Mary’s Renaissance Faire Costuming

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Here are some tips, tricks and patterns that I’ve used to create my Renaissance Fair costumes.

Unsolicited Advice: Wash your fabrics before cutting, sewing, etc. In the long run, you’ll be much happier with your results, especially if you are using cotton or any other fabric that has a tendency to shrink. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been too lazy or in too much of a hurry and skipped this step — and regretted forever afterwards. I’ve had to toss a couple bodices (which take quite a while to make) because the first time I washed it, the lining shrunk giving it a horrible wrinkly effect.


Women’s Costumes

Chemise

Simplicity 9982

The chemise is the undergarment worn under a woman’s costume. It can be full-length, to the waist or anywhere in between (I prefer full-length). To make mine, I use a basic witch/pilgrim costume pattern from any of the major pattern companies (i.e. McCalls, Simplicity, etc).

The particular one that I have been using for years is Simplicity 9982. I make the long-sleeved version, without the flounce at the bottom, out of cotton muslin (which is very inexpensive and feels great next to your skin after it’s been washed a few times). I’ve also made chemises out of a gauze type of fabric and linen, if you can find it, it’s really nice.

Instead of putting elastic at the neck and wrists, you can use some cording. The cording usually comes in a stark white color, which sticks out like a sore thumb next to the unbleached muslin that I use. To make it blend better, I soak the cording in a cup of black tea, which turns it a very pleasing tan color.

Check out my Chemise How To links for patterns and more instructions.



Bodice

(** BODICE PATTERN PIX COMING SOMEDAY **)

The bodice is definitely the hardest part of the costume to make, mostly because it is such a fitted piece. I purchased my first bodice, but I was really dissatisfied with the quality and fit. Plus most of the bodices for sale at Ren Faires are very expensive, from $60 and up — for about $10 worth of materials. Once I have a pattern, I can usually make a simple bodice in a couple hours.

The best advice that I can give here is to make a “muslin” first from your pattern, i.e. cut the pieces out of some inexpensive, non-stretchy material. Then sew them together at the shoulder and sides, and try it on. At this point, you can see what parts are too loose, too tight, too long and too short. Remember that you want your bodice tight, so there should be a gap between the two sides in the front. Since I’m not very “chesty,” I usually make the front a little higher than most, which maximizes my assets (sort of a medieval wonder bra). Creating a muslin first will give you a chance to customize your pattern before cutting into your expensive fabric and wasting your time sewing the whole thing together and then finding out that the pattern doesn’t fit.

I’ve used a couple different methods for making my own bodices. The first was to use a simple pattern supplied to me by a friend, who got it from a friend who made costumes for the Ren Faire workers and a costume shop. (Picture coming soon.) This pattern is very simple to use and has the added advantage of being very adjustable in the girth. The pattern consists of one piece, from which you make a left and right side, out of both your outer fabric and your lining fabric. First sew the boning* to the lining, about 3/4" in from the center front edge and, for added support, from the lower front corners to just below the armpit. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the seam allowance. Next, sew each side’s outer and lining pieces together, leaving it open at the center back and shoulder. Turn the pieces right-side out. Now you can sew the two sides together at the back and shoulders at whatever size the wearer requires. The best part about this pattern is that it is easily adjustable by letting the bodice in or out at those seams.

There are several web sites with instructions on how to make your own bodice pattern by starting with a “duct tape double,” like How to Fit a Bodice, while others describe how to convert a commercial pattern, like Ren Bodice with Big 3 Pattern. Check out my Bodice How To links page for patterns and more instructions.

A Note on Boning:
Most fabric stores sell the plastic stuff, known as Rigilene, Featherlite, Nylabone, etc. This stuff is adequate, but just barely. It has a tendency to curl and if you need lots of support, you won’t get it here. Steel boning works the best, but you usually have to order on-line or by mail order and it can be expensive. Another disadvantage to steel boning is that if you don’t have the right lengths, you will have to cut it — with a hacksaw or some other drastic means — and then you have to cover the resulting sharp ends or file them down. Another boning solution used with satisfaction by many costumers is to buy plastic, heavy duty “zip ties” at the hardware store. Buy the ones that are about 1/4" wide and 1/8" thick. You can cut them to length easily and melt the cut ends to smooth them. And they’re cheap!


Skirts

Simplicity 7141

Skirts can be made several different ways. My two favorites are 1) the Big Loop Skirt (easiest) and 2) the “Infinite” Gored Skirt.

The Big Loop Skirt: This skirt is made by taking a couple pieces of fabric cut to the same length (the length should be waist to floor, plus a couple inches for the waist band, plus another inch or two if you are going to hem it). Sew the selvedges together to make your Big Loop. I usually zigzag or serge the top and bottom cut edges to keep them from unraveling. Then fold the top over and sew it to make a casing for either elastic or a drawstring. Voila! you have a skirt!

The “easy” (i.e. lazy) method is to take one long piece of fabric (1-1/2 to 2 yds) and sew the cut ends together, so that the selvedges are the top and bottom of the skirt. Then fold the top over and sew it to make a casing for the waist. However... if you are making the skirt for someone short or children or if you are using wide material (36+ inches), the skirt will come out too long.

