Sunday, 24 July 2011

Creating Tudor Costumes for Children

I'm not the best at creating tutorials, but I wanted to provide some information that I have gleaned recently in putting together Tudor costumes for my children. There isn't a whole lot of information available on the web about creating period-accurate Tudor costumes, so I hope this bridges the gap a bit for anyone who might need it!

The Tudors were a family that ruled England and Wales from 1485 to 1603. The most famous royals in this family tree are probably King Henry VIII

and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I

I am no expert on Tudor fashion. There are lots of Wikipedia entries and such on these topics, so I did a cursory google search and checked out a few children's library books on the Tudors to get a vague idea of what I wanted.

First of all, I was determined to spend as little money as possible on these costumes. They were required for a visit to a historic house, so the kids could have a hands-on experience with history. Fun! But not something that you want to spend £££ for costuming three children, really.

After digging through my to-be-donated pile (thank goodness I never actually donated those old clothes!) and my stash of fabric, I came up with the following:

3 white shirts
1 pair of black velour trousers
1 plain black skirt
1 patterned black/white/brown skirt
1 heavy off-white tablecloth
1 white pillow case
a length of blue shiny velour fabric
1 black necklace, cheap costume type jewelry
3 feathers

All clothing was in adult sizes.

After looking through my options, I decided to make a fancy costume for my son (a rich Tudor, perhaps a merchant of some kind?) and two plain costumes for my daughters (poor servants). The girls were a bit disappointed when they realised they weren't going to be dressed like Elizabeth I, but after explaining to them that my resources were limited and that they have mounds of frilly, shiny dressing up clothes and their brother didn't have much of anything, they graciously accepted their fate!

I only had a week to put together these costumes, so the descriptions of how I altered the clothing is definitely more for costumes (ie, don't look to closely!) rather than for daily wear. If I were cutting down an adult shirt into a child's size, for instance, I would have cut the sleeves off and re-attached them to a smaller shirt instead of the rough-and-ready method I used!

I also heavily relied on my pinking shears throughout the costume making process, because I wanted to limit the number of hems I had to sew. Definitely don't look too closely....!


A Rich Tudor Merchant

First things first, the shirt! Of the 3 white shirts in my posession, this shirt was the "fanciest". It has a faint striping to the fabric, and already had ties on the sides to cinch the fabric in the waist. However, it was very, very big on him!

Okay, so to bring the shoulders in more, I used a series of large pleats at the back of the neck:

This helped the shirt have a more "ready to grow into" look rather than a "ready to fall off" look!

Next step was to bring the sleeves in. I don't have any pictures of this process, but if you imagine flipping the shirt inside out and sewing along the inside seam of the sleave and down into the waist, using the original seam as a guideline, you'll get the general idea. I had to tweak this process several times in order to get the best fit for my bean-pole child. The sleeves still ended up being puffy, but that was what I was after.

I cut the sleeves shorter (with the pinking shears), removing the cuffs entirely. I also cut the bottom hem off the shirt to shorten it for him.

This is the final product. I added a bit of elastic around the new "cuffs" of the shirt, to give it a lacy, blousy effect under his jacket. If you'll scroll back up to the picture of Henry VIII, you'll see a peak of white floofy sleeve poking out of his jacket at the cuff.

The trousers-slash-shorts-slash-pantaloons were totally made up by me. I had a vague notion of what I wanted (kind of like these), so I aimed my scissors at my black velour trousers and got to work. In order to make them roughly my son's size, I used a pair of his trousers, folded in half and laid on top of the fabric, in order to cut around them. I used a pretty sneaky short-cut by cutting the shorts out of the trousers but keeping the inside seams intact. Essentially, the crotch of the Tudor trousers is the same as the original track pants. Less sewing! Sweet!

After cutting the Tudor shorts to shape, I decided I wanted a bit more flounce to them so I added a strip of blue velour fabric to each side. This is how they looked pre-sew.

I measured his waist and added elastic around the top and did a bit of jiggery-pokery with some elastic at the bottom. It was a botch job of sewing some narrow elastic into the shorts themselves and then adding a large, slightly baggy hem over the top. Result?

Ta-da! Not as poofy as I would have liked, but hey ho.

