Dress Diaries: Tudor Gown (Simplicity 2589)

This page has a detailed journal of the construction of this costume. If you just want to see photos of the finished product, go to the Brown Tudor Gown page in my Wardrobe.

This gown was commissioned by a lady who plans to wear it to a Ren Faire this summer. It consists of an underskirt (kirtle), gown, and undersleeves which tie into the gown. I am not making the veil/headpiece, or doing any of the trimming or hemming, because the lady who commissioned it wants to do all the finishing details herself.

4/26/2010: cutting everything out
4/27/2010: making the underskirt
5/02/2010: making the bodice
5/02/2010: installing the grommets
5/02/2010: installing the modesty panel
5/02/2010: modifying the shoulders
5/02/2010: making the sleeves
5/06/2010: making the skirt
5/06/2010: completed gown!

Cutting Everything Out

I did my concept sketch in colored pencils to make sure I have the right fabric in the right place before I start cutting.

Simplicity 2589 Concept SketchShopping list for this project (not including trimming, hemming or materials for the French Hood):

pattern (Simplicity 2589)
10 yd fabric for gown (dusky brown color)
1 7/8 yd fabric for sleeve contrast (red "velvety" fabric)
1 3/8 yd of 54" fabric for skirt contrast and foresleeves (pale yellow fabric w/ rusty orange flowers)
1 1/2 yd of 45" lining for bodice and upper sleeve
1 1/2 yd canvas for interfacing of bodice
8 yd muslin for underskirt
1.5 yd felt for front of underskirt
thread (three colors)
2 yd boning for bodice
14 grommets for back of bodice
1 skirt hook & eye (heavy duty)
1 package single fold 1/4" wide bias tape
1 package double fold 1/4" wide bias tape
elastic, 1/4" wide
3 1/2 yd ribbon for sleeve ties (I used a lot less)
2 1/2 yd grosgain ribbon for waist, 1" wide

Items I didn't have, because I'm not trimming the gown:

2 yd lace (for sleeve cuffs)
cord for bodice lacing (suggested: 96" long corset lacing)
pearls and beads
20 buttons, 7.8" decorative shank
belt and tassel
craft glue

Everything is all laid out on the cutting table and ready to be turned into a beautiful gown:
Tudor Gown

When I'm making a garment for someone else the most important thing is to set the dress form to the right size. This dress form is my new one, named Genevieve. (My husband heard me calling the dress form a "jenny", and he insisted that I name both dress forms "properly" - in other words, with different names - so that he doesn't get confused next time he's trying to fix one of them. Jennifer is the smaller one, Genevieve is the newer one.)

I always measure the dress form, rather than take the manufacturer's word for the size:
Dress Form Singer 151

It's a good thing I checked since the waist actually doesn't go to the correct size (although the package indicates that it does)! So, I found some squishy polyester fabric and built Genny up to the correct size. I used florist pins (leftover from the wedding flowers) to make sure it would stay up for the duration of the project.
Dress form Singer 151 Dress Form Singer 151

Finally, I put my petticoat onto Genny. It's not the correct silhouette for this costume, of course, but it will at least give the skirt some body so I can see what I'm dealing with.
Dress Form Petticoat

Tyrion wanted to help, so I let him cut out the pieces for the kirtle/underskirt. After all, I have yards and yards and YARDS of extra muslin, so if he makes a mistake, it's easy to get a new piece out. (He didn't make any mistakes.)
Simplicity 2589

Once everything was cut out there was quite a bit of extra fabric.
Leftovers in order from top to bottom: canvas, brown, felt, yellow, red:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Project

Making the Underskirt/Kirtle (Underskirt steps 1 - 9)

The most interesting thing about the underskirt is that the pattern calls for a felt backing for the front panel. Together with the upholstery weight yellow fabric, this makes a formidable thickness; I use leather needles on my Husqvarna so the poor thing can handle it. For the rest of the underskirt, which won't be visible, I used unbleached muslin.
Tudor Gown

When I was serging the interior seams I discovered that the felt and the serger do NOT mix. So instead of serging the edges, I topstiched along the seams around the felted piece.

Whenever I sew something really big I use a trick that I learned from a quilter friend. She makes king-sized quilts with a regular old sewing machine, and obviously a king size quilt doesn't really want to fit under the machine arm. So she rolls it up from the side, rolling and unrolling depending on where she's working on the quilt. I do the same thing on a much smaller scale when I have to sew in the middle of a big skirt.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Underskirt Kirtle Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Underskirt Kirtle

Making the Bodice (steps 1 - 8)

The bodice has three layers. Fabric, canvas interfacing, and lining. (I used the gown fabric to line it as well.) The canvas interfacing is very important. The first time I did this pattern (on my Black and Silver Tudor Gown) I used regular interfacing and it did NOT cut the mustard. Use canvas!

