Waisted Kirtle

Midnight Blue Waisted Kirtle

Jean Clouet, Portrait of Charlotte of France, c.1522 (via). This portrait of Princess Charlotte, daughter of King Francis I, was painted about a year before she died at age 8.

A while back I was wondering around at an event and I saw someone wearing the most gorgeous blue dress. The blue was so deep it looked black until they stepped into the sun at which point it was obvious that it was actually blue. I asked them about the dress (and the fabric) and they said that they’d bought it from a merchant that sells clothes out of Europe. I was downcast. I had hoped to be able to easily find that color so I could make a dress out of it. Later I mentioned this color to a friend of mine and she pointed me at the color called “Dress Blue” at Fabrics-store.com. I ordered up 5 yards of it. It was indeed the same type of blue. I had intended to make it up into a Kentish coat with gold silk edges but the more I looked at it the more I knew I really wanted to make a kirtle out of it. So I tucked the fabric into the back of my stash.

When I started pulling together fabric for my next kirtle this was my second choice. Initially I was going to use some cranberry linen.. but as I thought about that cranberry dress and thought about the binding I planned to use on the bodice it occurred to me that using black silk binding on a “dress blue” kirtle would (hopefully) emphasize the blue-ness of the kirtle. So that’s how I’ve ended up here.

Despite the fact that the color is called “dress blue” I plan to refer to this as “midnight blue”. Honestly calling it my “dress blue dress” seems silly. I doubt the color is a truly period choice. I know that black garments were coveted in our period of study.. but I’m not sure that “really really dark blue” would have been an appropriate choice (I think it’s a little too blue to be good for a noble.. though it may have been an appropriate color for a middle class woman who couldn’t afford the true black). That said, I like it so I’m going with it.

It probably would also be more appropriate to use a light weight wool instead of linen outer fabric. I used wool in my Hannah brown kirtle and it works relatively well.. but when temperatures get over 90F it’s just too hot (for me) to wear wool. I live in California… which is in climate more like southern Italy than northern Brittany. So I’m using linen.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m trying out Mathew Gnagy’s bodice pattern. I’m kind of winging it since I’m too impatient for his next two books to come out. I want a dress now, not in 6 months. So I’ll probably get some things “wrong” (since I’m kind of making it up as I go along). I just think of it as “leaving plenty of room for future learning”.


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(though I believe it would have a different neckline). The type of kirtle described here is appropriate for the upper class in the late 15th/early 16th century (eg. 1480s-1540s possibly earlier/later). This is later (1540s and later) sometimes referred to as the petticoat.


Waisted kirtle
Fitted supportive bodice
Square Shaped neckline front and back with narrow straps
Center back lace closure
Minimal point at the bottom front of the bodice.
Bodice edges bound with black silk taffeta
Skirt attached to bodice
Skirt floor length in flats
Skirt pleated in center back
Skirt made up of pieced panels of period widths.
Skirt center front straight-to-straight (with no seam). Center back bias-to-bias.
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)

Materials and Costs:

  • “Dress blue” colored linen (hereafter referred to as “midnight blue” because “dress blue dress” is confusing to me)(11/10/2016 5 yds IL019 DRESS BLUE Softened from Fabric-store.com $7.64/yd+S&H) $38.20
  • Medium weight light-colored linen lining in the bodice (3/22/2014 1 yd IL019 SAND SHELL Softened $ 4.55/yd) ~$6
  • Bodice edges bound with black silk taffeta (8/11/2017 1 yd Jet black silk taffeta from PureSilks.us $21/yd+S&H) $23
  • Eyelet facing with gold silk taffeta (<1 yd Tawney silk taffeta from PureSilks.us $20/yd+S&H) ~$5
  • One layer of linen canvas interlining in bodice (1 yd IL095 NATURAL – 100% Linen – Canvas Weight (10.2 oz/yd2) fabric-store.com $10.82/yd+S&H) $18.85
  • Wool felt hem stiffener


