housebook or Dürer dress

I always like the gowns with pleated panels ('Stehfaltenkleid' in german) popular around southern germany and switzerland and depicted in various sources. I just could not imagine how you could reproduce that effect... Yet very recently I stumbled upon a very nice american page (see Heather's pages and 'The Nuremberg Dress") with a beautiful reconstruction of one of these gowns. So this encouraged me to give it a try myself :-)

First of all, here is some artwork I want to base my dress on:

Die Fürlegerin birth of mary two card players departure for the hunt
young man and two women young girl and old man standing couple lovers from Gotha

the 'housebook' dress in the artwork

In the first picture I like the neckline of the dress and the way it is held together by two round buttons (?) and a thin string. If you look closely, you can also make out that the dress is fastened between the central folds of the pleated panel in the front (there is just a tiny bit of string visible). There are no eylets, so little ringlets sewn to the inside of the gown might be used for fastening. Furthermore, there are no crinkles on the bodice around the pleated panel, but there are crinkles on the sleeves and under the crook of the arm.
The second picture shows a pleated panel that is not straight at the top, but slightly curved. And it looks as if there was a seam at the top of the panel. I was wondering if a curved cut-out in the bodice might reduce the crinkles around the edges you get if you insert the pleats into a rectangular cut-out... (I've seen this curved pleated panel in other artwork as well, but the straight form seems to be more common.)
The following four pictures are from the Master of the Housebook or the Master of the Amsterdam cabinet, one being from the Housebook of castle Wolfegg which is suspected to be the work of the same artist.
Picture three and four show the back of the dress, that features a pleated panel similar to the front. As well, the armholes for the sleeves are very wide at the back. To match that style I will have to adjust my personal pattern.
I want to make the sleeves similar to the ones you can see in pictures 4-7. They do not quite reach the wrist, but seem to be only 3/4 long. On the back of the arm they are open and fastened by lacing through eyeholes. In picture four it seems that the opening does extent to the armpit, but not along the back. So the very upper part of the sleeves will have to be sewn together.
I like the slightly curved and rather deep neckline in picture 5 and 7. In most pictures I've selected (except the first two) the dress is fastened below the neck with a wide lacing reaching almost from shoulder to shoulder. Judging from the last picture it seems that this lacing is attached to a sort of small collar (the color shows that it is made from the same material than the dress). In all the cases I've seen the cord seems to be laced not through simple eyeholes but through rather intricate fastening 'structures' (coloured gold in the last picture, so propably made from metal). How I will imitate these I'm not quite sure yet. Only the dress in picture 6 shows additional fastening through eyeholes.

November 01, 2009: Fitting the bodice for the Dürer dress
I've started fitting the bodice of the Dürer dress. I has to be quite close fitting so I had to adjust my bodice block. I also needed to adjust the neckline and widen the armholes. The wide armholes do feel quite comfortable - at least as long as there is no sleeve attached... Fitting the neck line prooved to be a bit complicated, I had to use some duct tape to readjust the shape (picture 3). I'm still not quite happy with the top part and need to fit the small collar to which the fastening will be attached as well.

Dürer dress fitting Dürer dress fitting Dürer dress fitting Dürer dress fitting

first round of fitting for my Dürer dress

I was wearing an old shirt beneath the bodice block on which Karsten marked the position of the armholes. I then cut the sleeves off along these lines as I'm hoping that this will make it easier to fit the sleeves. This is what the pattern for the bodice looks like right now:

