15th Century Swabian Gown Project

The family tree of the Babenberg Margraves and Dukes,

This project started when I considered making my first Swabian gown. I spent some time perusing dress diaries to see what others had done, and sifting through images of these styles of gowns from between about 1470-1500.

The thing that struck me the most, was the way that most people tended to make their gown based on one or two patterns, with some minor variations, whereas upon examining period portraits and images, there were so many more subtle variations to the cut and construction of these gowns, in terms of the sleeves, the bodice cut, closures, neckline and whether the skirt of the gown was cut separately, or as one with the gown.

The upshot of this is that it made me a little curious, and I decided I wanted to try out a few of these variations, so resolved to make each in a slightly different way, to get a better understanding of the variations of the style.

The first thing I did was to go through all my images of these sorts of gowns, and sketch the variations, adding the dates if available too. I thought I’d find a few, but I didn’t think I’d find quite so many! Please excuse the rough nature of the sketches; originally, I had just done them as a quick survey of styles with enough detail to make sense to  me, not for the blog as such:

P1050006    P1050007

I’ve since seen more variations, particularly in seam placement too, but the above sketches should give you a fair idea about the diversity of styles at the time. Upon examining more and more extant artwork from the period, I started to realise that as a transitional period, there’s so many different ways of constructing gowns from this era and region, not just the one or two ways that had been popping up online. Some of the quirks of the styles had also spread to neighbouring regions, so I started looking toward art from surrounding areas too. This has lead me to set myself a challenge – each time I create a gown from this period, to construct it in a slightly different, yet documentable way, in order to get a real feel for the dress of the time. Pleats in the front, no pleats, open front, low cut front, high cut front open with lacing, open without lacing, bodice and skirts cut separately, bodice and skirts cut as one… I’m sure you get the idea!

Below are pictures of the gowns I have made so far with this idea in mind. Notes on their construction and diagrams of the patterns I drafted for them can be accessed by clicking on the images below, so you can see  how the variations in construction affect the final look of the gowns. Please note, the construction diagrams are just dodgy hand-drawn diagrams, they are most definitely not drawn to scale! As I make new ones, I’ll add information about them here.

June 2014 – black and silver brocade court gown

shiny swabian

May 2014 – terracotta middle class wool gown – late 15th to early 16th century

terracotta gown

February 2014 – spotty silk gown, 1470’s-1490’s

spotty swabian

September 2012 – Black woolen sleeveless gown, 1470s-1490s

Black gown


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