Opinions about modern "costume" patterns published by the big companies, for use in the SCA or similar organizations

by and copyright by © 2001 Cynthia Virtue

This article was originally posted on rec.org.sca in the fall of '98, and was updated in the spring of '00 and again in the spring of '01, although not as thoroughly.  Your local costume guild or costumer's association may have their own opinions about these patterns, and some of them are webbed on those organization's webpages.  Compare notes!  We will all have different interpretations on these.

Important: Your usual clothing size will NOT be the same size that the pattern companies list.  Take measurements and compare them to the tables listed on the back of the pattern envelope to get the right size.  Then make a quick mock-up out of cheap fabric to make sure you have the right size.

You may also find information at the Great Pattern Review to be of use.

Quick Opinion Table - Grades according to history, not overall keenness for fantasy costuming

Note that for most of these, you can see them by going to the website of the pattern company, and clicking a catalog, then the Costume section.  Some of the women's outfits are also under Bridal.
A * with the pattern number means it is reviewed below.  Those without stars will have reviews shortly.
Pattern # Company Description Grade Copyright/Comments
9758 Simplicity Women's fantasy outfits; picture is one in red, one yellow F 2001.  Inspired by the past, but looks fantasy/goth.
9753 Simplicity Men's Merlin & King outfit F 2001.
9454 Simplicity Women's fairy costumes F 2001
9653 Simplicity Men's Tudor suits, hosen A 2001.  Size to XXL
9650 Simplicity Men's Tudor coat, hat, cloak, chain A "  "
9533 Simplicity Women's Ital. Ren coats B 2000. To XL
9531 Simplicity Women's Ital. Ren dress.  Possible source B "  "
9045 Simplicity Women's gown & coat D 1999. Pre-Raphaelite.
8725* Simplicity Women's sideless surcoat and dress B 1999.  Size to 20
8728* Simplicity Hats for 8725 B 1999.
8881* Simplicity Women's Elizabethan outfit A 1999.  Size to 20. "Shakespeare in Love" inspired.
8735/9928* Simplicity Women's Italian Ren dress.  Durer drawing A 1999. Sixe to 32W. "Ever After" inspired.
9058* Simplicity Women's Burgundian dress & hats B 1999.  Size to 20
8249/8715* Simplicity Women's dress & hat B 1998.  Size up to 24W
7761* Simplicity Men's tunics, hose, cloak C 1997. size to XL
7756* Simplicity Women's dress & hat B 1997.  Size to 20
2248 McCall's Men's cotehardie C 1999.
8827* McCall's Men's tunics, hose. C 1997.
9256 Simplicity Women's dress, Tudor B 2000 or earlier
9255 Simplicity Women's dress, Goth F 2000 or earlier
9246 Simplicity Women's dress D "  "
8913 & 9955 Simplicity Celtic for men & women D "  "
8192* Simplicity Women's Italian Ren dress Better off with  8735
8587 Simplicity Men & Women's outfits C 2000 or earlier
8750 Simplicity Women's dresses D "  " 
8318 Simplicity Children's C " "
8826* McCall's Women's sideless and dress C

On Grading

These have been given letter grades as in school, which translate to my subjective opinions:
A: I would be delighted to have this outfit with no modifications.
B: I think this outfit with no modifications, would be dandy for someone in the group for only a few years (ie, better than many types of newcomer garb out there) but needs some modifications to look more medieval or renaissance.
C: OK for someone with a short-term interest
D: Pretty, but not pre-17th century; may be Goth,  rock-star, or artsy.

May, 2001: I've just run through the current crop at the McCall's website; they have some new items, but I'm still not impressed.  If you're striving for accuracy, you're probably better off with the recent Simplicity patterns, although careful study of the time period will let you make modifications that will enhance any pattern.

My philosophy

Note that none of these will produce an entirely authentic kit.  However, if you use these with the modifications mentioned, you'll be better dressed than at least half of the people one sees attempting medieval outfits.  They give the newcomer a boost up, from which an interested person can go on to investigate medieval methods of construction.

