The Farthingale, Gender and the Consumption of Space in Elizabethan and Jacobean England | New Research Article


Farthingales were large stiffened structures placed beneath a woman’s skirts in order to push them out and enlarge the lower half of the body. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England criticisms of these garments increasingly focused on their spatial ramifications, decrying their monstrous size and inconvenience. Nonetheless farthingales served important social and cultural functions for women in early modern England, shaping and defining status and wealth in both court and urban spaces. Using surviving textual and visual sources, as well as engaging with the process of historical dress reconstruction, this article argues that spatial anxieties relating to farthingales were less about the actual size of this garment and more related to older fears concerning the ability of farthingales to create intimate personal spaces around the female body, mask the appropriation of social status, and physically displace men. In turn, these anxieties led to the establishment of a common and enduring trope regarding the monstrous size of these garments as women in farthingales were perceived to be challenging their social and gendered place in the world.

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Back to Basics: The Smock in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

As many of you know, during my PhD I decided to reconstruction four items of female structural dress from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, in order for the reconstructions to be worn during photoshoots the most basic female undergarment of the the early modern period was needed: the smock.

The Smock – A Brief History

Smocks or shifts (‘chemise’ in French) were the most basic undergarment of all women and men (men’s were referred to usually as shirts) in sixteenth century Europe, and indeed had been so for hundreds of years and would remain so, in one form or another, until the twentieth century. During the early modern period they were made from linen, sometimes silk, and later cotton, and sat closest to the historical body. Smocks and shirts were worn underneath every type of clothing, and as a result even the poorest person owned a few smocks, and rich elites often owned dozens.

Throughout the seventeenth century various styles of smocks and shifts developed – from those that were intricately embroidered such as the one below, to those that had elaborate frills around the cuffs and neckline. Interestingly, it was these frills that would eventually turn into a separate accessory in the second half of the sixteenth century – the ruff.



Examples of early embroidered frill on cuffs and neckline.  Man’s Shirt, c. 1540, England. T.112-1972. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Smocks and shirts served two main purposes during the sixteenth century. During the early modern period outer garments, especially those made from luxurious fabrics such as silks and velvets, were rarely laundered in order to maintain the condition of the fabric. It was the smock then that absorbed sweat and other body excretions, and it was this item that was regularly cleaned and laundered instead. Medical theory during this period also viewed the skin as porous and weak and the hot water from public baths or full immersion bathing was believed to create openings for disease such as plague to slip through.  Linen, as a porous fabric, therefore replaced the role of skin in bathing practices, as it was believed to absorb dangerous matter that could then be laundered and removed away from the body.   Thus, instead of cleaning the skin one would simply remove and clean their ‘second skin’ – their smock.[1]


Woman’s Smock, c. 1615-1630, England. T.2-1956. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cleanliness by the seventeenth century therefore was not focused on the body of skin and flesh, but measured by the cleanliness of linen and the display of objects and garments in external appearance.[2] Kathleen M. Brown has noted that “a clean linen shirt, complete with ruffs and lace at the neck and wrists, indicated not only the wearer’s refinement, attention to fashion, and wealth, but his access to the services of a laundress”, and his attention to cleanliness.[3] Therefore the whiteness of smocks and shifts, rather than the body itself, was linked to cleanliness during this period.[4] This idea is probably best exhibited through the following instance: at one point yellow linens became so popular in London during the early seventeenth century that critics were quick to associate them with the uncleanliness of the Spanish courtiers who used saffron dye as a way to deter vermin, and with the neglected hygiene of those Europeans in hot climates whose sweat and lack of access to laundering turned the colour of their white shifts to yellow.[5]

All smocks during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century (and beyond) were similar in construction, they were made from a collection of basic geometric shapes: rectangles, squares and triangles. These pieces were cut from standards lengths of linen. Although regional differences could exist. Smocks and shirts were usually sewn in the home by women, or female seamstresses were employed.


A Seamstress sewing a Linen Garment . The Virtuous Woman, Nicolas Maes, c. 1655. Wallace Collection, London

Smocks also changed in style throughout the early modern period in England depending on the styles of outer clothing worn. Necklines could be high such as on the smock above, or fashionable bodices and gowns that had necklines cut horizontally off the shoulder during the mid-seventeenth century would have required smocks that also had this scooped neckline (such as in the Rembrandt below). Unfortunately, very few seventeenth century English women’s smocks survive in museum collections. So it is hard to establish a chronology of styles during this period.

Woman Bathing - Rembrandt

A Woman Bathing in a Stream, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1654. The National Gallery, London.


