"I Have Nothing To Wear!"








Phoenix Portrait


So there I was, minding my own business, it was the last hour of the last day of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and I was tidying up outside the Dirty Duck Inn. A woman walked up to me and asked me if I was Karen Bergquist. Being the basically truthful person that I am, I answered in the affirmative wondering if I was about to be handed a summons of some sort. It turned out that she was the organizer of a nice little Ran Faire at Stronghold Castle outside of Oregon, Illinois and she wanted to know if I'd be interested in being Queen Elizabeth at their Faire in October.  Well folks, if someone asks you if you want to be queen you say "YES!"......which is exactly what I did. About fifteen minutes after we had made basic plans and she walked away I realized "I have nothing to wear!!!!"

Begin the Costume Frenzy

Hilliard Miniature


Luckily, being the fabric hoarder that I am, I had lots of piles of costume makings just begging to be made into a fabulous Queen Elizabeth Gown. The only problem was, which one should I choose? I asked my friend Darren Fields, who was acting as Courtly Liaison with Stronghold, if he'd like me in rose quartz cut velvet as 'Cuddly Queen E' or if he'd like me in gold and ivory brocade with crimson velveteen sleeves and forepart as 'Majestic Queen E'. Darren said to go with 'Majestic' so ivory, gold and crimson it was! Now all I needed was those fairies from Cinderella to get friendly woodland creatures to make the dress for me and then I'd be all set. I had just over 4 weeks to complete a court Elizabethan from a complete stop. Zoiks!

The Inspiration

Darnel Portrait                    Black and White Portrait


I had the fabrics and color scheme worked out, but what to make it into? Well you can't go wrong referring back to the original source so I looked to portraits of Queen Elizabeth in the middle of her reign- 1570's thru early 1580's. Here are a few that I found particularly inspirational.

Getting Started


So I now had the fabrics, some ideas, and a cast iron deadline.  Definitely time to get to work! I talked to my friend Marie Post, who happens to have a terrific embroidery machine, about doing something interesting with the crimson velveteen. I knew that in it's original form it wasn't rich enough for Good Queen Bess. Marie stitched out several designs which would be appropriate and I picked one that I thought was especially good. You can see them stitched as samples on the black velveteen in the picture. After Marie finished with the embroidery, I planned to bead and jewel the individual motifs as an added layer of ornamentation and for some sparkle- I like sparkle!

Getting Started (continued)


I decided to do a 'French Bodice' style, which is the kind with the low, square neckline. According to Jean Hunisett in "Period Costumes for Stage and Screen", the bodice of the 'Phoenix Gown' was cut in one piece with all shaping done by the cut of the fabric. As the brocade fabric was so spectacular, I wanted to keep the design as intact as possible.

Getting Started (continued)


I very carefully worked out how to cut the bodice in one piece and arranged the pattern on the fabric so as to take full advantage of one of the 'pineapple' designs by placing it center front of the bodice.  The overskirt would be a standard open front style. I looked at the Darnley portrait of Elizabeth for inspiration on how to treat a strong brocade pattern. I saw that they didn't put lots of trimming and decoration over the brocade, just used some gold metal trim to accent the shape and give it a bit of finish, so I decided that I would use minimum trim on the body of the gown and let the fabric be the star.  With that, I had the basic design done.....now on to the sewing!

Building a Better Bodice


I cut the bodice out as one piece following the example of the Phoenix Portrait.  Although the fabric itself is fantastic, I thought that a bit of embellishment on the center front might make it just a bit better so I used some pailettes (period spangles) from Hedgehog Handworks (size 14), and accented the 'pineapple' pattern on the center front. That's those little dark spots you can see in the picture. Although you can't really tell in the photo, the pailettes add just the right amount of sparkle to the dress.

Building a Better Bodice (continued)


After sewing on the pailettes, I lined the bodice with 'Candlelight' color satin and put a line of antique gold trim around neckline. The 'Candlelight' color was a pretty good match for the ivory of the brocade.

