Fluffy Sleeves and Fleurs de Lis: Simplicity 5294 at Scarborough Renaissance Fair 2019

I wasn’t feeling too keen on celebrating my birthday this year, but my sister decided to pay me a visit! She’d never been to a Renaissance Fair and Scarborough Fair in Waxahachi, Texas is only an hour and a half from where I live. So to Fair we decided to go!

Last year I wore my Game of Thrones inspired dress:

However, we would be going the last day of the final season and it just seemed odd to be wearing it out and about when most Thrones fans would be at home celebrating/mourning the end of an era. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like getting caught up in a discussion about the show…I just wanted to wander and enjoy hanging out with my sis and my husband. Plus, it’s a cool dress looks-wise, but it’s not a cool dress temp-wise!

I owe my life to that hand fan!
This was taken before I added the neckline trim and got the belt I originally wanted.

After tackling one of my childhood dream-dress patterns, Simplicity 4244, a few years ago, I had gotten all nostalgic for the other patterns that had set my heart aflutter waaaaaaaaay back when.

Many of them happen to be Andrea Schewe’s Renaissance patterns from the late 1990s and early 2000s:

I remember coveting all the patterns in this catalog. My sister and I played the “Wishbook” game with it: “That one’s mine!” “Well, this one’s mine, then!”

The star of the Renaissance collection was the “Ever After Dress,” which, for those of you that have been missing out on a slice of fairytale wonderland, is based on the dresses from the movie “Ever After:”

The original trailer in all it’s 1990s cinematic glory! This was my favorite movie to watch at my Nana’s house when I was a kid.

The costumes in the movie aren’t Historically Accurate, but they are based on late 15th and early 16th century dresses, mostly Italian despite being set in France, but once again, they were aiming for Historical, not Historical™, so don’t stress over it too much. Frock Flicks has a nice overview of the film costumes if you’re curious.

Portrait d'Isabelle d'Aragon (Isabella of Naples raphael

“Thou art welcome to direct your gaze hither, Sire.”
Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, wife of Gian Galeazzo, by Raphael, 1480-90

1486-90 'Portia_and_Brutus',_painting_on_panel_by_Ercole_de’_Roberti

“Verily, sir, I am here for naught but the food.”
Portia and Brutus, circa 1486-90

The movie had fantastic costumes–most famously the “Just Breathe” masquerade dress (and my favorite, Rodmilla’s green gown):

Simplicity, already high on the peak of the Renaissance Fair pattern boom, leapt at the opportunity. Andrea Schewe was commissioned to recreate the look for a pattern which soon became one of the most famous costume patterns from the Big 3:

Oh, how I pined for this perfect princess dress!

The Simplicity Ever After dress pattern was really popular for wedding and fair gowns through the early 2000s and it turns out this pattern has not one, not two, but SIX versions that have been printed over the years…each with a totally different pattern number! The design itself, however, remained unchanged.

In the Misses’ sizes, the first release was Simplicity 0657 then 8735. It sold so well that Simplicity asked Andrea Schewe to sew new samples for the re-release’s envelope front, Simplicity 3812:

The re-release cover. I like Views B and C much more here. I never cared for either in the original samples, but in the new fabrics, the details really show up and I love the gold version of View B especially!

These patterns only went up to the largest standard Misses’ size, either 18 or 20 depending on the release. But this pattern was so immensely popular that Simplicity did something so rare and wonderful that it’s basically a unicorn and I think it deserves a sparkle effect: EXTENDED SIZED PATTERNS UP TO SIZE 32W!

This is an accurate pictorial representation of my brain when I discovered 9228 and 5294 on eBay.
(Made with Gify)

Besides the regular Misses’ sized patterns, Simplicity released 9228 and later 5294, both of which were available in sizes 18W to 32W. That’s up to a 54″ bust measurement! One of the constant troubles with costume patterns from the Big 3 is that they do not offer larger sizes. I was so excited to find not only did this pattern get offered in larger sizes, the samples they made were styled to look like the Misses’ size envelope as well (so often “Plus Sized” versions of things are styled completely different from the regular sized things instead of adapting the design to be proportional to the increased size while maintaining the original look).

Sadly, all these patterns are Out of Print, so the envelops are only available second hand. However, Simplicity has recently added the Misses/Regular size version to their Print-On-Demand service as EA381201…but not in the extended sizes.

