Severity’s bodyes and jacket

Good day, pilgrims!  This blog has turned out to be about a variety of things, and today it shall be about my latest project.  While I spend most of my time in the 18th-century, once in a while I have the opportunity to visit the 17th.  I’m rather partial to virtue names (think Humility Cooper, Desire Minter, and Fear Brewster) so for the 17th-century, Molly Ross becomes Severity Makepeace.  The name Severity started out as a friend’s jest about Puritanism, and it sort of stuck.puritan-valentines-day-cards

Several years ago I had the good fortune to be able to purchase a set of what I like to call my “pilgrim stays”, based on the famous “Dorothea bodies” found on the dead body of Pfaltzgrafin Dorothea Sabine von Neuberg when they dug her up, undressed her corpus delecti (among others), and studied then preserved her clothing. Imagine that?  Blech! My own personal opinion in all seriousness is that it was a profoundly disrespectful act, but without it, we would know less about clothing and support garments from the turn of the 17th-century.  Therefore, I reckon they get a pass on that.  Dorothea died in 1598 so we consider her “bodyes” to be close enough to the 1620 “pilgrim” period to be a plausible style. Details are found in Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion, the Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c. 1560-1620. Additionally, Wasted Weeds has a blog on how to make a copy of these bodies, for those interested.  I was able to purchase mine due to simple luck, rather than having to make them.  The elderly lady who owned them was much shorter than I, so they don’t fit perfectly, and as a compromise, I extended the shoulder straps, perhaps even slightly too much, so that they would sit lower on my long torso.  Since the time of purchase, there has been more information uncovered indicating that a pair of bodies for the working class would likely not have been boned with baleen, but rather made from thick linen canvas supported with buckram. Being large busted, I haven’t tried this option yet, but suffice it to say that the bodies I have are lightly boned through the body with reed caning, made from tightly woven but not heavy linen, and have no boning at all in the bust area.  They are sufficiently supportive that I’m willing at some point to try the un-boned option, or even remove the boning from the existing bodies and add a layer of buckram. If the bodies are tight enough, they will likely provide sufficient figure control.


At around the same time I purchased the bodies, I was less confident with my garment construction and stitching skills, so I commissioned someone to make me a “pilgrim jacket”. Sadly, I made several mistakes.  I used a pattern (really the only one commercially available at the time) that was loosely based on several different original garments. While not absolutely “wrong” I chose to have a stomacher simply because I tend to like that look, but it appears to have been much less common. I also chose dark purple wool, which I later discovered may not be the best color option for a working class woman’s jacket.  I based this choice on photographs of “pilgrims” from Plimoth Plantation (where several of my friends are on staff. Yay friends).  However, this living history museum is constantly researching and improving their presentations based on documentation they uncover, so things have changed a bit through the years.  In any event, while I can still use this jacket at certain events and get away with it, I decided to focus a bit more on accuracy and make something new.  Please ignore the loose hair, wide belt, poison bottle, pistol, and motor vehicle in the photo below. It’s from a parade with a pirate entertainment group and was the best photo I could find that showed the jacket in any detail.  For this particular event, we were mixing eras and wearing things that looked cool rather than being concerned about strict historical accuracy (hereinafter known as HA) .  Most of the time HA is the name of the game for me, but occasionally I like to attend an event where I can just have fun with my friends.


Wool colors for women’s jackets and petticoats tended to be shades of red, stammel (a bright red), russet (not what you think- more of a gray color), white, black, blue, and “sheep’s colour”. I had some decidedly pink mid-weight wool in my stash and figured that though it might not be absolutely ideal, it was close enough to a shade of red that I might be able to use it.  I had just enough.  The petticoat I plan to use with it is actually a knife pleated, dark brown 18th-century style petticoat, bound at the hem with greenish-yellow woven tape. Even though the jacket will cover the waist treatment when I am fully dressed and no one will see it, I’m considering taking the waistband off and re-pleating it with cartridge pleats, and moving the closure to either the center-front or to one side, rather than leaving it with the 18th-century apron-type front and back panel ties.


For the jacket pattern, I chose the “Tudor Women’s Jacket” from the Tudor Tailor.  While this UK based company focuses on the earlier Tudor period (1485-1603), the end of the Tudor period is close enough to the time when the Saints and Strangers departed on the Mayflower and founded Plymouth, that the styles hadn’t changed much.  For further reference, I consulted Clothes of the Common People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England: A User’s Manual, whose general editor is Stuart Peachey.  He and his team clothed all the people involved in Tales from the Green Valley, and consulted with them on 17th-century agriculture and husbandry.  Click here for a link to the Green Valley website, and here for a link to their YouTube channel.  If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a series well worth watching.  I personally like the fact that the Brits don’t go for drama the way even PBS did with their Colonial House series. They simply present the practicalities through all seasons of life on the farm in the 17th century, rather than focusing on the human emotional drama. But I digress…


Here is my progress on the jacket thus far:  I used the lapped seam method to construct the body of the jacket, the sleeves, and to set the gores in the skirt. I did this primarily because it is the way I know best, and I didn’t find any compelling evidence that it was not done this way.  Neither my pattern nor any of my books had detailed construction instructions, so I simply went with what I know.  I have preliminarily set the sleeves with pins and need to try it on, then attach them from the inside with a tight backstitch, unless I find some evidence that I should do it differently. Inside armscyes are left raw in the 18th century, but I think I will leave the lining free then fold it in and whip stitch it down so that the insides of the armholes look finished.  There are two ways to attach the wings…one is to set them into the sleeves directly, and another is to finish them first, then attach them to the shoulders with a whip stitch.  I haven’t yet decided which way I want to do this, but I don’t want my shoulder seams to be too bulky so the whip-stitch method may be the more prudent option.  Then, hem the whole thing, add some ribbon ties to the front for closure (alternatively I could use hook and eye, or even straight pins) and voila, it’s done! Stay tuned for post construction photos.


Here’s the update I promised with photos of the finished jacket.  I didn’t have anyone to help me get into my 17th-century stays, so I’m wearing an 18th-century pair.  I also had to take mirror selfies, since no one was home to assist (sorry!). I’m mostly pleased with the jacket.  I panicked, thinking it wouldn’t fit so I pieced a couple of plackets to the front, which I’ve overlapped in the pic.  In reality, it would have fit, but been somewhat tight if I hadn’t done that.  I’m not thrilled with the curved seam on the addition to the front but that was how the pattern was designed so I went with it.  I plan to lose some weight, at which time I can remove those pieces.


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