Fancy dress

“But, what are we to wear?

This is the first exclamation on receipt of an invitation to a Fancy Ball, and it is to assist in answering such questions that this volume has been compiled”


I was quite excited when Shari (from La Rose Soiree & La Rose Passementarie) announced that she would be holding a Victorian fancy dress ball. My first thought was excitement. The second thought is very well described by the quote above. This lovely booklet was pointed out to me by Desiree, and it’s such a treasure! It gives a thorough catalog of all types of options for fancy dress, including quite a lot of grey scale pictures, and a couple full color ones. It’s a lot of fun to read through as well!

In this post, a small selection of some of the gems inside the book.



The book starts with recommendations on what costumes to wear depending on your coloring and age.

Brunettes could choose, for instance, Autumn, Diana, Fire or Spanish dress, while fair women are more suited to Day, Fairy, Moonlight, Rainbow or Swiss dress. Sisters could go together, and choose costumes such as Salt and Fresh water, Music and Paintings or Oranges and Lemons. Similarly, husband and wife could do Kings and Queens, or Night and Day.



It also gives some general guidelines, such that: “It is uncomfortable to dance without gloves, so consistency yields to convenience”. And hair styling advice, such that: “With regard to Powdering, it is best, if possible, not to have recourse to wigs, they are heavy and unbecoming. It is far better to powder the hair itself…” 



Then it’s on to the specific costumes! In alphabetical order, as they are in the book, a favourite for each letter.


A: Aquarium: Fashionable evening dress of blue and green tulle, trimmed with marine plants and ornamented with fish and shells, the octopus on one side of the skirt; veil of green tulle; hair floating on shoulders. Bodice trimmed with seaweed and coral; ornaments, silver fish and coral.

B: Butterfly: Short white satin skirt, covered with clouds of brown, pink and blue tulle. Flight of butterflies all over it. Wings of blue gauze, and the antennae in the head-dress. White silk stockings and white shoes. Butterfly on each.

C: Chess: Front breadth, squares of black and white silk, black band at edge of skirt, row of red ribbon above. Black silk train piped with red, caught up with check ribbon, and bordered with checks. Sleeves of black and white squares to wrist, black cuffs piped with red. V-shaped black bodice, with ruff. Coronet of chessmen, larger pieces in front, the same for ornaments, all made of wood.

D: Dresden China: Under this name almost any poudre character may be worn, with or without a saque. It is generally thus rendered: Quilted short skirt, high-heeled shoes and clocked stockings; chintz or brocaded bunched up tunic; muslin apron; low bodice; short sleeves with ruffles; coloured stomacher laced across; bow of ribbon or black velvet around neck; straw hat or muslin cap; powdered hair. A newer rendering has bows of ribbons and flowers on the shoulders, with a tiny china figure in the centre; a satin chapeau bras with mroe flowers springing from centre; crook and high-heeled shoes.



E: Eve: Dress of white India muslin, trimmed with apples, leaves and blossom; fig-leaves for pockets; out of one peeps a serpent’s head with emerald eyes, out of the other falls a triplet of white lilies; a wreath of small apples, flowers and leaves, necklace, a serpent of gold and silver enamel in red and blue.

F: Fairy: Short tulle diaphanous dress, with low full bodice, covered with silver spangles; silver belt at waist; wings of gauze on wire attached to back; hair floating; a silver circlet on the head. Or, for a Fairy queen; a crown, the wand, to be carried in hand, becoming a sceptre. Stars should be introduced on the dress and on the satin shoes.

G: the Gloaming: Dress of grey tulle, or muslin, or gauze over satin, made as an ordinary evening dress, or in classic fashion; a veil of the same material; fireflies imprisoned int he tulle; bat fastened on one shoulder, an owl on the other; silver and smoked pearl ornaments.

