Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Florentine gentleman

The Doublet.


As I've said before, I tend to let my fabric options drive my design to a certain degree. In this case, fabric is very important - I want to make sure that David stays comfortable (while looking as good as possible, of course). This is going to lead to a few compromises.

That said, there are some things that are really important for the look of this outfit, and the red satin doublet is one of them. I really don't want to try to dye this material, and although I want something with reasonable body, silk duchesse is actually heavier than I want, not to mention out of my price range at $30/yard - plus I can't really find the right shade anyway; the reds are too blue-toned. Most heavy satins don't seem to be offered in a very big color range, even on the Internet, and lighter satins don't come in any colors at all. Except charmeuse, which comes in a million colors, but would be a stabilizing nightmare since it's such a droopy material.

Finally, at Denver Fabrics, I found the material shown at right, which is a crimson satin-back shantung. I know, shantung = slubs = not period. But from what I can tell from the picture, this material looks very similar to a satin-back shantung sample I've gotten from another source, in that the slubs seem to be few and far between. I guess when you're making satin, even shantung satin, you have to have a certain percentage of smooth threads or it just doesn't look satiny. Anyway, at $10 per yard I can live with the occasional slub, especially since I was ordering some linen from them anyway, so I can lump the shipping together.

I'm also thinking that since I'd like to do a fairly elaborate treatment like the Moroni sleeves shown at left, a few irregularities in the material will be much less obvious on a busy surface like that than if I just had smooth sleeves.

If I do them, I will cadge Lynn McMasters' bias-strip technique. I'll need a red silk underlining, but to keep things cheap I ordered only two yards of the shantung, so I may need to get some habotai from Thai Silks ($5/yard, lots of colors).

Of course, the sleeves raise the question: If they're so elaborate, what does the body of the doublet look like? It's completely hidden in the portrait by the jerkin. But I need the jerkin to be an optional piece. I'm thinking that ideally it would look something like the back view of a doublet from The Adoration of the Kings by Jacopo Bassano, ca. 1550, in the National Gallery of Scotland - shown on page 19 of Patterns of Fashion. Sorry, no scan at present; I'm in the middle of switching to a new computer and at the moment the scanner isn't hooked up to either of 'em!

At any rate, the more important question is, will I really have time for all that? Or will I just make a nice plain shiny red doublet? I guess it somewhat depends on the quality of the shantung. We'll see when it arrives.

April 4, 2004: Splendid Shantung, and Pattern Drafting

The shantung (and linen) arrived, and I'm quite pleased. There is indeed subtle, occasional slubbing, but the interesting thing about satin-back shantung (or, as I'm using it, satin-front shantung!) is that the slubs are all in the base of the fabric, and the satin threads just ride over them. This makes them much more subtle, like seeing a pillow under a blanket instead of on top of it.

And the color is wonderful. The digital pic at left is pretty close to the color, which has more pink to it than the pic from Denver Fabrics' website; and I think it's handsomer and more subtle in person. It's an unusual color, predominantly red, but with those corally tones that say "16th century."

The body is interesting. I draped it on the mannequin both along and across the warp, and you can see that while the weft direction (across from selvage to selvage, shown at left) is pretty drapey, the warp (see right, though note that the color is all wrong) is quite stiff, falling in large cones. I think I can use this to my advantage to get the quality of body I want...I just need to pay lots of attention when cutting!

I got started on the pattern-drafting last night, and got as far as a first mockup. It wasn't too bad for a first try, given that I didn't even bother to pull out the enlarger to blow up something from Patterns of Fashion (there are two roughly midcentury Florentine doublet patterns, but neither's proportions looked much like my husband's). I just used a ruler, a list of David's measurements, and a lot of eyeballing back and forth between the two PoF patterns and what I was coming up with on my sheet of paper. Although the back fit beautifully, I'm adding about an inch to the center back because he has a hard time pulling his arms back to get them into sleeves, and it was really just a little too far with the back as narrow as it was. I also cut down the front length, since when you're sitting you tend to get extra fabric folding up in your lap, and increased the waist a bit so it wouldn't pull at that medicine pump implanted above his right hipbone, just below the bellybutton line. It's sitting right on a nerve, so pressure on it is a very bad thing.