Tudor and Elizabethan-era Smock Construction 

The pattern I used for my smock came from Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies’ wonderful book, The Tudor Tailor. As the title indicates, the smock pattern provided only date until the end of Elizabethan era. However, Jacobean fashions were similar enough that this style would work for this era as well.

The book provides patterns for two types of women’s smocks, and five types of men’s shirts. I decided that in order to get the most use of my smock that I would make option g) a “smock with simple hemmed neck and sleeve.” So no fancy period specific neck or wrist cuff, or embroidery. However, the neckline is very similar to the neckline of the smock that Mary Queen of Scots was executed in 1587 which is now held by the National Trust.


Chemise belonging to Mary Queen of Scots in which she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle, c. 1580s. NT 135702. Coughton Court, Warwickshire

This style of smock would have been worn with a court style of gown that required a low neckline, such as the French gown.


The Ditchley Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c. 1592. The National Portrait Gallery, London.


NPG 6918; Anne of Denmark by John De Critz the Elder

Anne of Denmark, John De Critz the Elder, c. 1605-1610. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Because the basic shape of the smock contains no curved lines (except the neckline), the pattern was easy to scale up onto my chosen pattern paper (which is actually the inexpensive baking/parchment paper from the baking aisle).  I decided to use a lightweight white linen that I already had in my supplies. It is not as fine as the Holland linen that would have been used by wealthier people during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it does the trick.


I didn’t want to spend a lot of time of my smock, and as it’s not actually one of my reconstructions there was no need for it to be hand sewn. As a result, the smock was easily and quickly put together. Again, as this is not one of my reconstructions, I decided not to use period specific construction techniques in regards to hemming and seams (as it would take too long) – so I just did those the same way I would do on a modern garment I was constructing. The only difficulty I had with the smock was sewing the gussets under arms as this is quite an historical sewing technique that is rarely used in modern clothing. However, after reading some information on gussets they went together well.

The primary reason I made this smock was for my models to wear it underneath the reconstructions that completed as part of PhD (bodies and farthingales). The garment looked fantastic on them and I’m really pleased with how it photographed, and it ended up working for both an Elizabethan pair of bodies and an off-the shoulder civil war-era pair too!

I’m also pleased with how it sat underneath my Jacobean gown that has a low cut doublet bodice.


So all in all, I think this is an excellent pattern, that, while not strictly historically accurate for these eras, is also suitable for most Stuart dress too.

For further reading on the linen smock, see the footnotes below:

[1] Georges Vigarello has explored this idea of the ‘second skin’ in his work on hygiene in France. See:  Georges Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 54.

[2] Vigarello, Concepts of Cleanliness, p. 3.

[3] Kathleen M. Brown, Foul bodies: cleanliness in early America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 31

[4] Georges Vigarello, ‘The Skin and White Linen’ in Textiles: Critical and Primary sources, Catherine Harper (ed.), (London, New York: Berg, 2012), p. 377

[5] Brown, Foul Bodies, p. 32.

Preparing raw wool for use in Early Modern Historical Dress Reconstruction

Man shearing a sheep, early sixteenth century. The British Library, Egerton 1147, f. 11v.


Wool was a commonly used natural material in early modern Europe. Besides being spun for use in cloth production and knitted garments (such as men’s felted flat caps), wool was also commonly used in structural garments as stuffing. My construction of a French farthingale roll and French wheel farthingale, made as part of my PhD research, required the use of wool as stuffing.

We know that some sort of stuffing like wool was used in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries in the garments because wardrobe warrants, such as one for Elizabeth I dating from April 1581, specified its use:

“Item to Robrt Sipthorpe for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of peache color satten stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone and bent: for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of oringe tawnye & watchett damaske stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone & bent…”[1]

Like most early modern sources, terminology often becomes an issue when trying to decipher what materials were used and how. For example, in this wardrobe warrant it is not 100% obvious as to what “cotton wool” refers to. The fibre cotton as we know it was not unheard of in the sixteenth century, but it also was not very commonly used in garment production (although elite women like Elizabeth I would certainly have had access to this raw material from the Indian subcontinent).

Further compounding this uncertainty is that ‘cotton’ often referred to a type of woollen cloth in the sixteenth century.[2] Although these entries might certainly refer to raw cotton, it was probably more common for structured garments in England to be stuffed with wool, a natural fibre that was very readily available and a staple of English industry. As a result I chose to use wool instead of cotton to stuff the rolls of my French farthingale reconstructions.

Not only did I choose to use wool due to its ready availability in early modern England, but it was also easy for me to obtain because I was raised on a sheep farm in rural New South Wales, Australia.  So I asked my dad to put some wool aside for me next time he was shearing.

