What I wear

The ‘Henrietta Maria’ dress

This week’s challenge on the Sew Weekly commemorated the Royal Jubilee celebration.  The brief said, make something inspired by “any member of the royal family, past or present” and I immediately thought “Past!!!!”.  I mean, this is me we are talking about.

So I started brainstorming an idea and working on my project.

Then, with the garment done but for the hem, the Sew Weekly inspiration board came out.  Mena’s inspiration board is all from QEII’s life.  I guess by “past” she meant royals who were alive during Elizabeth’s early life.  My “past” is a little more “past” than that.  By  three centuries.  Oops.

So.  Umm…  Anyway…

This was my inspiration:

Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), Queen of Charles I, ca1635, Unknown artist, background by Hendrik van Steenwyck, from the National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Henrietta Maria, 1632

Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, may be a  long  time in the past, and only barely related to Queen Elizabeth, but she  was  a member of the royal family, she’s someone who fascinates me, and I  love  the fashions of the 17th century.

Oh boy do I  love  the period from 1630-1660.  It’s so pretty.  The full skirts.  The sloped shoulders.  The slightly raised waists of the 1630s transitioning to the smooth, pointed bodices of the 1660s.  And those sleeves.

Oh, those  wonderful  pleated, puffed, just-past-the-elbow sleeves.  Swoon

As you know, I’ve already made  a full on historical 1660s gown, and while an early 1630s bodice based on the portrait of Henrietta Maria is on my to-do list, it’s not a week long project.  And the whole point behind the Sew Weekly for me is to make a wearable wardrobe.  So I wanted to do something 17th century inspired, rather than literally 17th century.

For this project I made a list of the 17th century elements I wanted:

  • Rounded neckline with dropped shoulders
  • Full just-past-the-elbow sleeves
  • 17th century colours
  • Pleat details
  • Waist definition without a waistline, hopefully with a bow inspired by the yellow portrait.

For my historical coloured fabric I picked a strange, drapey and slightly ribbed darkest green viscose fabric that I found at an op shop, and have accessorized my dress with a waist sash made from a wide vintaged striped silk-satin ribbon.


17th century + yellow = happiness.

The darkest green fabric also makes me inordinately happy.  It’s so dark as to be almost black, and historically a lot of “black” fabric had a dark green tinge, because it was so hard to dye true black.

In front of the War Memorial Cenotaph, with the Beehive just visible on my left

Making the dress was both extremely easy, and incredibly painstaking.  The concept is so simple, but the threads at each end of each large pintuck-pleat had to be pulled through to the back and tied off by hand, because backstitching just looked messy and cheap.

It was also painstaking because I didn’t actually have enough fabric.  The op-shopped viscose was a leftover from someone else’s project, and cut in a really weird shape, and quite narrow.  I carefully, carefully cut and measured and thought I could get the dress out with only one bit of piecing in one sleeves.  Once I started sewing the pleats the sleeves just didn’t look right, and I realised I had cut two left sleeves.  Unfortunately I’d already completely pintucked the sleeve with piecing, so the un-pieced sleeve got ditched, and my right sleeve is now pieced in three places, and the grains don’t even match.  And you know what?  I love it.  I think it adds to the dress.

You can just see the piecing on the right sleeve in this image

I first wore the dress to my birthday party on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, but forgot to bring a camera, so DH and I did a photoshoot at Parliament, the Beehive, and the lion statues at the War Memorial Cenotaph on Queen’s Birthday Monday.  I figured you couldn’t get much better than a place where Queen Elizabeth has actually been, and that represents her as Head of State for New Zealand, and on her official birthday too!

Doing my best regal 17th century hand gestures on the steps of Parliament


Beehive on my right, Parliament on my left


The very regal, very English, Cenotaph lion.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric:  2-ish metres viscose

Pattern:  My own

Year:  1630s meets 2012.

Notions:  thread and interfacing

Hours:  4 of actual sewing, another 4 of messing around with the pattern.

First worn?:  Saturday 2 June for my sew-in birthday party, then again on the 4th for the photoshoot.

Wear again?:  Yes!  I love this dress!  It’s fun, it’s comfortable, I got so many compliments on it, it will travel well and is suitable for every occasion (so very royal).

Make again?:  Yes, my friend wants two now, and my sister wants one, and I want another one, or two, or three…

Total cost:  $2 for the op-shop fabric.