H: the Hornet: Short black or brown dress of velvet or satin; boots to match; tunic pointed back and front, with gold stripes; satin bodice of black or brown with gold gauze wings; cap of velvet with eyes and antennae of insect



I: Ice maiden: White gauze dress; pointed tulle cap and veil fastened with wreath of icicles or ice-flowers spangled with powdered glass; long gloves; bracelets and chains of icicles; girdle of falling icicles made of glass.

J: Joan of Arc: White painted cashmere skirt; a suit of armour, with helmet and plume, mailed feet, gloves; red cloak at shoulder. The sout of armour may be of silver, burnished steel or what is called scale armour. But it can also be made by cutting out in strong brown paper the vaious pieces required, copied from any illustrated history, …, pated over with silvered paper. Round the edges inside strips of linen should be pasted to strengthen them, so that tapes may be sewn in with which to tie them on…

L: Lorelei: Dress of watered silk, shot with silver, draped with green, and caught up with water lilies, coral and diamonds; veil to match; sometimes soft muslin is draped in classic fashion; the hair flowing; a coronet of silver on the head; an old fashioned lyre carried in the hand.

M: Magpie. The front of skirt is striped black and white satin plaited; the bodice cut in one with long side revers of black, lined and turned back with white ruching to the hem of the skirt, opening down back to show full plaited skirt. The black bodice bordered with white; low striped vest; magpie on the shoulder and in hair; which may be powdered or not, or half powdered.



N: Needles and pins: This dress is after the mother Hubbard order. A quilted skirt, with chintz train; low black velvet bodice, fichu; powdered hair; cap and pointed velvet hat. In front of the dress every kind of needle and pin is inserted. Pins forming the motto “Needles and pins, needles and pins; when a man marries his troubles begin,” on the train.

O: October: … with trimmings of leaves variegated with all the rich reds and browns of the autumn tints. A classic cream dress would show such trimmings to advantage. Or, an evening dress of cream and gold satin introducing acorns, with the leaves applied to dress and head-dress

P: Planets: White satin short skirt, bordered with a blue silk band and dotted with silver stars; white gauze over-skirt and plaited low bodice bespangled with stars; long wing-like sleeves to match; blue satin Swiss belt cut in points, a star on each; blue coronet with stars; long veil with stars; necklace and bracelets of the same.

Q: Quicksilver. Fashionable black evening dress made of tulle, and trimmed with silver.

R: Ruben’s wife: Yellow and brown silk and violet velvet, the skirt of the velvet touching the ground; the bodice a low square with square ruff, lace edged; the hair in curls; the bodice, which has a broad rounded point, has jewels in front of a yellow stomacher; the sleeves have an upper puff of violet, an elbow puff slashed with brown and yellow, puffs of yellow to wrist, with turn-back cuffs; the colours are blended into the trimmings on the skirt mixed with jewels; a feather fan is carried in the hand; a large-brimmed, low-crowned hat, turned up on one side with ostrich plumes and jewel



S: Sunbeam: White tulle dress, flounced to waist, each flounce edged with rows of gold braid; a large sash round the waist with gold fringe, a gold chatelaine bag at side; head-dress, veil of gold tissue, enveloping the figure and glittering at every moment; ornament, gold.

T:  Twenty-four o’clock: New clock dial on chest and forehead, with hours from one to twenty-four; at back of head a pendulum swinging; short costume of black and white satin.

U: Universe: Short blue and white dress made of cashmere or soft silk in classic fashion, or in gauze or twill as an evening gown, with stars and spheres for ornaments; star-spangled veil.

V: Vandyke: Full plain skirt; muslin apron; edged with pointed lace; godice with revers; sleeves to wrist; hair in curls



W: Witch: Short quilted skirt of red satin, with cats and lizards in black velvet; gold satin panier tunic; black velvet bodice laced over an old-gold crepe bodice; small cat on right shoulder, a broom in the hand, with owl; tall pointed velvet cap; shoes with buckles

Y: New Year: Radiant young girl in heyday of youth wearing plain long full satin skirt, with hours in silver round it; silver cord about waist; bodice full; pendent sleeves from elbow, caught up with roses; wreath of roses and veil in hair.