Preparing the side pieces:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

For me, assembling lining with garment pieces is one of the most difficult tasks in sewing. There is absolutely NO margin for error; no room to ease the fabric; if you are 1/16" off you have to take it apart and redo it. Sometimes the pieces warp and act strangely for no explicable reason. This is why I strongly prefer to line a garment with the same fabric as the exterior, if at all possible. At least this way the two pieces are more likely to behave in a similar manner.

The bodice back, fully assembled:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Installing the boning channels in the front bodice is one of my favorite parts of this pattern, for several reasons. (1) It reminds me of corsetry. (2) I never cease to be amazed at the smooth lines of the bodice when the boning is installed, invisible from the outside but there, supporting the garment nonetheless. (3) I get to draw on the fabric!

Since the canvas interfacing will be totally invisible I can draw to my heart's content. First, I draw the lines for the boning channels, measuring very carefully (asymmetrical boning is a bad, bad thing):
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I sew along the boning channel lines (attaching the lining to the interfacing):
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then (yay, more drawing!) I mark the 5/8 hem on the bottom, so I know how long to cut the boning:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I attach the bodice to the lining/interfacing piece, and topstitch (VERY important):
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Now it's time to cut the boning. I remove it from its casing:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I cut it to length, checking each piece against my drawings on the interfacing. I also cut the ends off in a rounded corner so there are no pointy bits to poke through the fabric.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Once the boning is installed in the bodice front, I assemble all the pieces.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Installing the Grommets (step 9)

In theory, grommets are very simple to install. In practice there are a lot of factors that can cause imperfect results. Here's how I like to do them.

Step 1: Mark the fabric. Sometimes I actually sew a row of basting stitches so that I have a perfectly straight line to compare my grommets to. (I do this for buttonholes too, you can see an example on my Victorian Dress Diary.) In this case the basting line wasn't necessary, but I was very careful with my markings.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Step 2: Punch the holes. For the tool I use, that I bought at Joann's, I find it leaves a cleaner cut if I punch through from the inside (there's no good way to explain it, look at the photo to see what I mean). This part is where a lot of the problems can come in. You have to punch cleanly and solidly all the way through, the first time. It actually takes a fair amount of strength to do it. Sometimes if I'm making a corset or something that involves a lot of punching, I have my husband do this part for me (but usually not, he doesn't like to be seen making corsets hahaha).
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Here's what the holes look like from the outside:

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Step 3: Install the grommets. Follow the directions for your tool, but basically you need to use the same careful, steady, strong hand motion as you did when you punched the holes in the first place.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Now don't they look lovely?
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown How To Install Grommets

Installing the Modesty Panel/Underlap (Steps 10 - 11)

When I was making my wedding dress I learned a new trick for modesty panels. When making the panel, install a boning channel at the very top of the panel. It holds up the fabric of the panel quite nicely.

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Update: I decided the modesty panel was too short, so I replaced it with a longer one.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Modifying the Shoulders

The final step in the bodice construction is attaching the straps to the front of the gown. There's apretty serious flaw in the pattern here. The straps are actually too long for most women, meaning the shoulders will be too loose. This is a problem since the sleeves on this gown are so heavy and will drag the shoulders down at the slightest opportunity. The solution was fairly simple: Just shorten the shoulder straps at this point, before installing the sleeves.

On the left, you can see the problem. On the right, the solution.
Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589

Making and installing the Sleeves

Well, I got so involved in making the sleeves that I forgot to take pictures of it. So unfortunately all I have are photos of the completed sleeves. For the record, they are not that complex as long as you pay very careful attention to the directions. It's not necessarily intuitive, because of the lining that turns up to display the contrast color fabric (red, in this gown). Anyway, the sleeves are done and the only thing remaining for me to do is construct and attach the skirt.

Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589

Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Making the Skirt

The interesting thing about this skirt is that the front pieces are not attached to one another, but only to the bodice. So it takes a little more concentration than a normal skirt.

First I serged the edge of the front and ironed it down into the pleat:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I made the pleats in the front and pinned them carefully:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I basted the pleats in place:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

Then I built the rest of the skirt, serging each seam as I went along.

I made a pretty big change to the pattern here. The pattern instructions call for cartridge pleating the skirt and hand sewing it to the bodice, which looked really intimidating and time consuming to me. I used a more modern method; I simply gathered the back section, very neatly using two rows of gathering stitches. I had to set my machine to the largest stitch setting so it could accommodate the large amount of fabric.
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

And I was very careful in the front, to match up the corners of the pleating:
Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown

And that was it! The dress is now complete, except for the hemming and the trim.

Photos of the Completed Tudor Gown

Excuse the messy sewing room and the bad lighting. For better pictures, go to the Brown Tudor Gown page.
Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589 Tudor Gown Simplicity 2589