Once again I was asked to play Queen Elizabeth at Stronghold Olde English Faire. This is getting to be a habit! After the last two years, I think I am finally starting to get the hang of this queen gig. One of the things that made me a bit crazy was patrons coming up to the big group of people all focused around the woman in the big, bright red and gold dress and asking "Which one of you is the queen?" *Sigh* Apparently Americans can't handle the idea of someone being the queen who isn't wearing a purple dress and a crown.......Well alrighty then- purple dress and a crown coming up!

I found some really great plum purple damask on Fabric.com, it was a good enough price that I could afford to buy enough for hanging sleeves. I love hanging sleeves. I decided that the fabric would pretty much stand on it's own, and that I didn't want to risk clashing with lots of other colors so the trim would be purple, gold, and black. 

As before, I went back to the portraits of Elizabeth for costume details.  I found this one which helped me justify the long, straight hanging sleeves.




I knew I couldn't afford a real crown so I looked for a design for a tiara that wouldn't scream 'Beauty Pageant'. I found these miniatures which had tiara type crowns that I thought I might be able to find something close to.



I also found a sketch by Federigo Zuccaro that showed Elizabeth wearing a jeweled headpiece with a veil and a closed skirt with large decorative buttons........hmmmmmmmm.....I was liking this design!



As usual I had not enough time to make the dress so I decided that a decorated forepart wasn't going to happen, plus I had these great gold and rhinestone buttons that were looking for an over-the-top dress to go on. Sounds like the perfect excuse to use them!

So to begin the dress I had the fabric, a few design elements I like, and some really impressive rhinestone buttons.....it was starting to come together!



I had also seen some trim on Cheeptrims.com that had gold fleur-de-lis running both vertically and horizontally so I could have the design run upright all over the gown! I love that! 

The sleeves had to be really good because....well, it's Queen Elizabeth!....and without a forepart I needed to make sure the visual interest was there. Once again, on Fabric.com, I found a silk blend with purple and gold stripes- that seemed like a good place to start.



But as nice as the fabric was, it wasn't quite nice enough. So I bought some narrow trim in gold, purple, and red from Calontir Trim and applied the trim to the edges of the stripes. Boy, was that alot of sewing!!!! I glued the trim down with Fabric-Tac- a quick drying, clear fabric glue- to be sure that the little buggers would stay put with all that sewing!



Now that's starting to look like something! Never doubt the power of
embellishment! I had decided to make a back opening sleeve- where the seam runs up the back of the arm over the elbow instead of running up under the arm to the arm pit.



But even all that trim wasn't enough to make it look the way I wanted it to....so I added rhinestones! Actually they are Swarovski crystals in gold rimsets, and they add that extra element of sparkle that makes a piece really come alive. 



I finished the sleeves by lining them in a plum purple cotton and running a line of metallic gold cord along the seam and wrist edge to give it a nice finish. I used more of the gold, purple, and red trim to make the ties along the top edge- I'll finish them off a little later in the process.



For the bodice, I decided to use the classic square neck French/English style. To match the design of the skirt, I decided to run two lines of the vertical fleur-de-lis trim up the front with the smaller of the rhinestone buttons down (up?) the center. The horizontal  trim will go across the neck opening. The fleur-de-lis will be embellished with Swarovski crystals in citrine and amethyst. The gold and black braid trim will give the fleur-de-lis trim more visual weight and add some texture to the trim design.



Although I will be wearing Elizabethan stays (otherwise known as a corset) with this dress, I still wanted to be sure that the front of the bodice was nice and smooth so I put several lines of boning down the front. I used cable ties for the boning. Yep, the kind you get at the fix-it store and then use to hold stuff together. Those cable ties. There's some controversy in the historic costuming world over what to use as boning for various purposes. For much of corset history whalebone (baleen) was used and it's wonderfully suited to this use, being firm but flexible. It's a bit like finger nails and flexes in 3 dimensions- back and forth and side to side. However baleen is now quite rightly banned from general commerce because you have to kill whales to get it- that's not a good thing- so whalebone is no longer an option. The most common modern type of boning is metal stays in either 1/4" or 1/2" inch widths, painted white. These are very firm and do a great job of controlling.....um....flesh, but they flex only forward and back and not side to side- this is not the same as whalebone. As a result I've seen women get rubbed raw around the waist (something we call 'corset bite') from the stiff metal bones. Ouch! The other type found relatively easily today is called spiral boning. It is several thin strands of metal braided or wound in a spiral fashion then finished with a metal tip. These have the 3 dimensional movement but aren't quite as good at controlling what you want to control and since the metal isn't coated with anything, you have to be very careful washing it so it doesn't begin to rust. In my humble opinion, cable ties actually do the best job of simulating the effect of whalebone, so I use it. Other's opinions may vary.



I started out the overskirt by sewing the vertical version of the fleur-de-lis trim down both sides of the front. Although the skirt will never open, I wanted it to look like it could.



The horizontal version of the fleur-de-lis was sewn all around the hem......there's alot of hem!. I put the Swarovski crystals on the trim before I sewed it down, that way the prongs on the back of the rim sets are covered and there's less chance of them snagging anything or getting bent accidentally and coming loose. It's also easier to deal with setting the crystals if you aren't wrestling with 7 yards of heavy fabric!



Then the black and gold braid trim was sewn on both sides of the fleur-de-lis trim. That's six times sewing around the hem, if you've been keeping count......boy, was I dizzy by the time I was finished!

