I have found that a common sticking point for newcomers to the historical costuming world (once good fabrics and patterns have been obtained) is trim. How much? How little? Is there a right way, a wrong way? What trim is good, what trim is bad, and is there any way of knowing?
What this ends up with in the Elizabethan arena is a lot of people with identically trimmed doublets. Sure, the easiest way to trim is to simply cover every seam with ribbon - it's a period, time-tested, and simple (though time-consuming) way to go. Alternatively, you can turn to your Janet Arnold and copy one of the trim layouts in her pattern drafts.
In the land of the costumer, copying is a fact of life. One person does something, it looks nice, a bunch of other people copy it. This is a workable solution (as long as the original design is correct), but does mean that as a group, we resemble, as a good friend once said, "An Elizabethan J. Crew catalogue". There's no need to look like everyone else, but it is scary to step away from the crowd and do something new.
In aid of stepping out and looking fabulous, I have drawn out a dozen different trim layouts (some with sleeve and skirt/shoulder tab treatments) for doublets, all from 16th and early 17th century sources. Each one is painted in colours that are correct for the period, though the colours do not always match the original source. Some are changed for ease of viewing, and some are changed to show the really wide range of colours available in the Elizabethan era (hint: it's not all faded blues and browns).
Please Note: The backs of the doublets are speculative, as most portraits only show the front. I have extrapolated from the visible design of each painting/woodcut, using my knowledge of period trim styles.
This doublet is from a portrait of William Brodrick, 1614. The colour is meant to suggest leather, as this style of trim lends itself well to a leather doublet, but it also works for fabrics. The style is similar to what you will see on many re-enactors - the trim follows the seam lines, and edges the tabs and button placket. However, this design hopefully shows the impact that adding a second line of trim can bring to an outfit - though there is little in the way of fancy styling, the combination of the wide bands of trim and masculine tailoring give this doublet a very elegant but still practical look.
This style is good for someone who is new to Elizabethan costuming, as it is simple and reasonably quick to produce.
Here is a front and back view of a doublet decorated with an adapted version of this design layout. The doublet is linen, and the trim is cheap ($1 for 2 spools) polyester satin ribbon. I used roughly 31 yards of ribbon, and it is all sewn on by hand.
An added bonus of sewing on the ribbon was that the tabs at the waist had not originally been interfaced (I did not make this doublet, but even if I had, I'm not sure I'd have bothered to interface it back then - I would do so now), and they tended to fold over and be generally floppy. With the addition of the ribbon, they stayed in shape much better.
This doublet (technically a jerkin) is from a wall painting c.1580, at Pittleworth Mannor, in Bossington, Yorkshire. The thin lines indicate slashes, as they did in teh original painting, and the long lines in particular mean that the original (probably imaginary) garment was intended to be leather, like many outer doublets of the time.
The term "jerkin" denotes a doublet that has no sleeves; it would be worn over a sleeved doublet, not over a shirt. In the colder climes of Elizabethan England, the extra warmth was welcome, and there was a fashion for wearing one doublet on top of another. The sleeveless nature of the jerkin allows the sleeves of the under doublet to show.
Some things to note on the trim - the angled front is true to the original - if this was designed with a peasecod belly, then the angled lines would help to emphasize that. I made the back straight, since it would be more flattering. The skirt tabs are cut in that curved fashion - there are several paintings that show shaped skirt tabs, and they all appear to be on leather doublets, which lends itself well to the shaped style. The top front of the collar is also shaped and not buttoned - another style I have seen in other paintings.
This is from a woodcut of gentlemen in a tavern, c.1600. The woodcut is crude, like many of its day, but the two-level design of the doublet can clearly be seen.
(My painting turned out slightly wonky; the horizontal trim across the front should be straight, not angled. Thus we see the importance of measuring beforehand.)
This doublet is quite entertaining; the combination of thick vertical and horizontal lines almost give the effect of a corset. For the less bold, the design adapts well to a half-trimmed doublet if you leave off the horizontal trim.
A good example of what can be done with simple trim and plain fabric.
