I often work kitchen duty after events - I specialize in kitchen cleanup. I usually get changed into modern clothing before I do, but I'd like to be able to do it and keep it period-looking. My usual T-tunics just aren't practical. They're too wide, the sleeves are too long, they require a belt, and they don't support my back at all. I started thinking a while ago that a corset might help when I have to work bent over a kitchen sink for a few hours.

I see no real problem with it having a skirt of some kind, as long as it's not too wide or too long. With an apron over it, it would be kept under control. It needs to be dark, because it will be exposed to all kinds of kitchen-related substances.

I would have liked wool, but it's hard to find around here, I don't have the money to buy a few yards at the present, and I have to start going through my stash if I want to be able to replenish it some day. If I worked around a campfire, I would have insisted on wool, but most of what I do involves dirty water, not fire... I have several yards of dark blue linen, and several yards of brown linen (nice stuff too). That's what I'll use, most likely.

Some things I remember seeing: kirtles and Flemish outfits. So I went crazy yesterday and Googled my heart out. Here's what I found.



Drea's version

I started with Drea Leed's website, "Working Womens' Dress in 16th Century Flanders": If the subject interests you, it's worth a read! It contains all the basic research, which I will not reproduce here. Better yet, buy the book!

Here's Drea's version of a Flemish market woman of the mid-16th century on the right. Hmm... Nice. That means I could dress like this during feast, and take a couple of layers off when comes time to take over in the kitchen.

This is made of several layers. A smock, of course. Then, a kirtle, the underdress, which is sleeveless. Then a gown, which might have short sleeves and is laced up the front. Then, a partlet, either white or black or both, and separate sleeves, and an apron.

Here's Saragrace's version, taken from her site here I like the colour and the bands at the bottom, as well as the look of the black partlet. There's a few other pictures on her site too.

For now, I should really concentrate on the kirtle though.

This picture is again taken from Drea's site. It is extremely interesting. It looks like short sleeves with no oversleeves (or they might be rolled up, the image is too small to tell), the partlet is in disarray, the overskirt is tied in the back and she's wearing an apron: "the front waistline is, in almost all pictures, covered by an apron, most often white but sometimes red, olive green or other colors. No more than a rectangular piece of fabric, the corners were overlapped at the back of the waist or were connected by a band." (Drea Leed)

As for colour: I talked about dark blue and brown. Drea mentions many colours on her website: for the skirt lining, red, orange-gold, green, brown, as long as it is contrasting. She mentions blue (medium blue), brown, coral, cream, fawn, gold, golden-orange, green (sage green), mulberry, olive green, orange, peach, pink, red (bright red or warm brick red), russet, rust, tan.

As for the gown, the skirt and bodice always match, of course, but the lining is contrasting. Drea also says that the skirts "can be anywhere from foot-length to as high as mid-calf". In any case, they don't drag on the ground. She also says, "The skirt of the outer gown is subject to a number of treatments which keep it out of the dirt as well as show off the skirt lining and the kirtle. Several paintings by both Aertsen and Beuckelaer show the front bottom corners of the skirt drawn back and pinned together behind; some skirts with no front split are hitched up and tucked through the bottom lacing of the bodice, or hitched up behind. There is a wide variety of skirt hitches, tucks and pinnings shown in these pictures, both front, back and sides."

Now, let's see what she has to say for the kirtle. This was the underlayer. It has a low neckline and seems to be always sleeveless and unboned (there goes my wish for back support!). Hmm... quite plain.

As for the smock, it seems to be pretty standard, with a low square neckline. No problem there, except that I have to make sure I can roll up the sleeves.

Headdresses. Many possibilities, including cauls, but I might just go bareheaded or with a turban-like wrap, even if it doesn't really fit with the dress.

Breughel's version

I also found a very interesting site about Breughel Gowns here The chemise is the same, but the kirtle is laced at the sides.

The gowns are a little different. They're either laced shut in front or open only slightly, and have this nice V pattern in the back (V-seam and V-neckline).

The skirts are probably slightly gored, and the gowns, lined.