How to find these, for the novice

Go to your local fabric store, and ask for the pattern books.  Usually a fabric store will have a long table hidden in a back corner, with pattern books scattered all over it.  Find the largest volume for each pattern company, and turn to the back where it will have a tab labeled "costumes."  You select your pattern from the catalog, and go over to giant lateral file cabinets which have the company names and pattern numbers on them.  Find your own size under the pattern number you're looking for, take the pattern envelope out, and buy it!  Sometimes, especially three months before Halloween, stores will have cardboard stand-up displays of new costume patterns.  These often have pattern numbers that do not match the later assigned numbers for these patterns.  You can window-shop for these on the web; at least for Simplicity.  You can buy them on the web, but you can get them half-off at the store, or even less, if the store has sales.  I've asked Simplicity if I can use their pictures, but haven't recieved a reply yet.  I may decide to put them in anyway.

Most stores will be happy to help you and answer questions about fabric, trims, and notions, but they are often short-handed and you might have to wait a bit.

When making them, check medieval illustrations before beginning, and decide if you want to make them "verbatim" or with changes.

Patterns released in 1998:

There are several this year that seem likely to produce entirely serviceable garb -- as Giraude mentioned; nothing extraordinatry, but useful.  There are also a few that seem beyond hope.  I bought copies of all the adult ones that I thought were good, to loan out to local folks as needed.  Here is my assessment of all of the ones that are decent.  (The ones not mentioned I thought were too far off the mark to be advisable for people new to costuming.  I looked at Butterick and Vogue as well as McCalls and Simplicity.)

McCall's 8827: men's tunics.  Has patterns for knee-length tunic, ankle-length, sleevless tabard.  Hat, ankle-length leggings, pouch.  Worst problem: ankle-length tunic has slits on the sides, up to the waist.  Slits in the cf and cb would be better, and not higher than the groin.  Other quibbles: collars are too big.  Pouch is a victorian circle-style. Hat is a beret; doesn't look like something seen in the middle ages.  Generally a good pattern.

There's another McCall's # 8826. Pattern is for sideless surcoat and kirtle/underdress.  Biggest problem: The front of the sideless curves up at the hem in front.  Really weird.  Hem should be parallel to ground all around, and no higher than ankle height.  Shoulders are also too wide; they should not be wider than wearer's shoulders.

The new ones for 98 are: Simplicity 7761: Mens' shirt, overgarment somewhat like a cotehardie, cloak, two hats, leggings which end at ankle. Worst problem: the over-garment has a v-shaped neck which is laced.  If it is a cotehardie, buttons all the way down the front and a reshaped closure would be more accurate.  Not a bad pattern.

Simplicity 7756: Two variants of women's dresses, Elizabethanoid.  My main comment is that the sleeve, because it is curved at the hem, rather than being a trumpet/cone shape, looks really odd when the arm is raised; the bottom drape of the sleeve points forward of the top edge by several inches.  I don't recall seeing rolled hats on servants in the elizabethan era.  Others mentioned that the shoulder straps would not have tied on for a dress; the corset underneath would have tie-on shoulder straps.  Grommets should be covered with thread if used, otherwise hand done buttonholes by the awl method should be used.  A good pattern, generally.

Simplicity 8192: Italian Ren dresses, with one Cavalier-look thrown in for good measure.  These get the look of the two-layer Italian Ren dress (underdress and overdress) by one underdress and a lacing bodice thingy. It looks good, though, *as long as you use heavy fabric*. I've seen several recently which used average weight poly-cotton for the main dress, and it looks rather like underwear if it is this thin.   View C has added large houppelande-style sleeves, which is a big of an innovation.  The Cavalier style look is achieved with a v-shaped waist on the bodice and lots of lace.  Don't trust the Cavalier version for the right look.  Others have noted that adding a split skirt to the Italian bodice thingy (just a rectangle of fabric, open at the front, well -gathered at the top) would improve this pattern 100%.

