We know that some sort of stuffing like wool was used in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries in the garments because wardrobe warrants, such as one for Elizabeth I dating from April 1581, specified its use:

“Item to Robrt Sipthorpe for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of peache color satten stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone and bent: for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of oringe tawnye & watchett damaske stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone & bent…”[1]

Like most early modern sources, terminology often becomes an issue when trying to decipher what materials were used and how. For example, in this wardrobe warrant it is not 100% obvious as to what “cotton wool” refers to. The fibre cotton as we know it was not unheard of in the sixteenth century, but it also was not very commonly used in garment production (although elite women like Elizabeth I would certainly have had access to this raw material from the Indian subcontinent).

Further compounding this uncertainty is that ‘cotton’ often referred to a type of woollen cloth in the sixteenth century.[2] Although these entries might certainly refer to raw cotton, it was probably more common for structured garments in England to be stuffed with wool, a natural fibre that was very readily available and a staple of English industry. As a result I chose to use wool instead of cotton to stuff the rolls of my French farthingale reconstructions.

Not only did I choose to use wool due to its ready availability in early modern England, but it was also easy for me to obtain because I was raised on a sheep farm in rural New South Wales, Australia.  So I asked my dad to put some wool aside for me next time he was shearing.

Raw, unwashed lambs wool

 

Preparing the Wool

One of the downsides of using this raw material though, especially when it comes from rural Australia, is that it contains a quite a lot of dirt and organic matter. So in order to use it for my reconstructions I had to wash and prepare it. However, as anyone who has ever worked with wool can attest, it is a temperamental fibre to wash. The first difficulty is that if wool is agitated too much in water it has a tendency to felt; great if that is your intention, but a pain if you just want to wash it. Secondly, wool fibres shrink at the high temperatures required to wash it correctly, so I ended up having to use twice as much wool as I thought I would need to allow for this shrinkage.

After chatting to other costumers I decided that the best way to wash and prepare my wool would be to buy some large laundry wash bags, stuff them with the wool and allow them to soak in a tub of hot soapy water (oil removing dish-washing liquid seems to be the best option here).

While these bags were soaking in the hot water I slightly agitated them every now and then, but not too much in case the wool felted together.

As you can see from the pictures the wool did shrink after being immersed in the hot water and A LOT of dirt came out. In fact, I had to repeat this soaking process about three times for each bag of wool in order to get it to a satisfactory state.

After getting the wool as clean as I possibly could, I laid it out on pavement in the hot summer sun to dry.

As you can see in the image above, the wool was still full of burrs and other organic plant matter. I did my best to pick out as much of this as possible, but I’m certain that some of it is sitting in my reconstructions, which is fine.

The wool when stuffed into my French farthingale roll reconstruciton

I hope this post has been helpful to anyone thinking of preparing their own raw wool for spinning or stuffing. If you have any tips or tricks that you use to prepare your wool, feel free to comment below and let us know!

[1] Wardrobe Warrant of Elizabeth I, 6 April 1581. The British Library, Egerton MS 2806, fol. 166r.

[2] Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 36.

 

16th century, 17th century, Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction, Elizabethan, French Wheel Farthingale Reconstruction, Jacobean

Apologies & an update!

I just realised that it has been ages since I last posted anything, so apologies to all my blog followers! The last four months has been so hectic and now I’m only a few weeks away from submitting my PhD!
After I submit my PhD and mark my students exams I promise to continue writing my tutorial on making a French farthingale roll.

But until then, here is a blog post on my reconstructions that I wrote for the University of Sydney History Department’s blog.

As well as a sneak peek of the awesome photos of my reconstructions by my friend Georgie Blackie, as well as a behind the scenes video!

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16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Busk, Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction, Elizabethan

Effigy Bodies: did they really belong to Elizabeth I? | Speculating about the appearance of Gloriana through Dress Reconstruction

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After blogging about the process of reconstructing the earliest pair of surviving English bodies that were found on the 1603 effigy of Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey, one of the most frequent questions that I received was: do you think these bodies actually belong to the Queen?

My answer: no… and yes, maybe.

Funerary records from the time list that an effigy “representing her late Majestie with a paire of straight bodies…” was ordered from a man called John Colte, and these ‘straight bodies’ were probably made by the Queen’s tailor William Jones. Although the Queen never wore these bodies, considering their hasty construction between Elizabeth’s death and her funerary procession, it is probable that their design and construction was based on styles of bodies (and thus measurements) that Jones had previously made for the Queen.[1] Yet, as some people have pointed out, they could also have been made purely for the effigy – as the two were ordered together. To me though, it would seem easier to make a garment from pre-existing measurements and patterns, and simply construct the effigy to fit the garments, rather than the other way around. Certainly, an effigy would probably be much faster to construct than the garments that sat over it.

