The One With Elf Ears

I really should explain myself.  I was surfing dress diaries, drooling over the Italian Renaissance gowns, especially the courtesan ones, and I thought to myself: I should make one of those.  I should create a completely period and authentic courtesan gown.

I didn’t matter that I didn’t own any fabric that was anything like what I needed, or that I already have bins full of fabric for other gowns just begging to be made.  The courtesan gown was speaking in a much LOUDER voice, and so I started looking for fabric.  And while I was looking, I also made the small error of watching “Dangerous Beauty” for the second time.  I know the gowns aren’t correct….but there’s this one scene where Veronica is sword-fighting the rival poet (I forget his name), and she’s wearing this masculine-styled pair of breeches under a skirt.  I was doomed.  I fell in love with those breeches!  The tie-on codpiece!  The ribbons around her knees!  And oh, suddenly the authentic courtesan idea was buried under the romantic idea of doing a film-inspired one….I could see it all, quite vividly in my head…and even more perfect, I actually had the fabric buried in one of my bins that would be perfect!  Add a little burgundy silk dupioni, and while we’re at it, why not a pair of elf ears?  Who says there were no elf courtesans in the Renaissance?  Because then, see, I can add the headdress I’ve been thinking about all summer and never had the excuse to put together.

Okay, it’s perfect, it’s meant to be.

It’s going to happen.

Begin with the fabric…

Here’s a picture of the fabric….I’m not sure how period it is, but since this the ‘other’ courtesan gown, period doesn’t matter…much.  It’s a heavy tapestry, and the pattern will be gorgeous with lots of beadwork sewn over it.  That’ll keep me busy this winter!

And moving onto the pattern, I’ve made this extremely rough sketch (I’m no artist!) of my plans.

As you can see, there are the infamous breeches, with an overskirt, a corset, and basically what amounts to a doublet over that.  Even the elf ears are there!  I do not have a pattern for either the doublet or the breeches, so basically I’ll be attempting to create my own, totally from my own head.  Scary.

The Corset

Since I have to begin with the underpinnings, I’m laying the lovely gown fabric aside.  Reluctantly.  I chose to use the “Mantua Maker” Elizabethan corset pattern, because I like the look of it best.  So far, it’s going well.  Normally on patterns I am always a size smaller than they say I am – going by their measurements, I have to cut the pattern down a size.  This hasn’t been the case with the Mantua pattern….nice.  They say I’m a size 4, I AM a size 4, and the cotton mock-up I made seems to fit perfectly.  I will be altering it slightly…don’t I always?  For one thing, they don’t give an option for a strapless corset, so I’m having to re-work that….

I have 3 yards of gorgeous, hand-woven burgundy silk dupioni on order for both the corset and the breeches.  It’s quite thin, which will be fine for the corset, as it’s just the outer fabric, the inner layers will be made of duck.  For the breeches, I suspect I’m going to end up adding a cotton lining – just to keep me decent and all!

Woes and whines

The silk dupioni came, and it’s spectacular fabric!  Heavier than I expected, and so lovely that now I want to make my future Elizabethan gown out of it…but I can’t even think about that right now.

Sometimes I wonder why I call this fun.  I was working on the breeches, now that I have the silk, and they were just not coming together the way I wanted.  I thought I had it figured out with the muslin mock-up, so I cut into the fabric itself, and that may have been a mistake….cause now it had to work, or I’ve just wasted 3 yards of silk!  I spent a frustrating hour cutting and pinning, and trying on, and then re-pinning, and trying on again….  Finally decided that yes, it does need a lining just to lie right, so I managed to squeak out a lining from the cotton I bought for a corset.  Then I proceeded to sew it in wrong twice, necessitating me using my least favorite of all sewing tools: the seam ripper.  On the third attempt, I ran out of bobbin thread without me noticing until I was nearly done.  Gah.  Increasingly frustrated, it was only my extreme stubbornness that kept me going!  I can happily report that the fourth attempt was a complete success, and the breeches seem to fit well and look like I was hoping they would.  All that’s left is installing the codpiece, sewing on the knee cuffs and ribbons, and doing the finishing – such as hems, and putting grommets in at the lace-up fly.

Now I remember why I like doing this!

The Corset Progress

I’ve been too busy with other things to update lately…but I have progressed beyond the ‘woes & whines’!  I’ve got the layers of the corset sewn together and boned, the only thing remaining is to finish the raw edges with silk bias, and insert the grommets in the back.  Yes, I know metal grommets aren’t period, but I simply will not take the time to sew them in the ‘proper’ way….and besides, I like the look of the metal better.  Anyway, who’s to say that the elves didn’t invent grommet-setters much earlier than we humans did?  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!) 

