Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing

The ‘Amazon Queen’ pair of bodies

Despite being a self-confessed magpie, I’ve gone for something quite subtle for the ‘All that Glitters’ HSF challenge: a pair of bodies (Elizabethan stays/corset) in gilt linen.

1690s gilt linen pair 'o' bodies thedreamstress.com

The linen is the same fabric that I used for my 1770s silver linen stays, because I have a LOT of that linen, and couldn’t find a single other piece of fabric in stash that said ‘make me into a pair of bodies’.  Sometimes you just have to listen to the fabric.  So now I own two historical corsets in gilt linen.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

Gilt linen is a slightly dubious fabric choice for a  16th c.  pair of bodies, but I’ve made these as a very nice working toile (I’ve even, gasp.shock.horror, used metal grommets for the back lacing), so I’m OK with a bit of inaccuracy.  And they do look rather smashing in it!

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

When I tried the mostly-completed pair of bodies on I realised that 1) I actually really love them (I had extreme doubts about Elizabethan fashion in the first place, and the un-boned bust sections of these stays in particular), and 2) they look like something that would have been worn as part of an Elizabethan masquerade costume for Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

Golden (well, gilt) girdle?  Yep.  Armor like?  That too.  Suggestion of bound/removed breasts?  Check.  Now I just need a really awesome bow & arrow and an Elizabethan masquerade to go to!

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

The unboned bust sections that I was so dubious about are fantastic.  They make the bodies  so much more comfortable than a fully boned pair would be, and provide uplift without squashing my modest bust into oblivion.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

The bodies have a vintage Japanese wooden ruler as a busk, and are primarily boned with cable ties.

Cable ties are cheap, accessible, one of the best modern approximation of  whalebone, and (most importantly) I already  had a couple hundred in stash from a bulk-buy a few years back, and sewing from stash is definitely a consideration at the moment.  When I make a ‘real’ pair of bodies that is fully hand-sewn in perfectly period fabrics I’ll try  reed with this pattern.  Arnold indicates that the originals were boned in whalebone.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

And hand-sew my eyelets, though Arnold notes that the lacing holes on Dorothea’s bodies are strengthened with metal washers.  Maybe I’ll oversew my eyelets with thread.  (Bonus: can you see where I gave up on lacing myself and got Mr D to finish the lacing?  Seriously.)

In Mr D’s defense, he did happily take photos of me in the bodies over a shift, over my Mariana Victoria skirt (yay!  It’s been worn!), and with my farthingale.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

It looks quite festive with the farthingale.  Like I’m dressed up as an Elizabethan Christmas tree.

A bit of a comedown from Queen of the Amazons though!

The pattern is almost entirely Pfalzgrafen Dorothea Sabina’s 1598 pair of bodies as diagramed in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620, but when I got to the finishing the very last bit (the waist tabs) I checked  The Tudor Tailor’s version of the pattern to see how they did it, and realised that Arnold gives 3 tabs (small, medium and large) per side for the pattern, and TT gives four identical tabs.  I suspect that Arnold’s version is more accurate to the original, but went with the TT four tabs anyway, because it worked out better on my body proportions.

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: #24  All that Glitters

Fabric:  1m of gilt linen ($9), 1m of white linen ($2, thrifted), 1m of brown linen ($2, Fabric-a-Brac)

Pattern:  Pfalzgrafen Dorothea Sabina’s pair of bodies as diagramed in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620, with slight reference to The Tudor Tailors version of the pattern.

Year:  1590s

Notions:  cotton thread, cable ties ($12) and metal boning ($5), metal grommets ($5), cotton lacing ($4).

How historically accurate is it?:  The fabric is questionable (similar-ish fabrics did exist, but probably were not used for pair of bodies), and I’ve combined machine and hand sewing, and used metal grommets (plus cable ties, but obviously we can’t get whalebone today).  Maybe 60%

Hours to complete:  At least 12.  Even with machine sewing shortcuts, there is a lot of handsewing in these.  I’ve been plugging away at them since mid November.

First worn:  Wed Dec 3, without waist tabs,  to demonstrate Elizabethan underclothes to a bunch of Year 9 (US 8th graders), and then again on Jan 1st for the photoshoot, properly finished.

Total cost:  NZ$40 or thereabouts.

And, how could I do a post without including Felicity?

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

1590s gilt linen pair of bodies thedreamstress.com

According to her fluffiness, I’d better figure out how, because she objected to this photoshoot by the simple but expedient method of attempting to chew my hand off until I put her down!


  1. They are so lovely!

    When my mum’s stash was available for the taking, I found some gilt linen in it and I took it with your 1770s stays in mind. Now I have another inspiration 😀 (Since I can’t think of another use for gilt linen either!)

  2. Her Fluffiness is out of luck: she makes a most adorable accessory!

    And this makes a most adorable pair of bodies. I really could see it in a masquerade!

      • I think it would be just fine for larger cup sizes – you might have to adjust the curves of where there aren’t bones, but there is so much support from the layers of linen and the busk that it would have no problem holding a lot more up.

        • My sister dreams of a Renaissance dress one day (the original idea was a dream wedding dress), so I’m slowly gathering information on that… She likes the softer earlier styles, but she’s a much larger cup size, which I think rules out some of the softer support options. So I’m actually really excited about this midddle-ground!

    • Yeah, Felicity is too cute to let be! And she wanders into photoshoots and goes ‘What’s going on?” so of course she gets picked up! And thank you!

  3. Lynne says

    Felicity, rare Sabre-toothed Calico Battle Cat, companion of Leimomi, Queen of the Amazons! Wonderful.

    The pair of bodies look wonderful with both the farthingale and the golden skirt. They fit and sit beautifully, and I think the tabs are just right. People must have sized and numbered them to fit their own sizes, I’m sure. The scale is perfect.

    And it is consoling to see that Mr D. is about as good at lacing corsets as I am! 🙂

    • Hehe! That’s definitely Fiss!

      Thank you so much for your compliments and help with the bodies. I’m sure you did a better job lacing – you didn’t even have my 3/4 done example to work from! 😉

    • Thank you! I got tempted into 7 metres of it and have been trying to figure out uses for it ever since! :-p I did ‘cheat’ on the binding by making bias strips instead of using straight ribbon. I had some dark red cotton sateen I’d intended to use, but it just didn’t look right.

  4. Grace Darling says

    You’re hogging Felicity’s first cameo appearance for 2015!

    • Thank you! Yes, my hair is getting a bit out of control. I keep meaning to schedule a hair appointment and then stuff comes up.

  5. Alex says

    Regarding cableties as boning, I have handled some of the wider ones and they seem awfully flimsy to me. Is this a problem or am I just imagining it?

    Also, your hair is so pretty. Are they your natural waves or are they braidwaves?

    • The cable ties I use are 8mm wide and 45cm long, and they are perfect for boning stays/bodies/corsets. The boning in those garments isn’t really to ‘pull’ you in – the fabric does that. It’s to keep the garments shape, and shape your body in the same way. I’ve seen people recommend cable ties for boning bustles and paniers, but I find they just aren’t strong enough for that. Hope that helps!

      And than you about my hair. The waves are natural – I wake up every morning with a wild mess of curls.

  6. It might not be period-accurate, but they do look lovely in gilt linen. You could do a stunning Amazon Queen masquerade outfit with these, and you have perfect hair for it.

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