Surprisingly, the process of trying my reconstruction of these bodies on a model seemed to confirm contemporary accounts about Elizabeth I’s appearance, which leads me to believe that they were made according to previous patterns that her tailor had made, and possibly previous measurements.

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The average height of women during the Tudor era was approximately 158cm and my model was an AU size 6 (UK 6 / US 2) and 156cm (5’2”) tall, so just a tad shorter than the average height during this period.[2] When my model was laced into the bodies they nearly fit her around the torso, with only an inch gap between the centre front openings. However, the underarms cut into her, the shoulder straps were far too big and the back jutted up past shoulder height. This indicates that I need a taller model with a longer torso to accurately fit these bodies.

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Shoulder straps come up way past the shoulderline
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Gaping at the back due to straps being too big
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Pulling the shoulder straps down at the front to fit model

In 1557 the Venetian ambassador, Giovanni Michiel, described Elizabeth who was then 23 years old as “tall and well formed.”[3] Later Francis Bacon stated that she was “tall of stature” and John Hayward described that she “was slender and straight…”[4] The findings from my experiment of placing the bodies on a slender but petite model seems then to confirm that these bodies were tailored for a woman who was not only slender but also tall and long in the torso, just as Elizabeth is described as being.

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592
Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Okay, so the bodies were designed to fit a taller woman (or effigy), but what about the size of the bodies. Surely, they are far too small for someone (besides a child) to have actually worn them?? As I mentioned previously, the bodies did fit my model around her torso, with only a small gap at the front (when laced very tightly). However, as the portrait of the Countess of Southampton indicates, they were probably designed to be worn with the centre front pieces touching side by side, which means my model was just a tad too big for them.

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House
Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

Although Elizabeth was described as being tall for the time, the tiny size of her waist was not unique, rather, it seems she was quite average. My reconstruction of the effigy bodies measures 53.4cm (21”) in the waist and 73.6cm (29”) in the bust, placing the wearer as an AU size 4 (UK 4 / US 0) or smaller. Some commentators (and my supervisor) have commented that maybe this was because the Queen was quite sick in the last few months of her life. Whilst this is true, Janet Arnold records that another pair of bodies dated earlier to 1598 from Germany, known as the von Neuburg bodies, had an even smaller waist measurement of 50.8cm (20”) and bust of 71.1cm (28”).[5]  A much later bodice, which would have been worn to court, from the 1660s at the Museum of London has an even smaller 48cm (19”) waist measurement![6] Numerous other seventeenth-century bodies and bodices in other collections all show similar measurements, which means that the size of the effigy bodies is not an anomaly. It is possible that maybe a couple of inches was taken off the centre front panels of the pattern to fit the effigy better. Unfortunately, this effigy was redressed in the eighteenth century so we do not have the original outer garments that over the top of these to compare for size. Presumably those garments would have been chosen from the vast wardrobe that Elizabeth owned.

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So did these bodies belong to Elizabeth I?
No they didn’t, as we have certain proof that were commissioned after she died for her effigy. However, I am inclined to believe that they were made from previous patterns for the style of bodies that would have been worn by the Queen and the measurements were possibly taken from previous garments made for the Queen… although we will never know for sure.

 

* If you’d like to see a much more thorough and detailed use of historical reconstruction to learn about past historical figures, dress historian Hilary Davidson has written an excellent piece Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814 in the Journal of Costume.

 

REFERENCES

[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. 1.

[2] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 9.

[3] ‘Venice: May 1557, 11-15’, in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 6, 1555-1558, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1877), pp. 1041-1095. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol6/pp1041-1095 [accessed 10 July 2016].

[4] Francis Bacon, The felicity of Queen Elizabeth: and her times, with other things; by the Right Honorable Francis Ld Bacon Viscount St Alban. (LONDON: Printed by T. Newcomb, for George Latham at the Bishops Head in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1651), p. 18; John Hayward, Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, Volume 7, John Bruce, ed. (London: Camden Society, 1840), p. 7.

[5] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, c. 1560-1620 (London: MacMillan, 1985), p. 127.

[6] Measurement courtesy of Tim Long, Curator at the Museum of London: https://twitter.com/Fashion_Curator/status/702785825386459136

16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction, Elizabethan, Tutorial

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Four: Eyelets & Lacings

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  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

The final step of making these bodies was to create the seventy or so eyelet holes that lace the centre front together and attach the skirts (or farthingale) to the bodies.

