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 našich knížat, králů a prezidentů, Lutovský, Bravermanová, 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.

Kirtle problems

I’m still not sure which one of the two-colored kirtles I want.

The one I was thinking about will probably be too difficult and time-consuming for now, so I thought that another kirtle with a simple skirt with brown silk border, sleeves with black velvet decoration and a black velvet bodice would be easier and quicker to make. There’s only one problem with that: I can’t find any reference pictures. What I understand from the description is that the skirt and the sleeves are made of same violet brown cloth and the bodice is of black velvet. Are there any pictorial proof that these kind of kirtles existed?? And are we still talking about doublet bodices or is this a “normal” kirtle with the bodice attached? One solution could be that the skirt, bodice and sleeves are all separate so that the sleeves are attached to the shoulder straps of the petticoat and a sleeveless or short-sleeved doublet bodice is worn over. This is of course just my speculation, so the search continues..

Gold coif: details and observations

The more portraits I see the more evident it becomes that there are as many gold coifs as there are wearers. I’ve also seen a couple of extant hair nets and caps that are all constructed a bit differently but still produce the same basic shape. Therefore it can’t be said that one pattern is correct and the other isn’t. This one is my interpretation of Catherine’s coif, and the form and the pattern are based on the pictures of the Jagellonica sisters posted earlier.


I’ll post the pattern or a picture of the whole coif later. In the meantime, here is a detail picture of my coif-in-progress. The base is sandy gold colored hand woven silk that I had in my stash, and the “netting” is stem or crewel stitch embroidery executed in two different shades of gold. There are also four-petaled flowers made of gold beads.

The coif could get pearls too, if it looks like it could use some when it’s finished.

Doublet or not doublet?

The kirtle I plan to reconstruct has a violet brown skirt and a black velvet bodice. There are few kirtles listed with the same combination, and even Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting had those. There are also a couple of finer kirtles that have different colored skirts and bodices, and separate pieces that don’t seem to match with each other. So, what’s the deal with these?

First I was trying to browse through portraits to find kirtles with different colored skirts and bodices and had no luck there. However I found out that they seem to be more common in the 17th century among the working women. Could that be the case for the 16th century too? There are five different colored kirtles listed in the end of the chapter indicating that they were somehow inferior; all lists are written from the most expensive garment towards the worn and cheaper ones. All five skirts are violet brown, three are made of silk and two of cloth, and the bodices are of black velvet. In the list of clothes of ladies-in-waiting there are three kirtles that all have a violet brown skirt and a black velvet bodice. One of the skirts is made of cloth and two of silk. In both cases the skirts and/or bodices have applied black velvet decoration on them.

However there is one kirtle that can not be described as working dress. It’s in the very beginning of the chapter and it has a red velvet skirt and a bodice of gold cloth. The bodice is decorated with pearls and there are also three pearl strands on the hem of the skirt.

Nearly all of the 17th century pictures of working women depict sleeveless kirtles, but all the kirtles in the catalogs had (decorated) sleeves. That led to a thought of a doublet. Could it be possible that the black velvet bodice means that? At least in England doublets are associated with working women, and women certainly wore doublets at the end of the 16th century. But are they period for 1560’s?

Finally I stumbled upon a picture of Angelica Agliardi de Nicolini, painted by Giovanni Battista Moroni in the 1560’s.

Angelica was from Bergamo, Italy, where women apparently adopted men’s fashions including doublets. The most interesting thing is that Bergamo had close relations to Milan, where Catherine’s mother was from and which allegedly affected the Polish court where Catherine grew up. It’s also exciting to notice that Angelica wears a veil and has a zibellini in her hand; Catherine had Italian veils to wear over her gold coifs and a jewel-encrusted zibellini. Also Angelica’s overgown matches the descriptions of Catherine’s gowns, so this just might be how Catherine too looked like.

Follower_of_Francesco_Salviati_del_Rossi_Portrait_of_a_LadyAnother picture of the same style, by Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi.

Gold coifs and velvet bonnets (but mostly coifs)

Since it’s practically impossible to concentrate on one thing at a time, I have started thinking about the head wear. Excluding the easily explainable bonnets, veils, diadems, hats and crowns, there are items in the catalogs that need a closer look. The most difficult ones to interpret are myssy and lakki (Finnish, the Dowry) and huffua, luffua and myssa (Swedish, the Inventory). The cut and style of these is not obvious at all.

Myssy and lakki are used concurrently when describing velvet fur lined caps. In the Inventory these caps are referred to as luffua and myssa. Myssy can also mean gold and pearl caps that seem to have no obvious resemblance to the fur caps. These are called huffua in the Inventory. So we could make a rough conclusion that finely decorated myssy and huffua are caps that are called coif or caul in English, and that lakki and luffua are fur caps used in winter time. Since I’m not interested in the winter garments at the moment, I’ll take a closer look only on the coifs.

As mentioned, we know nothing about the cut and style of the coifs. According to the Dowry Catherine had 13 pearl caps and 24 gold caps, and in the Inventory there are 33 gold caps, only two pearl caps and one silver cap. It is possible that the caps or coifs are the same in both catalogs, since the numbers of the caps combined are 37 and 36. They just may be listed differently.

There are many examples in the contemporary portraits that show gold or pearl caps in the backs of the heads of the sitters. Indeed Catherine herself in addition to her sisters and sisters-in-law are depicted wearing them, so in my opinion it’s safe to make the conclusion that these are the gold and pearl caps described in the catalogs.

Jagellonica sisters

The Jagellonica sisters wearing gold cauls and bonnets. First and second two different portraits of Catherine, next Sofia and Anna.

Usually there is some kind of other cap on top of the coif, but it could also be worn alone. According to different portraits the coifs could be reticulated, meaning they were netted using gold ribbons or strings of pearls, or they could have a solid base fabric on which the pearls were sewn or the gold embroidered.

All the Jagellonica sisters seem to wear a solid based coif in the portraits, so that’s what I’ll be going for. There are different instructions available for making a caul or escoffion, as this cap is sometimes called. I however wasn’t satisfied in any of them and did a little research of my own. As you can see, the coif looks a bit different in every picture -even in two pictures of a same person, although the cap itself is different too. Different shapes mean that it can’t be a pillbox hat, as some reconstructions suggest, but rather a coif, literally. There were shaped women’s coifs already in the middle ages (the St. Birgitta coif), and there are many surviving examples especially from England of embroidered coifs of the 16th century. I combined these two styles to make an “in-between -era” women’s coif. I had some hand-woven sandy gold colored silk that I’ll embroider with gold thread. After I’ve done that I’ll decide if it needs more bling like pearls or gold beads. Pictures will follow!