Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650 Reconstruction | Part One: The Pattern & Materials

Filmer bodies

Bodies and Stomacher of Dame Elizabeth Filmer (front), c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

  1. Filmer Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Filmer Bodies Part Two: The Busk
  3. Filmer Bodies Part Three: The Stomacher
  4. Filmer Bodies Part Four: Constructing & Finishing
  5. Filmer Bodies Part Five: Finished Product & Afterthoughts

The second ‘bodies’ reconstruction that I’m undertaking for my PhD research is of the Dame Filmer Bodies at the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery.[1] The exact dating of these bodies is disputed. The museum has dated them according to their provenance: they are believed to have belonged to Dame Elizabeth Filmer, and they have a letter ‘E’ near the shoulder of the garment. Dame Elizabeth Filmer died in August 1638 and so a reasonable date range for these bodies of 1620-1640 has been given by the Museum.

Yet in Luca Costigliolo’s examination of the garment he states that the “long-waisted style” of the bodies is more characteristic of the 1650s, than of the higher waisted styles of the 1630s and 1640s, and subsequently has given the date range 1638-1650.[2] I’m more inclined to side with Costigliolo, but regardless these are an amazing and rare example of foundational undergarments from the first half of the seventeenth century.

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Bodies and Stomacher of Dame Elizabeth Filmer (back), c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

The Pattern

At the moment there is no available pattern for these bodies, although I’m hoping that there will be one in the upcoming Patterns of Fashion 5. When I was in the UK last year, I did not have a chance to examine these bodies in detail as they were on display. I did, however, get to look at them closely from different angles through the display glass and there is quite a lot of detailed curatorial/conservation notes on the garment on the Gallery of Costume website.

So how did I draft a pattern?

There are two pictures of these bodies lying flat, one in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930, and the other in Jenny Tiramani and Susan North’s Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two. On the Gallery of Costume website there are also some measurements for the bodies. So by scaling up the pictures that I have with the measurements given, I was able to draft my own pattern for these bodies. Of course the nature of bodies, being boned, means that they may not have been laying completely flat in those pictures, however, after making a mock up I feel fairly confident that my pattern is accurate in shape and size to the original.

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Testing the mock up

The Filmer bodies consist of four separate parts: two front sections and two back sections. These bodies lace together at the front with nineteen pairs of eyelet holes, but unlike the effigy bodies, they have a separate stomacher over which the lacing sits. The stomacher in these bodies is fully boned, and I can’t be sure, but there does appear to be a channel for a busk or a larger piece of whalebone in the centre of the stomacher as well. The shoulder straps fasten the same way as the Effigy Bodies at the front, but these straps sit more on the edge of the shoulders keeping in fashion with the off-the-shoulder fashions of the late 1620s onward. There are six tabs at the bottom of the bodies that spread over the hips, and between the first and second tab on either side of the front, a gore made from silk and linen has been added.

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The Materials

These bodies are made from a crimson silk satin with a linen twill lining, and are bound with a pale blue silk ribbon. The bodies are stitched all over in blue silk thread, stiffened with whalebone and are trimmed with a metal thread braid.[3]

For my reconstruction, I decided to use a linen for the lining and yellow gold silk taffeta for the outside. Queen Henrietta Maria’s wardrobe accounts from the same period contain entries for both silk taffeta and silk satin bodies, and one of the bodies in these entries was yellow. Many portraits of the Queen from the period also depict her in yellow silks, so I tried to find a shade of yellow similar to those gowns she was depicted in.

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Anthony Van Dyck, Henrietta Maria ca. 1632 – 1635. National Portrait Gallery, London.

The widths of the whalebone channels in this style are incredibly tiny and much smaller than the both the effigy bodies and another bodie that is contemporary to this. For both my effigy reconstruction and this one, I chose to use a modern plastic dressmaking boning and plastic cable ties, as both of these mimic baleen’s properties. Unfortunately, there is no way that I would be able to cut these down to the same width as the original, so each boning channel will be 6mm wide to accommodate this 5mm boning. These are the same channel widths as found on the 1603 effigy bodies, so although not completely accurate for this particular reconstruction they are accurate for the period.

The original bodies are decorated with a metal braid trim, and I was lucky enough to find this very similar metallic gold and silver braid at my local sewing supplies store.

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References

[1] In the museum catalogue these are called ‘stays’, however, I prefer to use the term bodies as this is what they were called at the time they were made and worn. The term stays does not come into being until the late seventeenth century.

[2] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 10.

[3] Manchester Galleries – catalogue object description: http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/search/collection/?id=2003.109/2

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Effigy Bodies: did they really belong to Elizabeth I? | Speculating about the appearance of Gloriana through Dress Reconstruction

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After blogging about the process of reconstructing the earliest pair of surviving English bodies that were found on the 1603 effigy of Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey, one of the most frequent questions that I received was: do you think these bodies actually belong to the Queen?

