Waisted Kirtle

In pursuit of a better kirtle

Hannah Brown worsted wool sleeveless waisted kirtle started January 17, 2016. Finished March 5, 2016.

I lost 10 lbs, gained 60 lbs, had a baby, lost 60 lbs and refit my bodice. I’ve had time since the last time I made a fitted kirtle to consider my construction methods and design choices and to make some new choices based on new information.**


breastbandsmock – The first layer of linen worn against the body. Often called a shirt, shert, hemd or chemise.

kirtle – (kirtle, cotehardie, cote, gothic fitted dress, whatever you want to call it) The support layer. A dress worn over the smock. It supports and shapes the breasts. In middle/lower class this may be the only dress worn. The type of kirtle described here is appropriate for the late 15th/early 16th century (eg. 1480s-1540s possibly earlier/later). This is later (1540s and later) sometimes referred to as the petticoat.

gown – The fancy dress worn over the kirtle. Made of expensive fabrics and sometimes fur lined.

Breast Band – (outlined in dotted lines in image to the left) In the kirtle the breasts are kept up by having the pattern tightly fitted to the body. There is a band about 2-3 inches wide which runs below the breasts on the rib cage. If this band is nice and tight and on-grain it’s impossible for the breasts to “droop”. Above the band the breasts are shaped by the space available in the pattern and the tautness of the fabric both from the side seam and from the shoulder seam. Below the band the pattern should at most skim the the body. I do not recommend shaping the body below the breast band.


Old New Reasoning
None yet
4-panel bodice Unchanged, 4-panel bodice Although there is evidence (14th century Greenland gown, the Madonna with baseball boobs) for gowns with more than 4 panels I have chosen to stick with only 4 panels. I personally find that more seams just leads to more problems achieving a dependable fit. Each seam is yet another place where I could add or remove 1/8″-1/16″ from the pattern piece when I cut them out and mess up the fit. I’d rather not have that variation so I stick with a 4-panel pattern.

As much as possible I try to stick with a flat-front fitting. Mostly this is because I’m working on a self-fitting and it’s been easier to add/remove fabric from the sides than from the front. As a bonus, because I’ve used a flat-front it is possible for me to cut the front panel as a single piece of fabric (thus doing a 3-panel dress) and eliminate the center-front seam.

Waist seam Unchanged, waist seam At some point in the late 14th century dresses started to be built using a bodice portion and a skirt portion(seen in images and in finds in London). I happen to find this style of dress more flattering on my figure.
colored linen dress lined in linen worsted wool dress lined in linen I’ve always known that a fully linen dress was incorrect but I’ve been afraid I’d overheat if the outer fabric was wool. I keep hearing and being told that wool outer fabric plus linen inner fabric acts like a swamp cooler and keeps you much cooler than other fabric choices. I’m finally willing to give that a try. I’m also aware that in period, dyed linen was uncommon. That said.. I’m leery of trying to wear a wool dress at Pennsic.
No interlining in bodice 1 layer of hemp canvas interlining in bodice Over time I’ve found that I’m getting some fairly drastic wrinkles and folding under my breasts on the old version and since “The Queen’s Servants” indicates that a canvas interlining was used, I’m willing to give it a try. At this time I’m going to try 1 layer. The book indicates that additional layers may have been used.
Unlined linen skirt Wool skirt lined with linen Again, the fear of heat made me choose a single layer of fabric for the skirt. “The Queen’s Servants” and the Tudor Tailor workshop I attended in LA indicate that the skirt should be fully lined so I’m willing to try that for this version.
Edges unbound Edges bound in cotton velvet I haven’t had any issue with my edges on my old kirtle freying but “The Queen’s Servant’s” indicates that the edges were bound. In the Tudor Tailor workshop in LA we examined several different kinds of velvet and came to the conclusion that cotton velvet makes a reasonable substitution for period silk velvet.
Full circle skirt made with 8 full 60″ wide fabric panels Narrower skirt made with 4 pieced fabric panels I’ve always known that my skirt panel widths are too wide since they’re based on modern fabric widths. I plan to follow “The Queen’s Servant’s” guide. I’m concerned the final skirt will be too narrow but I’m willing to try it with four narrower panels instead of my normal 8 super-wide panels.
No front closure on bodice (later I added a lace for breastfeeding) Side-Laced closed I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous pattern was actually too loose. If made correctly I should not be able to wiggle into this dress. The lace should be necessary in order to get into and out of the dress. Because I want a center-front closing gown (the outer layer) I want to put the lace on the kirtle elsewhere and because I oppose back lacing (I like to dress myself without help) I’ll put it on the sides instead.
Short sleeves No sleeves. I do think short sleeves are supported by evidence in images. That said, I carry my son around a lot and I’m worried about scratching him if I use pins to attach the sleeves. So although I’m not entirely certain it’s correct I’m planning to use tie on sleeves. Because I’m planning to bind the edges I think tieing on the sleeves will work better at the shoulder rather than at the end of a short sleeve.

