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RH204 - Kirtle, Gown & Sleeves

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Get yourself a simple Renaissance outfit all in one pattern!

Buy our full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for Elizabethan Loose Gown and Kirtle with matching Sleeves based on extant examples in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, Germany. Kirtle features interlining for shape, applied decoration, eyeleted back closure, and tie-on sleeves. Gown can be mid-calf or floor length and features a straight or cut-away front, applied decoration, relaxed puff or padded sleeves, and a stand collar. All Sizes in one envelope. Fits bust 30½"-48". Embellishment suggestions and historical notes included.

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Suggested Fabrics:
Kirtle & Sleeves: medium weight silk or linen
Gown: silk velvet, plush, or brocade

Yardage Requirements:
outer material & lining " 4 yds (each) at least 45" wide
hem linings & facings 1½ yds (each) at least 45" wide
center panel 2 yds at least 45" wide

outer material (with nap) 8 yds at least 45" wide
outer material (without nap) 4 yds at least 45" wide
lining 4 yds at least 45" wide

outer material 2 yds at least 45" wide
lining 2 yds at least 45" wide
brocade decoration 2 yd at least 45" wide

The finished back length of the Kirtle and Loose Gown is 58". For every inch longer in finished length required, you will need an additional 1/8-yard of fabric.

Notions (optional):
Bias Tape: 3 yds at least 2" wide
Hem Binding: 4 yds (each) at least 2" wide
Sleeve Foundation: ½ yard buckram
Sleeve Ribbon: 1½ yds 1" wide ribbon
24 to 30 frogs or other closures
Cording and appliqué to taste

Let us help you! At Reconstructing History, we want to see you wearing the best garments you are capable of making. Call us Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm Eastern Time (or email us at info@reconstructinghistory.com) and we will answer any questions you might have.

Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:

Elizabethan Loose Gowns, Loose Kirtles and Sleeves


Loose Gowns, Flanders Gowns and Ropa

The Folger and Stowe Inventories of Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe mention loose gowns and night gowns that also appear in the warrants and Gift Rolls of the time.  “Loose Gown” is taken as the generic name for gowns that fall from the shoulders, front and back, but also include more fitted gowns that show the kirtle beneath.  These may have sometimes been called “Flanders Gowns” and “Night Gowns”.  The term “Night Gown” belies its origins as an early 16th century bedroom garment, and the earliest Night Gowns were made of woolen or worsted fabrics.  Henry VIII’s reign brought satin, velvet and taffeta Night Gowns trimmed with gold and silver lace and lined with shag, plush and fur.  These came to be worn during the day for extra warmth.  Christina of Denmark was painted in a loose gown by Holbein as early as 1538.  References to loose gowns and Night Gowns continue through to the 1620s when they went out of fashion.

Loose open gowns fitted to the shoulders and but otherwise unstructured became a favourite item of undress wear in the later years of Elizabeth’s reign.  These gowns were worn over jackets, bodices and petticotes as a type of indoor cloak.  Sometimes their purpose was indeed for warmth.  At other times, they were simply for display — showing off a beautiful brocaded silk or a luxurious cut and uncut velvet.  Although more casual than clothing worn at Court, a survey of period portraiture shows that these loose gowns were certainly not “dressing down” in any fashion.  The garments worn with loose gowns and the gowns themselves were often elaborately decorated with metallic bobbin lace and silver spangles.

Loose gowns that closed in front and sported short, puffed sleeves and wide guards around the armholes, on the sleeves and collar appear as early as the 1550s and continue in popularity until at least the 1580s in England.  Elizabethan Costume Historian Janet Arnold in her seminal work Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d substantiates that these are the defining characteristics of so-called “Flanders Gowns” as referred to in Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts.  The Queen’s tailors’ bills also use this name for loose gowns of similar description.

François Boucher, in 20,000 Years of Fashion, calls the same gowns “ropa” and assigns a Spanish origin to them.  Boucher posits that the ropa is Oriental in origin and is characterized by padded rolls at the sleeve-tops and the lack of a waist seam.  He further suggests that this gown came to be called a simarra in Italy, a marlotte in France, and a vlieger in Holland.  However, we have nothing more than Boucher’s word to support these assignments.

