Christina of Denmark Gown – Page under construction…

Please note: If you wish to reproduce this in any way please credit me. We all work very hard and share our knowledge freely in the SCA. It would be a shame to find my work in someone elses name. Thank you. 


220px-Christina_of_Denmark,_Ducchess_of_Milanchris1 chris2 chris3


“Christina of Denmark, Dutchess of Milan, in mourning”

Hans Holbein the Younger, 1538.

A bit about Christina…..

“Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, died in 1537, Christina was considered as a possible bride for the English king. The German painter Hans Holbein was commissioned to paint portraits of noblewomen eligible to become the English queen. On 10 March 1538, Holbein arrived in Brussels with the diplomat Philip Hoby to meet Christina. Hoby arranged with Benedict, the Master of Christina’s household, for a sitting the next day. Christina sat for the portrait for three hours wearing mourning dress. Her rooms in Brussels were hung with black velvet, black damask and a black cloth-of-estate.[1]

  1.  State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 8, London, (1849), 17-21, 142.
  2. Jump up^ State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 8, London, (1849), 126-129, 21 January 1539


Also look at The National Gallery Website link for information on the painting:



I had always loved this portrait and I wanted to be able to experiment with the different loose gown styles since making my first one in 2006.

The first gown was functional. It was before I knew what I was really doing in this area. I needed to make it quickly to wear to St Catherine’s Faire in Ildhafn (Auckland, New Zealand) that year, and it has served me and many others well since as it has been taken all around the world to different events with different people.


I made it out of green wool, and lined it with the same. It was made for warmth and I was in my infancy in terms of research into certain areas of costuming – but it has made it the perfect camp fire coat and extra blanket over the years.  However, in 2012 I wanted to make something that was beautiful, not practical, something to wear to court, and would replicate Christina’s look from the portrait. I wanted something properly made and researched.

I like using as close to the proper materials as is possible, and as always it seemed to be a combination of right place, right time. I had been collecting possum fur for years, and I had a jacket and some skins – enough to line the front and the upper body. On a shopping trip to AB fabrics in Auckland for my friend’s Venetian dress, I found what they had labelled as ‘ballroom silk’, it was 100% pure silk and was stiff like taffeta, and at $30 a metre I could hardly say no. I was ready to start.

I understand Possum would not have been the period choice for the Gown, however, as I said, I had been collecting them for years, they were on hand. Possum fibers are hollow – they heat as well as breathe, therefore, in Auckland’s (up to 25 degress C) and Canterbury’s temperatures (30+), I do not boil if I am wearing this outfit as much as if it were lined with the period materials, or complete polyester teddy bear fur.

A side note on fur:

You will see fur linings on many garments at seams and hems. There are examples in paintings of even the lower classes with fur lined coats as shown below in the Brughel painting.

Peasant Wedding Dance, 1607, Pieter Brugel II


note the fur lined coat on the woman in the front in square pelts – sleeves and skirts.

photo (1)


“the abbot complains of women’s dress and behaviour”. Gillies li muisis poems, brussels, kbr, ms IV 119, tournai 1352-53.

I know the above is out of date for what I am making, but this picture made me leap for joy when I found as it shows a surcoat that is lined in fur. The fur lining is not cut the same as the surcoat so as to not waste fur/be warmer closer to the body (would be my assumption). However, with the surcoat lifted, you can see the square pelts sewn together and how it isn’t fixed to the outer layer.

As seen above, fur wasn’t just for the upper classes. Certain furs as explained below were hard to get – so they were bought / used by nobility, however, if you had access to animals, and you needed warmth, fur was there for the taking.

“Heer (1961) points out that ermine, sable, marten, beaver, bear, and lynx were among the most sought after furs throughout the centuries (p. 92-93). The clothes-conscious who could not afford ermine opted for a less expensive fur known as lettice (a small weasel whose winter coat turns white). The middle classes with limited financial means had to content themselves with cloth and velvet garments decorated with fur (Lester, 1956, p. 184). The cheaper skins of lamb, sheep, goat, and wolf were generally set aside for the common people (Boucher, n.d. p. 214).”

Furriers were employed to add the fur to the garments after construction, and it was a specific job for a trained individual. “The word Furrier comes from Anglo-Norman, from Old French forreor, from fourrer (to line or trim with fur)”




Kürschnerwerkstatt, aus einer Serie mit Darstellung verschiedener Handwerke, Deutschland, um 1550, Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg, HB 13445, Kapsel 1225

Furrier’s workshop, from a series depicting various crafts, 1550, picture held at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Neurnberg.

original scan can be seen here


Period Material Choices for a gown like this:





Linen lining

Fur Lining – ermine,  sable, marten, beaver, bear, lynx, Rabbit, Lettice, Fox

(more to add)


My Materials:

6 metres Burgundy ballroom silk

Possum fur


From looking at many different portraits, it seems that shorter hair animals were used – not thick, so possum was a good substitute choice.