In the early modern period eyelet holes were created by making a hole in between the fibres of the material with a tool called the bodkin. As Randle Holme explained in the 1680s “The Bodkin, is a blade or round Pin of Iron fixed in Halve, it is not very sharp at the end: by its help, is Eye lid holes, and all other holes (which are not very large) made.”[1] Surviving bodkins in museums are often highly decorated with engravings, or contain their owners’ initials, and are often made from expensive materials such as silver, indicating that they must have been a particularly special or sentimental token of the tailoring or bodie making profession

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This long and narrow, but blunt, tool was pushed into the fabric creating a gap between the warp and weft threads, creating a small hole. The genius in using this particular tool is that by not breaking the threads of the fabric, the resulting eyelet holes “were able to withstand a considerable amount of strain without deforming or ripping.”[2]  As well as creating the holes, bodkins were also used to thread the lacing through the eyelets, as this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York contains a hole through which to thread the lacing, similar to a sewing needle.

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Contains the intials MP – possibly those of the craftsman that it belong to?

However, I don’t have a bodkin nor anything that really resembles one so I had to improvise. I decided to use ordinary nail scissors to push a hole between the threads of the fabric. Although this was not quite as clean as the results that a bodkin would achieve, and I did break some threads, it surprisingly worked really well. After the hole was made I whipped stitched around it until all the raw edges were concealed, as explained below:

 

Although the original has 29 pairs of eyelet holes that run down the centre front of the bodies, somehow I miscalculated my measurements, so my reconstruction only has 28 pairs of eyelet holes. Oops!

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Nearly there! Eyelet holes on centre front opening

After finishing the centre front I moved onto the eyelet holes that are about the waist tabs, two above each split. These eyelet holes were originally intended to have anchored the farthingale or skirts to the torso, showing the ways in which bodies and farthingales by the early seventeenth century began to accommodate each other in dress.[3]

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Eyelet holes above splits in tabs

 

The original effigy bodies in Westminster abbey fastened with leather points that were threaded through one eyelet hole in each shoulder strap and then through another in the top of the bodies.[4] The original holes were not worked, however, this was probably due to the rushed nature of making the bodies for the Queen’s effigy and so I decided to work mine with silk thread as I had done for the others. I then threaded through some left over grosgrain ribbon that I had used to bind the outside raw edges of the bodies and tied these in a bow.

 

After the eyelet holes were complete and the shoulder straps secured, all I had left to do was to lace the bodies together. Bodies during this period were straight laced, meaning that one lace was threaded through all the eyelet holes in a spiralled motion.[5] This differs from the way that Victorian era and modern corsets are laced, which involved having two strands of ribbon that criss-crossed over each other.

On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.
1. On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.
2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded towards the body
2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded over towards the body
3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards yourself.
3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards the front.
4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom
4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom
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Tie bottom of lace into a loop, and then another loop. Tuck underneath, between bodies and smock

 

At the moment the bodies are laced together with satin ribbon, however, I hope to source aiglets in the future to create period correct ‘points’. Points were laces of leather or ribbon tipped with a metal tip (aiglet) that threaded through eyelet holes in garments and tied to attached them together.

A point consisting of five strand braid of cream and silk threads tipped with an aiglet, c. 1550-1650. Museum of London, London.

Modern reproduction points from the Tudor Tailor

It was not only used to lace bodies, but in male clothing they were used mainly to attach the breeches and sleeves to the doublet, whilst in female clothing they commonly attached skirts or detachable sleeves to the bodice. The plastic tip at the end of a modern shoe lace is derived from the metal aiglet, and serves a similar function – to allow for easier threading.

 

I’ll be unveiling the finished bodies and my afterthoughts on the construction process in my next blog post so stay tuned!

 

References:

[1] Randle Holme, The academy of armory, or, A storehouse of armory and blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick. With the termes of Art used in each Science. (Printed at Chester by the Author, 1688), p. 290.

[2] Luca Costigliolo & Jenny Tiramani, ‘The Tools and Techniques of the Tailor and Seamstress’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book One, Susan North and Jenny Tiamani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2011)p. 11.

[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] 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), pp. 2, 7.

[5] Luca Costigliolo, ‘Pink Watered-silk stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012),  p. 97.

16th century, 17th century, Bodies and Stays, Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction, Elizabethan, Tutorial

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part One: The Pattern & Materials

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Elizabeth I effigy bodies, 1603. Westminster Abbey, London
  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

The first reconstruction that I will be making is the effigy bodies of Queen Elizabeth I that are now on display in Westminster Abbey in London. These bodies were specially constructed, probably by the Queen’s tailor William Jones, upon the death of Elizabeth in 1603, for the effigy that would accompany her body to its resting place in Westminster Abbey. As Janet Arnold notes, it is therefore unlikely that the Queen ever wore these bodies, however, their size and construction was probably based on the bodies that Jones had previously made for the Queen.[1] Regardless of whether the Queen really did wear them or not, they are the second oldest pair of bodies in Europe that are known to have survived (the earliest surviving bodies were found on the corpse of Pfalzgräfin Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg, who was buried in what is now Germany in 1598), and the certainly oldest English pair that we know of.