My answer: no… and yes, maybe.

Funerary records from the time list that an effigy “representing her late Majestie with a paire of straight bodies…” was ordered from a man called John Colte, and these ‘straight bodies’ were probably made by the Queen’s tailor William Jones. Although the Queen never wore these bodies, considering their hasty construction between Elizabeth’s death and her funerary procession, it is probable that their size, design and construction was based on styles of bodies (and thus measurements) that Jones had previously made for the Queen.[1] Yet, as some people have pointed out, they could also have been made purely for the effigy – as the two were ordered together. To me though, it would seem easier to make a garment from pre-existing measurements and patterns, and simply construct the effigy to fit the garments, rather than the other way around. Certainly, an effigy would probably be much faster to construct than the garments that sat over it.

Surprisingly, the process of trying my reconstruction of these bodies on a model seemed to confirm contemporary accounts about Elizabeth I’s appearance, which leads me to believe that they were made according to previous measurements and patterns that her tailor had taken.

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The average height of women during the Tudor era was approximately 158cm and my model was an AU size 6 (UK 6 / US 2) and 156cm (5’2”) tall, so just a tad shorter than the average height during this period.[2] When my model was laced into the bodies they nearly fit her around the torso, with only an inch gap between the centre front openings. However, the underarms cut into her, the shoulder straps were far too big and the back jutted up past shoulder height. This indicates that I need a taller model to accurately fit these bodies.

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Shoulder straps come up way past the shoulderline

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Gaping at the back due to straps being too big

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Pulling the shoulder straps down at the front to fit model

In 1557 the Venetian ambassador, Giovanni Michiel, described Elizabeth who was then 23 years old as “tall and well formed.”[3] Later Francis Bacon stated that she was “tall of stature” and John Hayward described that she “was slender and straight…”[4] The findings from my experiment of placing the bodies on a slender but petite model seems then to confirm that these bodies were tailored for a woman who was not only slender but also tall and long in the torso, just as Elizabeth is described as being.

by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Ditchley Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, oil on canvas, circa 1592

Okay, so the bodies were designed to fit a taller woman (or effigy), but what about the size of the bodies. Surely, they are far too small for someone (besides a child) to have actually worn them?? As I mentioned previously, the bodies did fit my model around her torso, with only a small gap at the front (when laced very tightly). However, as the portrait of the Countess of Southampton indicates, they were probably designed to be worn with the centre front pieces touching side by side, which means my model was just a tad too big for them.

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, 1595-1600. Unknown Artist. Boughton House

Although Elizabeth was described as being tall for the time, the tiny size of her waist was not unique, rather, it seems she was quite average. My reconstruction of the effigy bodies measures 53.4cm (21”) in the waist and 73.6cm (29”) in the bust, placing the wearer as an AU size 4 (UK 4 / US 0) or smaller. Some commentators (and my supervisor) have commented that maybe this was because the Queen was quite sick in the last few months of her life. Whilst this is true, Janet Arnold records that another pair of bodies dated earlier to 1598 from Germany, known as the von Neuburg bodies, had an even smaller waist measurement of 50.8cm (20”) and bust of 71.1cm (28”).[5]  A much later bodice, which would have been worn to court, from the 1660s at the Museum of London has an even smaller 48cm (19”) waist measurement![6] Numerous other seventeenth-century bodies and bodices in other collections all show similar measurements, which means that the size of the effigy bodies is not an anomaly.

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So did these bodies belong to Elizabeth I?
No they didn’t, as we have certain proof that were commissioned after she died for her effigy. However, I am inclined to believe that they were made from previous patterns taken from the Queen’s own measurements… although we will never know for sure.

 

* If you’d like to see a much more thorough and detailed use of historical reconstruction to learn about past historical figures, dress historian Hilary Davidson has written an excellent piece Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814 in the Journal of Costume.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Janet Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’ and ‘a pair of drawers’ dating from 1603 which Clothe the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey’, Costume, Vol. 41 (2007), p. 1.

[2] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 9.

[3] ‘Venice: May 1557, 11-15’, in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 6, 1555-1558, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1877), pp. 1041-1095. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol6/pp1041-1095 [accessed 10 July 2016].

[4] Francis Bacon, The felicity of Queen Elizabeth: and her times, with other things; by the Right Honorable Francis Ld Bacon Viscount St Alban. (LONDON: Printed by T. Newcomb, for George Latham at the Bishops Head in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1651), p. 18; John Hayward, Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, Volume 7, John Bruce, ed. (London: Camden Society, 1840), p. 7.

[5] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, c. 1560-1620 (London: MacMillan, 1985), p. 127.

[6] Measurement courtesy of Tim Long, Curator at the Museum of London: https://twitter.com/Fashion_Curator/status/702785825386459136