So here’s the corset – minus the silk facing, which I added on afterwards, as a separate layer. The rounded thingie sticking out of the middle top is the busk (a removable piece of wood that slips into a pocket running the length of the corset and keeps everything straight and stiff.  The reason it’s sticking out, is because I haven’t yet cut it down to the right size.)  I ended up choosing spiral steel boning rather than going with imitation whalebone, because reviews made it sound better and easier to deal with.  It is!  This is the first corset I’ve made that the boning didn’t give me any problems whatsoever…beyond me accidentally sewing a couple of the channels too narrow, and then having to rip them out and redo them when the boning wouldn’t slide into place – and as troubles go, that’s minor!

Yes, this pic is blurry – it’s not your eyes.  For some reason, I could not get a pic that was properly in focus.  Sigh.  Anyway, this is the front.  You can see some of the boning channels, as well as the busk still poking out.  I didn’t heavily bone this corset.  I’m not blessed enough up on top to need all that much support, and after the 1700s corset, I wasn’t in the mood to sew that many channels.  It’s made of two layers of black duck sewn together.  That makes it fairly stiff even before I put the boning in at all.  Incidentally, Elizabethans made two corset lengths in front.  You could either have it end ‘to the bellybutton’ or ‘to the Honour’.  This one is to the Honour.

And of course this is the back.  Again, with the blurry photo!  When the grommets are in, and I can actually lace it, rather than just pin it to the dummy, it will look much better.  I’ve sewn the silk facing on, but I don’t have a pic of that yet.  I’ll try to get a non-blurry one.  The grommets I’m waiting to put in until I buy my new setter off ebay….I have my eye on one in particular….

The Doublet

I’ve set the corset aside while I’m waiting for my grommet setter to arrive – meanwhile I’ve gone on to working on the doublet.  Since I’ve been lazy updating this site, I’ve got a lot of pictures for you!  And I can’t believe how well it’s coming together…no problems AT ALL.  This is *so* weirdly unusual that I’m kinda holding my breath, thinking I’m going to discover at any moment that I’ve done some horrible mistake, like make the entire thing a size too small.  The seam ripper has not been used, not once.  It’s eerie, I tell you, eerie!

So first I made a test muslin directly on the dummy.  I was going to use a pattern as a base, but then I thought…I’ve got plenty of .99 a yard fabric, I’ll try to make my own from scratch and see what happens.  And here’s where it begins to get weird.  It worked!  My first try, I only had to scrap one piece.  So then, in shock, I dug out some heavier fabric in a pretty tacky color I bought *extremely* cheap for just this sort of occurrence.  It’s the same weight and thickness of my real fabric.  I cut it out and sew it together sans sleeves.  Weirdness again.  I like it.  It’s working.  I do get one picture:

Notice the collar is only half there, and only pinned.  The one sleeve is the actually trim I’m using, but only *part* of what will be there, eventually.   Underneath it, you can see my corset, nicely faced in the silk dupioni, but still with rough edges.  I *say* I’m waiting for the grommet setter, but I’m actually procrastinating.  I hate finishing edges, and I know I’m going to hate working with the dupioni. Be aware that the silk dupioni looks a completely different color in this pic than it actually is.  It’s much more a burgundy, not that *bright* red!

So after the successful test, I bravely went on the actual fabric.  It’s so gorgeous.  Here’s some pics, with most of the major seams sewn together, and everything else pinned in.  The sleeves are still not remotely what they’re going to be!

Front view.  Can I say that I love the ribbon trim?  I wish I’d bought several more yards at the time, but now I can’t find it anywhere to buy more.  I’m trying to scrimp so I have enough for an Elizabethan Faerie Queen dress I’m planning.

Side view.  Imagine it sewn with pearls and beadwork.

And the back.

The Joy of Grommets

Who knew I’d ever title a section of this diary that?  Grommets have never, ever, been a joyful matter.  For years I’ve used one of those hand-held ‘pliers’ type of setter, and let me tell you, it has not been fun.  I *dread* setting grommets, and yet…I seem always to make costumes that require lots and lots of them!

So finally (at last!) I ponied up for a $50 new grommet setter called the “Home Pro LR”.  It’s HEAVY (no wonder it cost $15 shipping), it’s purple, and it’s fantastic.  I cannot believe how much I enjoyed setting the grommets in this latest corset!

For anyone who’s interested, I bought it off ebay from this seller:  She was very professional and nice to deal with.


With our wonderful so-called ‘global warming’, we’re having the coldest June since the 1800’s…and this is making me think…perhaps I *do* need to finish this outfit for my August faire.  Heaven only knows what the weather will be like.  I’ll take one warm set of garb and one cool.  Plus, I’ve missed working on this!