The partlet is different too. It has a pointed yoke hanging in the back. At least one of the examples in the painting has a metal point on the end of the tip. They're all collarless and made of black wool.

The apron is a large square of fabric with knots in the corners, and a ribbon or cord around the knots.

Jen Thompson's version

Jen Thompson has done some more research on her A Working Woman's Dress Revisited page

She thinks that most skirts might not have been split in front at all under the aprons, possibly like the so-called Cranach gowns. She says, "However, when looking at the drape of the Flemish skirts beneath the aprons, these dresses appear most of the time to have pleats only in the back or sides with a flat front, which would make it much more difficult to disguise a front skirt opening. On the other hand, to accommodate a back closing skirt the two articles of clothing would have to be separate, and this leads to problems with gapping at the waistline--an annoyance that a busy working woman probably would not want to deal with! Also, a regular waistband on a skirt would not as easily accommodate a woman's expanding silhouette during pregnancy. To my line of reasoning, it seemed much more logical to have an attached skirt and bodice with a deep V-front laced opening reaching down over the lower belly." Very interesting article. It ends in a theory that they could be V-shaped, laced openings.

I like that theory. Furthermore, Jen decided to combine the V-back with the Flemish style. Yummy. She uses the V-shaped seam to accomodate for shoulder slope and make for a nicer fit. She also says, "I also noticed that this diagonal seam in several of the Brueghel paintings cut across to the arm hole or continued over the top of the shoulder instead of ending at the neckline like my version." She lays her fabric to "create a single piece for the front and back sides that could simply be stitched together under the arm, resulting in a bodice cut on the straight grain in the back and bias in the front and shoulders." She also admits that the absence of shoulder seams might not be a documented method of construction, and that the front would probably have been cut on the bias.

Peasant DanceThis image is a wonderful example Brown kirtle, rather short. Light green gown, line in yellow and pulled up, black partlet. Yummy. The pleats seam to be mainly in the back. In fact, Jen's version uses a gored front and a rectangular back. I don't think that's necessary, but hey, what do I know?

There's also some interesting info on Jen's site for A Florentine Dress Diary Among other things, she says, "With the exception of one skirt worn with a French farthingale, all of the full skirts in Patterns of Fashion are constructed with rectangular sections for the front and back and some sort of gored panels on the side." The idea of using gored panels in the front and straight ones in the back might be interesting after all.

My take on the matter

I just love the last image on the right. The colours are something I can easily see myself wearing, and I love the Y shape in the back.

Here's a layout pattern from Mary G. Houston's Medieval Costume in England and France. The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries. This is one thing I've wanted to try for a while.

"There is one very interesting development in structure caused, as in the fourteenth century, by an attempt to fit the figure tightly. It survives (in women's dress, at all events) until almost the advent of the sixteenth century. [..] Though the gown in [The Deposition from the Cross by Gerard David] has no seam at the waist, the armhole is cut in similar fashion to that shown in Fig. 257. In Fig. 257, we have the seven pieces which form one half of the bodice, A being centre front and B centre back. F, G, D, E, C1 and C2 are joined together to form the armhole, which is arch-shaped, as shown at 257d; 257b shows the sleeve pattern with points H, C3 and C4. Fig. 257c is a double drawing of the top part of the sleeve giving back and front view in position ready for insertion into the armhole."

"Apart from this example and the various survivals from the earlier centuries, the modern system of cutting and fitting may be said to have commenced in the fifteenth century. The sleeves begin to exhibit the curved top and the armhole suggests the approximately circular form now in vogue. [..] The separation of bodice and skirt in the dress of the women is a feature of the latter half of the century."

I've always wanted to try this type of sleeve. This might just be the opportunity I'd been waiting for, even if it does seem a little early.

The Medieval tailor's assistant has a pattern looking more like Drea's pattern, except that the kirtle opens at the side. It's a gored pattern, and has a weird flounce at the bottom, which I can't remember seeing on paintings.

This book's main interest resides in the fact that it has two V-front-opening kirtles. They're both for children, but it supports Jen's theory.



