I was inspired by images like this one by Peter Aertsen in the Kunstheistorisches Museum, vienna, Austria. which show women of the middling sort wearing laced gowns with pinned contrasting sleeves, and various types of partlet over a smock. Although the Aertsen painting is dated the first part of the 16th century, this combination seems to have held for a period spanning the end of the tudor era right through the elizabethan period, and spanned several different nationalities.
This painting by Vicenzo Campi (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) is dated 1580, and shows a mother and her daughter wearing gowns in a similar style to the Aertsen painting, although the childs seems to be rear laced. There's either a high necked smock or a partlet of linen under the gown, visible at the neck. The girls gown seems to be back lacing, or possibly side lacing: we have examples of both in adult garments. While it would be ideal to work from an extant childs garment, you can extrapolate from existing adult models, as children's clothing were typically made much like their parent's in miniature during this time in history (indeed, we don't really see specific childrens garments until much well into the 18th century, 1)
Girls Romantic Dress bodice, from sense and sensibility patterns, lengthening the waist, moving the side seam and re angling it to match period garments, and redrafting without the rear princess seam. I've made a bunch of dresses from this pattern, and knew it would work, the armhole would fit, etc etc etc. I could also use the cap sleeve as a base point for the pinned sleeve and know it would be the right size proportionally to the armhole. I on purpose left the center back too long, long enough to overlap and button, so that I could tuck extra inside the dress, giving possible room for expansion later.
I first figured out what the most skirt I could get from the shirt was, maintaining plaid matching, and then fussed round to see if I could fit the bodice pieces on the leftovers. Behold I could, but there was no way to do it without a center front seam. At this point I decided to add some trim to the bodice , which turned out to be fortuitous since I was also unable to miss all the moth holes that caused this shirt to be retired from service in the first place. Attaching trim is always a slippery slope. I began with every intention of just sewing the trim on. Then, since I don't like visible machine topstitching, I decided to sew it on with silk buttonhole twist and a running stitch.... then I decided it wouldn't be all that much work to just use a small decorative stitch.... and all the sudden I'm chain stitching all the trim down with silk buttonhole twist....
I made up the skirt, hemmed it with a hem tape (which is fudging a little, but so practical) and cartridge pleated it onto the bodice, using 1/2 inch basting stitches. When doing small people gowns I always use carpet and upolstry thread (The heaviest I can find) and put an extra stitch in every few pleats. Little people invariably do things like trying to stand up with their foot on their hems etc etc etc and can rip out cartridge pleating amazingly easily. Probably a heavy waxed linen thread would be good for this purpose as well, but I tend to have the generic modern kind on hand. (silk buttonhole twist would be extremely strong, but you should never sew seams into wool with silk, it tends to wear the fibers out and then the seams tear. Which is disheartening.)
She wore the outfit over a small linen smock, cut like my husband's shirts, and worked out of scraps
of handkerchief linen left from making said shirts. The odd sized leftover bits turn out to be just the right size for tiny human smocks. I added a scrap of lace to the neck, and fastened the neckline with a hook and eye, since I dislike slobbered on chewed on neck ties.
Finished! and ready for her to wear!
I still have a stack of shirts with moth holes and pants with the pockets worn out, so I was hoping to get a few more projects in this month, but everyone in the family got sick, so I was playing nurse mommy instead of sewing. I do plan to use those garments in upcoming children's outfits (everyone needs more clothes this year) so stay tuned.
1: History of children's costume, Elizabeth Ewing, Pg 25