The famous “Arnolfini Wedding” painting by Jan van Eyck features a lovely lady wearing a gorgeous late medieval/early Renaissance gown of blue with a striking fur-trimmed green kirtle or overdress. Historical debates about the lady’s pregnancy aside, it’s an easy dress to sew so that you may have your own garb. While not an exact historical replica, this medieval gown and kirtle ensemble looks good and is fun to wear for Halloween or Renaissance Festival.
Choosing Gown Fabric
This renaissance gown is quite warm, especially with the fur trim. A midweight fabric is needed to drape well and hold the fur trim, and for colder weather a heavier fabric may be used. Cotton-linen or cotton-rayon blends breathe well and are affordable. For more luxury and warmth in winter consider lightweight wool. Whatever fabric you choose, don’t wear this costume in the summer!
Supplies for Medieval Kirtle
3 yards green midweight duckcloth 45″ wide
1 yard ½” green bias tape for neck facings
½ yard brown faux fur 60″ wide
Pattern for the Renaissance Kirtle
The pattern for the kirtle is shown in picture #2. The fabric is folded into quarters. Foldlines are shown in blue and cutting lines are red and dashed. Cutting instructions follow.
Cutting Out the Kirtle
Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and crosswise. First mark and cut out the neckline, an oval hole in the center of the fabric 12 x 6 inches. An easy way is to mark with chalk and cut a ¼ oval 6 inches wide and 3 inches deep, centered on the center fold of the fabric. Mark the sleeves and sides with chalk as shown, making sure that there is at least a 12″ drop to the narrowest part of the armhole. The garment is designed to be roomy and oversized. Cut along the marked lines.
Sewing the Kirtle
The bias tape is used to finish the neckline first. Unfold the bias tape and match the edge to the neckline, right sides facing, putting the ends in back. Stitch along the foldline. Trim and clip along the seam and press, folding the bias tape back together. Stitch the bias tape down.
Stitch the side and underarm seams together, matching right sides. Clip in the point of the armhole. Turn right side out and press. Finish the sleeve openings and the hem with a narrow hem.
Cut the fake fur into 2″ wide strips and sew to the neck and sleeve openings to trim the kirtle. Your medieval-renaissance overdress is finished!
Accessorizing the Kirtle
To complete the medieval-renaissance look, wear the kirtle over a long-sleeved floor length blue dress. Use a brown sash or leather belt just below the waistline, and pull the overdress until it’s draped to your satisfaction. A white lace or chiffon scarf can be draped over the head for the complete medieval-renaissance costume look. You’re ready for the Renn Faire or Halloween!