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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part 8: Sewing Chronicles of Lady Lizbeth, Secret Diary of a Time Traveling Maide

Gold on black,
Silver and wine.
 Thy clothes show the world
Ye can afford fine.
 Pithy sayings of Lady Margaret Hobey

Part 8: Clothes make the Maide

Since my readers are sewers, you’ll want to hear what I wore my first night down to supper. Did you wonder what I was going to do for clothes, beyond the outfit William had snatched up for me from the day-in-a-life dress up zone in the British Galleries? (That's right when he was supposedly looking for his cell phone, that weasel!) The real Lady Elizabeth’s trunk had been sent on ahead of her. That was before her uncle’s state of health had kept her from starting out as soon as she’d intended.  No one in the Hobey's household, other than the aforementioned weasel, had gotten a chance to read the letter from the other Liz’s auntie, conveying this rather pertinent piece of information. Ole Will had seen to that.

Luckily for me, Lady E.’s clothes fit me. Wouldn’t it have been tricky to explain otherwise?

So here's the scoop. First off, let me remind you that that the currently (current in 1581 that is) in style dropped-waist look, is carried off by means of a busk-point, in my case that's a nasty hard piece of bone, whittled into a kind of v-shape, that’s inserted into the front of my stays. This instrument of torture gives me that glamorous long pointy Elizabethan torso-look and it also makes sitting down a whole new experience. I'm sure you know, that the stays are laced over the chemise and the under petticoat. They stays also push all my womanliness into nearly full view, providing me with that bosom-on-a-platter look you see in all the portraits. There's also a farthangale. Cecily was surprised that I made any complaint about that, because apparently it’s the minimalist's version. Don’t even get me started on the joys of dealing with a farthingale. Are you wondering how long it took me to learn how to walk around in just my undergarments?

Over all this I somehow, with a lot of help from the maideservant Hannah, managed to struggle into a deliciously smocked soft yellow linen kirtle undergown. As far as I was concerned, that would have been enough. But then we got on to the outer bits, a deep green woolen bodice and matching bell shaped skirt, that opened down the front to display the rows of yellow smocking. About that time the whole process was starting to seem worth it.

Did I mention that there was blackwork embroidery on the sleeve and neck edges of the chemise? It just peeked out (rather fetchingly I thought) at the edges of the sleeves and the neckline of the green bodice. Oh, I didn’t tell you about the sleeves, did I? They were tied on to my kirtle (of course who wouldn’t want her sleeves tied on?) and were heavily embroidered with a couch stitch in black wool thread.- an all over intertwined arabesque design. 

The whole thing was yummy. I figured now I’d just run a brush through my curls and get on down to eat, that's assuming I could squeeze food into my stomach under those stays. Cecily had more plans for me however. I looked down at the fragile lacey item Hannah was starting to stitch onto the back neckline of my bodice.

“But the Queen’s 'Statutes of Apparel' forbids anyone not of noble birth from wearing lace or ruffs. I uh – well that is to say we never wear anything like that at home.”

“But we’re gentry, dear. It’s only a collar, not a full ruff. And besides that, it’s drawn-thread work, not proper bobbin lace like the nobility wears. 

I was starting to see just why the sumptuary laws had been a failure. The new merchant class could afford to be conspicuous consumers and no old-school noble types were really going to get in their way. There’s always a way around the rules aren’t there?

The household boosted a Venetian mirror on the landing just outside our chamber. Despite the fact that it made it hard to turn my head, I found the stiff lacey collar quite pretty. It frames my face nicely and would make anybody look like she’s got more neck than she does. Hannah brushed my hair back and secured it in a black threadwork caul embellished with little seed pearls and tied in place with a fillet of green ribbon. Cecily volunteered to pluck all those nasty hairs away from the top of my brow herself. It would look so much lovelier, but I said no thanks. Though she’s clearly too sweet and polite to let on, I can just imagine what Cecily thinks about me. A good thing I can put on my dogpatch attitude, blaming my total lack of fashion sense on my remote island upbringing.

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