Make your own girl's Tudor kirtle
Make your own kirtle
We have created this original pattern for you inspired by a variety of historical sources, including paintings and existing examples of clothing from the 16th century. The pattern is intended to interpret a look whilst being simple to make.
The kirtle, a basic item of 16th century female clothing, has a close fitting body with a full-length pleated skirt. This pattern has been developed to fit a ten year-old child, however the sleeveless style and front opening of the kirtle means that it could fit a child aged 9-11 without any major alterations.
Time to make: two full days
Choosing your fabric
What sort of impression would you like your kirtle to make?
For a drop-dead gorgeous, expensive kirtle, you might choose a silky fabric in rich colours such as red, gold or black. The heavier the fabric, the more expensive the kirtle will look. Patterned fabric was very fashionable in Tudor England and big simplified floral and geometric patterns were preferred.
You could also add trimming to the kirtle to display even more wealth. Bands of trimming called ‘guards’ were often added to the edge of garments to decorate them; the more bands that were added, the more expensive the garment. You could use strips of velvet ribbon to achieve this effect or you could add lengths of gold braid to create a more sumptuous garment.
The most expensive kirtles would have jewelled necklines which would be seen beneath the square neckline of the French gown. You might like to trim your kirtle with beads and pearls - fake, of course!.
Or a bit more High Street?
If you would like the kirtle to look practical, you might choose a more hard-wearing fabric such as wool. Fine wool was often as expensive as silk but would last longer and was therefore considered more practical and economical. You might like to add a touch a luxury to the kirtle by applying velvet ribbon ‘guards’.
Use your imagination to think about who might have worn this kirtle in the past, what they might like and what they would have been able to afford. You can use some of these ideas and combine them in different ways according to your personality.
You might like to think about the fabrics, colours and trimmings which are fashionable now, think about the ways we express ourselves through clothing, our status symbols and our favourite pastimes.
Henry VIII was a fashionable King who used clothing to send messages to his courtiers and subjects. What message might you like to send to Henry VIII when you visit him at Hampton Court Palace?
What was a kirtle?
Every woman and girl would have worn a kirtle in Medieval and Tudor times. This basic female garment was a dress that fastened with lacing or hook and eye closures at the front, sides, side-back or back. Kirtles were often, although not always, made with sleeves which may have been attached to the kirtle or tied or pinned in place. It is possible that early 16th century kirtles were boned to give a bit more shape, but we can’t be sure.
The kirtle could be worn over a petticoat and a linen undershirt, called a smock. It formed the foundation for the gown which was worn over the top. The French gown was the most formal gown worn at the royal court. The kirtle was visible beneath the open front of the gown’s skirt and often at the square neckline, which could be expensively trimmed. The styles of this period maximised the display of wealth by revealing layers of clothing all made from expensive fabrics with elaborate trimming.
The kirtle was also worn beneath a loose, coat-like gown. This is considered to be a more practical and comfortable style of clothing; less formal but still fashionable and expensive.
In the 16th century, children were dressed as mini adults. For high-status families, the production of ‘heirs and spares’ to secure their dynastic line was very important. As soon as they could toddle, children were restrained in smaller versions of adult styles and groomed for their future roles.