Sewing Costumes for the Renaissance Faire
Here ye, here ye, Lords and Ladies of the Faire! Gather around for this fascinating tale of adventure! If you are interested in cosplay, steampunk or historical costumes, this is for you!
Hi everyone, I am thrilled to be back again and talking about sewing costumes for the Renaissance Faire. This is one of my all time favorite things to do, I have been attending Ren Faires for more than 25 years. It’s huge event that many people love and enjoy. I was at the bank recently opening a new account when I had an interesting conversation with the banker. I was telling him about my blogging business and he asked a lot of questions. Then he went on to tell me that he spends his weekends doing Steampunk events! It was so unexpected, he is a very conservative gentleman with a bow tie and neatly trimmed beard, but he has a weekend passion for making costumes. Who would have guessed?
- What is the Renaissance Faire? When we were newly married about 28 years ago, a friend of mine suggested we attend the local Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin. The Faire is a theatrical event, with historically accurate costumes, music, games and food. Anything that is part of the Renaissance period from 1450-1650 is part of this festival. It is an outside event, usually in a big field, with period tents, store fronts, jousting arenas and makeshift theaters. The Faire is open each weekend for about 2 months during the summer. Professional actors are in costume as members of the Faire, and help set the stage for your experience at the event. Don’t be afraid to engage with them, it makes the experience so much fun! For example, you will learn very quickly what a “Privy” is!
- There are a number of very large fairs world wide, in the USA we have 4 major faires:
I have been to of the above but the Faire in California. Each faire is a bit different and you will find that it’s fun to travel and see what the other one’s are like. They are ADDICTIVE for those of us who love costumes and becoming someone else for a day.
- Do you have to wear a costume? The answer is no. However, you will have so much more fun if you go in costume. As a creative person, you will find so much to inspire you to sew more at the faire! Before you begin your costume, you need to decide what sort of character you would like to be. If you study history of the time (great thing to do with your kids) you will find there was a distinct difference in social classes that determined what sort of clothing they wore.
Peasant Class: Poor people with little or money to spend. Clothing was very simple, no prints or patterns other than an occasional tartan. No fancy buttons, trims or elastics. Clothes were made from light to mid weight woven cottons, linen, gauze, wool and burlap. Unfinished types of leather such as shearling or suede. Colors include off white, beige, light blue, dark blue, orange-red, russet, light browns, grey.
High Social Class: Members of the Nobility, Judges, Gentlemen and people of wealth. Clothing includes lavish textured or embroidered pieces, delicate laces and trims, silver or gold buttons, fine leather. Prints were lavish brocades, damask, finely woven linens, velvets, taffeta, silk and satins. Colors included shades of purple, red, black, white, dark brown, green.
Each color that was worn during this time period symbolized something about the social status of the person who was wearing it. For example, light blue was worn by marriageable young women, greens by youths, yellow by prostitutes etc. You can read more about Rennassiance color symbolism here.
- What should you wear? Let’s begin with what not to wear. Do not wear:
- Tennis shoes
- modern apparel and athletic wear
- High heels
- graphic t shirts, blue jeans
- baseball caps
- heavy winter clothing (it’s always the hottest day of the year at the faire)
- What can you sew for the event? What type of class you choose will determine some of what you make, but here are some ideas. Let’s start with the ladies:
- long full skirts
- cotton chemise (under dress) or blouse
- satchel (a simple drawstring purse)
- snood (a net that is worn over long hair)
- crescent shaped headpiece or veil
- cape or wrap
- blouse with ties on the front, with leg o’mutton sleeves
- skinny pants or leggings with long boots and a big blouse (think Pirate costume)
- loose fitting hat or bonnet
For the Men:
- loose billowy under shirts with open necks and big sleeves
- doublet or vests in leather or faux leather
- jerkin or loose fitting top over the under shirt
- loose fitting pants or cropped pants
- leather breeches
- tartan sash and kilt
- flamboyant flat style caps
- garments with fur trim
- pumpkin hose (balloon-ish style breeches covering the upper thigh)
Sewing and construction:
Garments during this time would have been custom made completely by hand. Fortunately, due to the popularity of the event there are a number of great historical patterns available. I chose a Simplicity Renaissance costume collection pattern that had both a peasant class design and a high class one.
It’s relatively easy to find plain cottons or linen. Look for brocades and fancier types of fabrics in the home decor department. The corset I made is made from gold brocade, perfect for this period.
When sewing, stick with simple stitches straight stitching or zig zag. I would not bother serging the seam allowances unless you plan on wearing your costume regularly.
General info on Corsets:
Not as hard to make as you think. The corset is the foundation garment worn over the chemise to support the bust and shape the waist. You will not want to wear a bra under this garment, although you may be tempted to do so. A corset is actually quite comfortable to wear provided it is not extremely tight and you can still breath and move in it.
Corsetry will require using boning. Boning during the Renaissance period was made from animal bones, today the choices are plastic or steel boning. I would suggest starting with plastic because it’s easy to use and rather forgiving to wear. Once you understand the construction of the garment, steel boning will be an easy transition. Essentially you are adding an interlining, an inner layer of material to the corset with vertical seams that contains the boning. Channels are stitched along the seam lines and then the boning is inserted. I discovered that the seam allowances are only ⅜” for this corset pattern not the usual ⅝”. That’s something to look out for. I really love my corset, it was easy to add the gromets in the front with the lace up ties. I am looking forward to making another one soon.
The chemise and skirt are easy to sew. I cheated and added elastic to my chemise, it’s not historically accurate but I don’t think anyone would ever know it was there. You can decide what works for you. I have seen a lot of different things at the Faire, unfinished hemlines are completely okay. It’s a costume, you can take it as far as you like, or just keep it simple.
You can read more of the sewing specifics on my lifestyle blog here:
I have a huge Renaissance Inspiration board on Pinterest if you need more costume ideas! Click here to join the board.