Dressing up in Polish

Today’s prompt in CoBloWriMo is Vocabulary. These past months I have expanded my vocabulary quite a bit: due to the fact that I’ve chosen a subject that deals with things not so familiar to me, I’ve had to learn myself a foreign language.

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Princess Catherine Jagiellon was Polish, so naturally she had national clothing items in her wardrobe. Seeing the unfamiliar names and not knowing what they were I just dove right in and contacted some museum professionals in Krakow to help me out in my quest. With their kind help I got hold of some literature to get me started. Bramkas, zawicies, giermaks and kitliks started gradually to take shape in my mind, and I also started to understand other words and sentences and finally learned to read the language a little. Handy skill when about half of the literature you need is in Polish.. I by no means think that it’s that easy, but so far I’ve managed quite well, and the more I read the better I get. So not only I’ve expanded my vocabulary with new clothing terms, but also a whole new language. The things you do for your costuming hobby.. ūüėÄ

How it all got started

Sorry I missed a couple of days of CoBloWriMo! Here’s a new post for today. Today’s prompt is Origin Story, so I’m going to tell you a little about what got me into all this.

It all got started a few years ago when I for some personal reason (don’t quite remember what) needed to read the inventory of Catherine Jagiellon’s possessions or the trousseau (can’t remember which one either). You can read her origin story here, by the way. I had questioned the image that people have about her, at least here in Finland, and what was reinforced in popular culture like novels, or even scientific studies. It seemed a bit one-dimensional to me from the material point of view, and I knew there had to be more. Anyway, the documents dazzled me and left me stunned with their descriptions of her gold tissue gowns, jewel decorated headdresses and gold embroidered silk curtains for the bed, among other things. I wanted to try my hand in something easy first since I hadn’t made a renaissance dress before, and chose a violet cloth dress with black velvet bodice from the inventory. The earlier posts in this blog are about making of that dress.


So, from a personal interest and the need to know more rose the idea behind my thesis: I want to make the documents easily available, explain them and make the Duchess of Finland alive, show that she was much more than some rigid figure in her black Spanish dress.

Current Project

Today’s prompt in CoBloWriMo is “Current project”, so I’m going to tell you a little more about the hands-on side of it. In a previous post I’ve explained what my thesis is about, so I won’t stick to any details about that.

In the past six months, after a trip to Krakow in January, I’ve learned myself a bit Polish to be able to read the original documents and source books, and spent dozens and dozens of sleepless nights and work filled days reading and writing. The theory part is now finished, and it’s time to start actually making the garments.

At the moment I’m still partly deciding what garments to make and partly measuring and shopping already. I’ve decided that the dress will include a shirt, a partlet, an underdress, a kirtle and a gown, and a gold coif and a veil. I may or may not add some extra accessories, but we’ll see about that as I go on.

CoBloWriMo! + This is me

I stumbled upon this fun thing called CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing Month) which is this August, and as I finally have a little more time on my hands, decided to participate. It encourages you to blog daily (or every other day, or weekly, or bi-monthly) about certain given things. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post, but at least I’ll try to do it ¬†and in this first post I’m supposed to introduce myself. I realized that I have never really done that properly -and even if I had, it was a few years and a few goals ago. So here goes!


I’m a museum lady and a medieval and early modern era history enthusiast from Finland. I have a BA in archaeology from the University of Turku, and I work at the medieval Turku Castle as a cashier. Currently I’m writing my master’s thesis, which -you guessed it!- is about costume history. I started this blog a few years ago as a dress diary and a place to collect all my thoughts and acquired information about the ambitious project I had started. The project since grew to become the thesis, and now I’m using this blog to record my progress. Hopefully you enjoy it!

I’m back..

..and this time it’s serious!

Last fall I started writing¬†my master’s thesis using these two documents as a source. The aim is to recreate an outfit from Catherine’s wardrobe using the techniques and knowledge of 16th century textiles and sewing acquired from portraits and extant artifacts along with other sources. As a by-product we’re getting new and exciting info¬†that has never been published as a whole. So if you’re into some serious¬†16th century textile business, stay tuned!

IMG_20170206_122524 Yours truly by the sarcophagus of Catherine Jagiellon in Uppsala Cathedral in February 2017. 


New outfit coming up!

So I’ve decided to participate in the The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge. I’ve never done it before, but I feel I can pull it through.

According to the Challenge site, now is the time to Plan and Buy. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last month or so! I’m still using the Inventory and Dowry lists as reference, so now I just have to find the garments that are most likely of Italian origin and/or influence.

Since it’s allowed to start doing “labour-intensive” work beforehand, I too have started embroidering the shirt. It’s going to be cut almost like the first one, but the neckline is going to be a bit higher and the sleeves a bit fuller. The earlier shirt was embroidered only in black, but this time I’m using also gold on the sleeves and the collar, as is described in the Dowry.

Cuff for the new shirt. The pattern is from Giovanni Ostaus's La Vera Perfezione Del Disegno.

Cuff for the new shirt. The pattern is from Giovanni Ostaus’s La Vera Perfezione Del Disegno.

That’s a good start there!

Almost finished!

I didn’t quite make it, but here it is anyway. I wore the dress yesterday to the Turku Medieval Market, and even though it isn’t finished, it got attention. But like someone once said, nobody knows what’s missing..

