Making a 16th Century Bodice, Part Two (Sleeves)

The tudor gown continues! We are nearing the end, I only have three posts left to write after this one! If you are unfamiliar with this project, all the previous posts relating to it can be read here.

Today it’s time to talk about making the sleeves. Sleeves were a bit complicated in the 1500s. Instead of being a regular sleeve, they consisted of (at least) three parts. The first is the “normal” sleeve which is stitched into the arm hole. Then there is the foresleeve, these are large, rounded, and cover from the wrist to the elbow. They usually feature fabric strips that are pulled through slits at the wrist and lower edge. On top of those you have oversleeves, which cover the seam between the normal sleeve and the foresleeve.

I decided to start with the normal sleeve. Sleeves are my nemesis, especially historical sleeves with the funky arm holes. I can create a block sleeve for a normal, modern looking garment without too much frustration, but historical sleeves are a concept I don’t understand at all. So I copied a pattern from the tudor tailor. I did everything else on my own, it’s okay to cheat once, right? Right?

This is the pattern. I did make it a little longer, wider, and slightly adjusted the height of the arcs.


I made a lovely mock up from a printed cotton. It has puppies wearing christmas hats on it, which is pretty great. The sleeve fit pretty well, but it did need some alterations.


This is the altered pattern. A little different, but nothing too crazy!


I cut out two sleeves from the jacquard I made the dress with. I also cut out two pieces of polyester lining, which isn’t accurate at all but makes getting fitted sleeves on over a rough cotton chemise ten times easier!


I pinned the lining and jacquard together, with the right sides facing each other. Then I sewed around the top and sides, leaving the straight lower edge open.


I turned the sleeves right side out and tucked the lower edge up by a half inch. Then I stitched a quarter inch away from all the edges. Now I had sleeves with no chance of fraying!


I did a test fitting with the sleeves and they looked great, so I carried on. I sewed three eyelets into the lower edge of each sleeve, these will be used to tie the foresleeves on and keep them in place.



With a pencil I marked one and a quarter inch away from the lower edge (the “cuff”), this is where the oversleeves will attach. Then I did up the side seam and ironed them with the help of a sleeve roll.


I sewed them onto the bodice with tiny whip stitchs.


Then tacked the interior edge to the lining with a cross stitch.


Here is how it looks worn!

Photo on 4-27-15 at 1.14 PM #2

Photo on 4-27-15 at 1.15 PM

At this point I decided I could properly sew the placket on. I’m not sure why I didn’t do this earlier, I guess I forgot! But I did this with upholstery thread so there is no chance of it breaking.


Another change (though this came a little later) was adding a dart to each side of the shoulder. I found this area had a tendency to flare out, though it didn’t look awful it bothered me enough that I decided to fix it!


Okay! Time to make the oversleeves. I bought two yards of brown velvet for this. Originally I was going to use the same material as the dress, but a lot of the fabric was damaged so I didn’t have enough. I think it was a happy accident though, the velvet looks really striking against the copper silk dupioni and the gold jacquard!

This was the pattern I drafted for it. I wanted them to be bigger, because everything on this costume is oversized, but I was restricted by the width of the velvet (42″). That is what I get for buying the nice quality stuff instead of $3/yd 60″ wide stretch velvet!


Since my pattern wasn’t big enough I decided to add extra material to the hem of each sleeve. I did this by cutting ten inch wide strips that get folded in half to create a finished edge.


Then the folded edge was tacked down with a running stitch.


I sewed these onto the body of the sleeve and  covered the raw edge with bias tape.


I sewed up the back edge and the oversleeve was pretty much done!


Here is the bias tape interior, if you were curious. It matches the dress!


For the sake of making things easier on myself, I decided to attach the overlseeves to the dress bodice. Making them detachable would be more convenient for a lot of people, but this costume has so many pieces and layers that having the opportunity to attach two together was something I took advantage of.

So the edge was turned over by a half inch, then sewn onto the line I marked on the sleeve cuff.


Here the bodice is, all nice and complete!


And laid out nicely.


And since this might be my only opportunity, I wanted to mention how annoying this is to get into and why we should appreciate more modern inventions, like zippers, and buttons. This costume has more than a hundred eyelets on it that have to be laced up for every fitting. This layer is the most complicated to lace up, made worse by the four layers underneath it, which also have to be laced into place.

The layers severely limit your range of movement and the beadwork provides lots of things for the lacing to catch onto. It’s a pain in the ass.

But it’s a pretty pain in the ass, so that makes it worth it.


I think that is all today! Next post in this series will be about the foresleeves and cuffs!


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