I've only adjusted the pattern pieces, not the mockup, so as soon as I have finalized patterns I'll post them. I still need to tackle the sleeves.

Oh, something interesting about these Florentine doublets that I hadn't noticed before: the stand collar is two separate pieces in front, but the back collar is merely an extension of the doublet back! I wonder why they did it that way. I'm curious to see what effect this will have on the look of the completed garment, if any.

April 11, 2004: Detailing Decisions

I am simply not going to have time to do those nifty Moroni sleeves. However, I've been looking through the available portraits again, and a lot of them have some very handsome pinking:

Details, from left, of two paintings by Francesco Salviati, at the Getty and at the Liechtenstein Museum; and of a Bronzino in the Frick Collection.

I particularly like the center picture, with the more elaborate pinking. This Bronzino portrait also shows a red doublet with some hard-to-see but attractive pinking on the body.

So I tested out the pinking on my satin shantung, and it worked beautifully. That stuff simply refuses to ravel! In fact, in the sample at left, which I carried around in my pocket all day when I took it to match the color with thread, you can see that while the long cut edges are raveling, the pinking looks untouched.

Cutting a bunch of little slits that I don't have to finish should be a lot simpler than those multipaned sleeves, but also a lot more decorative than leaving the satin plain. It's also a technique that I can easily carry out over the body of the doublet as well. So that's my current plan.

I made a second mockup and tried out a pinking pattern on the sleeve before I put it together. Keep in mind that while every subtle texture change shows on the satin, as seen in the pinking above, cotton muslin does not show pinking very well. It just sort of closes back up and lies there. The picture in which I'm holding up the sleeve shows a little better the lines of tiny pinks running in vertically between the larger, diagonal pinks. And yes, this muslin is in fact pink! (It was an old sheet in a previous life.)

I ran three rows of pinking parallel to the cuff, with each row alternating the bias cuts as forward-slash and backslash, so to speak. I left a blank area at the bottom because it will be covered by the turnback shirt cuff, although I suppose I might fill it in with more rows of bias cuts just in case it's ever worn with a different sort of cuff.

Pattern Cutting

With the pinking settled, I produced my finalized pattern pieces. Here they are, laid out on the back (non-satin side) of the shantung. Be aware that my camera's angle has slightly distorted them, but you get the idea:

I wanted to take advantage of the fabric's one-direction-only stiffness, so I laid out the pieces along the width rather than along the length as one usually would. This way the stiff threads will keep the doublet from buckling across, like in creases at the waist, across the upper chest, or between the buttons. It may be prone to some vertical wobbles, but I think that's a much lesser consideration.

I will be pinking the body as well, and all this pinking made the choice of lining (or interlining, if there was to be one) important, since it will show slightly. A survey of existing pinked garments revealed that, basically, anything goes: some were interlined and some not; some matched the fabric beneath to the satin, while others were lined/interlined with white or black, and I think even contrasting colors in some late-period examples.

Most doublets were lined with linen, although some had silk. I was originally thinking silk to make it easier to slip the doublet on and off, but I then I thought the two layers of silk wouldn't be stiff enough so I'd have to interline, and that sounded like too many layers - it might get too hot. So I'm going to line it with medium-weight linen, and I'm going with black. I decided that because the pinking slits don't open up very much, they're pretty subtle, and a little contrast with the material underneath wouldn't be a bad thing.

Taking the show on the road

I'm going to be traveling for about ten days, and I have so much sewing to do, I really don't want to have to be on hiatus that long. However, it occurred to me that if I prepared right I could use the time to do an awful lot of the handwork this doublet will require.

First of all, I've cut out the pieces and am trying to get it sorted enough that I can put in all those buttonholes while I'm away. Ideally I would put in the lining, add the facings, then put in the buttonholes. The catch is, I've ordered the lining but it isn't here yet. So I'm going to interface the satin facings with strips of scrap linen, then put in the buttonholes. I'll leave the inside edge of the facing loose so that when I put the lining in later, I can slip its raw edge under the facing and whip it down.