From an engraving of Robert Devereaux, 1599. Yes, this is a period colour - it's a combination of madder and yellow (the original picture is black and white). The trim layout on this one would definitely need to be measured ahead of time, as the design actually moves up into the collar, and the chevrons match across the body of the doublet.
I would not recommend doing this one in yellow and black, unless you like being called "Charlie Brown".
This should be done with two bands of ribbon - they could even be sewn together prior to being laid out, since they're touching - to preserve the doubled effect of the lines. It provides visual interest in a way that a single wider ribbon would not.
Note also that the trim is not laid along the edge of the collar, cuffs, or tabs. This preseves the angle effect of the main trim.
From a 1563 portrait by Netherlandish artist Cornelius de Zeeuw. In this doublet, the trim is still doubled, but now spaced out slightly, allowing the fabric of the doublet to show between. The vertical lines are closer together, and the cuffs, collar, and tabs are edged, but the design is consistent from neck to tabs.
Note that the lines are all angled from the center front and back (creating a mirror image), and how the sleeves match the body on each side (rather than being angled in the opposite direction).
Again, this would require careful measuring, but it's a great way to make a really eye-catching doublet using very simple materials.
This is probably the most complicated trim layout on this page - it is adapted from a partial view of a doublet on the title page of The Booke of Faulconrie, published 1575. The back is conjecture, but the sleeve and skirt tabs and the crazy zig-zag trimming are original.
Note the rounded tabs - this is not an unusual style, and is a nice change from square tabs. The only thing to remember when making them is that the trim you use will need to be fairly flexible to curve around - this is a good place to use bias-cut fabric, as it will curve better (which is why modern bias tape goes around curves so nicely).
Also note the edging trim is single width, but the vertical and zig-zag trim lines are double width. The button placket is edged on both sides to provide a solid center point for the design, and the zig-zag goes up into the collar.
While time-consuming, this design is guaranteed to make an impact - much as it would have in 1575.
This doublet is from an engraving of Elizabeth I by Chrispin van der Passe, 1596. I have removed the long outer sleeve to show off the intricately tied inner sleeve.
The large bows are not unique to this doublet - several of Elizabeth's outfits featured bows, and I have found them on men's doublets as well. The sleeve is not complicated in construction - it is a regular sleeve pattern cut in vertical panes, then tied in measured spaces with bows (most likely permanently attached). The sleeve tabs are large loops, and the visual focus of the doublet is definitely the sleeves.
This kind of doublet would go very well with a blackworked shift, which would show through the sleeve panes.
The doublet body is fairly simple, but the long vertical lines are flattering and add extra impact without distracting from the sleeves.
The skirt tabs are a smaller version of the looped sleeve tabs - the looped tab shows up a lot, and appears to be a common decorative style.
You can also combine two doublets with similar styling, as in this one, which is a combination of a 1612 potrait of Phineas Pett, and a 1620 portrait of James I&VI. The bows on the sleeves and shoulders are actually constructed of a button center with four puffs, and would not untie.
The sleeve is split down the center front, and again, the design is strongly vertical, emphasized by the width of the trim.
I think that this "trim" would actually be fabric cut to shape, especially around the arms, where it would be almost impossible to get a neat curve on such a wide piece of trim. This would be especially attractive in a low-pile velvet.
Apart from the extra cutting and the bow construction, this doublet shows the impact you can make with less time investment by using large trimming.
The wonderful thing about thin trim is that it can be doubled or, as in this case, tripled, to create a larger effect with beautiful texture.
This doublet is from a 1598 portrait of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, and the original is white trim on white satin, so very subtle. For those of us who like to create a big visual impact while not blowing the bank on yards of very expensive satin, the eye can be easily distracted from the simplicity of the fabric with a bold combination of colours, as in this case. The trim layout is extremely simple; the important thing to note is that it goes all the way down into the skirt tabs and all the way up into the collar.
Not the tiny black lines on all the edges; these are very small slashed edges, achieved by attaching a very short loop of fabric on each edge (between the lining and the shell), and cutting it once it is sewn in.
This is an ideal design for fingerloop or straight braided trims.
