I can complain all I want about the lack of Burgundian out there in the wild, but I have to be the change I want to see in the world. Now, I think I know how… I’m going to make a Burgundian for war. A practical Burgundian, if you will. I have the pieces for it, I have a fitted dress pattern that works, I just have to pull it all together. I believe that it MUST be possible since I’ve seen photos of them on actual humans who do reenactment in Europe. Pray to the costuming gods for me, ok? I may be doing a horrible thing that will result in me having insufficient clothes to make it through the war. What I really want is Miss Isabella of Portugal over there with her ridiculous Hat of Glory and embroidered goldwork under dress and bejewelled everything. What I’m shooting for is maybe not looking like I tried to make a bathrobe out of some curtains, belted it, and passed it off as a dress. It’s good to have reasonable goals.
A costuming Laurel helped me troubleshoot my cotehardie pattern a couple of weekends ago at Kingdom A&S. This happens to be a Laurel who has gorgeous clothes and is the only person I’ve seen wearing anything from the era of Burgundian gowns. She casually was talking about the layers of under-things, construction options, and how they work really well as maternity and nursing gear if you make them the period way (i.e. laced at the front or sides). I already knew that part from some effigy portraits and a little bit of thinking through how much time you spend pregnant or nursing if you don’t have birth control and only some of your children will make it through to adulthood. That fitted clothing is fitted because it’s laced tight or belted, not because the patterning is absurdly precise and complex.
She says that once you get a kirtle pattern that really fits you well and make it up in a couple of layers of fabric that is of a sturdy, fine weave with no give on the grain (think shirting or high thread count sheets), it can serve as a basis for just about anything if you add a little extra room to let it skim over your layers. You know, like her Burgundian stuff. And with the neckline like that, you can just kind of pull in a shoulder, wiggle it down a little, and have easy access for nursing. I stood there gawping like an idiot for a second. Everything started clicking into place in my head for how the shapes work, how the clothes work, and how the ability to make a few styles of dress with similar fit characteristics from one core pattern makes the most sense of all. Occam’s Razor applies to dresses, apparently… I’m trying not to feel dumb about it.
I’ve had some discount fabric slated for something along these lines for some time now. It’s blue and gold with diamonds and quatrefoil flowers inside each. I think I have about 8 yards of it at 60″ wide. Not exactly drapey, but not as stiff as most brocade woven decorating fabric tends to be. I think this will be the perfect experiment since I’ve held onto it for a few years now and haven’t used it, plus it was cheap and is synthetic, so I’m not holding it dear like I would silk or velvet or something pricey. My original intent was a houppelande, but in all my research, I wind up really disliking the ones people do out of poly decor fabrics because the drape isn’t there, even on the bias. It takes all the grace out of the thing and makes people look really bulky. I still want one, but it’s worth finding a nice wool gab or light suiting on sale. Back on topic… The train on this particular example is absurd, mostly because I need clothes to go to Gulf War. And also because I do not have a handy manservant to tote my dress around. A wedding dress with a train was bad enough to manage around other people, so I can’t imagine what to do with 15 feet of train while camping.
The absolute worst case scenario is that I’m pretty sure I could pull off something like this from Christine de Pisan, which is still 15th century, but less of a departure from the basic shape of a cotehardie. Plus, it has flappy sleeves! They could be lined in something obnoxious and fancy, which I’m all about. Plus, I could wear it over existing stuff when it gets chilly at night or for court.