I'll be following the plan of the facings seen in Don Garzia de'Medici's doublet in Patterns of Fashion, shown at left. Basically, the idea is that the facings extend about 1/4" past the edge of the doublet, collar, and cuff edges, so that they can be seen from the right side, and then are decoratively snipped at regular intervals. Thus they form sort of ultra-mini picadils. Since this satin has proved so snippable, it seemed like a fun, oh-so-period treatment that would also help keep the front doublet edges from wanting to roll outward, as I find front edges often do with thin, slippery fabrics.

Before I even get to the buttonholes, I'll be topstitching through the fabric and the facings, to hold them in place and to be decorative. You can just make out the topstitching in the photo of the extant garment; it looks lighter than the fabric and is most visible on the collar.

And the more I think about it, I ought to do the pinking before I do much of anything else. Since I'm going to be cutting the slits with scissors rather than stamping them out with a chisel, it's certainly possible to do them in a later stage of construction, but I would be wise to mark them out on the back of the satin before I start distorting the shape of the pieces by sewing them.

As for those buttonholes, I wanted to do them in silk. Modern buttonholing thread is very dull and unsilklike, and in my experience the colors tend to be rather mottled, at least in the reds. There is a single shop in Asheville that sells silk floss - the place at which I bought the gold floss for my coverciere and gown-sleeve couching. I don't want to try to buy floss on-line, because how will I ever match the colors? Unfortunately, when I went to the shop the other day, she had no red silk of any shade in stock, and no idea when she would.

However, she did have a 50/50 silk/wool floss in a reasonable color, so I decided to try that. It's very pretty and soft, although I'm a little worried about the strength. I'll just have to see how it goes.

When I get tired of buttonholes, I can make buttons. I have 12mm wooden beads, and although period buttons seem to be wrapped quite elaborately, usually in some sort of basket weave, I'm happy with a simple wrapping. Mine are more spherical than Don Garzia de'Medici's, but close enough for my purposes. The ones in Patterns of Fashion are described as having "a french knot" on top, although when I tried this I couldn't get anything remotely like the size of the knot in the pictures. I got a little, teeny knot that slipped down into the hole!

Eventually, I wound up wrapping a very small bead and attaching it to the top. It may not be a period way to do it, but the effect is good, I think.

April 13, 2004: Pinking Plan

Just a quick note before I hit the road. I drew up my pinking patterns on the doublet back and fronts, working them out on the paper pattern first and then on the backside of the satin. I simply used a ruler and a pencil - the pencil marks don't show through to the front side of the satin at all, so I didn't have to mess around with chalk. The subtle pencil marks don't show up on camera at all, so here are my paper patterns:

I didn't try to make the pattern work out across the side seam, although it's close. I just worked out from the center front and center back. In addition to the bias slashes, the vertical lines represent columns of tiny cuts.

Although the camera tends to distort things slightly, it is true that the lines on the front are not perfectly parallel. On the back I simply ran the lines parallel until they fell off, but on the front I decided to compensate for the fact that the right (buttonhole) edge slants slightly left to right, while the left (sideseam) edge slants slightly right to left. In other words, the vertical lines actually fan outward slightly from the top, so that they appear parallel to the seams on both sides. It looked better to me this way than following strict right angles.

April 26, 2004: Moderate Progress

I didn't have as much time to work on this while traveling as I'd hoped, but I did manage to get all the buttons done - 18 of them - as well as all the pinking on the body (I didn't bring the sleeves). Alas, Washington, D.C.'s famed G Street Fabrics no longer carries buttonhole silk, but I found a reasonable pinky-red embroidery silk that I hope will do the job.

The black linen I had ordered for the lining was waiting for me when I returned, and I'm quite pleased with it. It's a little heavier than I expected but very flexible. I don't know how to describe it intelligently, but tripleweave silk and heavy linen both have a funny kind of almost rubbery quality when you hold both ends of a piece and let it buckle between your hands. A bit like thick wool, but even more resilient. This quality makes it an excellent candidate for my doublet lining, because it provides a ton of body without being at all stiff.

So far I've cut out just the left front lining. After debating my options, I decided to put it right sides together and sew everything except the center front on the machine. I clipped the corners and curves, and pressed with the silk rolled slightly to the inside, and got what you see below. Click for closeups.