Again, I turn to Drea Leed and her Constructing a 16th century Flemish Outfit website:


The smock

I used the Smock Pattern Generator ( to get a good smock pattern. It's been recommended before, so I thought I'd try it.

The patterns says I need 2 2/3 yards of 45-inch wide fabric, which seems about right, even if I usually make smocks in 60-inch wide material. The pattern includes 1/2 inch seam allowances.

For the body: a rectangle 16.5 inches tall and 91 inches long. The shoulder line should be marked and is located at the center of the rectangle (45.5 inches from the left edge). The neck opeining is a 9 inch square so that two inches are on one side of this shoulder line and 7 inches to the other.

For the sleeves: two rectangles 24.75 long and 13 wide, with the wrist opening marks 2.5 inches from the upper and lower edges, which makes a 8-inch wrist opening edge.

For the skirt gores, two rectangles of fabric 13 inches wide and 39.5 inches long, cut on the diagonal (personnally, I usually arrange to avoid the center seam).

For the gussets, two squares of fabric 6 inches wide and 6 inches long. She cuts them on the diagonal but I don't.

Constructing a smock is the same as other smocks I've done, and the same as a T-tunic. No worries there.

The kirtle

Here's Drea's description of a kirtle: "The kirtle as worn by lower and middle-class Flemish women was an all-purpose, utilitarian undergown. It was sleeveless (though in some cases sleeves could be laced on), had a low, square neck,and either slipped over the head or laced up the side or back."

They can be made of linen or wool, but I will make mine of linen, since that's what I have. It's medium weight. If I line it, it will be plenty of support for a small girl like me. I'll line with the ton of medium-weight white linen I bought by mistake when I wanted to buy light-weight.

Drea explains how to make a Gathered Kirtle or an A-line kirtle. Since I want a form-hugging thing that won't get in the way, I'm thinking of doing the A-line. Drea sends us to her Instructions for Drafting a Gored Kirtle Pattern page ( She says, "This gored kirtle has seven pieces: a center front, two side fronts, two side backs and two back pieces. It laces up the back, has a square neckline, and is sleeveless."

"This kirtle should be cut with no curve at all to the front side seams." (Drea Leed)

For construction, she sends us to the Making an Elizabethan Bodice page first (, which sends us to the Custom corset pattern page (

Below are the instructions the Corset page gave me:

Step 1: On a piece of large paper--newsprint, a cut-open grocery bag, etc.--take a ruler and pen, and mark out the following:

Draw a vertical line 12 inches long down the right side of your piece of paper.

Step 2: Draw a horizontal line from the top of the 12-inch vertical line 14 1/2 inches out to the left.

Step 3: Starting at the right end of this horizontal line, measure 9 1/4 inches to the left and 1 inches down. Label this point A.

Step 4: Measure 1 inches down from the left end of the horizontal line. Label this Point B.

Step 5: Measure From the right end of the horizontal line 3 5/8 inches to the left. Label this point C.

Step 6: Draw a gently curving line to connect points C, A, and B. This is the top of your corset.

Step 7: Starting at point A, draw a vertical line down 8 inches.

Step 8: Draw a horizontal line at this point from the vertical center front line 12 inches out to the left. Measure down one inch from the left end of the line, and mark this point D.

Step 9: Draw a line between points D and B to form the back center of your corset.

Step 10: Starting at the right end of the waistline, measure 3 inches to the left and mark this point E.

Step 11: Starting once again at the right end of the waistline, measure 6 inches to the left and one inch up, and label this point F.

Step 12: Starting at the left end of the waistline, measure 3 inches to the right along the line and one half-inch up. Label this point G.

Step 13: Draw a curving line from the bottom front center of the corset to point E. Make sure the curve at the bottom is wide enough to fit the point of the busk. Continue the gentle curve from Point E, up to F, back down to point G, and then from G to D. This finishes the body of the corset.

