Conjectural late 15th/early 16th century women’s kirtle pattern draft

This pattern draft will create a woman’s late 15th/16th century sleeveless unboned supportive kirtle. The bodice is made up of four pieces, the skirt is made up of four pieces. The bodice seams are at the side (as opposed to side-back). The bodice ends at about the bottom rib (natural waist). The center front seam of the bodice is curved.

One of my goals with this pattern was to create a draft usable for making a self-supporting bodice that you could draft and then fit without requiring a second expert to help you and easily get a flattering supportive bodice. To that end at least 98% of the fitting on this will be isolated to the center front seam. In most cases this will be the ONLY seam you will need to adjust. In some rare cases you may need to make slight adjustments to the side seams (to eliminate some pesky side boob) or to the center back seam (for swayback, dowager hump or scoliosis).

When drafted the pattern includes 1/2″ seam allowance on all edges. Because of the tight fit this will need some type of closure (rather than pulling it on over your head).  For women, on a supportive layer I recommend you use a spiral lace (¼” from edge, ¾” apart see:  I prefer the lace on center front but you could put it on the side or back as you prefer.  If you already have a supportive layer (whether through a kirtle or by using a modern bra) then you should draft the over dress/gown with the chest tape just skimming the supported layer.  This over gown can be closed with buttons. I do NOT recommend using buttons on the closure of a support layer (though buttons on the sleeve of the support layer is plausible in some time/places). Make sure to adjust your pattern to have proper seam allowance to accommodate the type of closure you plan to use on the final garment.

I recommend you make a mockup in heavy linen to adjust the fit and determine the neckline. I also recommend you sew up the front and add a zipper at the center back of your mockup to make it easy to try on the mockup. Most/all of the fitting adjustments will be made on the center front seam.

The bodice neckline in the pattern is intentionally conservative.  You will need to adjust this based on the style of dress you are hoping to recreate.  When adjusting the neckline make small changes. Making too drastic of a neckline change too quickly may render your mockup unusable.

The patterns provided are drawn using the bara notation described in The Modern Maker book series.  Please see “Bara notation” section for more information. This notation shows up in some tailoring manuals from the end of the 16th century.  I suspect this notation for sharing a pattern was not used in the 14th/15th century. This draft is NOT directly based off of a period pattern. That said, I’ve found the bara notation to be an elegant way to share scalable patterns.

v2 updated 7/2022

Start with the back. Layout the draft. Then layout the front.
On the front on the baseline the measurement of the back-side seam is used between C-½Q and the dotted line near the bottom of the bodice (the bottom of the side seam).
From that mark you should measure up L-d to find the approximate location where the bottom of the breast curve should start.
On the black dotted line near the bottom of the bodice the waist measurement is distributed around a pivot point.
Use the C tape to mark at C-s½ from the baseline (the center of the waist). This is the pivot point and is approximately the center point of this pattern piece.
Change to the W tape. From the pivot point you just made at C-s½ measure back towards the baseline W-s½.
From the pivot point measure away from the baseline to W-o½.
Label the pattern pieces (name, date, measurements, ½” seam allowance on all edges)

The red dashed line should be copied to your mockup. In fitting it’s important to keep this line under your bosom and on-grain as much as possible. If you are especially endowed you may need to adjust the front strap length a lot. When you do that, make sure the red line stays under your boobs, right on your ribs.

This pattern as drafted should get you 90% there. For the last 10% of the fitting you should read The last 10%

The Skirt portion

This skirt is intended for a dress which has a waist seam.
– This is a four panel skirt pattern.
– For the front two panels, lay the straight edge out on a fold to eliminate the seam down the center front of the dress. This should put the edge of the fabric somewhere around the location of the dashed line. This dashed line will be a selvedge edge. If you also cut the triangle on the selvedge then these two pieces can be joined selvedge to selvedge without requiring additional seam finishing (though personally I would prick stitch the seams open). When laying out your pattern make sure the dashed line is not too low on the edge or it looks like you added tiny little gores to the dress. I tend to aim for the same to hit half way up that edge (to 100% of that edge depending on fabric width and the desired fullness of the skirt).
– Even though the center front is cut on a fold you may need to open up the top of the fold to allow for enough room to take the dress on/off. I usually use about 4-6 inches.
– When cutting this pattern I would cut the center front on a fold (which is then straight edge to straight edge. This would cause the front side seam to be on the bias which I would then prevent that from stretching by putting the side back seam on the straight. I would put the center back seams both on the bias. This can cause the center back seam to stretch.. but that is the least inconvenient location. It also makes a really nice flutter that is even on both sides when you walk quickly.
– When adding this to the bodice I will add this flat across the front of the kirtla nd then add an inverted box pleat at the center back and knife pleats on either side to take up any excess width.

Bara Method Notation
The bara method of pattern notation is described in “The Modern Maker” book.  As such I believe the bara method as described constitutes Mathew Gnagy’s Intellectual Property and I am not willing to fully describe the method in my handouts or on my website.  If you do not have a copy of one of the books and you are unfamiliar with the notation you can use the following key to help draw out these patterns.

C – Chest measurement with the tape pulled tight but not pinching. For women this should be with the tape pulled as tight as you want to be supported by a self-supporting dress that does NOT have a bra on under it (taken over sports bra/non-padded/non-underwire bra preferably)
W – Waist measurement pulled tight without pinching (ideally over skin with nothing modifying the measurement).  For women this is the minimum measurements UNDER your breasts where your bra band sits (pulled tight without pinching)
L – half of your height in inches
H – hip measurement at widest point.

The measurements on the patterns are read like roman numerals. 
Qi = Q + i
iQ = Q – i

Each measurement on the pattern is represented as a proportion of one of the above measurements.  To find the correct measurement to create the pattern you will need to multiply the correct factor (listed in the table) by the measurement of the person for whom you are drafting the pattern.  So C-iiQ would be the chest measurement (C) multiplied by 0.2083333333 (0.25-0.02083333333-0.02083333333). 

Believe me when I say that using the bara method as described in the books to draft these patterns is MUCH easier than using the mathematical factors listed in the table.  I cannot emphasize how much I recommend buying at least one of the books from the Modern Maker book series.

If you are at all interested in late period clothing I highly recommend you get a copy of Modern Maker vol 2 which includes men’s and women’s scaled patterns for many different articles of clothing from tailoring manuals published from 1589-1640.

Long Story Short: Buy the book Modern Maker vol. 2 Just do it! You will thank me.

Feature image from Missale Pictavense (BnF Latin 873, fol. 21r) ca. 1475-1500. More images:

v1, the original version of the draft
v1 – This is the old version

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