Dürer dress initial pattern

initial pattern

March 02, 2010: Fitting the 'Grande Assiette' sleeves
The passed two weekends I finally continued working on the pattern for the Dürer dress - I'd finished the bodice but hadn't tried the sleeve pattern so far. I cut and sewed together a linen bodice using the pattern shown above, then tried fitting a new sleeve pattern with deeply-set armholes. A task that turned out to be rather difficult, as the initial sleeve pattern shown above did absolutely not fit the armhole...
I read what information I could find on the internet on this kind of sleeves - termed 'Grande Assiette' (which is french for 'large plate'). This page I found particularly interesting. In principle, the deeply-set armholes grant full and unrestricted movement of the arm whithout pulling on the bodice part of the garment. The overall shape of the sleeves is referred to as 'mushroom-like' (what explains why my S-shaped initial sleeves did not fit), but in extant examples of 'Grande Assiette' tailoring ('pourpoint of Charles de Blois' and 'Moy gown') triangular gores are inserted at the front and back of the sleeve, what on the one hand safes fabric and on the other adds shape. What troubles me with these gores is that I have so far not found a painting which clearly shows the resulting seams (they are clearly not visible in the Housebook drawings, although the following image at least suggests a gore at the back)... Which does of course not mean that they were not used, but maybe they were not ALWAYS used?

back gore back gore

back gore

What you can clearly see in the Housebook drawings is that crinkles appear in the crook of the arm, visible from the front (picture 1 and 2) and back (picture 3 and 4). Although the sleeve extends below, it fits very tightly around the crook of the arm. The shape of the front sleeve seam is unfortunately not visible and neither are gore seams.

young man and two women unequal lovers card players departure for the hunt

Grande Assiette sleeves

One after the other, I tried out at least five sleeve patterns and gradually their shape 'evolved' to look more and more like a mushroom (picture 1 to 4). The (white) sleeve pattern in picture 4 has somehow aquired a slightly trapezoidal shape... I have corrected that (along the red lines drawn into the picture) for the sleeves I have set into the bodice in picture 5 to 7 (I cut the armholes at bit deeper into the bodice both in the front and below the arm and made only a short sleeve to safe fabric). I can move the arm much more freely compared to a 'normal' S-shaped sleeve and there is less pull on the bodice (although, when I lift the arms high there is still some pull I could not get rid off). The back looks rather well fitted and as you can see (picture 9) I need all that fabric for free arm movement. Unfortunately, it is still looks worse in the front and I'm not convinced that I need all that excess fabric... It might be necessary to insert a gore here as well to get a more fitted appearance?

evolution of a sleeve pattern evolution of a sleeve pattern
evolution of a sleeve pattern evolution of a sleeve pattern
sleeves set into the bodice: front sleeves set into the bodice: side sleeves set into the bodice: back sleeves set into the bodice: back

the Grande Assiette sleeve pattern 1

March 19, 2010: Still fitting the 'Grande Assiette' sleeves
I've tried to improve the fit of the front of my Grande Assiette sleeves by insertion of an additional gore - with some success :-) To adapt the pattern, I've simply folded it where I wanted the gore to reduce the width and smoothed the line. The gore adds back the lost width. Additionally, I've tried to move the seam that should run on the back of the arm but so far does not by shifting some fabric from one side of the seam to the other (picture 1). The new pattern looks quite similar but comes with two gores :-) (picture 2). As you can see in the third picture, the gore-less sleeve had quite some excess fabric in the front and thus a not-very-fitted appearance. The new one (picture 4) fits much better in the front - thanks to the little gore. In general, I'm now quite happy with the fit - in the last two pictures you can see how the new bodice looks like with the final (?) sleeves inserted.

evolution of a sleeve pattern evolution of a sleeve pattern
too much fabric without a gore inserting the gore imrpoves the fit finished grande assiette's finished grande assiette's

the Grande Assiette sleeve pattern 2

I then went on to lengthen the sleeve pattern for a full sleeve - one to fit the Dürer dress. Unfortunately, although in the short sleeve it did look like the back seam would run on the back of the arm as it is supposed to, it was no longer inclined to do so in a longer sleeve. So, after making some hopefully finally final adjustments, this is what the sleeves for the Dürer dress will look like: (I've added a small collar to the bodice as well)

grande assiette: front view grande assiette: side view grande assiette: back view my final grande assiette pattern

the Grande Assiette sleeve pattern 3

May 16, 2010: Finally, there is some 'real' progress to report: The Dürer dress is nearing completion :-)
I'm using dark red wool as outer fabric and medium-weight, white linen for lining the bodice and sleeves. This time, I've started by finishing the sleeves, eyeholes and laces (see picture 1 und 2). During my last jewellery course at the 'Volkshochschule' I have made two silver endpieces for attaching the neck lacing to the collar of the dress (by now, they are gilded, see picture 3).