While it is true that the closed loose gown bears an unmistakable resemblance to the braid-encrusted caftans worn in Turkey during the 16th century, similar styles are seen from Russia to North Africa throughout costume history.

However, the ropa or closed loose gown does feature prominently in Spanish tailors’ books of the late 16th century.  Libro de Geometria pratica y traça by Juan Alçega in 1589 shows a number of pattern layouts for loose-fitting garments with short, puffy sleeves.  Burguen’s book Geometria, y traça from 1618 shows similar pattern drafts.  Contemporary woodcuts show similar garments worn by Belgian, French, Spanish, and Italian women among others.

The political relationship between Spain and the Low Countries in the later part of the 16th century would explain the idea that a gown of Spanish origins came to be called a “Flanders Gown” in England.  And the influence of the Moors in Spain may have brought the caftan-like garment there in the first place.  Of course this is pure speculation.  Regardless, the closed front loose gown became a popular feminine style all over 16th century Europe.

Maternity Dress or Fashion Statement?

In Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, Arnold puts forward the idea that the loose kirtle and gown was the garment of choice for plump or pregnant women.  However she swiftly admits that this thought cannot be substantiated by any real evidence.  The pictorial record shows both broad and slim women, both matrons and maidens, wearing loose kirtles.  It is far more likely that fashionable women wore loose kirtles because they were in style.  Suggestions that portraiture of Elizabeth I wearing loose kirtles belie a secret pregnancy are based upon the flimsiest conjecture.  Setting aside all other arguments, the primary fact that does not hold water is this:  why would Queen Elizabeth I, who would undoubtedly want to hide an illegitimate pregnancy, pose for a portrait while pregnant?  This single line of thought should expunge all idea that Elizabeth I’s loose kirtles are indeed maternity wear.

Pictorial Evidence

Our tour of period portraiture starts with a painting of Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal painted by Antonio Moro circa 1552.  This painting, which hangs in the Prado, Madrid, is often cited as proof that the Closed Loose Gown was a garment for older, less shapely women.  Her black gown of figured silk is adorned with gold cord and braid.  Passementerie buttons close the slashes on her chest and sleeves as well as the front of her gown, the top four of which struggle to close.  Although the hang of the garment in this painting certainly makes it appear that Queen Catherine has put on some weight since having her tailor execute this fine garment, it cannot be surmised that this style was restricted to older or overweight ladies, as our next example will show.

Hans Eworth’s painting of Lady Anne Penruddocke from the collection of Lord Howard de Walden shows a slight woman aged 20 in 1557.  Her black satin gown is decorated with black velvet guards bordered with decoration consisting of black cord and narrow braid.  The gown fastens to waist level with hooks and eyes hidden by black satin ribbon bows.  Her slashed sleeves are red satin broken up with bands of darker red velvet which are embroidered with lighter red silk.  Red silk embroidery also decorates her neck and wrist ruffs.

Painted around 1560, Clouet’s “Portrait of a Young Girl” in the Lille Museum shows a monochromatic version of the Closed Loose Gown and Kirtle.  Over a white brocade fitted kirtle, our young girl wears a black loose gown that only fastens at the neck.  Alternating passementerie buttons and loops decorate the front opening but do not appear to be intended as closures.  The severe cut-away shape of the gown is belied by the orientation of the buttoned slits to either side of center front, in one of which we find our girl’s resting hand.  These slits appear to run vertically, yet they are farther away from the front opening at their beginning than their end near her waist.  This is particularly apparent on her left.

The large, puffed sleeves are decorated with vertical bands of sliver bobbin lace and passementerie buttons and braid.  She wears a floral motif necklace over the gown and a matching belt under it.  Matching bracelets are on both her wrists.

Hardwick Hall contains a portrait of matriarch Bess of Hardwick painted by a follower of Hans Eworth around 1560.  Her black loose gown is lined with white, soft fur that is apparent at the front opening, sleeve ends, and vertical slashes in the sleeves as well as the collar which turns down to reveal the fur.  This obviously was a loose gown worn for warmth in the winter.  It is much plainer than the others we have seen thusfar.  A reproduction of the portrait in Ashelford’s Art of Dress does not show any figuring or applied decoration on the black fabric.  The only adornment seems to be the fur itself and the black and gold toggles (Ashelford calls them “aglets”) that close the front to the waist as well as the slashes on the sleeves and pockets.  Under this gown, Bess wears a shift heavily blackworked in red silk.  Every inch we see, from wrist ruffs to neck ruff and collar, is covered in red geometric patterns.