The next part of the costume I made was the hat. This turned out better than expected, especially since I messed up on it to begin with! I cut a large circle out of the black velour trousers, and a smaller circle out of the blue velour. Top Tip: Cut the circle MUCH bigger than you think you should. That sucker needs to be floppy! If I could do it again, I would make mine bigger, but I was happy enough with the result. My initial plan was to have a black hat with a blue band around the edge. Unfortunately, I cut a whole out of the blue circle for my son's head that was far, far too big. As the fabric I was using had a slight stretch to it, I didn't want to bother with elastic and just hoped to have a hat small enough to stretch snugly around his noggin. I was forced to add another bit of black inside the too-large blue whole, but all in all it turned out well.

So basically, you have your large circle and brim, sew them right sides together along the curve, flip right side out, and ta-da! One floppy Tudor hat. Whatever they're called.

I later went on to add three feathers from our craft supplies - one black, one dark blue and one light blue - but I don't have a closeup of that.

I was really pleased about the hat and danced around the house celebrating my cleverness. My son was not nearly as happy about it as I was, although he "quite" liked it.

Really, all that is left is the jacket. This aspect I was not quite so thrilled about, because up to now the things I had been making were mostly cut-to-size or throw-together type costume pieces, but the jacket had to be built up from scratch. I didn't have a pattern at all.

My idea was to have a close-fitting jacket that stopped directly at the waist with the puffy, pumpkin sleeves that good old Henry is sporting up there. This tutorial helped me get my head around the idea of a puffed sleeve, so after tracing around on of my son's suit jackets and adjusting the paper pattern slightly after measuring it against him, I went to work.

The jacket was made out of the blue velour fabric, which didn't have much structure. It was nice and soft, and perfect for the floofy trousers or floppy hat, but I felt that it just wouldn't stand up to being a jacket. So, always one to make more work for myself than necessary (remember, these costumes were only for one days' wear), I went to work to line the flipping thing as well! Argh!

I also added a black collar to the back of the jacket, and stuffed a bit of paper inside to make it stand up straight. (no, I don't plan on washing it any time soon!!)

There are no photos of this process, I'm afraid, but the jacket was relatively simple to construct since there weren't any buttons or tricky shoulder pads and collars. The tutorial for the puffy sleeves worked a treat and everything came together well.

Before the sleeves. I was very tempted to leave it at this point, but it just didn't look finished, y'know?

The sleeves were a bit too tight on him; in hindsight, I shouldn't have lined them at all. Ah well! They were meant to be slightly shorter in the wrist, better to showcase his floofy shirt cuffs!

In the end, I had to use a safety pin to keep the jacket from flopping open at the neckline, so I wish I'd done a button. I think it looks pretty awesome, even so!


Poor Tudor Servant Girls

For my girls, they really should have been wearing a kirtle. However, I had a limited amount of fabric to work with, and not enough to make a full-blown dress. So, to make it easier, I made long skirts and a little pseudo-corset out of the same fabric. I even sewed my own eyelets like this! Okay, not just like that, but the same idea. I used the ribbons in the velour trousers I cut up for my son's costume and the skirt I used for my daughter's costume to lace up the corset.

The white shirts were cut down similar to the way I did my son's, although with my smaller daughter, the adult shirt I used had 3/4 length sleeves and they ended up being a perfect length for my daughter's arms. I whacked the collars off both shirts to make them look totally shabby and took the sides in as much as possible.

The skirts were simple to construct and I followed existing seams as much as I could.

The aprons were made out of a pillow case, cut in half with pinking shears!

But the hats! Oh, I do love those hats. They are called coifs and they are so cute. Do have a look at that website I just linked, because it has very good instructions. I wish I could get away with wearing a coif on a daily basis. Modern fashion really needs to bring hat wearing back!

This is when she realises that being a Tudor servant isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"I don't really have to scrub clothes by hand, do I?"

"Work, minions!"


I hope that description (rather than actual tutorial) is helpful in some small way! I am happy to answer any questions you may have, so don't shy away from asking.


Maxine said...

Fantastic tips thankyou very much. Maxine. (Mum needing a costume idea.)

kate said...

You know what that was the best i wouldnt be happier thanks.