Raw, unwashed lambs wool


Preparing the Wool

One of the downsides of using this raw material though, especially when it comes from rural Australia, is that it contains a quite a lot of dirt and organic matter. So in order to use it for my reconstructions I had to wash and prepare it. However, as anyone who has ever worked with wool can attest, it is a temperamental fibre to wash. The first difficulty is that if wool is agitated too much in water it has a tendency to felt; great if that is your intention, but a pain if you just want to wash it. Secondly, wool fibres shrink at the high temperatures required to wash it correctly, so I ended up having to use twice as much wool as I thought I would need to allow for this shrinkage.

After chatting to other costumers I decided that the best way to wash and prepare my wool would be to buy some large laundry wash bags, stuff them with the wool and allow them to soak in a tub of hot soapy water (oil removing dish-washing liquid seems to be the best option here).

While these bags were soaking in the hot water I slightly agitated them every now and then, but not too much in case the wool felted together.

As you can see from the pictures the wool did shrink after being immersed in the hot water and A LOT of dirt came out. In fact, I had to repeat this soaking process about three times for each bag of wool in order to get it to a satisfactory state.

After getting the wool as clean as I possibly could, I laid it out on pavement in the hot summer sun to dry.

As you can see in the image above, the wool was still full of burrs and other organic plant matter. I did my best to pick out as much of this as possible, but I’m certain that some of it is sitting in my reconstructions, which is fine.

The wool when stuffed into my French farthingale roll reconstruciton

I hope this post has been helpful to anyone thinking of preparing their own raw wool for spinning or stuffing. If you have any tips or tricks that you use to prepare your wool, feel free to comment below and let us know!

[1] Wardrobe Warrant of Elizabeth I, 6 April 1581. The British Library, Egerton MS 2806, fol. 166r.

[2] Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 36.


Rebato Collar, c. 1600-1625 | Part One: Pattern and Materials

William Larkin, Portrait of Grey Brydges, 5th Baron Chandos, of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, c. 1615, Yale Center for British Art.


The structural fashions of the early modern period in Europe reached a peak at the turn of the seventeenth century. Women wore farthingales, whaleboned bodies and wired sleeves, whilst men donned puffy hose and peascod-bellied doublets. Whilst the ruff, a gathered and starched linen frill that was worn around the neck, was still widely worn, at the beginning of the seventeenth century a new type of standing linen collar became fashionable. Like the ruff before them, these accessories forced the wearers, both male and female, to keep their head held high as they slightly impeded normal neck and head movement. These standing collars also halo-ed the head with bright white, sometimes translucent, linen or silk that was often trimmed with expensive bobbin lace. As a result, early modern neck wear such as ruffs and standing collars  projected aristocratic ideas of wealth, power and prestige.

The rebato, also known as a piccadill and underproper (in England) and a suportasse (in France) was a stiffened support for a standing ruff or collar. These accessories were often made from wire or pasteboard that was covered in silk. Although “piccadills” or “piccadilly collars” appear commonly in English sources, it seems that “rebato”, an Italian term, was most commonly used in England to refer to those collar supports that were made from wire.[1] Unlike the structures made from board and silk, the rebato, with its intricate wire motifs, loops and scallops was both a collar support and a decorative neck ornament.[2]

There are well preserved examples of these stiffened collar supports in many museums in Europe. For example, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has three examples of piccadills and supportasses made from pasteboard or cardboard.

Fig. 1 Picadil of silk satin, pasteboard and silk thread. English, c. 1600-1615, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Fig. 2. Supportasse of linen, silk, whaleboe, card, wire and linen thread. English, c. 1595-1615, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Fig. 3. Supportasse of cardboard, silk, linen, silk and linen thread. English, c. 1600-1625, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Tutorials on how to recreate two of these collar supports, the piaccdill in figure 1 and the supportasse in figure 2, are featured in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two for anyone who is interested in constructing these particular types of collar support.

At least three examples of the wired rebato exist in European and American collections:

Fig. 4. Rebato of wire, metal-thread bobbin lace, cotton, French, c. early 17th-century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Fig. 5. Rebato or supportasse of wire, bobbin lace, silk and metallic thread. French, c. 1625-1640, Musée national de la Renaissance-Chateau d’Écouen, Paris. [2]

Fig. 6. Rebato of wire and embroidered silk, German?, c. 1615-1625, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. [2]


As no patterns for these wire frames exist (as far as I’m aware) my rebato is based on a pattern drafted by myself using the rebato from the Musée national de la Renaissance-Chateau d’Écouen in Paris (fig. 5) as inspiration.

The linen standing collar was based primarily on a portrait of a young French woman by an Unknown painter (if you know who painted this and where it currently held please let me know!).

Painting of a Young Woman, unknown, c. early seventeenth century

I also used the standing collar pattern in The Tudor Tailor as a guide and took much inspiration from the rebato made by the Couture Courtesan on her blog.