And the inside?: Just overlocked.  Fancier finishes don’t work with the drape.


  1. I LOVE this, it’s beautiful. Those pintucks make for such a nice effect, and the neckline is really nice.
    (and beautiful pictures, btw.)

    • Thank you! I told Mr D that this was his best photoshoot yet. The only bad shots are my fault for making funny faces.

  2. HENRIETTA MARIA! Henrietta Maria. Oh, Henrietta Maria.

    As a 17th-century nerd, this makes me super happy.

    • Haha! Yes! That’s how I feel. She may have been a terrible choice for a queen, but she does look gorgeous in paintings (though apparently van Dyke gave her much more gravitas and charm than she had person in his paintings), and she was fascinating.

  3. Zach says

    That is beautiful! It’s amazing and wonderful in every way! Was it your birthday you were celebrating or the Queen’s, by the way?

  4. Lynne says

    The sticky-outy pintucks are just wonderful! The sleeves and the neck are – perfect! So becoming, and so wearable. Clever you! It really does give the look of Henrietta Maria without spending forever. When I started to read the post, I thought, ‘She’s going to try to achieve that look in a week?!!’ But you did it!

    • Thank you! I’m so pleased that it actually looks like I wanted it to look!

      I’ve had a think about 17th century, and decided that I could make a full, historical, 17th century outfit in a week if I completely cleared my schedule and put in at least six 10 hour days. Especially now that I have a pattern. I don’t think I’ll be doing that anytime soon though!

  5. Zip Zip says

    Wowsers, smashing success. Yes, it channels 17th century, but also timeless late 20th century. Chic and oh-so-wearable. No wonder so many are asking for one!


  6. Elise says

    I have a JCrew dress that is very similar–and I get compliments whenever I wear it. It’s made out of a thick modal–very similar.

    What does mine lack that gives yours such panache? The as-interesting pleated neckline!

  7. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    I love the pleats! They are awesome and the dress is very pretty. When I first saw it it didn’t really say 17th century to me, but that was just because the skirt came above your knees, once I saw the fabulous sleeves it looked very 17th century.

    • Thank you. I’d love to make a full length version of this, but I’m afraid it would rather say muumuu (though actually, muumuus are short, and what most people think of as muumuus are actually holoku, and I quite like muumuu and holoku – but I’m getting off topic here!).

  8. I’m not sure anymore whether my love for Henrietta Maria’s gowns comes from you, or is independent, but oh my, 17th century may not exactly be my cup of tea but those are!

    Your dress looks perfectly modern, so the 17th century references – and the pieced sleeve – are exactly the kind of subtle subversive historicity I love. 🙂 I love the sleek hairstyle you wear with it, but it makes me wonder what it would look like with a more 17th-century-style one.

    • Thank you! I love subversive historicism too. A little wink and nod to the past is so much more interesting than a blatant “hey look! I’m wearing a ruff” effect. I’d totally do Maria Henrietta curls if my hair wasn’t waist length. It just won’t do 17th century at the moment (well, maybe Catherine of Braganza side buns and curls, but everyone would just think Star Wars).

      • Let them think Star Wars. We would still know it’s really subversive historicity. 🙂 Star Wars costumes – at least the prequels for sure – are subversive historicity!
        (I like the word “historicity”, even though it’s not really a word. Sorry.)

        Also, on the same track, full length version of this would not make me think of muumuus, it would make me think of chemise a la reine. This did. Wrong century, but it did anyway. I guess it’s the sash.

  9. Love it. Will you be sharing the pattern you drafted? (I hope, I hope)

    • Thank you! I’d love to put the pattern up, but I have to double check that my pattern is far enough from the Marni inspiration dress for it to be ethical for me to share it. It’s such a simple but distinctive pattern, and I really want to respect the original designers ideas.

      • Of course! I’ll be on the lookout should you decide you can share it.

  10. Oh gracious, it’s positively lovely! I love that you took all of the elements from the 17th century and completely rocked them for this challenge! Those pintuck pleats are DIVINE. I especially love the pop of yellow – a fantastic dress all around!

  11. It’s beautiful! I love the way you’ve updated the 17th century look and made it so stylishly modern. I love historical clothes, but there comes a point where you have to concede that you just can’t wear them to the office. But here’s one you totally can wear to the office, and I’m very impressed.

    Also, I see it was your birthday; congratulations!

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