The Burgundian, attempt 1: Or, how NOT to make a burgundian in 2 weeks without a pattern.

I went to my first SCA event in December 2015.  I am just fastidious enough to not want to wear loaner garb to my first event, so with nothing but the ability to google, I thought I could figure out how to make a burgundian gown really easily.  V-neck, flowy black dress.  No problem.  I can whip up one of those and a kirtle in two weeks, right?

Portrait of a Lady by Rogier Van Der Weyden

I was wrong.  In hindsight, several things went wrong.  Oh so many things.

First, was the sheer amount of fabric required.  Needless to say, I underestimated.   I used 4-5 yards of black broadcloth (all I could afford at the time).  I am not a short woman and much of the fabric (a little less than 2 yards of it) was immediately taken by my height.  To make a huge huge burgundian or even a moderately sized burgundian, I’d need an additional 2-4 yards of fabric.  The more you learn, right?

So, let’s do the math. About 4 yards of fabric are immediately  used up by me being a tall person.  About 1 yard remains for gores, sleeves, and fixing mistakes. This is not enough fabric for a HUGE FLOWING dress (now that I know how a burgundian should be made, I refuse to think of it without all caps).

I’m going to pause here and give you an idea of my process. I usually start by sketching out what I want to make. I measure myself to make sure I remember my measurements (I usually don’t). I then sketch the proximate pattern pieces, and add measurements and seam allowances. Overall, the end product looks like this:


I will usually adjust this as I go on and get more information or as I see how things look.  For instance, while you’ll note I originally was going to have a separate bodice piece, I did change my mind, thus landing at a more historical pattern, by sheer laziness.

Everything looks according to my plan, right?  Wrong.

Mack is the worst at helping

Two things go immediately wrong.  First, my cat decides to assist. He is less than helpful, cream colored and sheds.  Second, my sleeve measurements are wrong and not quite wide enough.  So, sleeves not big enough, should use some of the extra yard, right?  Wrong.  I am a tall lady. I have long arms. There’s not enough fabric to cover my arms entirely.    I fix this by having one sleeve out of two pieces of fabric, and the other fit to the garment using a gusset in the armpit because it’s too narrow there.

The next thing to go wrong is the realization that the back of the dress should be two pieces, not one because it too, is not wide enough to contain my shoulders.

That looks hot.

Another reason this is a bad choice is something I didn’t realize until I tried it:  I am bad at sewing in panels when there isn’t a seam line.

But I was feeling daring and decided to try anyway, without the assistance of the internet, because it can’t be that hard.  I was half right.  It’s not hard to do… it’s hard to make it look good.

This means, the back of my dress looks a bit messed up.  However, everything, except for the velvet (a story for another day) works out.  Hurrah.

Then I tried to hem it.  I made it, and my kirtle, much too short and hemmed unevenly.  The kirtle was also too big, but that’s a story with fewer pictures for another day.

Finished! For now…

Anyway, I go to my first event, in my weird burgundian attempt that passes at 10 ft.  The neckline was ok, as were the sleeves, and the overall silhouette was close.

Now what?  I liked wearing it, it felt pretty darn good, overall, but now I see there’s major issues in the design and construction.

Here’s the salvaging plan:

  1. Add more space in the back for shoulder room.
  2. Add 2 additional panels into the back of the dress, 1 to the front, and maybe another 2 on the sides. I want something that looks middle class trying too hard.
  3. Lower that hem!  Make it even!
  4. Lower and widen the neckline.

At that point, I’ll see where I am in making this look good.  If it’s looking good, I’ll be adding sleeve contrast lining, neckline decoration and probably getting a belt I didn’t find at Target the day before.

This will never be a great example of accurate burgundian construction, but hey, it’ll hopefully do until I can get at least 8 yards of velvet or silk or brocade.


2 thoughts on “The Burgundian, attempt 1: Or, how NOT to make a burgundian in 2 weeks without a pattern.

  1. Great first try! I recently made a houppelande which is the precursor to the burgundian dress and I had all sorts of issues too. The sides ended up too short because I forgot that the fabric had to travel across my shoulders first so I added a 5″ (13″ doubled over with 1 1/2″ seam allowance to sew to upper and under layers of the dress) wide panel along the entire bottom. Contrasting hem panels were totally period!

    Liked by 1 person

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