Now, we can go to the bodice pattern:

To begin with, take the corset pattern you have created. If you have already made a corset from this pattern and altered it so that it fits you precisely, so much the better. Measure out four inches from the center front, and draw a vertical line up several inches (8 or so.) If you have already made a corset from this pattern, put it on and measure the distance between the front top of the corset and the top of your shoulder and make the strap this long. Draw another vertical line 1.5 inches to the left of this line; this will be the front "strap" of your bodice.

Draw a curving line connecting the side edge of the strap to the top of your corset.

Now, starting about three inches to the right of the center back of the corset, draw a line slanting up and to the right about 10 inches long. If you have already made a corset from this pattern, put it on and measure the distance between the top back of the corset and the top of your shoulder and make the strap this long. Draw another one 1.5 inches to the right of the first line; this is your back shoulder strap.

Extend the center back line of the corset up four inches.

Connect this extended back line with the top of your back strap, as the diagram to the left illustrates.

As you did for the front strap, draw a curving line connecting the side edge of the back strap to the top of your corset. This will create the armhole of your bodice.

Eliminate the front point of the bodice, if you so wish, or modify it to a gentler curve.
Draw a diagonal line from the center of the back side of your armhole to the bottom of the pattern, about 4 inches away from the center back.

Once you've cleaned up all the drafting lines, your bodice pattern will look somewhat like the picture to the left. Cut along the diagonal line to make this a two-piece kirtle pattern. And that's it!

Now, it needs fitting. I'll probably fit it using heavy cotton, and then use this as interlining. I have to remember to TRANSFER THE FITTED PATTERN TO A PAPER VERSION! Then I won't need to redo it over and over again.

Now, we need to make modifications to the bodice pattern, yet again.

First, take the bodice pattern you created. Draw a line underneath the armhole down the side of the front piece of the pattern. Draw a slanting line down the front, following the line of the front strap. When you cut along these lines, you should have four pattern pieces resembling those shown to the right.

Measure from your waist to your ankle. Draw lines from the bottom edge of each kirtle pattern piece to this length. You should end up with pattern pieces resembling those at the right. (The grey areas represent the original bodice pattern pieces.)

The front piece is cut on the fold, and there should be two of each of the other pieces. The kirtle laces up the center back.

I will line the kirtle too. I might even consider *gasp* a corded corset underneath! Maybe I could even "fuse" it to the kirtle, as a kind of supportive lining. To line, Drea says, "Match the lining and outer kirtle together and sew around the neckline, armholes, and down the center back, leaving the tops of the shoulder straps unsewn. Clip the corners and curved seams, turn the kirtle right side out and sew the shoulder straps together by hand, and you have a finished kirtle."

The gown

Drea says, "The Flemish gown consisted of a skirt gathered to a close-fitting bodice with front edges which ended some ways away from the center middle. It was held closed over the kirtle by a lace which zig-zagged through rings on either side of the front edges. [...] This gown could either be sleeveless, or have small, capped sleeves; both varieties were extant in the 1560s. The armscyes appear to have been curved, although one example of a square-bottomed armscye has been found."

I LOVE the small sleeve cap look, by the way.

The skirt is just rectangles or slightly flared pieces gathered to the waistband. "This skirt was lined, often with a contrasting fabric. Sometimes the skirt went all the way around, bridging the gap between the two front sides of the bodice; sometimes it was open in the front, like the bodice. The skirt and bodice of a flemish gown were always connected, and always made of the same fabric." (Drea Leed)

Those should be made of wool, which I can't afford at the moment, especially 5 yards of the stuff. I have to use my stash, so linen it will be, for now. Wool... one day...

Drea makes the bodice of the gown using the bodice pattern (not the kirtle bodice, the Elizabethan bodice made from the corset pattern).

She says to take the bodice pattern, line up the front and back pieces and trace them out, also marking the division between them. "On this new pattern piece, start at the inner corner of the front square neckline, and draw a line that follows the line of the shoulder strap all the way down to the waist, as pictured to the right. Draw a line at the level of the bottom of the armhole back towards the side back seam, and draw a line down from the back armhole down to the side back seam. This creates a "squared" armhole at the back. And that's it! This is basically the gown pattern. Cut this new pattern out, cut along the back side seam, and you're ready to go. You now have your flemish gown bodice pattern."