This one is from the Omnium pene Europae, Asiae, atque Americae Gentium Habitus by Abraham de Bruyn, 1540-1587. It is a woman's doublet, though men's and women's doublets are largely interchangeable at this time. The inner sleeves are either attached, or are on a second doublet underneath (but if you keep the top doublet buttoned, no-one will ever know, I guess).
This is a good example of what you can do with a very simple trim, like a braided cord or a thin ribbon - it requires careful measuring (I recommend drawing out the trim lines before sewing), and works in almost any combination. In this version, the lines on the body point up instead of down, the sleeves are straight lines, and the skirt and shoulder tabs (note the double shoulder tabs) are slashed or small, closely set tabs. This tabbing is also present on the cuffs and the collar. - note how the tab/slash lines on the skirt tabs are roughly lined up with the trim on the body.
The tabs are slashed to echo the trim, but the cuts allow the tabs, collar, and cuffs to move a little (and to bend attractively under a small set of ruffs).
This, again, is a good doublet layout for a beginner - the design details in the slashed double tabs and slashed collar/cuffs can be incorporated, or left out for the nervous beginner (though they're not hard to do - 1. Add tabs, 2. Cut tabs), but the trim can be laid out with simple measuring.
This style is also ideal for a thin braided trim.
And finally, a picture most of you are familiar with - The 1575 Darnley portrait of Elizabeth I. The brocade on the original makes it hard to see, but the entire doublet is trimmed with a beautiful gold lace. The sleeve treatment is unusual in that it doesn't show up much in paintings of the time, but the fitted lower sleeve lends itself well to the trim layout.
The button treatment is very attractive, and does show up a lot, most noticeably on German coats, and it may be that Elizabeth liked the look. In any case, it is simple to reproduce with a nice trim or fabric.
The skirt tabs are looped, and the sleeve shoulders and upper cuffs are also looped tabs, with false silk puffs in between.
All these designs are easily attainable; all it takes is patience and time. The time you spend making things look right pays off in a garment that will maintain its wearability for years.
Some more designs that are very similar to the ones featured above (click on thumbnail for full-size picture and description):
Half a Dozen Basic Tips for Trimming:
1. Stay away from flowers, pictures, plastic metallics, and "celtic" or "tapestry" designs. Your best source for really cheap trim is the satin ribbon-on-a-spool sold in fabric stores (3 yards to a spool, usually under $2 per spool). For more period trims, look for linen or wool tape in various widths from historical suppliers. If you buy it undyed, you can use it as is, or dye it any colour you like to match or contrast with your clothing. Trim can also be made from strips of fabric - you can create a trim that goes around curves better if you cut it on the bias (diagonally) - and from braided silk and linen thread.
2. Most of the trim layouts shown will require a minimum of 20 yards of trim (always measure your project before buying trim if possible). This is another reason to stay away from the fancy designs. They liked lots of decoration back then, and that $10/yard trim can really drain your clothing budget.
3. If you use a metallic lace (and it was used in period), make sure you buy a high quality one that looks like proper gilt bobbin/needle lace. Many modern metallic laces are poorly made, and a lot of the base cotton shows through, or they are very cheap plastic (mylar) that looks completely modern. Look for laces that actually feel like metal.
4. Stay away from curtain trims. They are not colour-fast (especially the red ones), rot quickly, are a pain to work with, and absolutely aren't correct for clothing. If you can't find something fancy that looks good, stick to something plain and well-made.
5. Always hand-sew your trim. There is no way to make a machine-sewn line look like anything but machine sewing, and it is much harder to keep your trim lines even when using a machine. If hand-sewing isn't your thing, this probably isn't a useful article for you, but I'm glad you're reading it anyway.
6. Take the time to sew your trim properly - keep your stitches small and close together. Don't be tempted to make the stitches larger or the spaces between them bigger to save time - this will lead to puckering (no, really, it will. Don't do it). With careful stitching, trim can be eased around curves with a minimum of buckling, and the thread is far less likely to catch on something and snag. In addition, smaller stitches mean that even if a thread does break, a much smaller length will come undone, as the thread is less likely to pull out. Always use beeswax to minimize knots and tangles.
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.