I may not have time to finish the breeches, but I have 3 more yards of the wine silk dupioni on order, so I’ll make an underskirt.  In the above photo, the skirt is still just pinned together, but the doublet itself is so close to being done!  I need to add a few more pearls to the collar, sew on the trim along the front edge, and hem it.

Here is a close up on the shoulder, showing the pearls and gemstones I sewed on.  I still need to add poufs of gold silk in between each jeweled section.

Here’s the side view.  There is a ‘bum roll’ underneath the skirt to give it a full appearance, and make my waist look small!

Yesterday I went to the fabric store and scored 2 yards of the most beautiful thin cotton for the chemise/partlet.   Since I also plan to wear this with breeches, I’m not making a full chemise; it’ll be short, like a blouse.  The cotton I bought is stark white, but the lace I found is cream…so I soaked the cotton in a tea/coffee mixture to darken it.

Foot Fetish

Nope, it’s not ME has the foot fetish, it’s this gal.

Meet Panda, my ferret.  What has a ferret to do with a costuming diary?  So glad you asked.  Panda lives in my crafting studio, and enjoys herself immensely helping me re-organize my patterns and my fabric, and running away with my ribbon spools and my seam rippers.  I can live with that; I know where her secret hiding places are.

What I have difficulty living with is setting in shoulder puffs and sewing on pearls while she’s chewing on my feet.  I don’t know what it is, but she cannot resist feet – anyone’s feet, not just mine.  Bare feet, shoes, socks, slippers…it’s all the same to her.  She doesn’t bite hard enough to hurt, but even so, it’s distracting.  She was especially fond of the socks I wore today, and the only way I could get her to leave me alone was spray sour apple stuff on my feet.

I now have damp socks, just so you know.  These are the trials of a costumer no one talks about!

But despite Panda’s efforts, I do have progress to report.  The shoulder poufs on the doublet are finally done.

Inside the puffs of gold silk are pearls, but in this pic you can only see one.  I put in grommets underneath the ribbon layer, so if I have time, I can make a set of long lace-in sleeves.  I’m still thinking about the design for those.  I’m declaring the doublet officially done, except for the hem – which has to wait until I can try it on with the skirts, the bumroll, and the chemise.

And here’s the shirt/chemise, nearly done.  This was an interesting project.  I wanted the collar to stand up, so I sewed in covered florist’s wire around the edge and periodically down the back of the collar.  I still need to starch the lace, but it stays well, even as-is.  The only part left to finish is the sleeves.  I’m delaying those because I want to embroider down the length of them with a tiny leaf and flower pattern, using cream thread.

Also in this photo is a peek of the new dupioni underskirt.  That’s done except for the hem as well.


Or it’s sometimes known as a flea fur, because it’s thought that ladies carried decorated pelts of minks or martins with them in an effort to make any fleas jump to it, rather than their own skin. (Gives one a whole different picture of Queen Elizabeth I, doesn’t it?  Did she really have fleas???)  In the portrait below of Queen Elizabeth I, you can see her zibellini.

The mink’s eyes were often inset with jewels, and their heads and feet adorned with gold and more jewels.  I decided I needed one of these.  I purchased a vintage mink pelt from one of my fellow wenches, and after literally hours of ebay searching, found a brooch and earring set that works just perfectly!  Here’s a picture of the finished result:

For some reason in this picture, the eyes don’t look like the lovely ruby gems that they are, and the color of the brooch and earrings looks more green than black – and I may change the ribbon tied around the tail to a black velvet one to match the jewels.  I think it turned out quite well, otherwise – I love the rich red of the mink!

Bad news and the Silver Lining…

Well, as some of you know, my renaissance faire, the one I was planning to wear this to, was canceled for 2008.  Fingers crossed that it’ll be back for 2009.

The only good news about that is, I don’t have to work my fingers to the bone to finish it anymore – I now have an entire year. So I ripped apart the silk dupioni underskirt to use as fabric and went back to my original plan of breeches underneath the overskirt.  I finally got the pattern worked out, so I’m pleased.  It fits!  And more importantly, there’s lots of room in the bum so I can sit comfortably on hay bales and the ground.  (I was a bit worried about that in my first attempt!)

Also, I want to do a faerie pirate costume soon, and I think I can use these breeches with that.  It all depends on whether I can find the fabric I want for the combo corset/jacket in a matching color….

