Asides

Dress Diary: Researching German Working Class in the last quarter of the sixteenth century

Well, things have slowed down a bit and after cleaning up all the clutter from all the other projects, I finally have had a chance to continue researching the 16th century German Working Class dress. I really love the look of the gals from the last quarter of the century, so that is where my focus will be.

I usually work very hard to keep my items as close to what would have been done in period, however there are a couple concessions that I am making for this dress.

  • Fabric: As I said before, I was gifted some linen, and although there is no evidence that linen was used in outer garments (except for some jackets very late in the century) I plan to use it for a sleeveless dress in the hopes that it will be a cooler alternative to wear in the California heat.
  • Construction: Although, a working woman’s dress would have likely been made at home instead of by a tailor, my interests lie mainly in tailoring techniques used in the sixteenth century, so I plan on approaching the dress construction in the manner that a tailor would.

Pictorial Overview

First Step was to compile as many pictures as possible and sort them out by region and time.  I went through and grouped the pictures together in collages from earliest to latest by region.  Here is my pinterest page that has all the source images German Working Class 1550-1600.

Swabia and Bavaria
Nuremberg
Nuremberg
Strasbourg
Strasbourg
Penig 1617
Penig 1617. Past the time frame, but the silhouette and some details are very similar.
Working class 1575-85 southern middle class
Alsatian and Tubingen. These ladies may be from a merchant class, but the similarities in the dresses is why they are included here.

Upon reviewing the artwork, I did notice some similarities that seemed to be consistent in the majority of the dresses.

  • upright silhouette with straight back, and soft curve at bust
  • ankle length skirts
  • skirts look to be a gore type construction with wide pleats at the waist
  • bodice laces closed leaving an open space in center front
  • long plain white apron that covers the front of the skirt
  • High neck hemd with frill at neck and long sleeves
  • over partlet in white or black
  • jacket options
  • variety of head coverings
  • skirts have contrasting guards
  • both ladder and spiral lacing used

There are also some questions that these depictions do not answer.

  1. the bottom of the bodice is covered by the apron, so it is impossible to tell whether it dips or if it is straight.
  2. the neckline is covered in all of these by a partlet or a jacket, so it is impossible to tell how the neckline is shaped.
  3. Many of these ladies have a different color bodice than skirt.  Is it an additional skirt worn over a kirtle?  A pair of bodies with a separate skirt over it? A doublet/jerkin?  Artistic license?
  4. The bodice reads as stiffened.  How was this achieved?
  5. What method was used for the front lacing?  Eyelets, lacing rings?
  6. What is under the CF opening?

To address these questions, I had to look at dresses from other places and classes for answers.

Shaping the Bodice Neckline and Waistline: 

The first thing that came to mind was a dress that I was able to see at the Janet Arnold Costume Colloquium in 2008.  According to my notes, the dress is from around 1550 and is believed to be an dress that would be for everyday wear around the house.  Sadly, at the time I didn’t note much more than that because I didn’t really know enough about what to look for and most of my interest was focused on the Red Pisa dress.  But, with some help from google, I found a site that has a great deal more information Cocktatrice located a little more than halfway down the page. Although this dress is Italian, it is relevant because Italy borders the HRE in the south and the influences on dress are very evident in the southern regions.

Pisa dress from around 1550
Pisa dress from around 1550
  • Square neckline is fairly high on the chest
  • waist dips slightly in the front
  • rectangular skirt construction pleated to bodice
  • pleats do not continue at CF
  • CF closure
  • armseye shape is oddly angular in places
  • Hem is finished with a facing
  • no padding in the hem
  • shoulder seam is toward the back of the body
  • the dress is of a linen/wool blend!
  • the seams are completed with a backstitch
  • the seams are either flatfelled or left open
  • seam allowances were not tacked down
  • 7mm seam allowances (approx .25 inch)

An extant bodice dated to 1560 was found in a well in Prague Castle .  During this time in the century, Bohemia was included in the HRE through earlier marriages and it shares borders with the Germanic regions of Bavaria, Saxony, as well as Austria.

1560 Prague Bodice
1560 Prague Bodice
  • square wide open neckline
  • straps angled inward (like alcega)
  • front opening
  • low scooped out waistline

Turning back to artistic depictions, Weigel includes an illustration of a working woman from france in his Trachtenbuch of 1577.  France borders the Western borders of the Rhenish areas of the Germanic Regions.  located here

French woman from Hans Weigel's Trachtenbuch 1577
French woman 1577
  • square neckline
  • although waistline is not visible all the way to CF, it reads as straight based on the side view
  • shirt/under layer has straight narrow sleeves
  • awesome big straw hat perfect for sun protection
  • lacing method not visible, so either hidden lacing rings or lacing strips attached to inside of bodice out of sight
  • difficult to tell whether it is spiral or ladder lacing
  • no visible pleating under the CF opening
  • hem facing or guard at hem

Based on the above, I am going to draft a square neckline, but with the wide open feel of the Prague bodice.  My reasoning is that I have been pondering the angles Alcega uses in his bodice straps and I really like the lines that they create and the Prague bodice offers me the chance to try it out.  The waistline is going to follow my natural waist which means it will curve slightly down similar to the Pisa gown.

Center Front Details

Taking a look at the inspiration images from the Germanic Regions some generalizations about the details can be made.

CF Details
CF Details
  • most are spiral laced
  • ladder lacing is possible
  • means of lacing not visible
  • two pictures have circles on the outside.  Could be lacing holes or rings, but it doesn’t look like the lacing cord actually goes through, so it could just be a decorative detail
  • Some show a different color under the lacing, some the same color
  • No pleated fabric evident under the lacing
  • Lacing cord in black or white
  • Most have some sort of guarding present

So, for my dress, I will use hidden lacing rings in a spiral lacing formation.  I also plan to do a guarding detail down the center of each front panels.

What goes under the CF Lacing

This is the hard part.  So far we have determined that in the artwork, there is usually a flat fabric of varying color beneath the lacing.  This can be either a stomacher over a pair of bodies, a stomacher over a kirtle, a side or back closing kirtle, or a placket built into the dress itself.  I want to keep things fairly simple at this point because I want to get the dress done fairly quickly.  I already have a pair of bodies that gives me the proper silhouette, so I could make a stomacher or a placket to use with it.  However, since this is about having a cooler outfit, I don’t know that I want that extra layer.  The other option could be to make a self supporting dress with a stiffened placket or stomacher to fill the opening.  This would mean just one layer and would be the cooler option, but the most unlikely.  The jury is still out on this one.

So, based on the above evidence, the dress will have

  • Open CF with hidden lacing rings
  • Guarding down the CF
  • Square open neckline
  • Be sleeveless with optional sleeves that tie on
  • Follow my natural waistline
  • Gored skirt with a pleated waist
  • Faced hem
  • Skirt guards
  • still deciding on whether to use my pair of bodies or not

Now to get started patterning and cutting!