Pre-Raphaelite Muse from Thrifted Curtains - Sewing a Medieval / Early Renaissance Dress in 3 Days


Hey, it’s me, Hannah.

I met a lady in the meads, full beautiful – a faery’s child. Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild. That was an excerpt from La Belle Dame sans Merci by John Keates (sorry about my French) and our inspiration for today’s project. I have an event coming up in three days, the theme of which is the Pre-Raphaelite muses.

Pre-Raphaelite refers to a group of artists, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a name that alludes to the artist’s inclination towards a late medieval or early Renaissance art style, which happened to come before the Italian painter Raphael. Pre-Raphael-ite. As puts it in their article The Women of Pre-Raphaelite Art, “Tumbling locks a pale complexion, a soulful gaze in the distance and a loose gown.
These are but a few of the characteristics of the women portrayed in Pre-Raphaelite art. Women who, starting in 1848, portray biblical heroines, goddesses, historical and literary figures.” 

These women were the muses for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and will be my muse today as I attempt to become one of them. There is a pretty similar shape to all the dresses that are worn by the women in these paintings.

A fitted bodice and a long flowing skirt and bell sleeves. Creating a pattern for this should be pretty easy. We’ll need a front piece and two front side pieces that align at the princess seam. And then essentially the same for the back with a zipper along the center back seam. And then, of course, we’ll need two pieces for each of the statement sleeves, the shoulder and the bell.

And then I’m thinking, for the skirt, we’ll just cut out panels that will line up with these seams on the bodice at the waist, and then angle out to add a little bit of extra flow. And then for the trim, I’m thinking, we’ll trim the neck, we’ll trim the waist, we’ll trim the arm bands, where the bell meets the shoulder and then have one center trim piece connecting the neckline and the waist.

All right. I am going to cut out those pieces and I will meet you back here to put together a little bit of a mock up. See you there. Okay. I mean, not bad for a first try, first iteration. Still think that I could probably add a little bit of extra room in my shoulders? I’m not exactly sure where I want that.

I think it is just like straight across here. I need to add just a little bit more in the back. It feels pretty good up front. I do. I think I need to maybe add…maybe call it an inch and just add a half, er, a quarter inch on each side of these seams and see where that lands me. I don’t know. I have not done a lot of pattern adjustment before, so yeah, let’s see where that lands me. Give it a try. 

Since I had a full half inch seam allowance, I decided to try just reducing that seam allowance by a quarter inch at the points on the back seams perpendicular to the bottom of the armholes, rather than use more fabric and cut out all new bodice pieces. Okay. That. That makes it better. Maybe still like a little, just a little tight.

This is just a mock up. And thank God cause I got, like, oil or makeup or something on the front of it. I don’t think adjusting the front is going to make a difference. So I am going to continue to mock up the bell sleeves and make sure that I am still, I don’t lose any more range of motion on that. Throw on some skirt panels and we’ll be done with the mock up.

Not quite. I, I do think that the changes that I made to this seam are good. I think the rest of the adjustments I need to make now are to the armholes and the sleeves themselves. I mean, what is the point of having a dress that you can’t swing a sword in? So I’m going to make sure that I really dial in on this mock up before I turn my attention to the actual dress itself.

So what I think I’m going to do is go ahead and seam rip the sleeve seam here where the sleeve meets the bodies and measure/gauge the amount of space that I need to add on to the sleeve and the bodice. Based on the research that I’ve done, if I were to take a 90 degree angle, I would need at least an inch in that corner.

But I essentially need to make sure that I have enough space on both the bodice and the sleeve so that I can get that full extension. I also didn’t do a great job with the little bit of gathering I tried to do here. So I think what I need to do is just re pattern the sleeve, but I need to make the top of the sleeve a little bit bigger.

I need to make adjustments to ensure I have enough space for mobility purposes and then, and I may be eating my words later, but I think the skirt should be relatively easy. It’s just going to be a couple of panels that, like I said, line up with the seams and then flow down. Let’s solve this problem first. Okay. I figured out how I’m going to cheat it.

So I found a dress that I have that has Princess seams. I’ve already flipped it inside out. But what I’m going to do is essentially trace this pattern and apply it to my pattern as well. I got to figure out exactly where the waistline is on this because these pieces just go all the way to the floor. So that’s, that’s how I’m going to figure this out, because I’m so far off, I feel like I have a lot of work ahead.

So I, of course, just use a couple of thrifted curtains for the mock up. But I also managed to thrift four curtain panels in this dark plum color that I have been waiting to use for a project like this. I still have one panel left and two sets of two other curtain panels that match flawlessly, so you’ll definitely see this color again in future projects.