grande assiette slevves for Duerer dress laces for Duerer dress collar endpiece for Duerer dress

some details

Making the pleated panel:
Sewing together the pieces for the dress (picture 1) and inserting the sleeves was the quick and easy part. As could be expected, the more difficult part was making and inserting the pleated panel. As suggested by others (Heather for instance) I used silk molleton (bought from a quilting supply shop) for padding and strengthening the pleats (picture 1). I had to cover the reverse side of the molleton with linen as it was pilling badly (picture 2). On the right side of the outer fabric I marked the stitches for gathering the pleats (they are 1.5 cm apart) and pinned the linen-molleton-padding in place (picture 3). I used thick linen thread (which I normally use for eyeholes) for pleating (picture 4). After pulling the threads tight, this gave me 12 more or less even pleats with in total 8 cm width of the whole panel (picture 4). When viewn from the wrong side, the molleton is completely covered with linen. (Note that this is the panel I inserted into the back of the bodice.)
(I feel I should mention that I have absolutely no idea how the pleating was achieved in the medieval dresses - I wonder if anyone does? I'm just trying to find a way to make the dress appear like those in the artwork.)

pleated panel pleated panel
pleated panel pleated panel
pleated panel pleated panel

making the pleated panel

Inserting the pleated panel into the back of the gown:
With the pleat gathering threads pulled tight I tried to insert the panel, beginning with the top edge (picture 1). I had to do this by hand with most stitching being done from the right side of the dress. The top part of the seam is slightly rounded as this seemed to reduce the wrinkels bound to appear at the edges when inserting a rectangular piece of fabric into a rectangular cut-out (picture 2). I stitched additional threads through the inserted panel to help keeing the pleats in place (picture 3). The linen lining of the bodice (picture 4) covers most of the pleated panel, but does not really add additional stability - this is achieved by the linen yarn threaded through the pleats!
Making and inserting the back panel took me the better part of last Sunday - I think I can finally finish the dress next weekend :-)

pleated panel pleated panel pleated panel
bodice lining Flecki & back of the dress

inserting the pleated panel

June 21, 2010: The finished gown
Well, I did finish the dress that weekend yet it took me a while to update this page... Anyway, this is what the finally finished dress looks like:

duerer dress duerer dress duerer dress duerer dress
duerer dress duerer dress

the finished Dürer dress, antwerp 2010

October 13, 2010: Eyes and hooks or how to fasten the dress (a late update)
Originally I had planned to fasten the dress between the central folds of the pleated panel in the front. Unfortunately, this did not work well: As the pleated panel is thicker than a normal layer of fabric, the eyes and hooks I attached left and right of the central fold - when under strain (as they should be because I want the dress the fit thightly) - 'opened' the central pleat (a bit hard to explain, but the central fold became wider than all the rest). Closure in the center of the pleated panel will only work if the panel would the less thick I guess or if the outer side of the pleat could be somehow pulled/kept together... I cannot see right now how that would work.
Anyway, I resolved the problem by sewing the left and right side of the front panel together and inserting one fixed panel in the front - just like in the back, the only difference being the central (unnecessary) seam in the panel. To be able to pull the dress over my head I reopened the left side seam from sleeve seam to waist level. I sewed eyes and hooks to this new side opening (picture 1) and to the front seam above the pleated panel (picture 2). This allows me to get dressed comfortably and the eyes and hooks fastening doesn't show very much :-) (picture 3)
Additionally, here are more detailed pictures of the sleeves (picture 4) and collar lacing (picture 5).

side opening front opening eyes and hoosk fastened
sleeve detail collar detail

details of the fastening

(bettina, october 2010)

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