The brown velvet embroidered dress, 1490s



Research and Inspiration

Ursula Grekin c. 1500 Barbara Wespach-Ungelte, by the Ulm Master. c. 1500. Stuttgart.

The inspiratiom from this dress came from several Swabian portraits from the late 15th C. After seeing Helen's Swabian dress on the German Renaissance Costume group I fell in love with the assymetrical embroidery and beading. I just needed a dress like that!

Later on I found a few more inspiring images depicting the embroidered Swabian style (Hans Part, the Brabenberger family tree)


Further more, a couple of other similar styled dresses.


Construction and Materials

The choice of the dark brown velvet fabric was more of chance. I did plan to make it in a dark greyish blue wool, but my dyeing attempts failed me utterly. In a panic, I dug out an old velvet fabric that had been laying on my shelf for years, it was once bought for making a 16th C tudor dress that never happened. Luckily it suited this project quite well, possibly even better than a greyish blue wool? Since i wanted a front panel with no waist seam I was slightly short of fabric, why some creative piecing of the skirt parts had to be done, as well as edging the bottom hem with a 20 cm wide border of black wool... Approximately 4 meters of velvet was used (90 cm wide), giving me something like 3.5-4 meters circumference at the bottom hem.

I decided on what I beleived to be a possible simple late 15th C cut (see the scanned working sketch below). The front is plain with no waist seam. The back is cut with a partial waist seam, allowing a cartridge pleated panel in the center back (lined with two layers of wool). The waist was place high, as can be seen in the portrait of Ursula Grekin above.

The skirt was not lined at all, only edged with a 20 cm wide guard of black wool to expand the length. The sleeves are 3/4 legnth, a small slit is fastned with a tiny metal button. The bodice was lined with a thin wool baisted which was baisted together with a thicker wool to give the bodice some more volume and support. It was edged with a greenish-goldish silk tafeta. Trimming along neck opening and sleeve edge was made with a braided goldish-metal banding, embellished further with pearls and sequins. The front of the dress is worn open from neck to the high waist, to let the gathered hemd show through and it is held together with a thin velveteen string by the neck opening.



Extant 16th C embroidery from the national Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm

The composition of the embroidery is mainly based on an extant early 16th C embroidery, black applique work on white silk embroidered with white and blue silk thread. Other sources such as 15th C ornamental prints were also used for the composition. When did the embroidery I hade not seen the portrait of a Woman wearing the Order of the Swan in colour! It was a happy day when I finally did see it in colour and realised that my quite freely made composition in red, gold and pearls was not so far fetched as I fearded. A close up of the depicted embroidery clearly show rows of sequins and lots of beading (details of sleeve and collar).

The embroidery was made using a rectangular frame prepared with the same thin wool fabric as was used for lining the bodice. On this I mounted the two sleeve parts, which were baisted in place. After the mounting I spent hours with my frame, first sewing the felt in place, sometimes in several layers to build up a body, then laying the gold thread, and finally the really fun part sewing on the pearls and sequins!

The dress was made in a real rush, with only 12 days from cutting the fabric to wearing the dress. The embroidery was never really completed, and therefore never acheived the compact appearence that can be seen in the portraits. Maybe I will complete the look someday, it badly needs more beading, sequins and gold thread! Or maybe I will just let it be as it is and start a new embroidery and beading project...



Neither was there any time to look into the construction of a proper kirtle, nor a proper over garment like a schaube. Regarding the kirtle I am still not sure how it should be cut, but I am leaning towards a sleeve-less v-cut design, with a skirt pleated or somehow gathered in the centre front and back. Or, shoud there be no kirtle at all? Maybe just a skirt?

At the time in question it was early March and therefore still quite cold. I decided to wear a brown velvet goller lined with a thick wool, which was most certainly an item a few decades too early. But never the less, it was nice and warm! For the same reason the fully gathered knee length hemd, made out of a thin linen, was simply worn over a sleevless floor lenght shift of thicker linen to keep somewhat moderatly warm (15th C houses in early March is quite chilly places...)

A long black wool belt, decorated with metal plates was worn with the dress.

The same wulsthaube as was made for the Dürer 1490s dress was worn. Both the semi cirular linen veils were worn, but appearance enhanced with a rectangular silk veil on top, with a long flaring peice of fabric hanging down on the side. But of course a beaded and embroidered veil for the haube is wanted and planned for!



Myra ©2004