Simplicity 8249: Tudor for large women.  The main change I'd advise is to not use anywhere near that amount of contrasting trim.  If you must have trim, don't follow the bustline seam so closely; have it come down in front in a smooth V from the arm.  And if the skirt has trim, it should go at the bottom, not at the knee.  Otherwise, it looks like a good pattern, although I'm not sure where they got the idea that servants would hitch up their skirts like a balloon valence, rather than by tucking them in their belts.  The local store made the noble's one up in a light-grounded flowered chintz, with yards and yards of contrasting loop braid.  It looked like a sofa.  I'd strongly advise darker, richer colors like in the pattern picture.

Released in 1999

The success of the initial McCall's and Simplicity patterns has provoked a minor explosion.  With the exception of the McCall's mentioned above, I do not recommend any of their patterns for someone wanting close to an accurate look.  (For example, they have a men's pattern out this year which is probably best described as a cotehardie.  However, it is too full for a cotehardie, which should fit snugly, and the sleeves are almost trying to be houppelande sleeves, but fail.)

Simplicity, however, has been doing very well.  They have some "highland" outfits which I have not reviewed here, because they are a century or two out of the SCA's period.  Medieval and Renaissance offerings are:

Simplicity 8735 and larger sizes in 9228-- Clearly meant to cash in on the movie Ever After; Italian Renaissance styles for women.
This is a very pretty pattern.  It has both underskirt and overskirt, with tie-on oversleeves.  The chemise is just sleeves and a bodice insert, but fairly believable, except for the fabric choices which are various pastel lurex variants.  Needs better hat options.  One of the slightly odd things about this pattern is that the white dress shows an off-shoulder bodice; not common for Italian Renn, but one of the women on the Historic Costume list found this picture by Durer of a lady from Venice, which is *very* similar to the white dress: http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/sca/16thital/durer-vene1495-1.jpg

Simplicity 8725 (and related 8726, hats) Medieval cotehardie and sideless surcoat for women.
Beautiful; should look good on a larger woman as well.  The main problem with this pattern is that all the fullness for the skirt is contained in two half-circle pieces inserted on the sideseams.  The dresses on the pattern envelopes only look balanced because someone has pulled the fabric around on the floor to get it to hang right; if you wear it, you'll have large folds at your sides, and little in front or back.   Medieval cotehardies were often made of many segments, each with flared skirts, so that the fullness of the skirt would be spread around the body.  To solve this for this pattern, slit the center front and center back panels up to the same level that you would sew the side seam, and insert a quarter-circle at center front, center back, and each side.
The hats 8728: I believe that there are three hats in this pattern envelope, meant to go with the cotehardies.  Toque hat: very pretty.  Should be in white or off white, though, and they were probably not closed in on top (but the picture on the pattern envelope is inconclusive if it is closed); if worn with veil, should be white also.  Templars hat: the two cannister hat.  Not too bad, but the cannisters are too large; should be about the size of bathroom-tissue cores.  Could wear with a veil over all.  Big round white hat: this is taken from a 15th century portrait of the Magdalen; costumers call it "the Air Filter hat."  It's way out of period for a cotehardie, and is probably entirely allegorical for the time period of the original painting (1430s) , although there are some illustrations of Irish women wearing something like it 100 years later.

Simplicity 9058: Burgundian houppelandes and matching hats for women.
These aren't outstanding, but a few changes would make them much more believable.  The bodice on the on both needs to be more of a V, which might be difficult for a new costumer to do, but at least the triangular modesty panel should be raised an inch or two.  This isn't the period for round bosoms in the decoletage.  The wide sleeves go with the earlier version of the houppelande; these should be pretty much cylindrical from the upper arm to the wrist, or tapering -- see the sleeves on view B, but lose the ruffle at the wrist.
The hats: One never sees the hair with the style of hats these are imitating; pin it up underneath.  The veils should be white or off white transparent fabrics, and should come down to the eyebrow level in front, and go to shoulder length or mid-back.  The two-horns version is usually much more rounded at the tips, more like, um, breasts, not Madonna's breasts.

Simplicity 8881: Very much like the women's costumes in Shakespeare in Love
Very nice.  But you should read Margo Anderson's thorough review.
All material © 2001 Cynthia Virtue Email Author with comments
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