Stomacher fit for a…Puritan?

For Halloween this year my sister and I went as witches.

Real, authentic, 17th century, running-from-Puritan witches.

Enter: 1693. You know, the period that (for me at least) is notoriously hard to find accurate information on.

So, enter: flying-by-the-seat-of-my-educated-guess.

One thing I knew for sure: of the most important pieces of my outfit this year was going to be my stomacher. Last year I ran short on time and didn’t have time to trim the dress I wore for our pirate-themed year. As such,the center front was a few inches short on either side and it was a real struggle to sew myself into my dress the night of and get it to close. I had to lace my stays really tight but it closed (although it looked terribly messy).

So this year, my resolution was to follow the wisdom of our ancestors and create an outfit that could be worn easily no matter how loosely I wanted to lace my stays.

Brief blurb about stomachers, to give a bit of background:

Stomachers were most popular from the 16th to the 18th century. Usually triangular in shape, they covered the front opening of a lady’s bodice and were worn by women of  levels of society. Easier to make and more cost-effective than a whole new ensemble, they were a good way to bring variety to a woman’s wardrobe and they also accommodated her changing shape over the course of her life. See some examples.

I searched long and hard to find original source material that I could base my design on and one of the closest (and one of the only) pieces of artwork I came across was Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary by Anonymous.


Painted sometime around the 1670’s, it showed fashions a bit early for what I was aiming for but it was a good starting point. Analyzing her outfit, the key details are her short, rolled sleeves and the ladder lacing across what I had to assume was her green stomacher.

I looked up a few secondary art sources and drew inspiration from them, but relied most heavily on the details of Mrs. Freake’s outfit.


To make the stomacher, I started by drafting the bodice pattern and then the stomacher pattern on top of it. I apparently forgot to take a picture of that part.


But here you can see the shape. I sandwiched a single zip tie between two layers of cotton duck  and zipped around the edges on my machine.


I had the idea to make it reversible, so I cut out a layer of fabric that would match my skirt and bodice and a layer that would match my purple petticoat. I stitched the brown layer down in the car on the way to my grandma’s house and added four tabs made from some tan twill tape that I randomly found around the house. Then I stitched the purple layer on on the way back from her house.

With and without creepy makeup

I laced my stays fairly loosely that night. My bodice was made to lace closed at the bottom, but it was very comfortable – and looked good – open all the way down.

I pinned it to my stays with straightpins and it didn’t budge an inch all night. I had toyed with the idea of adding a waist tape, but I’m glad I didn’t. Here it is at the end of the (very long, very wet) night.


I wore the purple side for Halloween – it felt much more witchy – but I definitely want to do something fun with the “Puritan” side. Hopefully a photo-shoot (or something) once I’ve had the chance to make some accessories to go with the outfit. I didn’t have time to make any for Halloween night, but I found this time period to be really interesting and definitely want to revisit it once I’ve had the chance to do more solid research. Until then, here’s to Mrs. Freake! Thanks for the inspiration!


Fabric: White cotton duck, purple linen, brown linen blend
Pattern: Self-drafted
Year: c. 1680s
How historically accurate is it? I haven’t a clue. I was really just guessing on this one.
Hours to complete: About 3 or 4, altogether
First worn: Halloween 2016
Total cost: All leftover fabric from other projects, so cost was very minimal

Yellow Waistcoat (HSM #7)

I’m already thinking about Halloween.

Correction: I’m already sewing for Halloween.

And, considering the number of garments on my list to get done in just four short months, I should probably be farther than I am. *Gulp*

At least I can check the first thing off my list: a 1690’s waistcoat for my brother. He will be portraying a villager in New England, of an as-of-yet undetermined status. Wealthy? Poor? Judge? Clergyman? We’ll pinpoint it later.

Doing research for this project was really hard. I found hardly any sources on 1690’s New England American fashion and even fewer pieces of artwork from the period to study. What I did find showed hardly any details of the clothing, too. Mostly just basic cut and color for formal-wear.

Self-Portrait by Thomas Smith; American c. 1680

A couple of the best sources I found were “17th Century Links” at Isis’ Wardrobe and the “Getting Dressed for Men’s Guide” 1680s-1720s from Reconstructing History. Piecing some things together, I decided to base the waistcoat on Simplicity 4923 and go from there.

I used the same adjustments I made to the pattern for him last year in addition to extending it down a few inches to reach mid-thigh and making the front straight instead of curved. Here’s my reasoning behind it:

“…waistcoat at first extending below hip, thigh-length and collarless, c. 1670, and to the knee or below, 1670-1720…with or without sleeves…” – Western World Costume: An Outline History by Carolyn G. Bradley p. 198

sourcesourcesourcesource – sourcesource

I tried to tone down the illustrations and make the waistcoat suitable for a Puritan setting.

For the buttons, I found “Buttons” by The 1642 Tailor particularly informative and I followed the “How to Make Wool Buttons” tutorial by the Goodwyfe to make them.

 They were really fun to make; I’ve never done ones quite like it before. As for the pocket flaps, I kept them relatively simple (at least compared to last year’s) and I made them functional this time! There are actually pockets under them.

I sewed the whole thing by hand and did it all in less than 24 hours. I began about 7pm Saturday night and we were outside taking pictures of the final product by 5pm Sunday.

We took the photos just as the sun was starting to go down, so there’s a bit of color variation in the fabric depending on what area of the yard we were standing in. The second and last photos are most true to color; it’s a rich, buttery yellow in real life.

I’d pay more attention to the buttonholes next time, although I’m not too displeased with how they came out. They just could be better. The stitches aren’t close enough together and the floss I used to do them matched the color of the fabric in the house. As soon as we took it outside, the buttonholes stood out, white, against the waistcoat. Sigh.

At the same time as I was sewing the waistcoat, I took a few minutes to update his Renaissance shirt and bring it into the 17th century (and beyond) by adding buttons.

As for the inside, it’s not as pretty as the outside. I didn’t line it because the fabric is so thick and warm…plus I didn’t have any linen lying around. So…unlined it will remain! I pinked the edges to prevent unraveling and save myself some time. I’m not sure that’s it a period finishing technique but I know that pinking has been around for a few centuries before  the waistcoat, so it’s not too outside the realm of possibilities. At least that’s what I like to tell myself. Anyone know the real answer?

The Challenge: Monochrome (HSM #7)
Fabric: Yellow wool
Pattern: Simplicity 4923 as a base
Year: 1690’s
Notions: Cream thread, pale yellow embroidery floss. Fabric buttons.
How historically accurate is it? Eh…there was a lot of conjecture on this piece. I’d estimate around 60-70%.
Hours to complete: One day.
First worn: Sunday for pictures!
Total cost: Everything from my stash. I didn’t pay more than $5 for the whole length of fabric from Goodwill and I used about 2/3 of it total.