Doublet Re-done

I decided to rip apart the front of the doublet and re-design it…what can I say?  I’m giddy with all this extra time!  So here’s what it looks like now:

The front needs some decoration, I think, so I’ll sew on a bunch of peals when I get the time.  The collar is so washed out in this photo that I doubt if you can tell, but I’ve decided to raise it quite a bit taller.  It will be a removable piece that tucks down into the shoulders…the mechanics of that is still to be worked out, though I have a few ideas.  I also ripped the lace off the shirt and will remove all the wiring I was *so* proud of (and that also took me a really long time to sew in).  With my new removable collar design, I no longer need it.  I’ll re-cut the neckline of the shirt into a new, simpler outline – more like a partlet.  The sleeves are sewn in and hemmed, so I just need to gather the cuffs at the wrists and attach the lace.

Here is a progress shot of the breeches.  Notice the lace-up fly – which will eventually be covered by what I’m calling the ‘codpiece’ for lack of a better term.  The breeches will be gathered and tied just under my knees.  I need to watch “Dangerous Beauty” again to see exactly how the ties look.

It’s looking good.  I’m starting to think about lace-in sleeves for the doublet…I just can’t decide what style I want.  At least I have quite a bit of the brocade left, enough for whatever I decide.  Possibly something similar to the photo below.

Or possibly, like these:



So after a whirlwind trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics, I’ve been sewing the new collar.  It’s been an experience, because I have zero idea of what I’m doing, and I haven’t researched out how it *would* have been done, historically – I’ve just been winging it, based on how I know it’s supposed to look.  This could have been a bad, bad mistake, but as it happens, it’s been working out.  Good thing, because I’ve already put considerable work into it, and I’m still not done.

What I decided to do is: I cut out two of the shapes I wanted in the stiffest interfacing I could find (the kind that’s commonly used for belts).  One of the shapes, I boned exactly the way I would bone a corset – by sewing in fabric channels, and cutting lengths of wire coat-hanger to slide up into them.  Then I covered this shape in the same gold fabric as I used on the sleeve puffs.  The second shape, I covered in pleated cream lace.  Below is the lace shape:

Here’s a close up of the pleated lace.

I then sewed both shapes together, so that I have the stiffened, decorated base.

And here’s how it looks, pinned in place.  Now I need to figure out how to attach it securely, and sew on the lace trim.  I’m using the same ‘pointed’ lace as I used on the original collar.  It’s a funny thing…that lace was not what I really wanted, but it was the best I could locate.  Well, when I was skimming through my Elizabethan costuming book, I found 3 portraits that used almost *identical* lace!  I’m now much more pleased with it, since it’s obviously correct for the period.

Notice the new pattern of lacing on the doublet; it’s called “ladder lacing” and this likely what I will use when I lace it up with me inside.  I’m still deciding on the color of lace: I think either burgundy (as shown) or gold.

And lastly, just a visual aid to how hard I’ve been working, here’s a current shot of my studio:

Fabric scraps, bins full of lace, trim, and ribbons, and in the center bottom, there’s a bag of polyester stuffing.  That is where Panda the ferret has been sleeping!

Collar re-vamped yet again…

I’m just really indecisive on this whole collar thing!

So, I finished the blouse, and it looks wonderful!

Lace cuffs….and that’s *two* layers of lace, that is!

Full view….though this one was taken with the flash, and is so washed out that most of the detail and lace has disappeared.

A close up of the sleeves, showing the natural woven pattern, plus the cotton braid I’ve sewn on for even more texture.

And here’s the shirt in place under the doublet where it belongs.  There is two layers of lace here, too, and it’s so dramatic, that I’ve changed my mind (again!) about a separate stand-up collar.  The stand-up collar looks great, but I think it looks too royal.  This shirt has enough lace for a courtesan all on its own!  I’ll save the collar though, and can always attach it at any time if I decide to play a queen at faire.  Or, I can always sew an entirely *new* dress just for the collar!  I’ll get a good close-up of the lace later, without the camera flash.  It’s gorgeous stuff.

So…what have I got left to do?

1) Hem the skirt…but I have to choose shoes first.

2) Sew the detachable sleeves for the doublet.

3) Bead the front of the doublet with pearls.  I’ve started that already, but no pics yet.

4) Finish the knee cuffs on the breeches.

5) Make/buy a hat. Or possibly a snood?

6) Make the feathered fan.  I think I need to buy more feathers….

7) Make the jewelry.  Belt, earrings, and necklace.

And…I *think* that’s it.  Oh, wait…

8) Buy these fantastic ears I saw on ebay – when I have a spare $30 laying around.  I’m dead set on these, as they are about 6″ long and – oh here.  I’ll show you a picture; there’s no way to describe such splendid ears!