To make the gown, we first need to mark the pattern pieces and cut 1/2 inch all around. Then mark the front piece twice, and cut 1/2 inch outside the tracing line. Repeat with lining.

Assemble fronts and backs for fabric and lining. Press. Place the lining and outer fabric right sides together and pin. Fold the tips of the shoulder straps back on either side to the tracing line, and pin them down. Sew around the edges of the bodice, sewing along the tracing lines, leaving the tops of all four straps unsewn (but sewing all the way to the edge, over the folded-back edges of the straps.) Sew the bottom of the bodice as well. However, leave the bottom seven inches of each front side unsewn. Clip seams, turn and iron. Turn in the raw edges of the outer fabric and the lining on either side of the front opening, and iron it so that there is a smooth line from the top of the shoulder strap down to the waist. Hand-stitch the straps together, stitching the outer fabric together and the lining as well. Place a piece of boning inside the fold of the lining along the bottom front edge, and stitch the raw edge of the lining down over with a running stitch. Stitch the outer fabric and the lining fabric together along the front edge with a blind-stitch or other non-obvious stitch. You now have an invisibly boned front edge. Repeat this process on the other side of the front opening..

You can use metal rings or normal, small eyelets from the fabric store to lace the gown closed. Sew these eyes to the lining of the gown, on either side of the front. Try to sew them only to the lining, not letting the needle catch the outer fabric of the gown. Stagger the hooks so that, when a lace is laced through them, it will zig-zag up. Sew one eye to the very bottom of the front opening, and every other eye an inch above the last; on the other side, sew the first eye 1/2 an inch from the bottom, and every eye an inch above the other.

Phew! Bodice done.

For the skirt: Measure the waist edge of the bodice; this will be the finished length of your pleated skirt. If you want to use knife or box pleats, you will need three times this measurement to get enough fabric. Drea recommends rolled pleats, but they just take too much fabric.

For the lenght of the skirt, she recommends the waist-to-ground measurement for your gown skirt, with one inch added to the original measurement. Lay the skirt fabric and lining right sides together, and sew the long bottom and the two shorter sides together 1/2 an inch away from the edge. Turn it right side out, and iron flat. Turn the edges of the open side in 1/2 an inch, and iron. From this point on, regard the lining and outer fabric as one layer.

Pleat the skirt. Place the right side of the bodice and the skirt top together, and, using a strong thread (silk if possible) stitch the top of the skirt and the bottom of the bodice together. As the skirt is basically finished on top and the bodice is finished on the waistline as well, this will make the join even stronger.



Just a tube. That I can manage by myself. Normally made of wool.


"Partlets were made of white linen or of black wool. The woolen partlets were worn for warmth, and were sometimes worn in conjunction with the lighter linen partlet." (Drea Leed)

Here's Drea's partlet pattern on the right.

Basically, four front pieces and four back pieces for a lined partlet. Assemble middle back and shoulder seams on both fabric and lining. Place fabric and lining together, and sew all around except for center back bottom. Clip curves and reduce seam allowances. Turn and press. Mark where the underarm should meet, clip excess and finish. Use buttons and loops or hooks and eyes to fasten them together. The front can be pinned or buttoned in place, or closed with hooks and eyes. Stitching heavy fishing line into the front center seam also helps the linen partlet to curve back without wilting down (though, as period pictures testify, wilting often occurred.)

Here's Jen Thompson's version of the partlet:


"Aprons were white, olive green, pink, brown, blue, and a variety of other colors." Drea recommends linen, but I think it would be far more logical to be using wool, since this would protect from sparks and heat as well as stains. She also says that the apron should be a rectangle about 2/3 of the waist measurement wide, but I think it might be even longer than that, considering the images I've seen.

As for headwear, the only thing catching my fancy is a headwrap in the Medieval tailor's assistant. A simple rectangle with tails, that wraps back around the head to the top.