  • Finalize bodice pattern
  • Finalize skirt pattern
  • Wash outer fabric
  • (done) Wash linen lining fabric
  • Wash linen canvas interlining fabric
  • Cut out the bodice interlining (adjust edges) (1 yard linen canvas)
  • Cut out the bodice outer fabric. (1 yard midnight blue linen)
  • Cut out the bodice lining (adjust edges). (1 yard natural linen)
  • Cut out the skirt fabric. (3 yds midnight blue linen).
  • Cut out bias black silk taffeta binding (1 yd cut to 2″ wide bias strips).
  • Cut out bias gold silk taffeta eyelet facings (2 strips 2″ wide length of the bodice back opening).
  • Piece the skirt fabric pieces (french seams)
  • Connect skirt pieces(french seams)
  • baste bodice outer fabric and interlining pieces together. Big basting stretching outside fabric onto canvas. Trim canvas.
  • baste side seams together. Back stitch, pick stitch the seam open from the outside.
  • baste shoulder seams together. Back stitch, pick stitch the seam open from the outside.
  • Add gold eyelet facing to the center back. Stitch 1/8″ from opening then shallow cross stitch to affix the other side to the interlining (most of it will be covered with the lining.
  • Add black binding to back edge, neck opening and armseye of bodice.
  • Work eyelets on center back opening.
  • Attach skirt to bodice.
  • Attach lining inside bodice.
  • Hang dress for a few days to even up the hem.
  • Mark hem.
  • Cut out wool felt hem stiffiner.
  • Add wool felt hem stiffiner to hem.
  • Cut hem.
  • Add bias tape or wool flannel facing to hem

Progress Pictures:

Learnings(AKA Trials and Tribulations):

In order to make the kirtle pattern I needed to make Bara tapes for my chest (C), Waist(W) and Length(L). I measured them out as below and then marked each one of them with the scaled bara measurements as laid out in “Modern Maker Vol. 1”.

C: Chest at fullest point—tape held level and over the undergarment, 46″
W: Waist at the narrowest point, 41″
L: (from p.21 of “The Modern Maker Vol. 1“) I’m 5’5” so my L tape is 34″*** Note these measurements are updated below.

After flip-flopping about it I’ve decided I want to do a center back lace. I believe if I tighten/loosen the lace from the waist up (and set it up so the lace cannot be fully pulled out of the eyelets) then I should be able to lace myself into my dress. I -hated- the side laces on the Hannah dress.. and by default the kirtle pattern Mr. Gnagy shared has no center seam. After tossing the idea about for a while I’ve decided to try it with no center front lace and instead just go for the back lace. We’ll see how that works out.

I used my sparkly new tapes and followed Mathew Gnagy’s posted bodice pattern on paper and then on some cotton. I wanted to test the fit and good thing I did. Either I did something wrong or his bodice has something marked wrong. The test bodice was WAY too big. I’ll have to spend a while futzing with the pattern before I can move on.

I will also note, it would be nice/convenient if the three tapes were different color so it would be easier to tell them apart when they’re sitting on the table in a pile.

{a while later}
It turns out I did something wrong. I will be adjusting my pattern and go from there.

“how two-quarters+two thirds = one bara”
Side-note: Eyeballing the measurements it looked like Mathew Gnagy had gotten something awfully wrong. I posted on his page (he’s fabulous by the way) and although he’s up to his eyeballs in editing his next book he took the time to straighten me out.

The width of the back at the neck is marked at “iQ” (1/4 of a bara – 1 dedo) and the front at the neckline is marked “it” (1/3 of a bara – 1 dedo). When I eyeballed this at first it looked like something had to be off.. 1/4 +1/4 + 1/3 + 1/3 does not equal 1. It turns out it does if you mark it up as dedos.

There are 48 dedos in a bara.
2x( iQ ) = 2(11) = 22 dedo
2x( it ) = 2(15) = 30 dedo
So the bodice at the neckline is 52 dedo.
There are 6 seams. Each seam allowance is 1/2 a dedo. So the final bodice is 52 dedo – 3 dedo = 49 dedo. ie, 1 bara + 1 dedo of ease.

While mulling over the Alcega F.60 pattern it occurred to me that if I don’t want to have a center front seam on the skirt of my kirtle, and the center front is done straight-to-straight then the easiest way to do this would be to cut the two front pieces of the skirt on a fold AND NOT CUT THE FOLD. This feels like a facepalm moment. I should have realized this a lot sooner. Regardless I’ll be cutting the panels this way for the center front.

That said. When I measured my chest measurement before I wore my most supportive sports bra and measured across the widest part of my breasts with no compression. This means that even after I re-cut my first attempt at the bodice it was way too loose to be supportive. I redid my measurements and found that I could comfortably compress down to 42″ for my chest measurement.

C: Chest at fullest point—tape held level and over the undergarment pulled tight and supportive, 42″
W: Waist at the narrowest point, 41″
L: (from p.21 of “The Modern Maker Vol. 1″) I’m 5’5″ so my L tape is 34″

I redrew the bodice and made new pattern pieces.