To close:

“There are few occasions when a woman has a better opportunity of showing her charms to advantage than at a Fancy Ball.”

Patterns of Fashion 5

A Dutch version of this blog is out today at!


Janet Arnold is a household name for everyone who’s interested in the construction of historical clothing. In the 70’s and 80’s, she published several books with detailed patterns of existing garments. This Patterns of Fashion series is still one of the most used when it comes to recreating historical clothing. Part 1 is about women’s fashion from 1660 to 1860, part two about women’s clothing from 1860 to 1940, and part 3 women’s and men’s clothing from 1560 to 1620.


My copies of Patterns of Fashion 1 and 2


Janet Arnold passed away in 1998, leaving her work, in a way, unfinished. She had multiple further Patterns of Fashion books planned, and in 2008 part 4 was published, about linen undergarments and accessories from 1540 to 1660. This book was planned by her, and finished by Jenny Tiramani and Santina M. Levey.

However, there was a lot more material. From her legacy, the London School of Historical dress was founded in 2012, also housing her collection. This includes her pictures of originals, and the patterns she’d taken. And, end of this October, the latest book in the series will be published. Patterns of Fashion 5 is about ‘structural’ women’s garments from 1595 to 1795. Bodies, stays, hoops and rums. From the material and legacy of Janet Arnold, but supplemented thanks to modern techniques and new research, by Jenni Tiramani and Luca Costigliolio, with the assistance of Sebastien Passot, Armelle Lucas and Johannes Pietsch. In color, with detailed photographs, x-rays and patterns including all the different layers of the objects.


Patterns of Fashion 5


I had the pleasure of receiving my copy early at the Structuring Fashion conference in Munich, so in the rest of this blog, an overview of what to expect from the book! The pictures below present a small selection of the objects which can be found in the book.


The book starts with an extensive introduction, with a lot of information and new research using primary sources. It includes a description of the different types of materials which were used. Very useful, as words don’t always mean the same thing now, and some materials aren’t produced anymore. It also includes a description of how fashion evolved, and how these garments were made historically. It’s definitely recommended to actually read the full introduction, despite the temptation to only look at the pretty pictures, as it contains a wealth of information.

1640-60 Stitched stays & stomacher in crimson satin. Filmer collection, Gallery of costume, Platt hall, Manchester City Galleries 2003.109/2


Because the book does contain a lot of pretty pictures. A number of objects has the well-known drawings as found in the earlier books. But every object is also photographed extensively. When possible mounted, to see the object in shape. And with a whole number of detail shots giving more information about construction. The inside, bits where the lining is coming off, close-ups of eyelets, etc. Every object also has an artwork accompanying it, in which you can see this type of object being worn in context. One of the highlights for me are the x-ray pictures. A number of objects have these, and they really show the true inside. How many layers of fabric it has, which way the seam allowances are folded, where the boning is placed, and where the metal

1650-80 Stitched stays & stomacher in Pink watered silk grosgrain. Victoria & Albert Museum London V&A: T.14&A-1951


And now the patterns, because that’s what it’s all about in the end. All patterns are drawn on the familiar inch-grid, including a legend with cm, and the rulers in the end of the book. New in this book is that the patterns were drawn larger, and then scaled down to make them more precise. Also new is that many of the layers are shown individually. For some of the stays, the strength layer is not cut the same as the outer layer, and the lining might be different still. This makes it very difficult to get to the pattern of the inside layer. This is one of the places where the x-rays come in handy. The patterns also show very clearly how the object is stiffened. From baleen boning (sometimes including information on thickness), to steel, wood, extra layers of linen, leather and paper. They also include pictures of how exactly all those layers are put together. For the hoops the layers are a bit less relevant, but these also include information on how hoops are attached to achieve the end result.