Thin fake fur (real teddy bear)

Linen lining


Extant examples:

There is a loose gown closer to the time period than other extant gowns in pattern’s of fashion. It has been replicated by a few people that I know, however – this is different to the style that I was creating, but was helpful in terms of construction techniques.



Alcega has …………………………… pattern #68 in The Tailor’s Pattern Book by Alcega (50)

When I am making something  – I like to look at all the options, I don’t disregard other styles/looks of the same garment, however I was after a specific look with mine and the sleeves were the important part in this gown.



download           473px-Catherine_Parr_from_NPG449px-Edward_VI_of_England_c._1546

Lady with a Dog, 1560,               Katherine Parr, 1545,                 King Edward VI, 1546

Domenico Riccio, Bonn,            Attributed to William Scrots,     Unknown,

Procinzial Museum, Germany.   National Portrait Gallery.


I agonised over the sleeves – enlarging the painting on my computer, looking for clues in the folds, trying to identify if there were any visible seams etc. I kicked myself for many hours – thinking of all the times I had stood in front of the actual painting….wishing I could now do the same, but London is a long way away from Auckland. You are now able to take an actual photograph of the Portrait in the gallery, this happened in late 2014, having my own high resolution copy would have made the process much easier at the time.

There were many sleeves in paintings from that time period that I looked at to try and best decide if I was going to pleat the sleeve and attach it to a forearm (like I had for my green woolen gown), or if I was going to try and create a sleeve that was all in one.

Many gowns also show voluminous material in the body of the construction, while other gowns seem to sit smoothly over the form (mainly from after the Christina gown). I have included the Edward outfit above as it shows the fur lining the whole garment in an obvious way.

Christina’s gown seems to be in a transitional sleeve period – it could be attached to a forearm or one piece looking at other artworks in the period, and that is why I wanted to get it right. Alcega had sleeves from …….that fitted the look of what I was trying to achieve.

They were slightly after when this painting was executed, however this is a common issue and can be explained in different ways for different paintings/eras:

Some ideas are:

-when a painting is finished/started- i.e. how many years did it take to execute.

-The symbolism that was involved in a painting (i.e. colours used, styles of dress on the figures, accessories, the way the model is posed)

-counties being ahead in certain styles and therefore influencing other countries through trade/artists

-regional variances

-Patterns being recorded in books like Alcega’s, but being around for a while before the books were put into circulation

-Tailors creating their own versions of a style depending on where the person lived / what access they had to portraits/pre-existing clothing of that style.

Capture1 Capture2

Once I was convinced that the Alcega sleeves were the right ones (through careful examination and a big leap of faith….) it was just a case of re-creating the pattern. If you look at the way the Right sleeve falls – the line of the crease is identical to the one in the painting…this satisfied me that I had made the pattern correctly.


pattern for my sleeve….I know it looks simple – but getting the proportions right isn’t….trust me….


If I can, I like experimenting / making a toile (mock up) out of the actual material. I don’t mean the whole outfit, but if there is a tricky part like a sleeve, I have always found it better to manipulate and experiment with the actual materials.

Calico and taffeta weight silk do not puff and form in the same ways and I had limited silk left (scraps really). I had enough for two goes at the pattern before I would run out, the pattern above was the result.


Construction Overview:

The extant German gown in Patterns of fashion is cut straight. It has gores in the sides and does not have the voluminous look that the Christina gown has. I also was able to create the voluminous look in the Christina gown without wasting materials, therefore I knew I was on the right track at this time.

As with anything it is easy to say – ‘Oh but this one has survived and therefore we know how it is made and therefore ALL should be made like this…..I see and hear that quite a lot, but I do not subscribe to this theory. As I have said in other pages – if you are getting up at 4 am to milk cows you most likely don’t want a back lacing Kirtle. Just because we have an example from the later part of the 16th Century, it doesn’t mean that everyone wore it – especially as the one we have is covered in fine detailed bobbin lace and spangles, not something one would wear in the fields perhaps?