A disadvantage to The Big Loop skirt is that you end up with a lot of bulk at your hips and if you already have a lot of bulk there, you probably don’t want more!

The Infinite Gore Skirt: This skirt consists of making many triangle shaped pieces and sewing them together. “Infinite” comes from the fact that you can conceivably make as many gores as you want (although at some point, you would go from the sublime to the ridiculous).

I’ve used the pattern to the right, Simplicity 7141, for many years, but any circle skirt pattern, including “poodle” skirts, will work. This particular pattern has quarter-circle pattern pieces, so I folded them in half to make them eighth-circle pieces. Then I added another 10" or so to the bottom of the skirt to make it ankle length. Now I cut the pattern pieces out of the fabric, first placing the pattern one way, with the center along the fold (creating “whole gores”), then placing the pattern the opposite way and cut along the center (creating “pieced gores”) — see the diagram to the right. The second cut creates two separate pieces that need to be sewn together along the center. When you cut out the desired number of gores, usually six to eight is sufficient, sew them together, alternating the whole gores with the pieced gores.


Gored skirt pattern layout
(From “Elizabethan Costuming” by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy)

Check out my Skirt How To links for more patterns and instructions.


Commercial Patterns

Simplicity 8192

There are several pattern companies that specialize in historical patterns, like AlterYears, Costume Connection, Fantasy Fashions and Margo Anderson’s Historical Patterns. All of these patterns can be purchased on-line — check out my Pattern Supply Links page or GBACG’s Buying Guide for more links.

Here are some comments on these pattern companies, either from my own experience or what I have heard from others:



Simplicity 8715

The “Big 3” pattern companies (Simplicity, McCalls and Butterick) have been coming out with lots of historical patterns in last few years. A couple of the ones that I own are Simplicity 8192 & 8715 (right). 8192 isn’t even a complete costume — it would be the renaissance equivalent of going out in your slip and half a shirt! However, the dress on the left makes a decent chemise. One of my friends made 8715, which turned out nice, but the princess seams in the bodice (which are hard to see in the picture) are not accurate and some people have mentioned that the skirts could be fuller.

Jump To The Great Pattern Review or Dawn’s Commercial Costume Patterns (slow site, but good info) for more commercial patterns, including pros, cons and how to alter them to make them better.



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Men’s Costumes


Shirt

Butterick 6731

I have used the pattern shown to the right, Butterick 6731, several times to make a man’s costume. The pattern is a bit “fiddly” but it works. (The women’s costume is just plain dopey...) I make the shirt out of muslin, monk’s cloth or some other similar cotton fabric. I’ve even made it out of gauze, but my husband keeps ripping the fabric at the armpit. I make the body and sleeves looser than the pattern calls for by widening each of the pieces before cutting. Leave off the silly fake lacing (the two X’s on the front). The collar is a bit tricky and requires some patience.

I have also used the Folkwear “French Cheesemaker’s Smock”. This pattern came out nicely and my husband likes it, but I didn’t enjoy making the placket and collar!

Check out my Shirt How To links page for patterns and more instructions.



Doublet / Jerkin

I’m not 100% clear on the differentiation between a doublet and a jerkin, but I believe that a jerkin is more like a modern day vest, whereas a doublet is more like a jacket. Also, a jerkin can be worn over a doublet.

That being said, I’ve only made doublets using Fantasy Fashion’s “Dashing Doublets” pattern, which works very well and has several options, like tabbed waist, skirting, collar, etc. My husband even made a leather jerkin from this pattern.

In “Elizabethan Costuming” by Winter & Savoy, they suggest starting with a man’s vest pattern, making the bottom front into a “V” shape, instead of the more common “W” shape. (See the illustration from the book on the right, which is a wee bit confusing because they are showing a vest pattern laid over a shirt pattern.)

Jerkin pattern
(From “Elizabethan Costuming” by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy)



Pants

Men’s renaissance faire costume pants are quite easy to make. You can actually use a pattern similar to the pirate pants in the pattern above, or a lounge/pajama pants pattern works well. Make them knee length** or the ever popular ankle length, and loose, not fitted. The pants can have a gathered waist and bottom, with elastic or drawstring in the casing.

To make the pants more tailored, make a buttoned waistband and leg bands — even add a codpiece!

Check out my Pants How To links page for patterns and more instructions.

(** Note: if a man is wearing knee length breeches, he should be wearing long socks or thick tights.)

Pants
(From “Elizabethan Costuming” by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy)


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Accessories

Some easily made accessories include:

(See the illustrations below)
(All illustrations from “Elizabethan Costuming” by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy)

Sewing instructions coming.. someday...

Hat Patterns class=
Muffin cap  Muffin cap pattern
Pouch patterns
Pouch patterns

(All illustrations from “Elizabethan Costuming” by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy)

Other accessories that are either already around your home or can be bought at thrift stores are:

Check out my Headwear How To links and Accessories How To links for patterns and more instructions.


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