Rebatos in museum collections are made from varying types of metal wire, including iron wrapped in silver gilt or gilded copper wire. So, for the outer frame of my rebato I decided to use a relatively thick galvanised tie wire that I picked up from my local hardware store. This was to make sure that the rebato would be sturdy and keep its shape.  For the intricate loops and inner frame I chose to use two sizes of copper jewellery wire, as this was easy to bend and mould into any desired shape.

Ruffs, standing collars, and later, falling bands, were usually made from fine linen or silk. So for the collar I chose to use a lightweight linen fabric. As I was making this for an event I didn’t have enough time to buy period accurate lace from the somewhere like the Tudor Tailor Shop. Instead I found some period-looking 3cm wide guipure lace, which is a type of bobbin lace and was known as Genoese lace in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and used this instead.

Additional tools needed were: pliers and a wire-cutter, as well as thread (I used a cotton thread; silk or linen would be more period accurate). As I was pushed for time I also cheated a little on the linen collar and machined sewed parts where a straight running or back stitch would have been used.

Make sure to stay tuned for my next blog post as I’ll be outlining how I constructed the metal rebato frame.


[1]  Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds., Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 100.

[2] Denis Bruna, ed., La Mécanique des Dessous: Une Histoire indiscrete de la Silhouette (Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2013), pp. 75-78.

Apologies & an update!

I just realised that it has been ages since I last posted anything, so apologies to all my blog followers! The last four months has been so hectic and now I’m only a few weeks away from submitting my PhD!
After I submit my PhD and mark my students exams I promise to continue writing my tutorial on making a French farthingale roll.

But until then, here is a blog post on my reconstructions that I wrote for the University of Sydney History Department’s blog.

As well as a sneak peek of the awesome photos of my reconstructions by my friend Georgie Blackie, as well as a behind the scenes video!








Romantic Love and Material Culture Workshop

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to participate in a one day workshop supported by the ARC History of Emotions called ‘Romantic Rituals: Making Love in Europe, c. 1600 to the Present‘. By coincidence there were actually four of us who were focusing on the material culture of romantic love from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries – from valentines gifts to mourning jewellery.

I of course spoke about busks and romantic love from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries!


My busk reconstruction (left), based on an original seventeenth-century French busk (right) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The organisers of the workshop, Sally Holloway and Katie Barclay, have written a fantastic summary of the workshop proceedings. If you’re interested you can read it below!


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


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.


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.


Shoulder straps come up way past the shoulderline


Gaping at the back due to straps being too big


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.

image2 (4)

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.



[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 [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:

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Four: Eyelets & Lacings


  1. Effigy Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Effigy Bodies Part Two: Cutting & Sewing
  3. Effigy Bodies Part Three: Boning & Binding
  4. Effigy Bodies Part Four: Eyelets & Lacing
  5. Effigy Bodies Part Five: The Finished Product

The final step of making these bodies was to create the seventy or so eyelet holes that lace the centre front together and attach the skirts (or farthingale) to the bodies.

In the early modern period eyelet holes were created by making a hole in between the fibres of the material with a tool called the bodkin. As Randle Holme explained in the 1680s “The Bodkin, is a blade or round Pin of Iron fixed in Halve, it is not very sharp at the end: by its help, is Eye lid holes, and all other holes (which are not very large) made.”[1] Surviving bodkins in museums are often highly decorated with engravings, or contain their owners’ initials, and are often made from expensive materials such as silver, indicating that they must have been a particularly special or sentimental token of the tailoring or bodie making profession

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This long and narrow, but blunt, tool was pushed into the fabric creating a gap between the warp and weft threads, creating a small hole. The genius in using this particular tool is that by not breaking the threads of the fabric, the resulting eyelet holes “were able to withstand a considerable amount of strain without deforming or ripping.”[2]  As well as creating the holes, bodkins were also used to thread the lacing through the eyelets, as this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York contains a hole through which to thread the lacing, similar to a sewing needle.

Silver Bodkin, c. 1620-40, British. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Contains the intials MP – possibly those of the craftsman that it belong to?

However, I don’t have a bodkin nor anything that really resembles one so I had to improvise. I decided to use ordinary nail scissors to push a hole between the threads of the fabric. Although this was not quite as clean as the results that a bodkin would achieve, and I did break some threads, it surprisingly worked really well. After the hole was made I whipped stitched around it until all the raw edges were concealed, as explained below:


Although the original has 29 pairs of eyelet holes that run down the centre front of the bodies, somehow I miscalculated my measurements, so my reconstruction only has 28 pairs of eyelet holes. Oops!