So, if you want one of the extended sizing patterns, you must scour the ‘net if you weren’t lucky enough to pick up a copy when it originally was in stores. Because they’re out of print, they can be kind of spendy, but I found a copy of 5294 in the 18W to 24W range for a reasonable price. I immediately snapped it up! It was worth the investment 100 fold!

This is the back so you can see the glorious measurement chart! Also the yardage….holy cow, the yardage! The few older online reviews I found mention this dress is a fabric and trim hog and they were all 110% correct! The dress is worth it, though, IMHO.

Pattern in hand, I set out trying to find a suitable fabric.

Now when I say suitable, I’m not talking suitable for a Screen Accurate Reproduction® or Historically Accurate dress. While lovely, I didn’t want to make it out of taffeta or velvet. When I say suitable, I mean suitable to survive the blazing Texas heat! Bonus points if I could also combat the heinous humidity that’s been plaguing us during an abnormally wet spring.

Linen would have been the HA-ish solution. While not exactly court gown material, it’s wicking and the most breezy of all the fabrics which is why it has been favored in hot climes for centuries. But, I had neither the cash to buy the stuff nor the patience to deal with its tendency to wrinkle more than a raisin at the slightest provocation.

After squishing my skirts into a hot, humid car for an hour and a half (which would set the wrinkles like a nice, steamy iron), I would certainly emerge looking not unlike these grapes or a crumpled paper ball…

Instead, I decided to make the dress out of cotton because it’s breathable, but also cheap, comes in a wider variety of prints, and wrinkles waaaaaaaay less. I wanted to find a brocade or embroidery-esque print to mimic the wild silk fabrics I saw in paintings. I was especially keen to find a nice mustard yellow. Yellow’s not “my color” (being a pale dishwater blond), but I love it! And the patterns I found were just fabulous!

Visitation (Detail, from Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1485-90

Portrait Of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1488

Found another History Sister and she’s wearing a bangin’ brocade! I decided to copy her look a bit, minus the spaniel-ears. I save that look for my early 19th century dresses.
Ritratto di Gentildonna (Portrait of a Gentlewoman) by Leonardo Boldrini, circa 1490s

However, most of the colors we associate with the Renaissance period are rich jewel tones like wine and navy. I found tons of beautifully patterned fabrics, but only in darker colors like emerald or black. I had just about caved to a black and gold design until science gently placed its practical hands on my shoulders and shook me back to sanity: I needed something light colored and less likely to absorb heat and cook me alive.

Then, I found this nifty fabric online:

It doesn’t show well in photos, but the dots and outlines are metallic gold.

Minka giving my new fabric the Cat Butt Blessing.

And it reminded me a bit of Eleanora di Toledo mixed with medieval heraldry:

16th century…a bit late for my dress’s style.

Early 15th century, a bit too soon for my dress’s style.
(PS, I found this image on a great Hungarian blog about hennin)

Mash ’em together, average ’em out, and you get roughly the correct era for my dress (1490s), right? Right?!

Cheap it wasn’t after shipping, but not any worse than a quilting cotton from a certain chain fabric store beginning with J–about $7 a yard. It’s a great cotton, though, lighter than a standard quilting cotton, but thick enough not to be sheer.

The envelope recommended 5 1/4 to 5 3/8 yards of 52″ wide fabric. I had 6 yards of 45″ wide fabric…with a one-way design…

It was a very, VERY tight fit.

I had to reduce the skirt width a bit to get the enormous gored skirt pieces to fit on the fabric. I thought about ignoring the gores and just using the full rectangle yardage, but I didn’t know how that would work with the pattern’s peaked front. In the end, I made it work. THANK HEAVENS. The slight reduction didn’t seem to affect the drape of the dress too much.

If you want to make this dress out of 45″ fabric, you will have to reduce the width of the skirt pattern or piece your fabric because the pattern pieces are wider than 45”.

This dress in general takes a lot of fabric and trim. Each skirt is 4+ yards and the huge sleeves are over a yard each on their own:

Giving my 1890s sleeves a run for their money in the poof department!
Shoutout to Mistress of Disguise for graciously offering her help selecting a complimentary fabric. I thought about using the cream organdy sari for the underskirt as well as the sleeves, but after cutting the sleeves out, I didn’t have enough left. Fortunately, the original mustard color doesn’t look too bad on me despite my pastiness.

I was so proud of myself: I got the dress to a wearable state well over two days in advance of the event! So much better than my usual method of “Wait until the day-before to do everything and let the panic inspire you!

