The 17th Century Challenge, aka The “Sink or Swim”

I’ve officially tossed my needle threader into the ring and joined the 17th century challenge. Please feel free to remind me 12 months from just how darned excited I am about it at the moment.

Deciding what to reproduce has been tough. After all, fashion changes a lot in 100 years and the 1600’s are no exception. On top of that, I have some criteria.

Nothing that displays a lot of boobage.


Nothing in the other extreme, either.

17th century French Nuns - ‘Le Costume Historique’

17th century French Nuns – “Le Costume Historique”


Nothing too odd (if these are part of your country’s historical dress, no offense intended).


And no mongo ruffs or mysterious construction challenges.


Then there are gowns I love but don’t yet have the technical knowledge required to finish them in less than a decade.


And there are gowns I could probably manage, more or less, but don’t currently have the financial resources for the massive amount of silk required.


And, of course, this fabulous Dutch riot of color and prints which I would so love to make but which will take years of collecting fabrics to pull it off. (My apologies in advance for any eye strain.)

Dutch dress made from 'sitsen' (fabric whose designs were influenced by oriental patterns brought back by Dutch seafarers from the East (=Java, China, India, Japan) in the 16th-17th century.

Dutch dress made from ‘sitsen’ (fabric whose designs were influenced by oriental patterns brought back by Dutch seafarers from the East (Java, China, India, Japan) in the 16th-17th century.


So, after looking at thousands (literally) of 17th century images I’ve narrowed it down to three that are in my financial reality and current level of skill.

Candidate #1 – Robe à corsage baleiné

Here’s the original description in French and the desperately bad Goolge translation:

Robe à corsage baleiné et cintré à découpe simple, sans pointe, avec décolleté carré garni sur les cotés de rabats blancs de coton juxtaposé à de l’organza à plis religieuses avec guipure étroite à effilés ornant les bordures, manches bouffantes par fonçage surtout à la partie dos arrivant au niveau du coude avec petite pièce imitant un aileron à l’épaule rabaissant l’emmanchure et avec empiècements supplémentaires sous-jacents aux rebras, de même confection que le rabat ; jupe froncée, plat devant, cousue au corsage à taille surélevée et à peine plus longue en arrière ; cette robe est confectionnée de drap de laine à rayures de différentes grosseurs et à différents tons de bruns et de beige de gros fil à tissage diagonal avec passepoil de même tissu.

Dress bodice boned and curved to simple cutting, without tip, with square neckline trimmed on the sides of white cotton side flaps to the organza to religious folds with narrow lace to tapered adorning the edges, puff sleeves by driving especially at the back section arriving at the elbow with small room imitating a spoiler to the shoulder lowering the armhole and underlying additional inserts to the same clothing as the flap; skirt, ruched, flat front, sewn onto the bodice at raised and barely longer size back; This dress is made of wool cloth stripes of different sizes and different shades of Brown and beige large wire diagonal weave with self-fabric piping.

Candidate #2 – Robe à corsage cintré

Again, the original French and accompanying wacko Google translation. (By the way – the other translators did even worse. Yes, really.)

Robe à corsage cintré et baleiné avec pointe devant seulement, décolleté rond garni d’une ruche de lin et d’une modestie provenant d’un empiècement drapé à trois attaches décoratives faisant figure de chemise bouffant entre deux parties d’un corsage devant, manches courtes à peine froncés à l’emmanchure dos, avec sous manches ruché par une cordelette aux poignets s’apparentant à ladite chemise; jupe froncée séparée ; le tout de lainage chamarré à gros tissage vertical de fils multicolores avec prédominance de bleu et d’orange avec rajout accents de taffetas bleu.

Bent and boned bodice with tip front only, dress round neck topped with a hive of flax and a modesty from a yoke draped with three decorative fasteners making figure of shirt baggy between two parts of a bodice front, short sleeves barely ruffles at the back armhole, with under sleeves ruched by a cord at the wrists akin to said shirt; ruched skirt separated; All wool bedecked big vertical woven of multicolored with predominance of blue and orange with added accents of blue taffeta.

Candidate #3 – Classic Vermeer

Woman with a Water Jug, by Vermeer

Woman with a Water Jug


So – I’m curious to know which one gets your vote, and why – even if it’s one from the no-no groups.

I’m leaning heavily toward the Robe à corsage cintré (#2) because I like the neckline, the sleeve treatment, the overall style and it’s well within my sewing ability. The skirt is separate, the bodice is only pointed in the front and the front-lacing makes it easy to put on without needing help to lace up the back.

I’ll probably have to substitute linen for the flax chemise, depending on cost and/or availability. And finding similar fabric for the bodice and skirt will be a bit of a challenge – but at least I’ll have time to search while making the chemise and corset.

And now I need to go wash a small mountain of muslin.


3 thoughts on “The 17th Century Challenge, aka The “Sink or Swim”

    • Hi! They are something, aren’t they?

      They came primarily from Pinterest and Google searches…lots of them. “17th Century Garments” is a good search on both Google and Pinterest. “17th century womens clothing” is another good one. I just tried all the combinations I could think of. For Google I start my searches with “images of” and it seems to bring up more than plodding through the web sites.

      I’m a Pinterest…uh…enthusiast and have 455 pins on my 17th Century Dress board. There are period portraits, extant garments, and a few other 17th century fiddly bits. Most, if not all, of the images I posted are on there. Please feel free to poach as desired. 🙂

      And thanks for starting this challenge – it may do me in, but I’m already learning a lot.

    • Take a look at this one! “Woman’s Jacket, Coromandel Coast, India (chintz), and Hindeloopen, The Netherlands (construction), mid-18th century. Cotton, mordant- and resist-dyed, and painted; jacket, pieced from three patterns of chintz, bodice lined and padded with cotton, sleeves lined with printed cotton, trimmed with silk velvet and Dutch weft-patterned tape (langetband). Veldman-Eecen Collection, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, 2012.22.13″

      The Peabody Essex Museum has a page devoted to their acquisition of Dutch chintzes. Enjoy!

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