A 16th century doublet/wams and skirt from the Tailor's book of Enns


Made in 2015

In August I got Marion McNealy's and Katherine Barich's excellent new book Drei Schnittbücher in the mail.  It is, for those who do not already know this the publication and analysis of three Austrian tailor's handbooks which have been preserved in manuscript from from the second half of the 16th century. These handbooks were for personal use, unlike the more well-known Alcega's Pattern book , which was printed.

Most of the patterns are for men's clothing, but there are enough women's patterns in it to satisfy me. And especially there is a pattern that contradicts everything that we though that we knew about 16th century tailoring: it actually has darts from below the bust to the waist, to help with shaping!

This I of course had to try. I have had a piece of dark coffe brown wool set aside for a doublet for years, and a lovely passementerie trim in a lighter shade of the same colour to use on it, so I started making a pattern based on the shape in the Tailor's book and on my body, which unfortunately doesn't conform to any standards: narrow shoulders, wide rib cage that widens drastically under the bust, large bust and waist, long torso and short arms.  Since I'm used to my body and had earlier patterns to work from it wasn't too difficult though. You can see the darts clearly in this photo:

In this photo I am wearing my blue gown under it and the bust shape of those two garments are reasonably alike. In the top photos I'm wearing a bodice that flattens the bust more, which gives more wrinkles on the wams. I also tugged it too far down and didn't look in the mirror before taking the photos.

A bonus was the sleeve pattern, where the puff sleeves were made up from four pieces and the lower sleeves from two pieces. You see, one problem with the wool fabric was that it had a couple of moth holes spread over it, but since the sleeves were made from so many pieces I was actually able to cut them from undamaged parts of the wool - I never thought that I would have enough fabric for sleeves!

The wams is all hand sewn, where two layers, wool and unbleached linen, are treated as one when sewing it together.It is then lined with blue silk that was a remnant that I had. There wasn't enought to line the puffed sleeves, so they only have linen as lining.

It has no boning and is closed with hooks and eyes.

This was made very soon after the book arrived, but I also wanted to try out the skirt pattern that went with the wams. Add to that the fact that I had totally fallen in love with the striped skirt in this water colour from 1575 by Lucas de Heere, showing women from Saxony.

At least I'm interpreting it as striped horizantally and the vertical lines being the folds of the skirt.

I wanted to use stash fabric and i didn't have any good striped wool fabric, so I settled for a checked wool, and placed the dominant, red stripe in the check horizontally.

This shows the inside, with the strip of murrey wool that I used to finish and stabilize the hem. The whole skirt is hand sewn with linen thread and fastens with a hook and eye at the side. There's an unpleated part in the centre front and then it's knife pleated, with the pleats being closer in the back.


In the photos above I am wearing a hand sewn bodice from worsted wool lined with linen. Generally I adhere to the belief that most women's clothes were sewn together at the waist in the 16th century - not a separate bodice and skirt - all preserved garments indicate that this was the case. 
    However, there are also enough sources from the German or German-influenced parts of Europe that show or suggest that sometimes women wore outfits with a separate bodice and skirt. One is the painting of washing women in the Harley manuscript of the alchemical text Splendor Solis, dated to 1582, and made in Germany. Here you see a woman in a black bodice with a blue skirt:

Source: British Library

Outside the German areas there is also at least one English image showing lower class women in a separate bodice and skirt, from the painting Fete at Berdmondsey, by Joris Hoefnagel, painted ca 1569 (link to wikimedia).

There must be more of them, but this was enough for me to decide that I could make a sleeveless bodice to wear with a separate skirt, though I will probably mostly wear it as a support layer when I'm wearing a wams/doublet too.

 I didn't want to make a corset, I have those, though none that currently fits me - working on that - what I wanted a bodice that would give a good, German type, curvy silhouette, while still being supportive and shaping. Since the bodice of my folk costume by far is the best example that I have of that I decided to use a modifed version of that pattern.
    The folk costume's bodice is from c. 1800 and has a very narrow back piece, which is typical of the period. Since the side seams had started to migrate backwards in the 16th century, but not that far I made the back pieces slightly bigger, an the front pieces smaller. I also added som in the front, because I am fatter now than when I made that bodice, even if I can still wear it, and I made it just slightly longer.

I really like the shape that it gives me, though it isn't perfect for the brown wams. I guess I will have to make  another wams later ;)

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