Building a Better Bodice (continued)


I was still undecided on what kind of shoulder treatment to do, but I was leaning towards the sort of slashed and puffed rolls that can be seen in the Hilliard Miniature. I had tried the style once before but wasn't happy with the outcome. Luckily there had been a discussion recently on the Historic Costume List about doing padded rolls for shoulder treatments, so I took a few pointers from there. I began construction with a generously sized ellipse shape cut on the bias to provide as much stretch and movement as possible. Then I stuffed it to moderate firmness with fiber fill. Over that I put an even larger ellipse of 'Candlelight' satin to allow for puffing and fullness. Getting the satin to sit properly over the padded roll was a bit tricky and I had to do it by hand as the machine just couldn't handle all the bulk. Over that I put short lengths of brocade edged with the antique gold trim. These were already sewn in loops before I put them on the rolls. It was important to make them fit rather snuggly over the rolls so that the satin could puff out properly- it's the size difference that makes the puff! These too were sewn on by hand. There are just some tasks which must be done by hand even when one is trying to be speedy. I then sewed the rolls into the artsy (you guessed it) by hand.

Building a Better Bodice (cont.)


I had decided to make the bodice lace up the back even though the 'Phoenix Portrait' fastens up the front as I wanted to keep the brocade design as intact as possible. I used the period form of spiral lacing which calls for an uneven series of button holes alternating on each side. I chose to use button holes instead of the currently more common use of metal grommets as the metal grommets are (to my mind) very obtrusive (not to mention unauthentic) even when covered by matching thread, and since this was a bodice which would be worn over a corset, which would take most of the strain, the lacing holes shouldn't need to cope with too much tension. Because of the corset, the bodice has only a few bones in it- there are 6 in total. There are two 1/4 inch bones in the center front, one half in bone on either side of the center layer at an angle from wider at the neckline to almost touching the center bones at the point. There are two more bones, one on each side of the back opening to help brace the lacing. The bodice is interlined with a medium weight cotton twill to provide substance and firmness to the bodice shape. Without the interlining, the bodice would have appeared too flimsy and floppy- a definite Elizabethan fashion faux-pas! 

Right about now you may well ask "But Karen! Don't Elizabethan bodices have treatments of some sort at the waistline? Shouldn't there be skirts, or tabs, or something?!!" And I would answer "Yes, many of them do, but the French style of bodice often didn't, and I didn't have enough fabric to make one! I had just barely enough to get the major pieces made, that fabric was a bit pricey."

"Mummy....There's A Problem...."


Everything had been going along very nicely, the bodice came together without any serious problems (once I got over my jitters about cutting into the fabric) and the skirt was on it's way. Then I called my friend Marie who, you will recall, was doing some custom embroidery on the crimson velveteen sleeves and forepart for me. I asked her if the sleeves were done yet as I still had the beading and jewelling to get done as well as making them up. She said that they weren't done yet but there was plenty of time, right? Well, no actually. It turns out that she thought the Faire was a week later that it actually was and that she had another week to work on the embroidery. Zoiks! Marie then spent almost the entirety of the next weekend chained to her embroidery machine doing motif after motif. I went up on Sunday to keep her company and so that I could run off with the sleeves as soon as they were done. Let me tell you, it's mind-numbing, the machine may be doing the work, but to be safe one needs to stay in pretty close proximity in case of accidents like thread running out and such. Each motif took something like 15 minutes for the machine to do and there's a lot of motifs! But it certainly looked splendid when she got it done, that's 1000 yards of ivory embroidery thread in those sleeves!