Nearly there! Eyelet holes on centre front opening

After finishing the centre front I moved onto the eyelet holes that are about the waist tabs, two above each split. These eyelet holes were originally intended to have anchored the farthingale or skirts to the torso, showing the ways in which bodies and farthingales by the early seventeenth century began to accommodate each other in dress.[3]




Eyelet holes above splits in tabs


The original effigy bodies in Westminster abbey fastened with leather points that were threaded through one eyelet hole in each shoulder strap and then through another in the top of the bodies.[4] The original holes were not worked, however, this was probably due to the rushed nature of making the bodies for the Queen’s effigy and so I decided to work mine with silk thread as I had done for the others. I then threaded through some left over grosgrain ribbon that I had used to bind the outside raw edges of the bodies and tied these in a bow.


After the eyelet holes were complete and the shoulder straps secured, all I had left to do was to lace the bodies together. Bodies during this period were straight laced, meaning that one lace was threaded through all the eyelet holes in a spiralled motion.[5] This differs from the way that Victorian era and modern corsets are laced, which involved having two strands of ribbon that criss-crossed over each other.

On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.

1. On one side of the bodies, at the top of the centre front, tie the ribbon or laces to one of the eyelet holes.

2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded towards the body

2. Insert ribbon/lace through opposite eyelet threaded over towards the body

3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards yourself.

3. Pull the ribbon to the other side and thread through the eyelet hole, from the body towards the front.

4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom

4. Continue doing this in an over and under fashion all the way down to the bottom


Tie bottom of lace into a loop, and then another loop. Tuck underneath, between bodies and smock


At the moment the bodies are laced together with satin ribbon, however, I hope to source aiglets in the future to create period correct ‘points’. Points were laces of leather or ribbon tipped with a metal tip (aiglet) that threaded through eyelet holes in garments and tied to attached them together.

A point consisting of five strand braid of cream and silk threads tipped with an aiglet, c. 1550-1650. Museum of London, London.

Modern reproduction points from the Tudor Tailor

It was not only used to lace bodies, but in male clothing they were used mainly to attach the breeches and sleeves to the doublet, whilst in female clothing they commonly attached skirts or detachable sleeves to the bodice. The plastic tip at the end of a modern shoe lace is derived from the metal aiglet, and serves a similar function – to allow for easier threading.


I’ll be unveiling the finished bodies and my afterthoughts on the construction process in my next blog post so stay tuned!



[1] Randle Holme, The academy of armory, or, A storehouse of armory and blazon containing the several variety of created beings, and how born in coats of arms, both foreign and domestick. With the termes of Art used in each Science. (Printed at Chester by the Author, 1688), p. 290.

[2] Luca Costigliolo & Jenny Tiramani, ‘The Tools and Techniques of the Tailor and Seamstress’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book One, Susan North and Jenny Tiamani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2011)p. 11.

[3] 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.

[4] 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), pp. 2, 7.

[5] Luca Costigliolo, ‘Pink Watered-silk stays’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012),  p. 97.

Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Three: Boning & Binding


  1. Effigy Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Effigy Bodies Part Two: Cutting & Sewing
  3. Effigy Bodies Part Three: Boning & Binding
  4. Effigy Bodies Part Four: Eyelets & Lacing
  5. Effigy Bodies Part Five: The Finished Product

After the boning channels had been sewn in, as outlined in my previous post, the three sections of the bodies were then whip stitched together from the wrong side as Janet Arnold has noted was done in the original.[1] For this I used linen thread, not silk, as it is much stronger and would be able to take the strain of movement much better.



The unboned bodies after the pieces were whip stitched together at the side seams

Once the three separate pieces that make up the bodies were sewn together I then added the boning. There is a gap between the binding and the boning channels of “between ¼ inch (6 mm) at the centre back to 1 inch (25.4 mm) under the arms, and ½ inch (12.7 mm) at the front” in the original effigy bodies.[2] Not only would this have been more comfortable for the wearer, particularly under the arms, but according to an experimental investigation into the ‘Holbein look” of the early sixteenth century, Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila noted that on both the Von Neuburg and Effigy bodies it was found that leaving this small area around the neckline unboned achieved the “sprayed-on look” of the period, and stopped the bodice gaping at the front.[3]


Gaps between the boning channels and raw edges of neckline and back clearly visible


Like the baleen, called whalebone during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, originally used in bodies, I was able to cut and shape the modern plastic boning in order to fit into the differently shaped boning channels.


Plastic whalebone substitute was able to be easily cut to fit tapered boning channels


Baleen that had be cut and shaped to fit into a pair of stays c. 1750 from the Powerhouse Museum Sydney. Photo by author. Stays, sateen/linen/metal, England, c.1750. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – A8211-33


Traditionally, after the baleen, a substance made of keratin that is part of the filter-feed system of baleen whales, was extracted from the whale it went through a process in order for it to be used in clothing.


