Thursday, May 22, 2014

Medieval and Renaissance Dresses - Upcycle a Thrift Store Dress - Ideas and Inspiration

I have to admit, Medieval and Renaissance costumes are my favorite. I love the rich colors and fabrics, the layers and textures, and the wide variety of styles that are all recognizable as Renaissance costumes. The theater plays that come to mind when I think of these costumes are "Once Upon a Mattress," "Robin Hood," Romeo and Juliet," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet," but there are many, many more set in this time period.

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Medieval/Renaissance costumes can be expensive to to buy and sometimes even more expensive to rent. For example:
  • 'Halloween quality' costumes range in price anywhere from $40 - $80. The fabrics are brightly colored, but the light-weight nylon used in these costumes is often not durable enough to withstand the theater environment requiring multiple wearings and are often see-through when put in the spotlight.
  •  Expect to pay a minimum of $120 up to $300+ if you want to purchase 'Theater quality' Medieval/Renaissance gowns. 
  • Rental costumes will cost you anywhere from $70 to $125 per costume. If you also need to rent undergarments like a hoop skirt, add another $20 per costume.
  •  Even if you were able to borrow a Medieval/Renaissance costume, if you had to dry clean it, it would most likely cost more than creating a dress by "The Costume Mom Method" I outline below.

There are simple and cost effective ways of making Medieval/Renaissance costumes. The best part about making your own costumes is that they then become apart of your costume wardrobe to use in future productions or you might even wear one to a Renaissance faire.  You can sew a Medieval gown from scratch using a commercial sewing pattern, but this can be time consuming, especially if you need to make a large number of costumes. Or you can upcycle an existing thrift store dress!

The Costume Mom TM Method!
I was inspired by these two Renaissance/Medieval costume patterns
Butterick Pattern B4571 -
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I recreated the look of these beautiful dresses by starting with a simple long velvet gown that I had purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store for just $4.

Renaissance dress up-cycled from a $4 thrift store dress

I cut the dress up the center front, squared off the neckline, then zig-zag stitched the raw edges.

Since this dress was not full length, I added a section of fabric like in the Burda 7171 Renaissance dress as shown above.  I cut off the lower 9" of the dress and inserted a 7" section of fabric, then reattached the lower 9" of fabric.  This brought the dress to the perfect length.

I used Butterick Pattern B4571(Amazon Affiliate Link) piece #2 for the bodice front and piece #4 for the skirt front.

I agonized over what to do with the sleeves.  I had actually removed them and played around with different styles of sleeves.  In the end, I decided I liked the sleeves just plain and sewed them back on.

You may notice that I have some lacing loops on the bodice here.  I realized these were unnecessary and later removed them.  However, these may be a great solution if the dress is too large for the actress.

Another Upcycled Thrift Store Dress Turned Medieval - Renaissance Gown:

My friend Susie made - or should I say, upcycled - this dress.  She was inspired by McCalls P309 pattern as shown below. She used only the sleeve pattern pieces and added some lace around the collar to turn this long velvet gown from contemporary to Medieval in minutes.  She simply hand-stitched the sleeves on top of the existing sleeves.

Simple velvet thrift store dress turned into a Medieval/Renaissance gown

If you have made a Medieval or Renaissance gown, or if you have any tips for other costume moms on costuming for this time period, we'd love to hear from you!

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