1740-50 Short hoop in striped linen. Victorian & Albert Museum, London T425-1990


The book finished with a chapter on how to recreate the garments in the book. It includes a number of pictures of replicas made by the School of Historical dress, so you can see some of the more fragile objects mounted as well. One personal favourite bit is the description (based on a primary source) on how to draw the patterns for stays. Very interesting if you want to make them yourself! It even includes a list of where to get materials, and what to use instead of baleen. The chapter ends with a list of terms, with historical terms and their translations in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and sometimes Swedish or Dutch.

1720-30 Smooth-covered stomacher in embroidered linen. Museum of Fine arts, Boston, 43.1906


It’s really a beautiful book, and highly recommended for everyone who wishes to know more about these garments. With a lot of new knowledge, filled with beautiful patterns, and details of original garments. The book can only be ordered via the School of Historical dress (ISBN: 978 0 993174421). Edit per 20-11-2018: The copies are back in stock, but as they’re such a small team, they are only putting up the next 100 copies for sale once they’ve processed the previous. So if you see an ‘out of stock’, just keep checking their website! It’s well worth the wait.

Also, the ladies from American Duchess made a wonderful podcast with an interview with Jenni Tiramani, which I thoroughly recommend if you want to learn more about how this book came about. (Part I and II).

C.1740-1760 Stitched Stays in blue silk damask. Museum of Fine arts, Boston 43.561




Inspiration – Tudor

In December I got a couple of new costume books, including the Tudor Tailor! I have never made anything pre 1800, but I love the Tudor period in style, and I was very interested in the information and the patterns it would include. So far, I’ve been really happy with it, the background information is really nice, as I didn’t know a lot about this period. The patterns provided give options for creating several full outfits, both male and female, from undergarments to dresses and head wear.

Additionally, I just got some lovely silk I’ve been eyeing for months. I finally decided that if it’s still on my mind months after I first saw it, it’s meant to be. Also, the price was incredibly good, so I can justify the buy. It’ll do for Tudor, but also slightly earlier, so I’m not sure yet what it will be. It’s pretty though…


I’m not sure if/when I’ll actually get around to making Tudor things, but it’s always fun to plan and dream. The book covers various eras and styles, but for now I’m focusing on the ‘typical’ Tudor dress, ca. 1530-1560.

So some of my favourites.

I’ve found that many portraits showing Tudor fashion show a black and/or red coloring. So I figured I’d organize by color.



Mary Tudor, ca 1515

I adore the black (velvet? it looks like it) with pearls and gold look of this portrait. She also has interesting under-sleeves. It’s too bad the bottom is not shown, but there’s a 1850 adaptation of this portrait which gives a suggestion:

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I’m not sure how accurate the pearls on the hem are though. And I’m curious what’s hanging off her belt!



Anne de Pisseleu (1508–1576), Duchesse d’Étampes Attributed to Corneille de Lyon (Netherlandish, active by 1533, died 1575)

Another black/white/gold dress, although it looks like she has white undersleaves and a white kirtle on (showing the skirt between the open front). This time it looks like embroidery which gives the white details. I’m also intrigued by her necklaces, and the way they fall so wide. And she has the initial-necklace! I’ve only seen this on Anne Boyelin before (with a B), but I don’t know that much on the period, so I think it might’ve been a trend!



The Jersey Portrait, previously identified as Lady Jane Grey, is now identified as Katherine Parr

Another black dress with different color sleeves and kirtle. The quality of the image is not great, but the silver/red combination of her sleeves & kirtle is interesting. Her outer sleeves seem to be made of fur, not sure I like the look that much. But, she does have pearls!



Princess Elizabeth, c. 1543-1547. ‘The Family of Henry VIII’, detail. Anon. Hampton Court Palace. © The Royal Collection.

Moving in the direction of less black and more red. I think this combination of fabrics is my favorite. The brocade of her dress is gorgeous, and the sleeves and kirtle have a color which complements it perfectly. If only I could find fabric like this…



Catherine Howard, cousin of Anne Boleyn and fifth wife of Henry VIII

A similar color combination, but with red as main color. The sleeves & kirtle look wonderfully intricate, and her partlet seems to be embroidered with gold. It’s also interesting that her outersleeves are a different color and fabric.