Waisted kirtle
Fitted supportive bodice
Square Shaped neckline front and back with narrow straps
Side closures
Skirt floor length in flats
Skirt pleated in center back.
Skirt made up of pieced panels of period widths.
Center front straight-to-straight. Center back bias-to-bias.
Lined skirt.
Pinned Tied on sleeves (they should be pinned but I’m still worried about scratching my son so I’m going to make them tie on with points)

Hannah Brown worsted wool suiting exterior fabric
1 layer of hemp canvas interlining in bodice
medium weight light-colored linen lining
Black cotton velvet binding at lace, neck, armseye and hem.
Fancy fabric for sleeves. (or pinked/slashed wool)


  • (done) Wash wool fabric
  • (done) Wash linen lining fabric
  • (done) Wash hemp canvas interlining fabric
  • (done) Wash velvet
  • (done) Cut velvet into bias binding. I cut this into 1.5″ strips. This is slightly wider than the Queen’s Servants suggestion of 1.25″ but I found it easier to measure and cut and I have a feeling that I won’t even notice the slightly extra width. At 1.5″ the bias tape will attach at around a 1/4″ seam allowance.
  • (done) Cut out the interlining (1 yard hemp canvas)
  • (done) Cut out the bodice outer fabric. (1 yard wool)
  • (done) Cut out the skirt outer fabric. (3 yds wool).
  • (done) Cut out the bodice lining. (1 yard linen)
  • (done) Cut out the skirt lining. (3 yds linen).
  • (done) Piece the skirt outer fabric pieces (stitch together then press the seam open)
  • (done) Piece the skirt lining pieces (stitch together then press the seam open)
  • (done) Sew skirt outer fabrics together. (seam the panels together with bias edges towards the back of the skirt. End up with bias to bias at the center back. Better swoosh and the front hangs straight.)(NOTE: The Queen’s Servants would have you put the bias edges on each side. I’ve decided I like my swoosh so I’m going to keep doing it the way I’ve been doing it)
  • (done) Sew skirt lining together. 1/2″ seam allowance
  • (done) Pin the skirt lining into the skirt outer fabric, wrong sides together. Tack lining to skirt around waist in seam allowance. 1/4″ tack.
  • (done) Stitch outer fabric and interlining together along outside edge of bodice pieces, use a slightly less than 1/4″ tack.
  • (done) Sew the bodice outer fabric together at front, back and sleeve cap. Leaving the lace area unsewn. Press seams open.
  • (done) Sew the bodice lining fabric together at front, back and sleeve cap. Leaving the lace area unsewn. Press seams open.
  • (done) Pin the bodice lining in place inside the bodice. Tack with a slightly less than 1/4″ seam around the neck, armseye and lacing areas.
  • (done) Bind the neck with velvet. At 1.5″ the bias tape will attach at around a 1/4″ seam allowance.
  • (done) Bind the armseye and lace areas with velvet.
  • (done) Work eyelets on the bodice at the lace points. 67 total eyelets.
  • (done) Attach the skirt to the bodice (Put a box pleat at the center-back and then knife pleat either side to fit the top of the skirt to the bottom of the bodice). Sew the skirt to the outer layer of the bodice (outer fabric and interlining) with a 1/2″ seam. Press this seam towards the bodice.
  • (done) Turn the waist seam of the lining and pin it onto the skirt portion.
  • (done) Slip stitch the lining into the waist at the front.
  • (done) Slip stitch the lining into the waist at the back.
  • (done) Hang dress for a few days to even up the hem.
  • (done) Mark and cut the hem. Update skirt cutting pattern.
  • (done) Bind the hem. At 3″ the hem bias tape will attach at around a 1/2″ seam allowance.
  • (done) Quilt the bodice