Yes, those are my DnD Barbie dolls in the background. Yes, I have weirder nerd hobbies than rage-sewing Historical costumes. Yes, I do own a vacuum and wastebaskets, I swear!

At that point, it was mostly untrimmed. Kinda boring. The basic dress shape of this pattern is nice, but it is really the trimmings that elevate it from nice to WOWZA. Trimming took quite a bit of time getting everything placed just so– almost two days. Altogether, it took a week of four-hour sewing sessions to get the dress to its current state. I admit I was still sewing when my sister got here, but I got it done enough for Sunday’s Scarborough trip!

Still need to make the tie-on sleeves at some point.

The previous day was rainy and we were sure the ground would be soaked and sloppy, especially the parking area which is just an open field. I wore my not-so-pretty boots in anticipation but to our amazement, the sun had dried out most of the muck. The sunshine also meant that my choice of a light-colored cotton fabric paid off! I was warm, but not uncomfortably so. It was the perfect blending of science and fairytale with a Happy Ever After ending!

To keep cool, I took a fan and, most helpful of all, picked up an $8 paper umbrella from Hobby Lobby’s party section. 100% would recommend! Between the parasol and marinating myself in sunscreen, I didn’t even get sunburned!
To hide my modern necessities, I got a cheap little faux-leather book case for my phone and made a simple drawstring purse from scraps. A few other little accessories like my favorite braided gold necklace, antique brooch, and a decorative bun-roll (made last minute by wrapping trim scraps over one of those tubular mesh hair rollers) rounded everything out:

My sister wore the teal version of Amazon’s “Renaissance Dress” which is a good option for anyone looking for a fast, inexpensive costume that’s easy to wear, plus it’s flattering on a variety of body types. It has ties in front and back for an adjustable fit and comes in a huge selection of colors. It costs about $50. She was quite pleased with the quality. I made her a flower crown to go with it as a belated birthday gift.

Flower crowns are beautiful, easy to make, and fun to wear. You just need some flowers of your choice, a hot glue gun, and a wide fabric-covered headband!

Chris even got in the festival spirit of his own accord! He wore his punk-rock kilt, grabbed a cap and belt, and even joined the dulcimer lady for an impromptu public duet!

We took in the hilarious shows, the magical musicians, ate overpriced-but-tasty food, and cheered for the jousters (I’m kicking myself a bit for not getting a picture with the slightly villainous knight Sir Joseph, whose colors I happened to serendipitous be wearing). The fair was fab and there were lots of fairies and tieflings and elves running around for Fantasy weekend.

Great sewing pattern, great fun, great family–it was a good way to spend a belated birthday!

For a more technical (ish) review of Simplcity 5294, click here to read my write-up about it on PatternReview.com

But Where Should I Put It? Part I

15th-17th Century Purses

I don’t go anywhere without my cellphone, wallet, keys, lip balm, or mini Swiss Army knife. But where can I put it all when I’m in costume? Lugging around my modern purse while in historical costume looks beyond ridiculous and I can’t have Chris carrying everything…(that poor man, I always take advantage of the ample pockets in his cargo pants.  Why do boys get more/deeper pockets than girls anyways? Girls have so much more stuff to carry!)

The solution? A historically accurate purse! When I was looking for a purse solution, I was surprised to learn what a wide variety history has to offer! There are so many designs to choose from and you’re sure to find one that perfectly suits your taste in any era! For example, if you need a Renaissance purse, look no further than the four-sided drawstring pouch. Don’t want to carry around an annoying clutch purse or deal with a satchel that keeps slipping off your shoulder? Four-sided pouches are the way to go! They have had long strings to tie around your waist directly or to string around a belt or girdle. The purse above is a very fine heraldic piece made around 1540. This purse wasn’t your run-of-the-mill coin purse, but a ceremonial piece that would have been carefully treasured, perhaps used as a dowry. With 1,250 silk stitches per square inch, it surely is a masterpiece! It took a very skilled seamstress many hours to finish it. Here’s another example of the four-sided pouch:

Since this purse was not a ceremonial piece, but a well-used coin purse, it shows a lot more wear, but the basic shape is what’s important. The four sides allow for plenty of interior space, but the purse can be folded flat when empty.

Drawstring purses were, by far, the most popular style of purse from about 1590 onwards. By the turn of the 17th century, flat, square purses came into style. Many of these purses were not for coins, but were “swete-bags,” filled with scented herbs to sweeten the air during a time when bathing and sewage disposal weren’t priorities. The 17th century was the era of the Baroque, a style which delighted in excess of decoration and trims. The purses of the late Renaissance and Jacobean eras reflect this taste for trims and are often coated in gilded thread, tassels, appliques, spangles (sequins), and ribbons.