Baleen found washed up on a beach. Source

This involved heating or boiling the pieces of baleen until they were soft and pliable, then they were cut into thin slices of the desired width using a special knife as is shown in this eighteenth-century French engraving.[4]

fanons de baleine

Fanons de Baleine, Encyclopedie Mathodique ou Par Ordre de Matiers, 1783, engraving. British Museum

For an extremely interesting post on cutting and using baleen, check out Abby’s blog post here.

In order to stop the sharp cut edges of the boning from punching a hole in the silk taffeta as I inserted them, I used a cigarette lighter to slightly melt these sharp edges. After the boning was inserted into the channels, I then sewed a line of half back stitching in silk thread above the top of the boning channels to secure the boning inside.


Half back stitiching around top of boning channels


In other examples of seventeenth-century bodies, extra binding has been added around the bottom of the boning channels, underneath the binding ribbon, in order to stop the boning perforating the binding and poking through.[5]


Binding reinforced with strips of matching silk satin on Dame Filmer’s Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester. Photo by author.

The effigy bodies, however, do not have this extra protective binding. According to Luca Costigiolo this is probably because these bodies were quickly made for the Queen’s funeral effigy and were never intended to be worn and therefore wear and tear of everyday life.[6] I decided to stay true to the original and not add this extra protection to my reconstruction, as, besides the movement experiments I intend to perform, these bodies will also not see normal wear.

For the binding I used nearly 5 metres of 16mm-wide grosgrain ribbon. To attach the binding first I used a half back stitch to stitch the binding to the right side of the bodies, leaving a couple of millimetres between the edge of the taffeta and the edge of the ribbon.


Binding half back stitched, right sides facing

Then I folded the ribbon over the raw edge and then felled using a whip stitch onto the wrong side.


Silk ribbon binding felled using a whip stitch. As you can see the silk taffeta by this point was starting to fray quite a lot and the edges were definitely in need of binding

These whip stitches did not have to be super close to each other, as other surviving examples from the period show that there was at least a gap of a few millimetres, sometimes even 5mm, between each stitch.


Inside of bodies, with whip stitches of felled binding visible around the waist tabs


Lessons Learnt:

Adding boning shrinks the bodies, so my reconstruction is actually a tiny bit smaller than the original. I lost about ½” on the waistline because of this. As the measurements and therefore pattern for these bodies was taken from a completed surviving garment, the original measurements used by William Jones, the Queen’s tailor, would have been slightly larger. This is something that all tailors would have had to have taken into account when constructing bodies or other fully boned bodices for their clients, and is something that I will definitely keep in mind for the next pair of bodies I intend to make.


Centre back waist measurement BEFORE boning was added


Centre back waist measurement AFTER boning added. Nearly a 1/4″ was lost.


If you’ve read my first post about the materials I intended to use for this project, you will recall that I was originally going to use leather or faux leather to bind the bodies, as was done in the original. However, when I started the construction process I realised that the fabric I had chosen for the lining and outer fabric, silk taffeta, was far too lightweight for faux leather binding. Even if I could have sourced light kid leather, I still think that it would have been a bit too heavy for the fabric used. Instead, I opted to use a grosgrain ribbon, as was used in later seventeenth century bodies, such as the Filmer bodies (c.1630-1650) in the Manchester Galleries and the Pink Silk Stays (c. 1660-1680) in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The only surviving bodies contemporary to this pair, the Von Neuburg bodies (c. 1598) from modern day Germany were also bound with silk ribbon.[7]


Silk ribbon binding is visible on the bodies of Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg c. 1598. Bayerisches nationalmuseum, Munich.


4. Wool, silk, linen stays 1670-80.2

Late seventeenth-century example of a green silk grosgrain ribbon used to bind the edges of these stays. Photo by author. Wool, Silk and Linen Stays, c. 1670-1680. Museum of London.


In surviving bodies from this period the ribbon binding was felled with thread the same colour as the ribbon, so it blends in with the ribbon and the finishing appearance is quite neat. Due to the limits of my funding, I couldn’t go out and buy silk thread to match the ribbon, and so it isn’t the same colour. This does leave the inside of the bodies looking much less neat than those originals from the century. Analysis of surviving bodies from the seventeenth century also reveals that the binding was sewn on with single ply silk thread. However, I opted to double my thread as the modern silk threads readily available to me are not as thick as the single ply thread used nearly four hundred years ago.


The single-ply whip stitching of the silk grosgrain ribbon binding on this pair of stays c.1660-1680 is nearly invisible, as the thread matches the colour of the ribbon. Photo taken by author at the Victoria and Albert Cloth workers Centre.


