Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: The Tudor Tailor

Cover for "The Tudor Tailor" by Ninya Mikhaila & Jane Malcolm-Davies

The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies.  

I think this is my new favorite costuming book.  It's very detailed and clearly written, with explanations not only of garment cut and fit, but also of sewing techniques, period fabric options, and research methods.  Unlike many of the costume books I've read, this one covers both men's and women's garments.  And did I mention the pictures?  It's chock-full of pictures: period illustrations, portraits, and surviving garments over the first fifty pages, cutting diagrams and beautiful reproduction outfits for the rest.  The draped garments (women's bodices and men's hose) have photos illustrating each step of the fitting process.

This book starts with a brief introduction to researching 16th century clothing, pointing out the different types of resources available and the strengths and weaknesses of each; there's also some discussion of the philosophy of sewing historic clothing ["replication, reconstruction, or re-creation"]. From there, it delves into the different garments and the combinations in which they were worn, the fabrics which were available, and which garments they were used in,  There's information on sewing methods, with sketches of the different techniques.  I particularly appreciated the two-page table of fabrics (including the most common usages of each and the closest modern equivalent), and the line drawings showing examples of ordinary and court attire by decade.  Many quotations from period sources are used in discussing the different garments, what they were made of, who wore them, and how.  

The final, and largest, portion walk the reader through cutting out and making up men's and women's clothing: smocks/shirts, hose, breeches, kirtles, petticoats, bodies, farthingales, jerkins/doublets, gowns, waistcoats, partlets, ruffs, and finishing with caps, bonnets, coifs, and hoods for the head (everything but shoes).  As noted before, each garment has cutting diagrams and pictures of the finished reproduction.  Instructions for sizing the patterns up and down is included; draping is used for bodices and hose.

There isn't much I'd change about this book: the only trouble I've had with it is having to hunt for the page which deals with how the pattern grids scale (easily solved by bookmarking page 52). I'm also curious about the inclusion of French seams in the techniques portion: my Victorian research suggests whipping and felling are the more common seam finishes for fine materials up to the end of the 19th century.  I'll need to do some more research to see if the technique was used earlier.

Score: 5 Stars

Accuracy: High.  Lots of good sources cited, original images included, and the completed repros look like 16th century clothing rather than "costumes".

Difficulty: Intermediate and up.  There's enough instruction provided for a beginner to get started, but so much material makes for a very steep learning curve.  Some sewing/draping/drafting experience (or a knowledgeable friend) would be helpful.

Strongest Impression: I really like it!  This book starts the reader out with good research methods, but also provides enough background information to get started right away.  I found the cutting and stitching instructions clear.

Garments I've made: Smock, Kirtle, Headrail & Hose

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