Catherine Parr, sixth (and last) wife of Henry VIII

We’re moving into the realm of different colors now! Although I believe that red/gold was quite a popular combination. In any case, the brocades are gorgeous. Still not a fan of fur sleeves though.



Katherine Parr, Sixth Wife of King Henry VIII

This portrait is intriguing because the fabrics are so different from anything else I’ve seen. The colors, with the salmon and green and pink, and also the fact that the base color seems to be white(ish). I don’t particularly like the fabric, or the combination with the orange/green of the sleeves & kirtle, but it’s interesting! (also, note how in all of her portraits shown here, Katherine Parr has her hands in exacly the same way… Makes me wonder if the painter was the same, or if they were just copying eachother, or if it has some meaning)



Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Sister of Henry VIII

To finish, one of the only portraits I’ve found where the dress is not black/gray/red/orange/golden toned. I haven’t really been able to find other purple/blue/green examples. This is probably also because the bright versions of these colors were hard to create in Tudor times. (I know the green dress Natalie Portman wore in ‘The Other Boyelin Girl’ is gorgeous, but no way they’d been able to achieve that color in the 16th century!) Nonetheless, this portrait is a lovely example. I particularly like the fabric of her sleeves, and the way her left (for the viewer) sleeve seems to be almost falling off showing her kirtle beneath.

Book skirt

I’ve always loved reading. As a child, I always read at least 30 minutes every evening and was constantly visiting the library. Nowadays, with a busy schedule and full job I do most of my reading in the train. The only advantage of travelling 2 hours every day is that I’ve plenty of time to read.

Combining my love of reading with my love of wide skirts, when I saw the various versions of book prints in Lolita-style skirts I immediately wanted one. Prices and shipping being what they are, however, I chose to make my own. The skirt I first found was by Juliette et Justine:



I spent a long time looking for the right fabric, but it was quite difficult to find a print. Not wanting to pay shipping costs from far away, I was limited to Dutch fabric stores and there aren’t that many. The only type of fabric with a book print I could find were upholstery fabrics, and I wasn’t sure if that would fit the style. But then I saw this skirt by TaoBao:

This skirt also has a coarser weave, but it’s actually quite nice. So I decided to just go for the heavier fabric. On a visit to Amsterdam I went to the store where I found the fabric online, and bought it. I’m glad I didn’t order it online, because I found that with natural light and scale it’s much easier to judge fabric than from an online image.

This was the fabric I bought. It’s not very supple, but it that also makes it stand out on it’s own quite well. It rarely needs a petticoat. I really like the pattern and colors of the print (or weave in this case).


By now the skirt is done! Some progress pictures (all taken with my phone in bad light, so sorry for the quality).

I made the skirt in my standard bell pattern of a large pleated rectangle. I cut the rectangle, and then made box pleats of 2 inches wide each.



Half-way with pleating.


After everything was pinned in place, I sewed the pleats in place. Next up was the waistband and hemming. I wanted something contrasting, and looked at some black lace I still had for decorating the hem. It didn’t work so well, because all the lace was rather subtle and the book fabric is not. I finally settled on a black velvet border around the hem, and a waistband from the same fabric.

Then came making the closure, and this was also when the trouble started. I bought a blind zipper, but had loads of trouble putting it in. My sewing-machine wasn’t getting the tension right thus creating a very loose seam, and the fabric was so stiff that it just didn’t look right. After trying again 3 times, I gave up and removed the zipper again. The fabric just wasn’t supple enough for a blind zipper. Instead, I made a clasp closure and made a little panel behind it so it wouldn’t fall open.


This shows the  eventual closure. This actually works quite well, so I think I’ll be doing more closures like this in the future, especially when working with heavy fabrics.

Finally, some photo’s of the finished closure:


And of the whole skirt (in bad light, but the idea is clear!):