Progress Pictures:

Learnings(AKA Trials and Tribulations):

Iterations on fitting a new bodice pattern detailed here: Making a kirtle to wear under my kirtles
I transferred the final pattern to paper since paper doesn’t stretch when you’re trying to trace around it. This pattern does not have seam allowance on the side seams (since I’ll be using binding on those as the lace area) and has seam allowance added to the center front (the fitting was done with a zipper that added no seam allowance).

The old skirt cutting pattern resulted in 8 panels which were each ~9.21 inches across the top. The new skirt cutting pattern results in 4 panels which are each ~15.81 inches across the top. Since I have not significantly changed sizes (even though I did redo my bodice pattern) this resulted in having much less skirt material to pleat across the center back of the final dress(difference of ~8 inches). I’m not sure I love that. I will have to wear this a few times before I can be completely sure. That said, I should be able to modify the cutting pattern slightly in order to get back to the ~18.5″ widths fairly easily if needed.

With the tops of the skirt panels cut at 15″ the width of two skirt panels almost exactly matched the width of the front of the bodice. This is very convenient considering the side-lacing and the fact that I didn’t want to put any pleats on the front of the dress. I’m still iffy about the back though. Two skirt panels was only slightly wider than the back of the bodice. This doesn’t leave a lot of width for pleating. If I do decide on wider panels in the future I may keep half of the panels at the current width (to match the front of the bodice) and only widen the back pieces. Something to consider.

I decided to use side-lacing on this since I know I want to use center front closure (probably hook/eye) for the over gown. That said, I cut two pieces for the kirtle’s front panel which puts a seam down the center front of the kirtle. I plan to leave it on this version.. but for the next version I may try to cut the front as a single piece and eliminate that center front seam. I’m not sure how it will work though since cutting the front as a single piece would prevent me from getting the breast band on the straight grain.

My husband loves me and wants me to be happy. After I complained that lacing my old dresses takes 30+ minutes because the eyelets are too small to allow for aiglets he jimmy’d around in the garage and came up with a bigger awl for me to use to make eyelets. The new awl is a large diameter screwdriver which he ground down to a point. The eyelets on the new dress are HUGE in comparison to the old.

Since I’ve been spending a lot of time staring at reference images it occurs to me that my straps on the front of my bodice are too close together in the front (for an upper-class dress). I think they’re fine for a middle/lower class dress). I have the straps attaching straight down to the bodice (a la bra straps). The reference images seem to have straps attaching in the armpit. After this dress I’ll need to spend a bit of time fiddling with strap placement on my pattern for the next version.

Having a very odd sewing moment. I’ve been working on updating my kirtle pattern for more than a year (I did a bunch of other things in the meantime). In that time I’ve spent a long time figuring out the details for my next dress so that it would be all set when I started sewing. I’m anxious about some of the details since there’s a lot of changes between the last version and this version. Anxious in that I don’t entirely know that the new dress is going to “work” and look flattering.

So I started sewing and I’m anxious. I get all the pieces assembled and hang up a bodice with skirt.. and I hate it. I mean “OH dear God, it’s a sack”. But I refuse to call it a dog and toss it into a corner and ignore it since I really need a new dress.. and honestly I can’t say it IS a dog until I can try it on.
I can’t try it on until I add the velvet binding and eyelets.

So today I started adding the velvet binding.. and suddenly I love the dress. Total flip flop.