ImageI got the shirt together but it really¬†can’t be seen under the bodice and partlet. It’s still missing the cuffs however, and all the edges are waiting to be turned under. The kirtle bodice is finished, and nothing else needs to be done with that (except get proper laces), but the skirt hem needs binding. Sleeves look quite good, but I’m still planning to apply black velvet stripes like in the inspiration picture. The silk cap is supposed to be a gold coif (at least the color is right!), and since I didn’t have time to make a hat or a bonnet, I chose to wear a veil over it -just like in the picture and in the Catalogs.¬†After I’ve made the finishing touches you’ll get to see all the layers!

The dress was very comfortable to wear and everything stayed on place the whole day. The straps pull shoulders back, which affects the posture but also restricts the movement of arms. But princesses don’t need to lift their arms very high, do they?

To do -list

Things look quite good at the moment, I think I may be able to get the dress together in time. Last week I cut the skirt pieces and now it’s waiting to be pleated, and the velvet bodice was also fitted and cut. But there are still many little things to be done:

– finishing the embroidery on the shirt and sewing it together

– patterning, cutting and decorating the kirtle sleeves

– binding and decorating the skirt and the bodice

– making the gold coif and the hat or bonnet. I haven’t even started these yet..

– if there’s time, decorating the petticoat neckline with gold thread

I’m sure there’s more, but this is what I recall at the moment.

Kirtle: Decided

After hours and hours of desperate searching and speculation I have finally made the decision. I abandoned the idea of a doublet, since I really couldn’t find any reference that would match the description. Instead I found a portrait with a square-necked kirtle that matches nearly perfectly; the only thing that’s different is the same color and fabric for the whole kirtle, while the material of the bodice in the kirtle that’s going to be recreated is different from the skirt and sleeves. florschool1550sladyzeri

The whole thing is typically Florentine and has all the elements and accessories that can be found also in the catalogs. In addition to that, given Catherine’s connections to Northern Italy I think a Florentine dress can well be used as an example.

I’m going to use Eleanor de Toledo’s burial dress as a guide to help me especially with the details like pleating the skirt. Otherwise I’ll draft (have someone draft, that is) the bodice following the lines of the petticoat bodice.

The down side to all this is that I’ll have to return to the embroidery and construction of the shirt -I was thinking that with the high-necked doublet I wouldn’t need to finish it just yet. I will also need a partlet. And a veil. And a necklace. And a girdle. And the gold coif. And I got four weeks. Think I’m going to make it?

The search for the kirtle continues..

A few thoughts came to mind.

What if the previously discussed kirtles are meant to be worn under a gown, so that the cloth part doesn’t show and only the trimming is visible? That means of course that the trimming is so wide that it covers the hem and the front of the skirt. But then again some of the skirts itself are decorated with velvet, so maybe they were supposed to show.

Another thought occurred while browsing through portraits. I found similarities to the two-colored kirtles only in German and Flemish pictures*) and remembered that in the Dowry there are two kirtles described as German. The color of the kirtles is not mentioned, and both are listed under brocades. The other is of “smooth flower brocade with brown silk” and the other is of “smooth brocade and yellow silk”. The silk parts fit to the kirtles in the Inventory, but wouldn’t they have mentioned if the cloth was brocade? There also are two black cloths for the neck listed in the Dowry, and we know that the black partlet is an essential part of the German dress. So these matters may point to the German area.

Dress of queen Anna Jagelon burial dress of Czech queen (+1547), velvet robe, cloth chemise, Prague, In: Hroby a hrobky naŇ°ich kn√≠Ňĺat, kr√°lŇĮ a prezidentŇĮ, Lutovsk√Ĺ, Bravermanov√°, 2007

Funeral gown of Anna Jagiellon, 1547

Furthermore, the funeral dress of Catherine’s cousin Anna, who was the queen of Hungary and Bohemia, resembles Saxon gowns and the more widely known gown of her sister-in-law Mary of Habsburg, who was the queen before her. Mary’s dress is dated to 1520’s, and Anna wore hers to the grave in 1547. A 1520’s dress is certainly too old to use as a reference for the beginning of 1560’s, but is a dress that’s only 15 years old too outdated? Remember that Catherine’s famous Spanish dress was at least nearly ten years old when she packed it with her to Finland.




Dress of queen Mary of Habsburg gown from green damask of Hungarian queen (1520) is in Hungarian national museum

Dress of Mary of Habsburg, 1520’s

Looking at Mary’s dress it’s easy to get the idea of a bodice that differs in color from the skirt, and the same contrast color is used also for the sleeves. However in the description it says that the sleeves are decorated, not hemmed, with the black velvet, so they might look more like the ones on Anna’s dress.



Jadwiga Jagiellon

There is even earlier proof that real two-colored kirtles existed, even though the sleeves here are made of the same fabric as the bodice. The picture depicts Catherine’s aunt duchess¬†Jadwiga, who died 1502.




Barbara Radziwill

There’s also Catherine’s sister-in-law Barbara Radziwill’s regional dress that’s depicted in c. 1550. It resembles considerably Jadwiga’s dress, even though they have 50 years in between. So could it be possible, that Catherine’s two-colored kirtles look something like Barbara’s and Anna’s dresses?

And I thought this was going to be easy. I’m probably making this more difficult than it actually is.



*) I am aware that there are two-colored kirtles elsewhere too, but the majority has the skirt and the bodice made of same fabric while the color of the sleeves is different. I am looking particularly for kirtles with skirts and sleeves made of same fabric and bodices of other, and these -or at least kirtles with some resemblance to these- were found in the Germanic regions.