Shirt in progress

Note: I know that words shirt, shift and smock all mean slightly different things in English language. For example shirt is understood as a garment worn by men and smocks were for women. However in my source material there is no such sorting between garments of different sexes, they are all just shirts and that’s why I’m using that word here too. 

As you might remember from earlier, I chose the square-necked and more fitting pattern over the fuller, gathered-necked version. I also wanted to execute the embroidery in black, like in four of Catherine’s shirts.

It’s been about eight weeks since I cut the shirt and started embroidering. The work is very time consuming since I only have a couple of hours per night. Even though I usually don’t like showing works in progress, here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

IMG_9308The pattern of the shirt is from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 with very slight adaptations (and as a peculiar detail I didn’t have to adjust the size at all!). It’s n. 76 in the book, from Manchester City Galleries, and it’s dated to c. 1560-80. The pattern of the embroidery on the other hand is an adaptation from a contemporary Italian camicia, which can be found pictured here.

The shirt is of white linen, and the embroidery thread is black cotton. It should be silk, but since I’m only experimenting at this point I decided that I’ll accept it for now. And it looks moderately good at a distance!

I’m planning to do the embroidery over the shoulder seams too, just like in the original, and gather the sleeve into an embroidered cuff. There will also be a narrow black lace in the collar and the sleeves.


Close-up of the embroidery.

By the way, the red velvet on the background is the fabric for the petticoat, just waiting to be cut..



So, let’s start by looking at the first things first. According to the catalogs Catherine did not have any corsets or farthingales but only shirts and petticoats. However one of her few petticoats is “corded” (according to the Finnish translation) and this could mean a stiffened undergarment to wear with the one Spanish kirtle she had. Italians preferred a softer fashion, as did the Germans, and Catherine was probably following this style.


Just like the kirtles there are no mentions of the style or fashion of the shirts or smocks. If we assume that Catherine favored the Italian fashion, there are two styles to choose from. The other one is more closely cut and has a low square neckline, the other one is looser and has a gathered neckline. The looser shirts were in fashion especially in the beginning of the 16th century, and the closely cut ones start to make an appearance in the middle of the century. The two styles collocated, and there is a theory that the looser shirts became house dresses and night gowns while the closely cut ones were used with the skirts.

In fact there are details in the catalogs that suggest this theory. Some of Catherine’s shirts are mentioned in relation to night caps (some of which are Italian by the way), so we could assume that they are loosely cut and gathered. They are also decorated like the extant ones that exist from that period.

BlouseLate 16th century ItalySilk, linen, metal thread 

An Italian shirt, late 16th century

If the assumption is correct, Catherine had at least six loosely cut night shirts, all of which are mentioned in the Dowry. One that had pearls and cross stitch embroidery on the sleeves is mentioned with a night cap, and five shirts have vertical embroidery and gold collars, just like the extant ones.

According to both catalogs Catherine had 33 other shirts. Some of these could be doubles, but there are no exact correspondences between the lists. Eleven shirts in the Dowry are described as gold sleeved, and five have three borders at the hem and golden collars. In the Inventory there is one shirt with three black silk borders at the hem, so this could be one of the five in the Dowry. There are also ten other shirts in the Inventory that are sewn with black silk and have gold collars and sleeves. These could include the five gold collared loose shirts in the Dowry. In addition to these the Inventory lists four shirts embroidered with black silk, one embroidered with red and one with red and green.

A portrait showing square-necked shirt and kirtle. The shirt is embroidered in black and gold. (Bronzino 1551)

So there is no direct evidence in the catalogs that Catherine had any closely cut, square-necked shirts. In my opinion the fact that some shirts are mentioned in relation to night caps and have different decoration than the ones mentioned separately indicate that they are different in other ways too. Catherine also has loads of partlets, as mentioned in the previous post, so it’s likely that majority of her kirtles were square-necked and hence worn with square-necked shirts.

Based on the arguments above I chose to make a square-necked shirt for the first outfit. Even though most of Catherine’s shirts had gold embroidery on them I’ll forget that for now, because I intend to make a more modest outfit at first. Instead I chose black embroidery, which was executed on four of Catherine’s shirts.


There’s a total of ten petticoats in the catalogs, divided in summer and winter skirts in the Dowry. The five winter skirts include a nude colored and a red striped silk skirt lined with sable and marten as well as skirts lined with squirrel. The outer material of the squirrel skirts is not mentioned. One of the two summer skirts is of red-gold transparent velvet lined with red taffeta, and the other is the corded one. According to the Finnish translation of the Dowry it’s made of silk “woven in double” and lined with nude colored linen. In the Inventory there are only three petticoats listed. Two are made of red makeier, which could mean either wool or silk, and lined with fur. All that is said about the third is that it’s made of makeier.

What’s remarkable about the petticoats is that all of them are red. Somewhat surprisingly that matches with the results of a study of English garments of the 16th century. The Tudor Tailor tells us that red was the women’s color and it also was believed to have health benefits.

The choice for the petticoat for the first outfit was very easy, since there are only two skirts for summer wear and only one simpler. The problem however is that there probably are no gold-mixed red velvets that are easily acquired. I’ll have to compromise here and use plain red velvet. One solution could possibly be decorating the fabric, since there are no specific details of how the gold is mixed in.