I guess I’m just going to hope that when the bottle stops spinning I’m stuck on love it.

I finally finished the velvet binding and the eyelets (67 of them) and was able to try on the dress.
Good: It fit me. I LOVE the velvet binding. In general I still love the dress.
– The bottom center front of the bodice is a bit more pointed than I’d like. I am going to round that off and update my pattern.
– When I slouch I’m getting some wrinkles under the breasts. I cast around for a while and ended up here. The black and white photo shows exactly the kind of “wrinkles” I’m running into. They’re not horrible.. but I like the smoothed look better. I will make a corded interlining and added that.
– Although the skirt is big enough to go around me I would like more pleats across the center back. I’m going to pull the skirt off the back of the bodice, split the skirt open and add an additional panel 30″ wide to the center back. This should give me plenty of pleats without significantly changing the drape of the skirt.
– The skirt is WAY too long. Obviously once I get the skirt done and mark the hem I’ll need to amend my skirt cutting pattern as the current one is wasting a lot of material.

I removed the skirt from most of the back and inserted a 30″ wide panel. Then I put a box pleat (1.5″ wide) at the center back and 1.5″ knife pleats on either side (only 3/4″ of the knife pleat shows). This looks lovely. I have finished reattaching the lining in the back.

I removed the skirt from most of the front, trimmed the bottom of the front of the bodice to make it less round and added a corded panel. I then reattached the skirt to the bodice and finished attaching the lining in the front.

I tried on the dress with the corded reinforcement (pic in gallery above). I am now back to hating the dress. The cording did not eliminate the weird wrinkles. It did make the dress more stiff, and warmer. I also contributed to a weird pucker showing up on the center front of the skirt. None of these are good things. I have decided to remove the cording and to cut the front of the bodice down still further.

I removed the corded reinforcement and cut down the front of the bodice quite a bit. I tried on the dress. I’m back to loving it. The original wrinkles are still there. For now I’ve decided to live with them. I may go back and quilt the front of the bodice like the kirtle in the illustration on the bottom of page 105 of “The Tudor Child” (Like the bodice stitching here: FB picture from Tudor Tailor) . I’m still deciding whether I want to do that even though I don’t plan to add any bents.

The hem has now been marked and I’ll cut/bind that soon. I’ve now caught myself procrastinating on cutting the hem. For some reason I’m super anxious about it so I’m hesitating to get started on it. Gah.. got to just do it.

I finally cut the hem… and re-affirmed that I hate cutting a hem with a bag lining. I’m back to partially hating the dress. The hem did not come out even between the outer fabric and the lining layer. It’s close enough.. but annoying to be so fiddly. Regardless, the hem is cut and one side of the binding is attached with machine stitching. I decided to go with binding on the hem which is twice as wide as the binding on the bodice (raw binding is 3″ wide. Attached it’s ~.5″ wide). I like the extra width. Tomorrow I’ll start hand stitching down the second side of the binding.

I finished attaching the last of the velvet on the hem. I’m back to loving the dress again.

Technically at this point the dress is done.. but I’ve decided to try one more thing to eliminate the under bust wrinkles. For the most part the wrinkles are happening because the outer fabric, interlining and lining are not actually acting as a single piece of fabric. My plan is to quilt the front of the bodice through all three layers so that they act as a single layer. I’ve decided to follow the quilting pattern from the pair of bodies in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich reference in “Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashions: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c.1560-1620”. I have no evidence that quilting the bodice was a period practice.. but I’m going to do it anyway. I am not planning to add the bents. At this point I’m not interested in boning the kirtle.

I finally quilted the bodice. I took pictures when it was half quilted. There’s not a huge difference between quilted and unquilted. The wrinkles are still there and the top swoop of the quilting which goes across the breast is VERY obvious. That said, the channels are visually slimming. I will reserve judgement until after I’ve worn the dress for a full day.. but I’m not entirely certain that I’ll quilt a future kirtle.