My idea is that although the back collar is an intrinsic part of the back piece, there's no reason not to stitch the front collar pieces on separately. So I'll completely finish all the edges of the doublet fronts, the back, and the collar pieces, and then I'll whip them all together at the seams. I think this gives a cleaner finish and allows more control in the collar positioning than if you sew the body complete with collar and then put in the lining complete with collar.

Rolling the silk slightly to the inside when pressing is important because it hides the lining completely, but it does stretch the silk tighter than the lining. At first I thought this was a problem, but then I realized that the slight tension helped pull the pinking open a bit, highlighting it.

In the image at left, you can really see what a difference the lining makes to the body and hang of the doublet. (Sorry, I only have female mannequins.)

Next I'll do the other front and the back, add the collar, and finally the snipped facings to the fronts and collar. I'm still debating whether or not I want to add a peplum (aargh, what were these called in period?); one Medici doublet has one and the other doesn't, so it's optional. I think it might help hide the trunk-hose waistband, though, especially since I'm not going to be lacing the two together.

Yes, it would be more period-correct to lace them together, but I think it would be uncomfortably bulky and confining around David's pressure-sensitive waistline. Oh well.

On a reverse note, I think I will be lacing the sleeves into the armholes instead of sewing them in as is correct for Florentine doublets, because I'm hoping that in really hot weather removing just the sleeves will be enough to keep David comfortable, rather than having to remove the whole doublet.

May 2, 2004: It's Becoming a Garment!

It's always so rewarding when you get to put the big pieces together, and suddenly a garment exists where before you had a pile of pieces!

I got the right front and the back lined, turned, and pressed. Then I whipped shut the gaps left to make turning possible, and finally I whipped, with very small stitches, the sides and shoulder seams.

Even though it looks funny at this stage, with the collar built into the back but none in front, I'm quite happy with the result. I should mention that the pinking is much clearer in person than in any of these photos; I'm not sure why.

Whipping the satin selvages to the linen lining was easy, because this thick linen just swallows up stitches invisibly. Every single mark shows on the satin, though, and even with using tiny little whip-stitches you can still see them quite clearly if you look closely at the seam. I think what you're really seeing is not the stitches themselves but the tension they create on the individual threads of the satin, as the threads are relatively loose and easily disturbed. But at least it's clearly handsewn.

Next I sewed each collar front to its lining, clipped, turned, pressed, and whipped up the gap. Then I whipped the collar pieces to the doublet. I started at the back collar extension (below left), then whipped onto the front neckline. Because the collar and neckline are both on the bias, they have a certain amount of give, which is good because otherwise they wouldn't have lined up so perfectly! I definitely had to manipulate the collar pieces slightly to get them to come out right.

Below are some not-very-well-lit, late-night photos of the doublet with its collar attached. I also put it on over the shirt and pinned it shut to see how the shirt-collar looked with it. Not bad, I think; more or less the way Don Gabriel's appears in his portrait, below right. Minus the fabulous red blackwork and nifty tassels, of course.

May 17, 2004: Itty-Bitty Advances

I simply have not been able to work on this anything like as much as I wanted to - too much client work, and rehearsals, and whatnot. However, I did add the facing/decorative edging to the left side of the doublet.

The original facings are mitered where they meet at the corners of the collar. I wasn't sure how to handle this. My facings are simply straight strips of satin with both sides folded in toward the center and pressed:

The raw edges will be encased against the linen lining of the doublet.

I didn't want to miter the collar facing to the front facings before applying them, because I didn't want to be locked into a given length as I stitched them on (you know how things get longer or shorter as you sew them together!). So I wound up just turning the facing flaps the other way (right sides together, in other words) and sewed a 45-degree angle, trimmed, flipped, and pressed. I'll do the same thing for the collar piece, and just whip them together as I'm attaching it.

After putting in and taking out some experimental stitches in embroidery silk, I wound up with the stitching you see here, which holds the facing to the doublet at the edge. This is embroidery silk. The original was backstitched, but I obviously have much heavier layers of linen inside my doublet, because I was forced to stab-stitch the whole thing (very slow) and therefore used a sort of modified running stitch to speed things up. I've seen decorative running stitches used elsewhere, so I'm happy with it - and it emphasizes the "I'm so handstitched" look! When I say modified, I just mean that the stitch is much shorter on the backside than the front, because I was pushing the needle through at an angle. It just turned out to be easier that way.

