Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | July 16, 2010

Cheating with a commercial pattern for an Elizabethan dress

As you know (or may not) I do historical reenactment with a Scottish guild that goes to Renaissance faires in No. California.  Well, this fall I am stretching my experience and playing an English character at a new faire, Much Ado About Sebastopol,  (Please go check them out…it’s a fundraiser for schools!)  This means I need to look English.  All my Scots gear won’t work.

Okay.  I’m just not confident enough to make a draped pattern for an Elizabethan dress.  Not yet.  Even though I have padded the body dummy out in the garage so that she (Esmeralda) is more my current shape than that of a decade ago.

So yesterday I got my tush down to JoAnn fabrics and took advantage of the $1.99 sale on Simplicity patterns and bought 3 patterns to consider for use this year.

What?!  A commercial pattern?  Aren’t they all crap?

Well, seeing as I can’t afford the $40 pattern for this project (remember unemployment?), I have researched what the Renaissance costuming world thinks of the commercial patterns available.  Guess what?  There are 3 current patterns that seem to pass muster!  Well…with some modifications of course.  Here is the review that won me over – Dawn’s Costume Guide to commercial patterns, specifically the Simplicity pattern review –

So yes, I went and bought

Simplicity 2621 –

Simplicity 2589 –

No.  I’m not going to make a full blown court or noble dress.  I’m going to do a simplified lower middle class dress…or at least a kirtle.  Most likely I’ll use the costume shown on 3782, modified. Still deciding about the smock of 2621.  And, heavens help me, the corset…oh, but do I want to take that project on???  Really???  The fancy dress (2589) is something I’ll probably not wear myself anytime soon, but I figured I’d better grab the costume pattern while the price was right and it was available.  And being the costume mom for the school plays, it just makes sense that I pick up patterns when I can. (A Shakespeare play will probably be discussed at some point in the next couple of years.)

Next, I’ll check out the modifications that people have made for using these patterns.  I’d better find the right fabric now.  (Uh oh…that is another post.)  This has to be ready by Sept. 18th!!


Update 8/12/10 – I have made the corset from the 2621 (Corset #1) and another based on the same pieces but modified for front opening and wider waist (Corset #2).  The instructions and construction is pretty good, however, I am cursed with being short waisted and wider than the patterns allow for.  I’ve had to make lots of adjustments after initial sewing…cuz you know, you can’t really see how a thing like this fits unless the eyelets or lacing rings and boning is in.  (Much cursing was involved.  Much frustration.  Much brainstorming while showering in the mornings following nights of despair.) I had to dart the corset (not period appropriate, but I am not taking all those seams apart!).  I also got critiques from costuming friends on Facebook.  I’m still fiddling with #2.  I’ve also made the corset pattern from the Elizabethan corset generator (type it into Google and you’ll get Drea’s page), but had some doubts.  I’m still waffling.  I’ll eventually put a post up to document this experiment.  Just give me a bit.


Update 10/8/10 – The corset generator was the best for making a corset that fit.   The mockup bodices I cut from the dress patterns showed me that they are VERY wide at the shoulders and I would have to widen and shorten the shoulder straps to not fall off with any kind of moderate movement.  The skirts for the dresses…well, I’d probably default to cartridge or knife pleating instead of the funky cutting lines  I couldn’t handle.  (My brain locked up when I saw the cutting lines.) The smock on the undies pattern is good.  Again, check the width and length of shoulder in the  pattern before you cut the fabric.   – M.



  1. Interesting . . . I’ve already got 2621. Will have to pick up 2589 and 3782. I wonder if it’d be possible to adapt 2589 into the Spanish court costume that was worn during the 1530s (Isabella of Portugal) to 1550s . . . I love the Spanish style.

  2. They look great, can’t wait to see what you come up with 🙂

  3. As the costume coordinator for Sebastopol, while I generally don’t endorse commercial patterns because of issues small and large, I think those who can adapt them can find a real bargain. The smock on 2621 is exactly what we’re looking for (and is very easy to make) as well as the corset/stays. You can also google “Elizabethan Smock Generator” and create a very easy tailor made pattern to your measurements. I’m a nervous seamstress and I was able to crank it out in an afternoon.

    Love your blog by the way – and looking forward to working with you in September!

  4. Looking forward to the finished product!

    • Oops! Never mind – I found it. Good job!

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