Post Mortem

I’ve decided this is my bipolar dress. I’ve flip flopped from loving the dress to hating the dress and back again several times. There is no meh middle ground. I either really really love it or really really hate it. I don’t think I’ve ever had that reaction to any of my other dresses. Normally I either love them.. or hate them (and either throw them away or give them away).. with no flip-flopping.

I bought this wool in 2010 from Fabric.com during a fantastic sale. It was called “Hannah Brown”. I don’t know exactly what to call the color. Depending on the light the dress reads as either grey or green. I suppose you could call it a muddy green/brown.. but honestly brown is not the first word to come to mind.

It turns out I really hate side lacings. I don’t think I’ll do that again if I can avoid it. It’s annoying to have twice as many eyelets as needed. It’s annoying to try to tighten the laces. I have a “shoulder impingement” which makes it hard to bend my left arm to get to the laces on that side. So, personal choice, I don’t like it and I won’t do another dress this way if I can avoid it. I think I’ve decided that I’m going to drop my objection to having a front lace lining up on both a kirtle and a gown

The skirt at 4 panels was sufficient to go around me but did not give me sufficient pleats across the center back. Also, since it was barely sufficient to go around me the cloth pulled at the side splits causing them to gap a bit. I disliked this so I added a panel 30″ wide to the center back. In future I think I’ll increase the skirt to 6 panels which should have the same effect though it will take a bit more fabric. That pegs this sleeveless kirtle at taking a bit under 5 yards of modern width fabric (~60″ wide). NOTE: this dress does not include sleeves.. so that 5 yards does not include enough fabric to make sleeves.

My skirt cutting pattern worked.. but it needed to be modified. The panels turned out WAY too long. I ended up cutting 8″ off the bottom of every panel. I’ve shortened the panel length by 7 inches. The piecing was way too low. I modified the angle of the panel so that the piecing should occur just about half way down the panel. This has the outcome that the bottom of the skirt will be even wider than it currently is.

For both the skirt and the bodice I used a bag lining because it seemed like the thing to do. It seems that flat lining may have been the more common method. I may try that for the next skirt. At the very least it would mitigate the annoyance that occurred when cutting the hem.


5 yds 60 inch wide Worsted Wool Suiting Hannah Brown $23.90 ($4.79/yd + $0 S&H) from Fabric.com 4/24/2010
8 yds Softened Sand Shell IL019 Linen $52.92 ($4.55/yd + S&H) from fabric-store.com 3/22/2014
1 yd Hemp Linen Canvas $27.82 (19.25/yd + S&H) from Dharma Trading 8/18/2015
45 inches black medium cotton velveteen $13.11 (10.49/yd) from Joanne’s 1/15/2016

12 aiglets from Etsy by Livingston Jewelers $29 ($24 + S&H) 2/1/2016


Continuous Bias Tape Making http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/02/continuous-bias-binding-tutorial/

Binding a quilt edge http://www.mccallsquilting.com/mccallsquilting/articles/Quilt_Binding___Sewing_Binding_to_Quilt

How to bind an inside corner http://thecraftyquilter.com/2013/06/how-to-bind-an-inverted-corner/

Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion – the Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620, London: Macmillian, 1985. Print.

Johnson, Caroline, The Queen’s Servants: Gentlewoman’s dress at the accession of Henry VIII, United Kingdom: Fat Goose Press, 2011. Print.

**I’m anxiously waiting for the Tudor Tailors to put out their next book, Typical Tudor. I suspect that a lot of the information in that book will cause me to reconsider some of my design choices for this kirtle again. Regardless I’m not going to just sit on my hands until the book is published(eta mid-2016). So viola, my best guess based on what I know so far.

8 thoughts on “In pursuit of a better kirtle

  1. I love your sassy figure drawing 🙂
    I must say, I always go wool outter layer, linen lining. It's like some wierd sort of magic combo.

    Your notes on the bodice fitting are really helpful and enlightening, thank you for sharing them 🙂

  2. Pingback: Friday Five – Prodigal blogger returns « Results Typical
  3. I have no words for how much I hate side lacing. getting into a side laced frock leaves me in such a rage I’m not fit to be around people for the rest of the day, which kind of defeats the object

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