I’ve also learned the merits of binding raw edges in this period. Whereas in modern sewing we would turn the seam under and sew or hem it, it makes sense that on the outer edges of garments during this period they didn’t do this – as fabric was incredibly valuable, costing more than the labour to construct the garment in most cases, and so waste was minimised as much as possible. It also gives a much neater finish to the garment.

After the bodies were boned and bound, I then moved on to creating the eyelet holes and other finishes touches, which will be outlined in my next blog post.



[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. 4.

[2] Janet Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’, p. 3.

[3] Jane Malcolm-Davies, Caroline Johnson and Ninya Mikhaila, ‘And her black satin gown must be new-bodied’: The Twenty-First-Century Body in Pursuit of the Holbein Look’, Costume, vol. 42 (2008), p. 26.

[4] Lynn Sorge, ‘Eighteenth-Century Stays: Their Origins and Creators’, Costume, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1998), p. 19.

[5] 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.

[6] Luca Costigliolo, ‘From Straight bodies to Stays’, p. 10.

[7] Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women C. 1560-1620 (London : Macmillan ; New York : Drama Book, 1985), p. 46.


Elizabeth I Effigy Bodies Reconstruction | Part Two: Cutting & Sewing



  1. Effigy Bodies Part One: The Pattern & Materials
  2. Effigy Bodies Part Two: Cutting & Sewing
  3. Effigy Bodies Part Three: Boning & Binding
  4. Effigy Bodies Part Four: Eyelets & Lacing
  5. Effigy Bodies Part Five: The Finished Product

After researching the materials that I needed and scaling up the pattern provided by Janet Arnold when she examined the garment in 1994 I then had to cut my pattern pieces. This was done easily and quickly on the grain of the fabric.


Pattern pieces (consisting of baking/parchment paper) pinned to fabric, ready to be cut


Once I had my pieces cut I had to work out how to put them together. In Janet Arnold’s analysis of the bodies she noted that the side seams of each sections of the bodies, before they were attached to each other, “were overhanded together from W.S. (wrong side), then pulled very tightly…”[1] In order to be able to do this, when scaling up the pattern I had to allow some extra seam allowance on each piece, as you can see in this photo below:


Extra seam allowance can be seen on pattern piece to the far right

With this extra seam allowance, I then I follow Arnold’s instructions and overhanded the pieces together, right sides facing each other (so inside out), from the wrong side, and then pulled them right sides out:


Pattern pieces right sides together, seam allowances folded over.


Over handing seam, pattern piece right sides together.


Pattern pieces spread out with overhanded seam visible.

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Pattern pieces right sides facing outwards. This is how the seam looks from the right side.

The lining of the back panel was originally done in two parts, possibly to save fabric, so I did this too, allowing extra seam allowance so they could be sewing together via the method outlined above, before being sewn to the outer fabric of the back piece:


Centre back lining seam from visible from wrong side of back panel.


It was a this point that I realised that my shot silk taffeta was fraying quite a lot in some areas particularly at the centre front. In order to stop this whilst I handled the pieces to sew in the boning channel I added a very non-historical material, sticky tape, in order to stop it. I carefully removed this later when I bound them.


Historically, in order to achieve the neat straight boning channels seen in surviving bodies from the seventeenth century, the lines of stitching were evenly mapped onto the right side of the fabric with black ink and then this was stitched over. The traditional method of using backstitches would have then covered most of this visible ink.[2] However, the effigy bodies are different in that the boning channels are running stitched, which is far less sturdy a stitch than the backstitching seen in every other historical example from this century. Luca Costigliolo has noted that this was possibly because these bodies “were made quickly for the Queen’s effigy and were never intended for normal wear.”[3]  As my intention was to faithfully recreate most elements of the effigy bodies, I decided to also use running stitches and so did not attempt the ink mapping technique as I knew that the ink outline would be quite visible through the running stitches.

Instead I decided to utilise another early modern technique: pricking. This technique was most employed in embroidery. When a design was bought or drawn, the outline was transferred onto the fabric by laying the paper with the design on top and pricking the paper and fabric underneath with a needle. Then chalk powder inside a cloth bag was “pounced” (dabbed) over the holes, forcing this coloured chalk through the holes and transferring the design.[4]  The Folger Shakespeare library contains a botanical print that had been used to do this as pin pricks are visible on the paper:


Front of plate 20, Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


Back of plate 20,  Crispijn van de Passe, Hortus floridus, 1615. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC


As my silk taffeta was a shot silk, when I pricked the fabric, the darker ‘shot’ thread that runs through the fabric became more visible, so pouncing was not needed. For the most part this mark in the fabric is only temporary, so in order to map out my initial boning channels all I had to do was lay down my pattern on top of the pieces and prick the outline of the centre front boning channels through.

