Beaded Loose Kirtle

Last year, I made a black wool loose gown, roughly based off the one in the Germanisches National Museum, and on those seen in various portraits.

It’s a surprisingly ubiquitous gown, seen in many countries, and in a variety of styles- long sleeves, short sleeves, no sleeves; made out of wool, silk, velvet; modestly trimmed all the way up to richly decorated.  Very often they are partially cut away in the front, or worn open to reveal the kirtle beneath, and the gown sleeves are arranged in a way to show off contrasting kirtle undersleeves as well.

The great advantage of loose gowns is that it’s very easy to give yourself a “new” gown just by making a new kirtle to wear underneath.  Plus, as mine is black (and they were very often black- for a large part of the 16th century, in many countries, anyone who was anyone was wearing a good deal of black.  Black was the new black, the old black, the everything black) colors really pop with it.

I decided I wanted something intricate and detailed.  I had *just* enough of a quite richly patterned brocade that was quite pretty on its own, but, operating under one of the great principles of 16th century noble’s clothing design – “more is more”- I decided it needed something else, and after some research, chose to bead the fabric.

One of my inspiration portraits:  “Portrait of an Unknown Lady”, Hans Eworth.  I just love everything about this- the sassy perched hat (with feathers!), the incredible levels of detailing on the gown, and of course, the beaded sleeves and skirt.

Portrait of an Unknown Lady c.1565-8 by Hans Eworth active 1540-1573
Portrait of an Unknown Lady c.1565-8 Hans Eworth active 1540-1573 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984

I also liked how the beading followed the pattern of the fabric, and chose to do the same with mine.  I just finished the beading of the sleeves and kirtle front piece- each bead cluster is one ~2.5mm garnet bead surrounded by 5 ~3-4mm glass pearls:

beaded kirtle and sleeves 

Beading Closeup

And here’s a closeup of the fabric and beading pattern.  It’s a remarkably difficult pattern and embellishment to photograph, as it shifts so much in the light.  This is of course what I am hoping will make it look brilliant in person.

Next steps are to finish the sleeves (they need to be sewn closed and have eyelets or lacing rings stitched- I’m still debating how they will attach to the gown), and cut out and sew the rest of the kirtle body.  I do love how this gown style allows one to indulge in a richer, more expensive fabric for the front, and then use cheaper, more regular fabrics for the rest:  See the loose gown in the GNM- our ancestors were definitely clever with their fabric use, even in luxury outfits.

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