The Pattern

The pattern I’m using for my reconstruction is one that the amazing Janet Arnold made of the bodies when she studied them in 1994, which was then published posthumously in the journal of Costume.

The effigy bodies consist of three separate parts: two front sections that lace together with twenty-nine eyelet holes and a back section. The lining consists of four parts (the back panel lining being divided into two sections).[2] There are a total of six tabs that spread over the hips, two on the back piece and two on each front section. From the pictures and the pattern provided I’m unsure as to whether the shoulder straps are part of the back section, or are attached separately. Arnold’s pattern has them as separate from the back piece, however, in the pictures and other sketches of the bodies they appear to cut into the back piece.

Elizabeth I effigy bodies

My intention is the make the bodies exactly the same size as the original pair in Westminster Abbey, which by my calculations means that Elizabeth I had a 21” waist (!!). A disclaimer at the start of the article states that “Janet’s full-scale pattern of the ‘pair of straight bodies’ has been scaled down to fit the page size of Costume.”[3] I, however, am working off a .pdf document version of this article printed on A4 paper which may be bigger than the pages of Costume. Although technically if I copy it correctly onto a 1 inch scale it shouldn’t really matter. To double check this though, I’ve also used the pattern provided in the Tudor Tailor.[4]

Elizabeth I effigy bodies pattern

The Materials

Unlike the bodies mentioned in the wardrobe accounts of Elizabeth I, the effigy bodies are rather plain. They are made from two layers of twill weave fustian cloth that was originally white, are bound by green leather that had a suede finish and were stitched with linen thread.[5]  The term ‘bodies’ during this period could refer to a number of things – from the bodices of gowns, to the undergarment that is visible on Countess Elizabeth Vernon of Southampton in her portrait below, and of course to the effigy bodies.

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House
Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

My archival research has confirmed that bodies that belonged to elites during this period were always made from materials such as silk satins and silk taffetas, sometimes even velvet, and usually lined with sarcenet, fustian, canvas or buckram.  Contrary to popular opinion, bodies were not always stiffened with material such as whalebone or bents, and rarely so until the late sixteenth century.

When considering how then I would make my reconstruction, taking into account the effigy bodies, wardrobe warrants and visual evidence such as the portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, an entry in the warrants of Elizabeth I from 1590 caught my eye. It requested:

“Item for makinge of a paire of french bodies of carnacion Taffata Lyned with fustian stiched alouer with whales bone of our greate warderobe.” [6]

Here was a wardrobe account that not only matches the only visual image of elite bodies from the period, but was made within a close enough time period to the effigy pair that they could have been the same or a very similar style.

Therefore, for my reconstruction I will use a pale pink (“carnacion”) coloured silk taffeta for both the outer fabric and the lining. Although fustian and sarcenet were the fabrics most commonly used as lining in the wardrobe accounts, they are rarely used in modern clothing and so are incredibly hard and expensive to source. There are warrants from Elizabeth’s wardrobe during the same period, such as this one: “Item for makinge of a pair of bodies… of black veluett… lined with Taffata…”, that shows that taffeta was also used as lining, although less frequently.[7] To bind the bodies I will use white faux leather which closely mimics the properties of leather and is easy to source.

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Modern plastic ‘whalebone’, pink silk taffeta, linen thread

The 1603 effigy bodies are completely boned with whalebone and the average width of this boning is 6mm, except for two 12.7mm wide pieces on either side of the front opening.[8]  As whalebone (‘baleen’) is, for good reason, not available anymore I will have to use an somehing else. A period alternative would be small bundles of bents (a thin reed), like those used in Hilary Davidson’s modern reconstruction of a sixteenth-century Spanish pair of bodies.[9] However, as the effigy bodies contained whalebone I will use a modern alternative that mimics baleen’s properties. I have chosen modern plastic dress making boning. It is similar in width to the original whalebone (5mm) and contains the same amount of flexibility as traditional whalebone.  Although silk bodies probably would have been constructed with a mixture of silk and linen thread, as costs must be considered in my reconstruction, I will use only linen thread to hand construct the bodies and to work the eyelet holes so they don’t fray (similar to the way that modern button holes are done).

 

References

[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. 1.

[2] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 1; 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] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 1

[4] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006)

[5] Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, pp. 1, 3; Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, p. 10.

[6] Elizabeth I Warrant for the Robes, 18 May 1590, ER 32 (PRO LC 5/36), fol. 133.

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

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

[9] Hilary Davidson and Anna Hodson, ‘Joining forces: the intersection of two replica Garments’, Textiles And Text: Re-Establishing The Links Between Archival And Object-Based Research, [postprints], eds. M. Hayward and E.Kramer, (London: Archetype, 2007), pp. 206-108.