A portrait of lady possibly of the Wentworth Family by Hans Eworth in 1565 hangs in the Tate Gallery in London.  Her black velvet loose gown is guarded with gold thread embroidery and gold braid and couched gold cord.  The sleeves of her loose gown appear so heavily embroidered and couched that they are stiff and stick out in points adorned with round passementerie buttons.  The gown closes straight to the waist but flares beneath to show the underskirts or forepart.  Underneath her gown we see pink silk embroidery.  It is impossible to tell if this is a full gown underneath or simply a matching forepart and sleeves. 

A slight departure is shown in a portrait in the Collection of the Marquess of Salisbury, of Mildred Cooke, Lady Burghley by an unknown artist circa 1565.  Over a square-necked French kirtle and blackworked shift, Lady Burghley wears an open, cut-away loose gown that does not appear to fasten at all.  The small padded sleeves of the gown as well as the undersleeves have tiny slashes through which emerge her blackworked shift.

Lord Tollemache’s collection at Helmingham Hill in Stowmarket contains a portrait of unknown lady aged 43, painted by an unknown artist in 1567.  This lady’s front opening and sleeve slashes are closed by the same type of toggles seen in Bess of Harwick’s portrait on page 3.  For a twist, her loose gown is open above the breast and the revers folded back like a collar.  Underneath it she wears a sheer decorated shift through which we can see her arms.  Puffs of blackworked material peek out of the slashes on her sleeves, but we cannot identify this as a garment from anything else in the portrait.  It may just have been the stuffing for the puffed sleeves.

The Marquess of Tavistock and the Trustees of the Bedford Estates, Woburn Abbey, own a portrait of Lady Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick, painted around 1569.  She wears a loose gown remarkably similar to that in the painting above except that hers is only closed by one toggle at the breast.  The collar above and the rest below are left open although they have the same type of toggles by which they can close.  Puffs of blackworked linen peek out from the slashes in her sleeves.  She wears transparent gauze sleeves over a second set decorated with blackworked stripes.

In the Philadelphia Museum, “Marguerite of Parma” painted by Antonio Moro c1570 wears a black loose gown decorated with cruciform jewels.  Her gown is only closed at the throat and does not contain buttons or loops, unless the jewels also function as such.  Instead of small, puffed sleeves, her loose gown has shoulder rolls and no sleeves.  The striped satin sleeves she wears underneath it may be separate or may belong to her undergown.  Her undergown is a fitted satin kirtle, apparently without a waist seam and decorated to imply a center front opening. 

Anna Sophia, Herzogin zu Mecklenburg wears a kirtle and loose gown remarkably similar to the extant garments we studied for this pattern.  In a 1574 painting of her attributed to Peter von Boeckel, Anna wears a black velvet loose gown with short, padded sleeves over a yellow silk kirtle.  The loose gown and kirtle are elaborately decorated with jewels and embroidery.  The detail is small, but it appears the closures on the front opening and the sleeve slashes are similar to the toggles on other portraits mentioned earlier.  Loose gown and kirtle both appear to be stiff and stand out on their own.  The loose gown closes only at the neck.

A lady from Belgium is depicted in a woodcut by Abraham de Bruyn in 1581.  Although the detail is not as great as that in the portraits we have examined thusfar, a few elements are clearly similar:  cut-away gown front that only closes at the breast, elaborately decorated guards, vertical stripes or possibly openings on the chest, highly decorated padded sleeves and kirtle with matching sleeves worn underneath.


For more, purchase this pattern.

This information © 2004 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History

One of my favorite RH patterns. The gown sleeves can be worn down if it is cold. Did this in a "velveteen" and still get compliments after 5 years. Easy to sew. The time consuming part is sewing on clasps down the front but you don't need to go all the way. The new one may have ties.


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