I’m a little bit weirded out that my bust is 42″ and my waist is 41″ and I wear at least a DDD bra. Something seems… odd. Ah well. I’ll make up a test bodice and go from there.

Very frustrating night. I made two tapes wrong, then made a pattern wrong.. then made it wrong again. At the end of the night the only thing that had been accomplished is that I’d successfully made a correctly measured 42″ tape.

Helpful hint: After you make your tape, go back and double check that d = your bara /12 and that M is your bara/2. Maybe a few others just to make sure. Getting the tape wrong will mess EVERYTHING else up and lead to large amounts of frustration.

I let the project sit in the corner over the weekend and think about what it had done wrong (that and I was out of town so I couldn’t work on it). Tonight I drew out new pattern pieces and only messed them up once (messed up and recovered before I cut out the piece).

I was right that having the chest and waist measurements so close is causing weirdness. On the front bodice piece the top measurement is slightly smaller than the bottom measurement. I double and triple checked the math. I think I’ll go ahead and make up a sample of these pattern pieces to see how they work.

I suspect my waist measurement could be 1″ smaller.. but I did the math on it and even if I change it like that the top of the piece will still be wider than the bottom of the piece.

C: 42, W: 41, L 34
Tried on this version it continues to be too big across the bust. It’s getting closer but still needs to be smaller. I also noticed that using L of 34 makes this impossibly short-waisted. In fact with the top of the kirtle where I expect it to be the bottom of the kirtle is barely hitting me at bra-strap level. I will adjusted my measurements again and cut it out again.

I accidentally used 38″ for my L.. but after I’d finished the patterns I decided to just go with it to see if that helped the bodice bottom hit at a better level.

C:40, W:38, L: 38
Finally this is too tight. Well ok.. I can still squeeze into it but it’s doing unflattering things to my boobs. Also, the bottom of the bodice is still hitting too high. I expected the bodice bottom to be about 3 inches lower. I’m uncertain if this is my modern eye at work.. or if I’m long-waisted.. or if the L calculation should be different for women than for men. Next iteration: Add 1 inch to Chest, add 3″ to the bodice length (unsure how this will effect the L measurement). Although I could take the W measurement in 1 inch I suspect that will do unpleasant things for sitting and eliminate the ease it currently has so for the next iteration I’m going to stick with W at 38”. The straps look impossibly narrow to my eye but I’ll stick with them for now too.

I also had an inkling of a flash of insight that the stretching/shrinking that I saw indicated on one of the pattern drawings may be there in order to encourage the flesh of the boob to stay elevated instead of dipping deep into the conic bodice shape. I’m still a bit mystified about how to do that. I “get” the shrinking on the outside of the strap.

C:41, W:38, L: 46


kirtle Bodice Pattern:

I have to go in to work a bit early this morning…so I only had time to work up one set of patterns, and even these have a little further to go…but I thought I would share anyway.

Posted by The Modern Maker on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

kirtle basting and stretching/shrinking:
Pattern stretch/shrink https://www.facebook.com/themodernmaker/posts/1005146482900369
Fitting the outer fabric to the stretch at the armseye https://www.facebook.com/themodernmaker/photos/a.572485372833151.1073741828.552909578124064/1005612566187094/?type=3
basting outer to canvas https://www.facebook.com/themodernmaker/photos/a.572485372833151.1073741828.552909578124064/1005612679520416/?type=3
hem https://www.facebook.com/themodernmaker/posts/1006292372785780

kirtle weekend (May 2017):

Estudios del Cuerpo Baxo/Studies of the Cuerpo Baxo 1618 https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.738769032871450.1073741833.552909578124064&type=3
Skirt cutting pattern http://www.houseffg.org/belphoebe/Diaries/Margot-Valois.html
“Drafting the Spanish Doublet” by Beatriz Aluares de la Oya/ Beatrice Sidney of Spanish Seamstress

Sew4Home Making Bias Binding


Alcega, Juan de. Tailor’s Pattern Book, 1589. Facsimile. Ed. J. L. Nevinson. New York: Costume & Fashion Press, 1999.

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

**I’m still anxiously waiting for the Tudor Tailors to put out their next book, Typical Tudor. I’m also now anxiously waiting for The Modern Maker to put out his two next books, Pattern Manual: 1580-1640 and Women’s kirtle. I suspect that a lot of the information in these books will cause me to reconsider some of my design choices for this kirtle yet again. Regardless I’m not going to just sit on my hands until the books are published. So viola, my best guess based on what I know so far (or what I can surmise based on sneak peaks from the authors).

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