Sorry the photo's not better. It's late, and I could only get enough light to take a decent picture by holding it right next to a lightbulb - flash just produces a shiny pink blob.

I put in one buttonhole, which took forever and with which I'm not very happy. It's very difficult to keep the black linen threads from getting caught up in the stitches and showing. I think that, after cutting each buttonhole slit, I'm going to have to separate the layers and trim the linen back from the satin on either side of the hole.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, of course the Faire was this weekend, so what did David wear, since his clothes were not done? Well, his new shirt, which was done; over that the doublet body, sans sleeves and unfastened, but at least as period-looking as all the pirate-shirt-garbed folk working this particular Faire; an old pair of black cotton knee-breeches; the new black cotton stockings; an old grey flat cap of mine; and an old pair of my Scottish dance ghillies, which worked only because he has small feet for a man, they were always too long for me anyway, and all the lacing let me loosen them very wide. They're not really right, but they had a nice look anyway.

August 10, 2004: Chiseling

Because of my success with a chisel in pinking my women's shoes, I thought I'd give it a try on the sleeves of this doublet. Results: a mixed bag. First off, unlike the leather, the silk doesn't really look any different whether it's cut with scissors or a chisel. And although the cuts are easier to control with the chisel (they're always the same length, and I don't have to worry about them curving or getting little jags in them), the silk is very tough and hard to get through. I had to go over more than half of the cuts a second or even third time to get through all the threads. So it's really six of one, half a dozen of the other.

August 30, 2004: Sleeves!

Okay, I haven't been posting, but I have been sewing, really! Aside from computer issues, a new client project (gotta slow down on those) and a new-to-me car have been sucking away attention again. But I do have the Charlotte Faire to get ready for, and nothing works for me like a deadline.

Anyway, I finished the rest of the pinking on the first sleeve via scissors, deciding that it was simpler in the end - especially since I can do it sitting on the couch instead of hunched over a block of wood on the floor.

Next I cut the facings for the open ends of the sleeves. In the extant examples in Arnold, these are vaguely U-shaped pieces that run along the wrist edge of the sleeve and extend up on either side to back the buttons and buttonholes and, presumably, keep the exposed flap openings pretty. I wasn't paying attention and cut the facings on the opposite grain to the way I cut the sleeves; however, this turned out to be a good thing because this fabric is quite stiff in one direction and doesn't want to crease nicely across that grain. By swapping direction in the facing, when I turned and pressed I always had one pliant piece abutting a difficult one, which made it so much easier to get a nice clean line than if I'd aligned two resistant-to-folding edges.

Then I just folded the sleeve over on itself, pinned, and sewed up the back-of-arm seam. The pictures below are hardly great but do show the sleeve pinned to a dummy. You don't get much feel for the shape without an arm inside, but at least on the closeup you can see what nice sharp creases I was able to get at the edges.

November 1, 2004: I Hate Buttonholes.

I've been putting off working the buttonholes on this thing since I put the first one in and, frankly, it sucked.

However, I finally got a grip on myself and worked out what I needed to do differently. First and foremost, I had waaaayyy too much fabric to sew through. I'm used to stacking a lot of turned-under layers at the opening edges of a garment to add body and stiffness, and it's fine if you're machining buttonholes, putting in hooks, or even handsewing eyelets, but for handsewn buttonholes it's (for me, at least) impossible to keep thick multiple layers playing nicely together. I wound up opening up the inside front facing and trimming out a strip about an inch wide, consisting of the linen lining, the turnback on the linen lining, and bits of turnback from the facing itself. The only layer I left intact between the facing and the outer fabric was the turnback on the outer fabric. So now I was sewing through three layers of silk satin instead of that plus two layers of thick linen plus, at the edges of the buttonholes, an extra layer of silk.