It’s a well known fact that courtesan elves have large…ears…

Boring title here (thanks to B.  .)

 So here’s the progress after  a week of fairly steady beading:

The above photo is of the very beginning, when I was just getting started.  There are two stripes of ribbon sewn on, one stripe sewn flat just left of the grommets, and the other gathered onto the right side.  I went back and forth on the ribbon, deciding whether it was too much.  Then I thought…heck, during this era, there’s no such *thing* as too much.  It’s pretty amazing; I had *exactly* enough ribbon to do what I wanted – and I had *only* that much.  I’d bought a spool a couple years ago because it was pretty, even though I had no idea what to use it for, so once the spool was used up, there was no way of finding any more.  I think this dress is lucky…we’ll see what happens when I get to actually wear it!

And here the front is, finished.  The two loops of pearls across the front and the necklace are temporary place holders, for whenever I get my jewelry made.  Plus, the doublet is only half-laced, because I was too lazy to lace it all the way just for a photo!  There’s only one more short bit of pearl beading left to sew on.  You can’t see it in this picture, but along the collar of the doublet, just under the points of lace, I need to add a line of pearls.  I can’t do it yet, because I used all my pearls up and have an order in for more.

All-Staff Work Training Day.

I work at a library, and the Powers That Be recently decided to close up for a day to the public and have a “staff training day”.  They told us to wear an “article of clothing that has special meaning to you”.  Okay, I was stumped.  I just don’t get that emotionally attached to my clothes.  But then I realized….hey, I’ll wear my new Elizabethan corset!  If anything has “special meaning” to me, it’s my costumes!  So I wore a black tshirt with my corset laced over it, and thereby had the opportunity to give it a test-wear, and see if I found any problems with fit or comfort before I wear it with several pounds of doublets and skirts over it.

The good news is, it gave me no problems at all.  The fit was perfect, and it was so comfy that I kept forgetting I even had it on.

The bad news is, the training day itself was just about as interesting and helpful as I feared it was going to be.

Breeches are finished!

This means that ALL of the parts of the gown are officially done now.  Though I have yet to make most of the accessories, I have been talked into wearing it for Halloween to work. That’ll give the comfort/stability of the costume a good try-out before I actually wear it to my renfaire.  I wish I had the fan completed, though…  Pictures to follow, after I get some taken!

Forgot to take pics of the breeches.

But here’s a few others:

This is the girdle and a matching choker.  I was lucky enough to find this bracelet at Target two years ago that had these chunky ruby gems – they look *so* well as Renaissance jewelry.

Here’s a close up.  I must have restrung these 5 times – I kept getting the length wrong….

And here’s my hat.  You can’t see all the feathers in this shot; it has turkey wing feathers, ostrich feathers, and peacock feathers, so it’s pretty feather-y.  The red band is a strip of my burgundy silk dupioni.

I’ll be dressing up in it for Halloween – minus the fan, purse, and elf ears, which I didn’t have time to make or buy – so come back for pictures after the 31st!

Halloween pictures

This is me at work, on Halloween.

Quick snap-shots, but you get the idea.  When I actually wear it to the renfaire, I’ll try to get some properly posed ones, in a more period setting!  Unfortunately,  I sort of blend into the shelves here, and you can’t really see the great effect my bumroll is giving to the back of my skirt!

Good news, though, I wore it all day while working, and nothing slipped, slid, poked, or dug into me anywhere!

Photos taken by Bonnie H.  Thank you!!!

Purse Frame

I had stopped thinking about this costume for awhile, as the next time I’ll wear it will be at renfaire in August.  Plenty of time to worry about the accessories!  But I just saw this purse frame for sale, and couldn’t resist it.

I ordered the one in ‘antique gold’.  If you look closely, you’ll see there are two peacocks hissing at each other!


I’m calling this the “Dangerous Beauty” inspired courtesan outfit now, because I’ve moved on from the idea of it ever being an elf.  (I think…who really knows what I’ll do?)  I finally finished the breeches and sleeves, and wore it to a Masquerade Ball, so here are a few final pictures.

The new front of the breeches.

The tie-on codpiece was a hit at the ball.  Silly me, I thought no one would notice!

I also made long lace-one sleeves with beading along the bottom edge.  They have beaded ties at the elbow to hold them in place.

Notice the Wig of Glory….I made courtesan horns on it!

I made the mask as well.  I started with a paper mache mask base, then sculpted flowers and leaved over it with Paperclay, then painted it and glued on jewels.

The sculpting done, but unpainted:

And painted:

For more pictures from the event, and pictures of my friend’s costume (she used an awesome 18th century youtube tutorial for her hair!) visit my other blog:

The Masquerade Ball