A Brief Tutorial On Cartridge Pleating

If you've been doing historical costuming for any length of time you've heard of cartridge pleating. Cartridge pleating is one of the best ways to attach a lot of fabric (or heavy fabric) to a smaller length of fabric (like a waistband). Once you see it, it's pretty obvious, but I've heard descriptions that left me confused and headachy. Here's my attempt at clarifying this process.

First: Finish off the top edge of your skirt. I like to put a wide facing along the top edge with a bit of interfacing to add stiffness. For Elizabethans, you are supposed to look like you have huge hips- it was the fashion. Then mark the top edge at regular intervals (I marked mine at one inch intervals)




Next take some really strong thread (carpet or upholstery thread is best, but two lengths of button thread will work too), make sure it matches the fabric as it will remain in place after the skirt is finished, and run it in and out thru the measured marks. The width between your marks will determine how big your pleats will be. If you are using relatively thin fabric you will want to make your marks fairly close together, if you are using a thick fabric you will need to make them farther apart. Also the more fabric you are trying to attach to a smaller area, the wider apart you will need to make your marks. Unfortunately much of this will be determined thru trial and error (see my first Queen Elizabeth dress diary where I initially made the pleats the wrong size for the fabric) or by experience and learning to eyeball it. Slowly draw the fabric along the gathering thread to make regular pleats.



At regular intervals on the finished waistband and the top edge of the skirt (before pleating) put large headed pins to mark where the two pieces of fabric should come together. I like to put pins at half, quarter, and eighths of the length and then match them up during the gathering process. Remember to leave several inches unpleated at the front of the skirt, especially if it's going to open in the front. The 3 or 4 pleats closest to the front opening should be smaller than the majority of the pleats too, this gives a smoother transition from flat front to pleated sides and back

Now take some more of your really strong thread and sew the point of the pleats to the previously finished waistband. Use a whip/overcast stitch and sew double thru each of the pleats and once between the pleats on just the waistband. I'm not sure why this is necessary but it seems to make the pleats stay in place better. If you have very tightly packed pleats, you will be making lots of tiny, close stitches! If you look at the photo, you will see, from left to right, how the pleats become more regular after they have been sewn onto the waistband.


When it's all done, it looks like this. The side with the facing where the pleats protrude is worn on the inside. I know that sounds obvious, but I am trying to make this idiot proof, because I don't want people making idiot mistakes the way I did the first couple of times I tried this. It's easy once you know the secret........And in case you are wondering, yes, you do have to sew most of this by hand. If anyone figures out how to sew the skirt to the waistband by machine, please let me know! Actually, it's not bad to do the sewing by hand, once you have all the prep work done and the pleats pinned to the waistband, you can throw in your favorite costume drama in the DVD player and sit and sew. It's kinda relaxing. Don't remove the gathering thread, it will help the pleats hang properly.




And here's what the skirt looked like before I got the big honkin' rhinestone buttons sewn on it.













Now the bodice, under sleeves, and skirt are finished, I just have to finish the hanging sleeves. I love hanging sleeves. I will admit that putting hanging sleeves on a French bodice was not typical of the period, but there are one or two portraits that show it. That's good enough for me!

These sleeves are designed to hang open. I couldn't close them if I wanted to. Many styles of hanging sleeve did actually close functionally... these are not them. I put the vertical fleur-de-lis trim along the front edges and the horizontal trim along the bottom along with the gold and black braid.




I lined the sleeve with an antique gold dupioni silk so that there will be some texture and shine but no additional pattern. There's a lot of pattern in the dress fabric and sleeves so I didn't want it to be too much.







I sewed the hanging sleeves into the shoulder of the bodice by hand. It's the best way to get a smooth seam and a good hang.










Here's what the sleeve looked like before sewing it into the bodice. The top curve goes just in front of the round of the shoulder and the bottom part of the curve goes under the arm.










Here's a preview of what the two sleeves will look like together. 














I took small gold filigree beads and tipped the ribbons on the under sleeves. They are subtle but give it a nice finished look without adding bulk.











Here's a close-up of what the two sleeves look like when worn together.












Of course, this still leaves what I will wear on my head. If you will remember back at the start of this, one of the thing which seemed to confuse the public was the lack of crown. I am now the proud owner of a rhinestone tiara- who would have thought it? I will wear it with dressed hair and an antique gold tissue veil. Think I'll look sufficiently queenly? 











And I know that you were all worried that I was sewing this without appropriate feline supervision. Not a problem. Isabeau was watching me every step of the way.







For anyone who has been following along, you know that this page is caught in a time warp. I finished this dress almost a year before this update was posted (9/13/05). Bad me. Therefore I am able to present to you the dress in it's finished form pretty much immediately.

I am pleased to report that the dress did everything I wanted it to do. People got the hint that the lady in the big purple dress and tiara was probably the queen. It looked good and was comfortable to wear. The only thing I want to do is make a pair of stays in eggplant purple silk with gold trim to finish off the outfit. Standby for another update......but please don't hold your breath!

Here's a full length shot of dress next to the gorgeous fireplace in the guardroom of the castle.








A closer shot on the stairway so you can see some of the details.













(To the tune of a famous Broadway show/movie- everybody sing....) 

Don't cry for me Stronghold Castle.....











Here's an outdoor shot with Katherine who plays Thomasina de Paris a woman who was actually in service to Elizabeth as a jester. Katherine is a complete hoot as Thomasina and does a great job of keeping everybody in stitches. It's so cool to have a Mini-Me!












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This page was last updated on 09/22/06.