The other change I made was to get out of 19th-century/modern fine-buttonhole mode and into chunky 16th-century mode. I'm used to doing buttonholes with a single strand of floss, but if you look at the buttonholes in extant 16th-century doublets they are stitched quite coarsely with multistranded floss, their large stitches biting well back into the fabric. It gives them a firm, hearty look. Pics below are clickable.

Anyway, I won't say that these wound up being the best buttonholes I've ever done (satin is so unforgiving), but I'm reasonably happy with them, and I think they definitely add to the 16th-centuriness of the garment.

Also, I had the doublet hanging over a chair by a south-facing window and noticed that the raking light showed up the slashing dramatically enough actually to capture it on film (yay!), so although the color is far too pink in these, at least now you can really see the textured effect of the doublet.

November 9, 2004: Sleeve Reworking

I've had some trouble with the linen I'm using for a lining stretching a lot, and I was concerned that if I just dropped a regular tubular lining into the sleeve, attached only at the top and bottom, it would stretch and move around too much. I also wasn't sure I could get it to come out neatly at the vent/cuff area.

After thinking about it, I realized that I should have constructed the sleeves as the rest of the doublet: make a finished, lined, flat piece, then whip up the back-of-arm seam. So I pulled out the seam I'd put in.

I also realized that I'd completely forgotten that I wanted the facing on the base of the sleeve to have the same decorative edge as I'd put into the front of the doublet. (This is what happens when you sew too late at night.) Rather than redo the facing entirely, I decided it would be much simpler just to insert a narrow, folded-over strip sticking out from between the facing and the sleeve end. (As the buttonholes won't be going through this area, I'm not worried about adding bulk.) So I picked out the bottom end of the facing, too.

I laid the silk on the linen, right sides together, and stitched up the top edge and both sides down to the vent facings. Turned, clipped, pressed. Trimmed the lining back at the lower end of the sleeve to remove bulk beneath the facing. Clipped the inside corners of the facing, turned its raw edges in, and whipped it down to the lining. Voila:

Then I just folded the sleeve in half, right sides together, and whipped the seam from vent to top. (This one you can click on.)

Much better.

November 22, 2004: Clipping, clipping, clipping

I've done most of the slashing on the second sleeve, but I didn't bother to take a picture because it looks exactly like the first. Well, mirror imaged, anyway.

I also stitched the facing to the other front edge, exactly the same way as the first. And I went back to the first facing and clipped it at intervals, like Don Garzia's. I chose a 5/8" interval - it just looked good to me. I marked the intervals with a pencil and then snipped them. I found that if I made a simple straight snip it didn't show at all, so instead I actually took a little notch out at each marking. That was much more effective (click on it):

It's interesting - it's such a minor change, but it definitely adds to the look of the garment.

I was going to put in the collar facing as well, but I realized when I started positioning it that although the straight-grain strips were ideal for the fronts, a bias strip would work much better for the collar. Fortunately I have enough satin, although I need to remember that I still want to cut narrow skirts for the bottom as well.

January 3, 2005: The Return of the Sewing
I'm really sorry I've been gone so long. My husband's health took a turn for the worse and we spent a good bit of December down at the VA's spinal-cord center in Augusta. Things seem to be stable now, although for the moment his mobility is really reduced from what it was. Hopefully time will bring improvement. But I must admit it has put a real crimp in my sewing...
However, I did use some of my bedside time to do a little handsewing. I always find handsewing soothing - I kind of wished I had an embroidery project. Anyway, I clipped the right-side facing/piping, and I added the bias facing to the neck and clipped it, too. It's a little ridiculous to put all this effort into it, because it will be hidden under his shirt collar anyway, but hey, it looks cool!

You can, as usual, click on these pics for blowups.

I also finished the second sleeve to the same stage I'd got the first one to in the last entry. And I added a clipped piping with the same topstitching detail to one of the sleeves.

I was originally going to fasten these with a pair of buttons per sleeve, but after thinking about it I decided they'd probably be lumpy and uncomfortable under his wrists when he rests them on the wheelchair armrests. So I think I'm going to do hooks and eyes (or hooks and thread loops, I'm not sure) instead. I also think I need to do the decorative topstitching detail to the edges of the slit to keep the silk lying flat.

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Copyright 2004 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.