I do however look at construction (seams, linings etc) from those things that survive, and noted the lining of linen in the patterns of fashion gown. Interestingly enough, this linen lining helped with the fur as it was something to tack it in places to, and the extra layer gave some stability. having to piece the fur together (as i had a lot of scraps) also helped with the look /way the material falls, as this imitated real fur pelts having to be sewn together by a furrier and attached later –  as was done in period.


linen lining example from janet arnold



I cut the silk on the bias

I repeated this for the linen, using the silk as the pattern

I sewed up the shoulder seams and side seams of both the silk and linen and pressed the seams (the Chineese have had ‘irons’ for a thousand years and a form of iron was used on seams in the Medieval/Renaissance period)

I unpicked the arm seam and side body seam the of the possum fur coat and sewed the two parts of the unpicked sleeves back onto the body, leaving the split from the shoulder down.

I laid out the silk on the ground and laid the possum on top to measure and to show where the teddy fur needed to fill in the gaps.

I cut the scraps of fur to fit the gaps/fill in the rest of the pattern.

2012-08-12 14.42.38


As you can see, the fake fur came right to the edge. As explained below in the process, the possum pelts that line down the front openings of the coat were sewn onto the fake fur base for stability after it was all laid out and all the gaps were filled. The photo above shows the fake fur peeled back, revealing where the possum was to go.

2012-08-12 14.42.21

I then cut the sleeves out (after having already experimented with the pattern as explained above)

I then sewed the sleeves.

I repeated this for the lining

I cut the fake fur for the sleeve lining, attaching a band of possum fur to the cuff (to ‘fake’ the whole sleeve inside being possum) and sewed it.

I took the possum pelts and sewed them end to end into one long strip.

As explained above, I laid out the possum pelts down the two front edges of the fake fur lining and cut them off accordingly  – to ‘fake’ the impression that the whole garment was lined in real fur. Even if the front flapped out a bit as I walk – it would still show possum and not the fake fur.

I hand sewed these over the top of the fake fur that was already there – so as to not create any bumps with seams keeping the materials laying flat.

I sewed the fur to the silk and tried it on without the sleeves.

2012-08-12 17.43.46 2012-08-12 17.43.39

NOTE: at this stage you can see that I decided to not make the gown as long as Christina’s, as as much as I wanted something pretty that didn’t have to be functional – I still have to wear it in conditions that aren’t stone floors and Royal suites. Scout halls and dusty/rainy outside Canterbury Faire and Festival conditions give tide marks quickly.

I handsewed the sleeve to the gown and then whip stitched the furs together at the arm hole, I didn’t know it at the time – but this was something that they did to construct another of the extant loose gowns. This has recently been publicised in the ……….books from the V and A.


(it is always satisfying later on to know that educated guesses are in-fact correct.)

I then cut the collar and attached it.


Evaluation summary:

The pattern for the body itself is quite simple – but it is getting all the elements right, the fur, the sleeves the construction, to make it sit right on the body and puff/be voluminous in the right places.

If I made it again – with my knowledge now after making the pink 1530’s dress I would do the same to the sleeves to puff them out, but as with everything – hindsight is great, and we learn from our mistakes/experiments…



Once I finished the coat, I had a half a day to make the Kirtle.

‘There are only two weeks to festival’, is a saying we have in Lochac, and I decided I was going to not only finish the coat for St John’s  – a wonderful event run by Cluain annually 3 hours from Auckland – but also make the Kirtle in order to wear it in public.

For this the decision was simple, I based this off the Kirtle in Patterns of Fashion p…….

The reason for this choice was it was quite a similar line to the one in the portrait and it was perfectly acceptable to me that she would have had a back lacing Kirtle.

I also decided to use materials that I had already for the Kirtle, which was easier and more cost effective.

White silk for the outside – they were old curtains that had been given to me, brown silk that I had purchased previously, for the inside, and a linen inter-lining for stability and weight.

IMG_9105 IMG_9108 IMG_9109 IMG_9110

You can see the basting stitches and the curve in the back that would draw the waist in the right place. The kirtle is actually a lovely shape once on, and very simple to construct.

The outer layer was sewn separately. The silk lining and linen lining sewn together. both the inside and outside were made up separately and then hand stitched at the arm holes, centre back and neck. The collar was then hand sewn on.

Button holes were later hand stitched into the back (there was no time to do it then – and the coat covered it completely in order to be able to just pin up the gap….cheating I know, but necessary…..)


The Gown in it’s first outing at St John’s 2012:

Christine christina


Please note: If you wish to reproduce this in any way please credit me. We all work very hard and share our knowledge freely in the SCA. It would be a shame to find my work in someone elses name. Thank you. 




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