We’re in scramble mode. Scramble mode. Today’s my last day that I have to work on this, so I am kind of just going to bull forward. Yesterday I spent a lot of time wrangling this pattern to get it to “good enough”. It is not perfect and might even be far from perfect, but I am happy enough. We’re covering most of the front of the bodice with the trim.

Anyway, I did run out and get the trim yesterday. I’m very pleased with it. It goes so well. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to put this on. Okay, so today I need to tackle the sleeves. That’s going to be the most technical part and probably the most difficult part of this project. So that’s what I’m going to focus on this morning.

I was trying to use a pattern that just doesn’t fit me, so I’m kind of just going to freehand some sleeves. The top half of the arm, the shoulder and the upper arm are going to need just a basic sleeve pattern. So I need I need to figure that out. Apparently, all of the patterns that I have are for puff sleeves.

I feel like it requires a little bit more technical prowess and I’m not particularly good at sleeves, but I’m excited about the practice today and I need to make it work. I’m running out of time. I’m feeling pretty nervous about it. Oh, I got to get to work. Okay. I think I have figured out the sleeve, which again, it’s been a puzzle.

I followed a YouTube tutorial to put together a little sleeve block for myself and it turned out pretty good. It fits really well. I did end up having to add a little bit of extra volume here at the top, but I don’t think I don’t think it’s that bad. I may play around with that a little bit more, but I think honestly, I think it’s the armhole itself that kind of lends to this little extra poof here.

I don’t really have time to worry about it right now, so I’m going to get the other sleeve on. This is just basted on. So I’m going to go ahead and finish putting the sleeve on the bodice and then we can turn our attention to the skirt. Okay. I think I’m going to call it here. I think that that works.

I’ve got pretty good range of motion. Definitely as much as I need for an ethereal Pre-Raphaelite muse. So I am going to keep moving forward. I’m going to focus on the skirt panels now. I think we’re just going to go with kind of a generic A-line paneled skirt. I’m going to measure the width of each of these panels on my bodice, and I’m going to use that to be my length for the tops of the panels.

And then I’m going to measure the circumference of where I want the bottom of the skirt to be and just do a little bit of math to figure out exactly what each of these panels needs to look like. I have some other patterns that I can draw inspiration from. So just going to kind of line up the puzzle pieces and stitch them together and cross our fingers. Look at that.

I’m very pleased that this. Didn’t get the seams to line up perfectly, but that’s okay, since I have this trim that I wanted to put on, essentially like a belt. Waist trim as well as neck trim, and just like an adornment right down the front center of the bodice, that is what I’m going to do to tackle this little issue here.

And then I will add the zipper, of course, to finish it up. I’m so happy that this is so close to being done. Once I have the zipper in, I will be able to add the bell sleeves. Then we just have a hem. And that’s it. Then we’re done. So let’s get to work. So I got to the neckline and I decided that I was going to take a bias tape that I have and use that to finish the neckline before adding the trim.

I’ve never done a neckline like this before. I don’t know if it’s the right way to do it, but feels right in the moment. So I’m going to run with it. It’s going to be covered by the trim anyway, so I’m just going to use a black. It’s it’s small. It’s you’re barely going to be able to see it anyway.

So yeah, let’s see how this works. Well, I sure did learn a lot on the absolute journey that was making this dress. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m still so new to sewing and I still have so much to learn. I think it’d be really beneficial to me to create my own bodice block for future situations like this.

I could have saved myself so much time if I already had a generic bodice patterned out and could have just made adjustments to the paper pattern to turn it into a princess seamed bodice. And there are definitely other sewing weaknesses of mine that have been highlighted throughout this project. The sleeves, of course, are not perfect, and I think I should go ahead and block out a basic sleeve pattern for myself for future projects and the neckline.

I made the mistake of running two lines of stitching, which I think I did too much structure and is is causing this to stick up a little bit. Next time I think I should pin the trim in place either while I’m wearing it or while it’s on my dress form so that I can ensure that it lies flat.

And also just use one line of stitching. That seemed to work out a lot better for my sleeves. And there are just other shortcuts I would have preferred not to take. Like serging the bottom of the dress and the ends of the sleeves instead of just adding a nice, neat little hem. All that said, I am also improving.

I mean, look at that zipper. That’s me, that’s clean. And I did finally figure out the ease I needed in order to raise my arms and and swing a sword. Now, do I think I could replicate the ease? Maybe. But most importantly, I had fun. And if you had as much fun as I did, it would mean the world to me if you would like and subscribe. And if you do, I will see you in two weeks for my next video.

Take care.

-Making Hannah