Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What to Wear During the War of The Roses

"The White Queen"
I have always been a huge costume nut.  Great films and shows always are an excellent source of inspiration for me and anyone to create something fun, and eventually useful. Back in my college years, "Braveheart" helped me create an early medieval outfit for one of my medieval studies class, and lots of “Ohhhs and Awwws” from classmates.  Emma Thompson's and Ang Lee's adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" resulted in half a wardrobe filled with Regency period dresses, which all got worn to various Gaskell’s Balls in the Bay Area.  Yet no Mr. Darcy was seen.  Le sigh.

Most recent in my period costume film quest, I have discovered “The White Queen” produced by Starz yet even though not 100% historically accurate; has inspired pattern makers and costume/period dress nuts like myself, now to have a reason to make some pretty festive and beautiful frocks.  I finally have a use for the pewter crushed velvet in my sewing fabric stash! YAY! 2014 Night at the Symphony Costume Contest/Event, here I come!
Elizabeth Woodville
Back on topic. Dress.  It’s the War of the Roses.  Edward IV is trying not to get his supply of cloth cut off from Flanders and strikes a deal with Burgundy and his sister Margaret of York is escorted by the Earl Warwick, Richard Neville, to Burgundy for her pending marriage to help keep this important relationship open, and trade to keep going, despite rising conflict lurking in the horizon.  With this political backdrop, what did ladies wear, mainly the ladies at court? Dress during this time was actually quite depended on region.
15th Cent Italian Dress
For example Italy was on its own wavelength in contrast to the rest of the continent, as seen in paintings during the times. The northern part of Europe dressed a bit more to climate.   
Patterned fabric of period

The century began with the gown called “cotehardie” which we refer to as the one with the large bell sleeves and fitted down through the waist. This style faded quickly with introduction of new designs.  Gowns were long of course, and trimmed with fur (ermine, mink etc.) on the cuff, around the collar and sometimes the hem. Fabric was available in various dyes at this time.

The darker colors, reds, blues, dark green, blacks with brocades or patterned in artichoke or oak leave patterns; were of significant cost, mainly worn by those who could afford it, meaning the nobility. This style of gown is most known by the name: “houppelandes” which refer to the long flowing dresses of the time.
Garments were displayed or worn with a style called “slashing” which meant it was opened to reveal an other bit of clothing underneath, like a kirtle or under gown in contrasting colors (most common white or black). A chemise was worn close to the skin.  As time went on, repairs in sleeves of both men and women also accentuated this method of style.

Sleeves were mostly cuffed with matching fur from the color yet could be transferred to other gowns, with ornamentation on the cuff with jewels or embroidery. Also at times, if fur wasn’t worn, patterned fabric was used on both collar and cuff, which became more fashionable later in the century.

So what have I done with all this wealth of inspiration and creativity? I have put it to some use. I have made some alterations and adaptations of my own, but here is a glimpse of my current sewing project.  Today, we are lucky, we have sewing machines, just imagine all this work was done by hand at one point in time.  Headpiece… don’t ask me if I am going to make a hennin, I am not there yet. 

Step one: cutting out the dress: 

Detail of the side of the bodice, before I finished bead work.

Where we are at as of Sunday: Black sash, bodice jeweled, sleeves work in progress.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The early morning fog covered the ground like a soft plush blanket. The lush green grass of the marsh and surrounding fields seemed to be a favorite of the horses.  As they walked the field many tried to steal a snatch or two.  Their riders weary, pulled their heads up and spurred them lightly forward. Yet they could sense what was coming soon. Ever so soon as the sun began to rise.

Brakenbury was quiet for a change. Yet, quiet boisterous the night before at the inn, Richard thought he would never sleep. Tossing and turning in his room in the inn’s upper bedroom, sleep never came easy for him away from his normal chambers in London, and especially now, alone. How he missed Anne. She was not supposed to die. So many things awaited him back in London. His niece Elizabeth, needed a marriage and then there was her other sisters. He needed to make their mother happy. He needed her support, most importantly he needed this usurper, Henry Tudor dead. Of bastard lineage, now in England to challenge his right to the crown, Richard’s crown.  

He gripped the hilt of his sword. It was cold, even through his leather gloves. He repeated to himself the words of the priest from the morning mass as he blessed them all as they prepared for battle. He asked God again to give him strength and watch out for him. He prayed to his wife Anne to watch out for his soul and his body if he fell. He tried to push that thought out of his mind, far, far away.

One of his commanders called for them all to halt. Banners danced in the air in the distance. Their colors vibrant against the morning grey sky. He could see the Welsh banner men struggling against the winds and then the standard of Tudor.  A chill ran down Richard’s spine. Soon, very soon, everyone’s fate was to be decided.......

c. June 30, 2014 A.C. McMillin