"Missing In Action"



Okay so now I have the sleeves and I'm ready to start beading and jewelling them. I put Swarovski crystal beads in emerald green at points on the motifs. The interfacing which Marie put in to facilitate the embroidery had an additional benefit in that it was stiff enough that I didn't have to worry about another interlining to stiffen it. Unfortunately it also made the fabric very difficult to sew thru with a beading needle which is very fine and thin. My fingers felt like pin cushions by the time I had finished the first sleeve and I realized that given the speed I had to get this done, I wouldn't be able to put as many beads on as I had wanted. Ouch! I thought that I'd put more rhinestones in rim settings on it, I had lots of them in a box.....now where did I put that box? Although I had seen it just a week or two before, it was now nowhere to be found. Aught!!! Once again, the time constraints made a lengthy search and retrieval operation impossible plus I didn't have the time to order any more from the source in California that I knew would have what I needed in stock. Drat! Okay, no time to panic either....what was my Plan B? When in need, call a friend! Oh Brenda...... Luckily my friend Brenda is also a costumer and a hoarder of Pretty Shiny Things and she had extras left over from making her last gown that would work to decorate my sleeves and forepart. She was already set to come over and help me with the hemming of the various layers of skirt so I asked her to throw in a few rhinestones and such. Whew!

"Maiden Voyage"


The first try-on of a new costume is always an exciting time. This is when you get the first view of what the dress will look like in three dimensions and you find out if your vision will be fulfilled. Of course you also get to see all the little problems and glitches that don't show up when it's laid out flat. My gown was no exception. Overall the design looked great, but the cartridge pleating of the skirt was horrid and needed to be redone and the bodice was too big in the waist. I put one of the sleeves under the overskirt just to get an idea of what the color balance would look like with the crimson forepart underneath. (Marie was still stitching on that- we ran out of ivory thread!)

"Maiden Voyage" (cont.)


The spiral lacing on the back of the bodice looked good, but I realized that I needed to put the corset on under the skirts as the waist was slightly longer than the bodice waist. No problem, just a note to remember. You can also see that the first attempt at cartridge pleats were seriously too big and needed to be redone. In all my copious extra time......sigh....... 

"Maiden Voyage" (cont.)



I set to work re-doing the cartridge pleating and Brenda set bravely to work getting the additional crystals on the sleeves. By the end of the evening the sleeves were fully decorated and the skirt had been re-cartridge pleated.....twice! I also decided that since there was no way to adjust the fit of the bodice on a seam (because there aren't any!!) I would just have to take tucks in the bodice under the arsines where it wouldn't really show to bring the waist of the bodice in tight for a proper fit. And now on to finishing the overskirt! 

"Skirting The Issue"


Since I had to make a large part of the overskirt up to do the hemming, the bit that was left was mostly just finishing. After my third try I finally had the cartridge pleating looking good. I finished off the top of the skirt with a wide ivory grosgrain ribbon for added body and stiffness. Then I left 4 inches on either side of the front and began the gathering stitched for the pleats. The stitches were done at 1 and a half inch intervals. After sewing the gathering stitches (by hand with quilting thread- no other way to do it.) I then bound the top edge of each pleat to the finished waist band. Once the pleats are all gathered up the actually sewing (by hand) doesn't really take too much time. As you can see, the combination of the stiffness of the material combined with the addition of the grosgrain ribbon gives a nice firm pleat.

"Getting Edgy"


I finished off the hem with another band of wide ivory grosgrain ribbon.  This made a very neat hem with little chance of ripping down. It also gave a bit of added stiffness for shape to the bottom of the skirt. The front of the skirt was finished with a wide panel of Candlelight Satin.  In period the skirts were usually fully lined, but I was trying to save on weight as I wasn't sure what the weather would be like for the event (early October in Northern Illinois can be anything from 87F and sunny to below freezing and snowing!) and I thought that lighter might be better.  Since I made the skirt of three full panels of fabric, I now had a skirt with no cut edges showing.

"Skirting the Edge....err....

Edging the Skirt......"



To match the bodice I put a line of the antique gold trim down the front opening of the skirt and around the hem just to finish the edges. A series of lacing holes a the waist to close the skirt and 'Voila!' the skirt is finished.