Once the outline of the first few had been done, particularly the 13mm (1/2”) wide boning channel at the front, I didn’t need a stencil anymore as each subsequent lines of stitching simply needed to be 6mm (1/4”) parallel to the last. To do this I used a ruler to measure 6mm then made a mark on the fabric with the needle point, then I joined all the points together by running my needle down the fabric, temporarily leaving a line in the shot taffeta that I was able to follow:


Mark in fabric made from running point of needle over shot silk taffeta.


Finished front panel, running stitches in linen thread.


Lessons Learnt

Initially I found the process of achieving the tiny running stitches of the original quite hard. At first my stitches were quite big and wide, so I changed to a smaller needle and this improved. Still it is no match for the original, nor for the minute even stitches that I have observed on other seventeenth and eighteenth century garments.


Tiny stitches on a pair of silk stays c. 1660-1680 that I examined at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Hilary Davidson also noted this in her reconstruction of Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, noting that because the stitching in the original was not exceptional it “was easy to reproduce the stitching to the same scale, unlike many Regency gowns displaying stitches of an even fineness it takes hundreds of hours of practice for the modern sewer to achieve, especially in muslin.”[5] Pictures of my stitching at the start compared to those at the end do show how much they did improve over the hours I spent doing the reconstruction, however, they do not at all compare to a master tailor or even seamstress who had been hand stitching day in and day out from a young age.


Comparison of running stitching sizes at start (top) and finish (bottom)


After completing the boning channels in the first centre front piece I realised that linen thread, although used in the original effigy pair, was much too heavy for these bodies that are made completely from silk taffeta. For those experienced with using these expensive fabrics and historical threads this is probably common sense. However, I had to learn the hard way. As the point of this reconstruction was not only to test ideas of movement and restriction, but also to learn about production methods, I decided to do one of my panels, the second front panel, entirely in silk thread instead. In all the extant seventeenth century bodies that use silk as an outer fabric, silk thread is used to stitch the boning channels. I also decided to use backstitches instead of running stitches, again to see what difference it would make to the garment.

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Difference between running stitch in linen thread (left) and back stitch in silk thread (right)


Immediately after switching threads, I realised that the silk was MUCH easier to sew with and back stitching, as anticipated, was much more secure. I also realise that I probably should have lined these bodies with a more sturdy fabric such as linen, as was done in the rest of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth. Surviving wardrobe accounts from the period do list lightweight fabrics being used to line bodies, sarcenet (a fine soft silk) was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Taffeta was also widely used as Elizabeth’s wardrobe during the same period list: “Item for makinge of a pair of bodies… of black veluett… lined with Taffata…”[6] An inventory taken in 1608 of Anne of Denmark’s wardrobe described: “One payre of Ashcouler cloh of siluer bodies, bound with siluer lace lyned wth carnacon taffeta”[7]   Although these examples do confirm that taffeta was used as a lining fabric at the start of the seventeenth century, it never seems to have been used both as the outer fabric and the lining. There always seems to have been a mix of heavy and light fabrics – such as in the example above where a heavier velvet was used for the outer fabric and taffeta was used for the lining. In many other examples from Elizabeth I wardrobe accounts when taffeta was used for the outer fabric, fustian was used for the lining. When two lighter fabrics were used, such as in the example from Anne of Denmark’s accounts, it is quite possible that these bodies were either more lightly boned or not boned at all.

It will be interesting to see how my finished effigy bodies made entirely of silk taffeta will compare to the next c. 1630s-1650s bodies reconstruction that I intend to make (with my own pattern taken from Dame Filmer’s bodies from the Manchester Galleries) which were made with silk and linen, and that I will make with silk taffeta and linen.

Filmer bodies

Dame Filmer Bodies, c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Manchester

These are just a few ways in which this reconstruction process is helping me to understand the archival record a bit more  as bodies was quite a generic term and could be used to refer to a corset-like garment or a close fitting kirtle bodice. Once I’ve finished my reconstructions and move to the experimental stage of testing size and movement, it will be interesting to see if these different materials make a difference.

Until then, my experience with boning and binding the bodies will be outlined in my next blog post, so stay tuned!



[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. 6.

[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] 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.

[4] Melanie Braun, ‘Preparation of the Embroidery’, Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two, Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds. (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 56.

[5] Hilary Davidson, Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812–1814, in Costume, Vol. 49, No. 2 (2015), p. 210

[6] Elizabeth I Warrant for the Robes, 28 September 1592, ER 34 (PRO LC 5/36), fol. 251.

[7] Cambridge (1607), fol.1, 4.