Polka Dot Farthingale: Part One

I have never made or even worn a hoop skirt, but after seeing how underwhelming my skirt volume was in pictures, I decided that it was time to poof things up!


Pedro García de Benabarre, Salome from the St John Retable, Catalonia, 1470—80.

These lovely Spanish ladies clearly have what it takes to support their skirts in a major way!  As the 16th century progresses, there are a number of portraits with some seriously big skirts, but only the Spanish are fabulous enough to wear their hoops for posterity.  In addition to some hoopage, I kinda want a new pair of stays, so why not combine the two?  I have no documentation for or against this garment, this is more of a “I want it, so I’ll make it” situation.

This post is extra exciting because it is my very first dress diary via YouTube!   Wooo!

Check it out!

Hopefully I didn’t do too bad!   :D  Please let me know if you have suggestions or tips for my next video, I want to make each one even better!

The rest of this post is pretty much just transcript of the video, for those of you who like your dress diaries in quiet, unmoving formats.


Whenever I start a new project, I try to start with a pattern I already have, rather than draft up an entirely new one each time. The dress I want to make will be very similar to this one, which is a late 16th century Venetian style gown.  I am trying the dress on to make sure there aren’t any fitting issues that I will want to address before using this pattern to make a new outfit. It has been a while since I have worn this dress, so I want to check if I have gotten any smaller or bigger, and make sure there aren’t any spots that pinch or rub uncomfortably.

This pattern isn’t going to need much adjustment, it is already pretty good. I will make a few minor changes to the neckline, and how the strap meets the body of the gown.

Here is the pattern for the red dress I just tried on, I have notes on each pattern piece labeling which outfit I used it for, whether or not I included seam allowance, and date. I always recommend labeling your patterns, it is very easy to end up with a pile of similar bodice patterns, and no idea what dresses they ended up becoming.

Don’t cut up or alter your existing patterns, since you may want them later. Trace the old pattern exactly as it is onto the patterning paper, then start making adjustments on the new pattern.  I have a note on the old pattern that suggests adding some width to the back, so I am including that now.

The Spanish 16th century tailor pattern book by Juan de Alcega has an interesting ‘backward’ shoulder strap that I’d like to try, so I am altering the front piece to include that backward strap. In theory, this angle will provide a wider neckline, while still hugging the shoulder so the strap doesn’t fall off your shoulder from the weight or pull of your sleeves.

As you can see, I am having a bit of trouble deciding exactly how much I want to alter the strap angle.

Once you are satisfied with your new pattern adjustments, it’s time to cut it out! Now, if I had been clever, I would have measured 1 cm or 3/8ths of an inch out from the sharpie for seam allowance, but I didn’t, so this is means I will have to add seam allowance each time I trace this pattern onto fabric. This can be handy if your seam allowance varies for different fabric, but I nearly always do 1 cm, so this wasn’t a great choice on my part.

Make sure to check any seams that meet, like the shoulder seam and side seam, to see that they are the same size. You don’t want to try to join a 10 inch seam to a 12 inch seam. Don’t forget to label your new pattern!

With any new pattern, even one with only minor changes from one you have already used, you should always make a mock up. This fabric is just some quilting cotton I had lying around, but I would recommend using a fabric that is as close as possible to your final product. Since my bodice will eventually be made with two layers of canvas, and a silk fashion layer, this cotton was also a poor choice. You’ll see later that it comes back to haunt me.

This method of construction is called Bag Lining, which is great because it is quick and produces a very clean looking finish, but not perfect since it is not a typical construction method for 16th century clothing. But if you sew with a modern sewing machine, it’s pretty darn handy. To bag line, you sew all of the outer fabric pieces together, then all the lining pieces, and then you join these the outer and lining fabrics. Once you clip the corners, you turn the whole thing inside out, and use something pointy to poke out all the corners.

Normally it’s easy to tell which side is which, but since I am using the same fabric for both sides here, there isn’t really any difference between the lining and fashion fabric.

Time to iron everything smooth! I use a sort of pinching method to make sure that the edges are as truly far out as they can be, and that there’s no fabric tucked up inside. Once you sew something with a bag lining you’ll know what I mean.

It is tempting to skip ironing, especially for a mockup, but see how lumpy and goofy that strap is? Ironing will take care of that, and allow me to see the true edges of the bodice.

Once we are all ironed up, it’s time to sew the strap seam! This isn’t the cleanest finish, but for a mockup, it’s ok.

Now for my favorite bit, we get to try it on! The mockup has no rigidity yet, so I am using some stays to help provide a conical shape for the mockup. I highly recommend test fitting your project often! It helps you catch fitting issues as soon as possible! I have decided that it fits well enough to start the boning channels.

Tools! I have craft scissors and a couple jewelry cutters, and a bundle of extra big zipties! I cut each of the ties to the size of the front opening, clipped off the sharp corners, inserted it through an opening in the bodice edge, then stitch a line with a zipper foot to snug it up to the edge. The second channel space is empty, since that is where my lacing holes will go. Keep cutting and sewing until you have a fully armored front!

It’s try on time again!

I took in the straps, and the side seam a little to snug it up a bit. I like to use a tapestry or yarn needle and some narrow ribbon to lace up my bodices. Once laced in, give some wiggle, jiggle, and movement to see if it feels good. Sometimes I will wear a new mock up around the house for a couple hours to see if any fit issues arise with time. You want to know asap if something is too loose or too tight!

After all that, we have our final result: a finished pattern. My mockup told me that the pattern requires a few changes, so I took out about half an inch from the side seam, and a smidge out of the shoulder seam. Remember earlier when I said that my fabric choice was going to bite me in the butt later on? Yeah, this seam adjustment is part of that shenanigans.

The strap adjustment was probably also not necessary, but it didn’t really hurt anything either.

I should be done with Part Two within a week or two!



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