Almost every drawstring purse during this era had hanging pomanders or covered wooden beads at the end of their strings to help tie it shut without the need of knots (so you wouldn’t look a fool when you untied your pouch. Just imagine the embarrassment of knotting your purse so tight you can’t open it!). They were rarely used for carrying money, but served as elaborate gift bags or as utility kits to carry glasses, pens, and sewing kits.

Another type of drawstring purse is the gambling purse. These purses are flat-bottomed and round like a bowl, specifically shaped so that they can sit open on a table filled with coins, counters, or other game pieces.

Gambling was a popular, socially acceptable form of entertainment in the late 17th century– provided you were wealthy enough not to work for a living. Gaming purses were often decorated with the family crest or lucky symbols to help the player keep track of his purse and maybe win a few extra turns as well! These gaming purses are often elaborately decorated, advertising the wealth of the owner, however some are rather plain. It all depended on the player’s strategy: brazenly display your wealth with an ornate purse or keep your true worth private with a plainer purse.

Drawstring pouches are pretty simple in principle and do not require frames like many modern purses and clutches do. You would think that framed purses are a later 19th or 20th century invention, but framed purses actually date back to Da Vinci’s time and beyond!  The most beautiful and unusual historical purses actually come from the mid-Renaissance. Leonardo himself designed a purse around the turn of the 15th century:

The sketch is of an ornate handbag with a metal top. Two designers– Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi– brought the bag to life,  creating a surprisingly modern-looking handbag:

This bag, while modern in construction, is actually ancient in design and, in comparison to other purses from the 1500s, rather simple in design (as per Leonardo’s personal taste). Perhaps the most amazing purses of all time can be found way back in the 15th century. They are breathtaking! Many Renaissance purses were architectural wonders. For example, here’s a purse with an entire castle perched on the frame:

This is definitely a fairytale purse! The towers remind me of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Unlike modern purse frames which are mostly invisible, Renaissance purse frames were miniature masterpieces, often in the shape of castles, cities, or cathedrals:

Just like the real-life strongholds, these clasped frames alerted thieves that while the treasure inside the purse may be great, he’ll have a devil of a time getting at the contents. Some of these large purse frames had locking mechanisms inside and required a key to open (click here to check out the back side of the red velvet purse where you can see a keyhole)– pretty elaborate for something over 600 years old! Here’s my favorite Renaissance purse of all time, dating back to about 1470-1550:

If Snow White owned a purse, it had to be this one! Just look at how detailed and thick the frame is! On the back are two iron loops so it could be threaded onto a belt, keeping your treasures close at hand. It’s like a 15th century fanny pack, only infinitely more fashionable!

Sadly, as time wore on, purse frames scaled back in size and grandeur until they resembled  modern purse frames:

Framed purses began to fall out of favor by the end of the 17th century and did not boom in popularity again until after the Industrial Revolution made manufacturing the metal frames much cheaper; however, all is not lost in the ornamentation department! While they’re not as architecturally impressive as the castle purses of the Renaissance, by 1680, purses were becoming as frilly and over-dressed as the courtiers that carried them!

The purse above features an adorable pair of Cupid-shot hearts along with glittery paste gems and loads of fluffy green tassels! There is no mistaking that rococo is hot on this purse’s heels! Purses weren’t just for the ladies either. If you were a gent back in 1690, you wouldn’t store your widgets in khaki cargo pants, but this naughty little purse, complete with a sexy 17th Century pin-up of a pretty lass showing off some leg!

After checking out all these incredible 15th-17th century purses, I have decided to add making one to my list. I know, I know, I’ve got a lot of projects to do already, but these little purses are seriously cool! And like shoes, no woman can have too many purses!

Click here to visit: Where Should I Put It? Part II

For those of us who costume between 1700 and 1800!

As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!

Update:

I found this 17th century fashion plate by Jean Dieu de Saint-Jean entitled Recueil des modes de la cour de France, ‘Dame se Promenant a la Campaigne’, circa 1675-1677:

Doesn’t she look stunningly Victorian (and her shoes magnifique)? On her hip, you can see a large black bag which, on closer inspection, appears to have the shape and gathering pattern of a large velvet gaming purse, though I cannot be sure. It may be similar style, but would probably contain ladylike objects such as combs, needles, scissors, or handkerchiefs.