Projects · research

Dress like the Testard illumination you wish to see in the world

I did not fight on Saturday.  INSTEAD, I ACHIEVED A STEP CLOSER TO MY GOALS.  Well, a goal anyway.  I want to look like Robinet Testard painted me and I walked into an event. It’s a weird goal, but it is mine.

Relatedly:  a few months ago, I decided to spend more time on details when making garments.  This means pressing or using a linen creaser, snipping stray threads, finishing seams, lining things and focusing on making my stuff more period in general. I have ADHD so focusing on this shit is HARD for me, but necessary if I want to improve, in general.   This means I’ve taken a seam ripper to some of my things that weren’t up to par, passed some things along that do not fit in my period or would be better suited for someone else, rejiggered things that weren’t working and started working on more accessories.  This should be clothing, not costume.  Why do I mention this?

One of my dresses from last year has had the brunt of the new and improved sewing outlook.  So far, I’ve mended it, changed the trim on the neckline, changed the decorative stitching on the neck and cuffs, moved the lacing to the side from the back, reinforced the back and sides of the garment, and have started lining it.  Soon I’m going to take it in slightly and add hooks and eyes.  Or maybe just sew things down better, I haven’t decided in that instance.

When I was first making this, I was deeply confused.  The books I have do not describe how a dress with NO WAIST and no front seaming should be made.  It took a bit to get this figured out.  Lots of sketches later and I decided on this design.  The front piece is all one and flat fronted with no gores at all.  The gores that I’d usually put up there for my earlier period things went to the back.

This is a ridiculous picture.

This dress is only about a year old.  It is a polyester/wool blend with rayon/silk velvet trim and guards.  This is officially not a great picture of the dress, to be honest.

I made this last year for Boar’s Head and this year, I wore it again.  No one remembered it so this is just to remind you that no one remembers what you wear in any meaningful way so wear that garb, friends. Because this is one of my MOST worn gowns.  I love this thing even if I want to improve it.    I think it’s a nice color on me and the cut is flattering.  The sleeves are unique but documentable for 1495.   For this year’s Boar’s Head, I lined the skirt and added an underskirt for ultimate fabulousness.  I am overall pleased with how it turned out, but there are some issues… of course.

2019Burgandy French1500HoodCoif
Yule Moot FAB.



1.)  The underskirt wasn’t long enough or big enough to be worn around my hips where it would be long enough.  This means that every time I bent, crouched, etc, it ripped on a seam a bit more.  Oops.
2.)  No one got a picture of me with my black apron and Black Partlet (since large chemise pictured on the right was dirty and the partlet was broken and needed to be mended).
3.)  The pattern on the lining is a bit small.

but, here’s the thing…It’s getting closer to what I want it to be.   This means that someday, I’ll have it down and be ready to make all the 1490s boys swoon with my conspicuous consumption of black linen and ridiculous lining fabrics.

My two main inspirations were 3 gowns from 2 different manuscripts, both by Robinet Testard.   First,  Livre des échecs amoureux moralisés and the image of what I believe are the fates (More research required… mostly I saw this picture and went oooo purty).  Recueil des histoires de Troie

Evrart de ContyLe livre des échecs amoureux moralisés
14V, Jacques Legrand, Archiloge Sophie Evrart de Conty.  Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Français 143.

But what is striking about this image is not death hanging out in the back, but the number of ways that conspicuous consumption is displayed. Both dresses are obviously lined, although the center figure it would be difficult to speculate what it was made of.  The figure on the left has not only one dress made of fine fabrics, but maybe two, given her underskirt looks like cloth of gold.  The lining of her skirt is in perhaps a lighter color, but the details of the fabric mean that it’s not exactly cheap, despite possibly not being a first dye bath. Her neckline is extremely detailed and would have wasted a great deal of fabric to cut out.  These scallops appear to be somewhat popular for a brief moment during this period, but they are less common than a square, V or W neckline.  Her companion to the center is more modestly dressed, but again, the conspicuous consumption of her sleeves and the color of her apron speaks to someone well off enough to afford a frequently washed item in black, historically a color that faded quickly, especially when applied to linen and to make sleeves that are maybe a bit larger than strictly required.

The second image is from “Recueil des histoires de Troie.”   This image is a striking comparison to the other two in its plainness. While you see the same sleeve on this woman as the image in Livre des échecs amoureux moralisés, it is not further

DetailfromRaoul Lefèvre, Recueil des histoires de Troie
Lefèvre, Raoul, Robinet Testard. “Recueil des histoires de Troie,” Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Français 252. 73r

embellished. From the context, we can see that the woman depicted is a maidservant to baby Hercules, making her status perhaps less prestigious than the previous example.  While well dressed, it is plain and no black apron is in sight.  Even her head covering is plainer.

Now, I am not going to say that my dress is a 100% faithful reproduction. I added a black velvet guard to my dress because it was slightly too short.  I also chose not to include cuffs on my sleeves for reasons which remain a mystery to me.  but overall, I’m pleased.  I think the lining pattern is busy when compared to the inspiration image, but it was also the cheapest option available. While imaginary medieval French ladies can dress how they like with no regard for finances, some of us need to pay bills.

That being said, a side by side comparison is in order.  TaDa! Collage2019Burgundrygown.jpg



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