After much ado, the forepart was embroidered and trimmed. Marie and I decided that doing a line of motifs down the front would actually accent the custom aspect of the embroidery- it wouldn't look like I just bought something already decorated. I added lines of gold trim to accent the form of the embroidery, and of course the matching rhinestones. GOTTA' have that sparkle!

"Homestretch (cont.)"


And of course it's not really a costume unless there's cat fur on it.  Isabeau likes to help me make my costumes, usually by lying elegantly on top of whatever I'm working on to make sure that it won't get away.

"Homestretch (cont.)"


The sleeves looked great once I got them finished. The interfacing that Marie used made additional stiffening un-necessary. The embroidery looks very rich and definitely different than anything I've seen before. I lined the sleeve with candlelight satin to match the lining of the bodice and also to make it easy to get them on and off. I've lined sleeves with cotton in the past, but the cotton of the lining against the cotton or linen of the shift really makes getting all the layers arranged comfortably difficult.

"Enter Queen Elizabeth"


And here is the whole outfit as it looked at Stronghold. The general  consensus was that it looked appropriately 'queenly'. I think it turned out very well. I am still planning on adding some details and decorative bits, but for most purposes, it's done.

"Enter Queen Elizabeth (cont.)"


Here is a close-up of the sleeves in their finished state, attached to the bodice. I really like the way the crimson looks with the honey gold and ivory of the brocade.

"Enter Queen Elizabeth (cont.)"


The outside shots don't quite convey the full look of the dress. The brocade actually has much more shine and life to it than is apparent from the outside pictures. The flash used in this picture lets the fabric really come to life.

"Enter Queen Elizabeth (cont.)"


The lovely red tall hat, made from the same fabric as the sleeves and forepart, was done by Pam Palmer of La Paloma Hats. Although I have made my own hats in the past, with having to make the whole gown, I delegated the hat to Pam because I know she makes absolutely fabulous hats. She did a great job on this one and on very short notice! 

"Enter Queen Elizabeth (cont.)"


I had a great time being Queen Elizabeth at Stronghold. Everyone was very kind and supportive to me in my fledgling queen efforts. The performers really made sure I was treated like a Queen! And one of the perks of being Queen Elizabeth is that ALL the knights want to make nice with you.  This lovely horse is named Cesar and he's quite a flirt. The knight who's riding him is Sir Dominic, and he's not half bad either!


"To Dress A Queen......Again!"


So there I was at Bristol Renaissance Faire minding my own business.....stop me if you've heard this before! This year Joy Butler asked me to be Queen E a bit earlier than last year. Of course I already had the dress done, but an outfit is never really finished and there were several things I wanted to finish/add that hadn't gotten done last year.  In addition, I managed to lose a bit of weight over the winter and I had to make some alterations to the dress so it would still fit- including taking the bodice in by almost 4 inches at the waist! Here's a full length shot of the dress in it's current incarnation.


"To Dress A Queen......Again!"


And here is a shot of the back of the dress. I was inspired by Mary Kababik and Stacey Hicks (Queen Elizabeth and the costume designer at Bristol) to try a veil instead of the tall hat. I like the new look and it was really easy to make! The only challenging part is doing a nice fancy hair-style under it as everything shows.


"To Dress A Queen......Again!"


Here's a shot of the dress in full sunlight. The color combination is really very striking.


"To Dress A Queen......Again!"


Here's a closeup of the sleeve with more rhinestones added to accent the embroidered pattern on the sleeves. Gotta' have the sparkle!


"To Dress A Queen......Again!"


A close-up of the bodice shows the paillettes and if you look closely you can see the rhinestones I added to the gold trim around the neck. All the rhinestones on the dress are crystal, most of them are Swarovski - those are the best type. This also shows something of the sheen of the brocade fabric. These still photos just don't catch the sparkle and shine of the dress in motion.



"It really IS good to be Queen!"


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