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RH601 - Early Tudor (1520s-1540s) Lady's Gown & Kirtle

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Make yourself the perfect lady's gown for the Northern Renaissance period of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour with this pattern.

Get our full size paper patterns for 1520s-1540s Tudor Lady's Gown based on pictorial references and the work of Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies in their book The Tudor Tailor. Supportive kirtle and overgown included in package. Two sleeve styles, two undersleeves, and trained or untrained skirts with or without front split. Fits busts 30½"-48" and waists 23"-41". All sizes included in one envelope. Embellishment suggestions included.

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Now with expanded historical notes, more instructions graphics, and easier-to-follow instructions.
silk brocade or velvet
lightweight silk or fine linen for lining
5oz. linen for interlining

Suggested Fabrics:

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:

The Tudor Lady’s Gown 1520s through 1540s


Nothing exists in a vacuum and this is certainly true of the clothing of English noblewomen in the first half of the 16th century.  The ensemble we call “The Tudor Lady’s Gown” as exemplified in portraits of Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr is the natural development of the gown and kirtle outfits of the previous century.

In the 15th century and possibly much earlier, the kirtle was the common woman’s basic gown.  It was simply constructed of a four-piece bodice (two backs and two fronts) and a skirt.  It existed in sleeveless and short-sleeved versions and was worn directly over a woman’s linen smock or underwear.  In earlier centuries the kirtle had no waist seam, but by the 15th century this feature was added, allowing a widening of the skirts.  Worn with pinned or tied on sleeves, it could be dressed up or dressed down as suited the occasion.  Medieval calendars show women working in the fields without sleeves and their smock sleeves rolled up and their skirts kirtled about their hips.  Other depictions show women in distress with their sleeves missing or pulled on but not pinned.  This can be seen particularly in religious paintings depicting the Crucifixion and the Massacre of the Innocents.  At other times women demurely wore their sleeves of wool or sometimes even brocade.

Noblewomen also wore this gown, but as an underlayer to their elaborate fur-lined or silk brocade gowns.  The front of the kirtle may be seen at the neckline of the overgowns in illustrations of the saints’ lives in illuminated manuscripts and sometimes glimpsed when ladies hold up their hems to walk.

In the 16th century, it appears that not much has changed.  In genre paintings of common people the kirtle is still worn by women with the addition of tied or pinned-on sleeves.  Oftentimes a partlet is added for modesty’s sake to cover the upper chest.

As in the previous century, noblewomen in the 16th century continued to wear kirtles as supportive undergarments.  As the gowns became more elaborate and the fashionable shape more structured, stiffening (possibly in the form of buckram and glue-stiffened interlining) and later boning was added to the bodice of the kirtle as well as to the underskirts or farthingale.  As far as we can conjecture, it was not until later in the 16th century that bodice and skirts separated into bodys/stays and petticote.  

Looking at Holbein’s 1528 sketch of a lady, we see many resemblances to the gowns worn at the end of the 15th century.  Necklines are low and square, pleating is concentrated on the backs of the skirts, and sleeves are enormous.  A certain post-medieval soft and flowiness is still in evidence.  Although Katherine of Aragon is credited with introducing the farthingale to the English Court in 1501, it is clear that no hoops or stiffened underskirt is worn with this gown.  The skirts are flowing and natural.  Indeed this draping style with a train continues through the 1520s into the 1530s.

The bodice of this gown also appears fairly natural.  While it is certainly tight enough to lift the wearer’s breasts, it does not necessarily appear to be boned.  It is possible that in this early evolution of the Tudor gown and kirtle, the kirtle was merely interlined with stiff fabric, not boned.  Other sketches of this time period echo this flowing look.

Maria Hayward in her book Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII reports that there is no mention of boning (or materials that could have been used for boning) in receipts for kirtles made for the Royal Wardrobe.  It is possible that some other type of stiffening was used, but no accounts mention it.  This is curious as bodices during Henry’s reign show definite signs of fairly rigid boning.  

Case in point, Jane Seymour’s famous 1537 portrait by Holbein.  There are two versions of this painting, the one at right in the Hague and another with brocade sleeves and more elaborate jewelry in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  In both paintings, the elements of the gown and kirtle we are about to discuss are shown.

If you look carefully at the left side seam of the gown, you will see tiny yellow dots and some slight stress wrinkles.  These are the heads of brass pins.  Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila have long posited that these pins are in fact holding a placard that matches the fabric of the gown.  Under this placket is a front-lacing bodice that is the true, though hidden, closure method of the overgown.

Mikhaila and Malcolm-Davies also discovered evidence of another layer between the gown and smock.  The line of pearls and other gems on the above portrait looks like trim on the gown but Mikhaila and Malcolm-Davies postulate that it is in fact an underlayer.  Their idea is further supported by careful inspection of the painting of Catherine Parr reproduced at right.  In close-up, it is clear that the grey fur that lines her sleeves is also peaking out between her red jewel-trimmed layer and the grey brocade outer gown.  Experiments by Mikhaila and Malcolm-Davies have shown this to be a configuration of garments that resembles most closely the ensembles worn in the paintings.  Additionally, wardrobe accounts, tailor receipts, and inventories are full of references to kirtles as well as gowns and the descriptions of the materials used match what we see in period portraiture.  It is assumed that this underlayer is the kirtle and the overlayer the gown.

Wearing a boned or stiffened kirtle as a shaping garment allows the outer gown to remain smooth because it doesn’t require the kind of lacing that tends to distort the drape of a garment.  Evidence suggests that the kirtle took the place costumers have long assigned to the corset.  The first extant corset doesn’t appear until 1598, but references to “petticoat bodys”, bodices with attached skirts, and kirtles are prevalent in the historical record throughout the 16th century.


Arnold, Janet and Phillip Lindley. "Queen Elizabeth I" in The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey. Harvey Anthony & Richard Mortimer, eds. 2003: Boydell Press, Suffolk. 

Arnold, Janet.  Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620.  1985:  Macmillan, London.

Arnold, Janet.  Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d.  1988:  W.S. Maney & Son, Ltd., Leeds.

Boucher, François.  20,000 Years of Fashion.  1987:  Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

Hayward, Maria.  Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII.  2007:  Maney Publishing, Leeds, UK.

Mikhaila, Ninya and Jane Malcolm-Davies.  The Tudor Tailor.  2006:  BT Batsford Ltd., London. 

Payne, Blanche.  History of Costume.  1965:  Harper Collins, New York.

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. 1954: Theatre Arts Books, New York. 

The author’s private notes from The Gallery of Costume, Manchester, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

For more, purchase this pattern.


This information © 2006, 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History


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