I had planned to spend my Christmas break not sewing or tinkering with thread and pins, but alas it was not to be. Before I went visiting family I decided I would tackle a quick make-do-and-mend project that I’ve had at the back of my mind for a good number of months.
Thinking ahead to banquet events for my current character has led to my reevaluation of her current wardrobe. Whilst I will be making a doublet (or two) for her once she is knighted, I decided I would add a shoulder cape to her ensemble along with the long sleeveless robe which has previously made an appearance. There are several paintings of fashionable Elizabethan men in their doublets and shoulder capes slung across the left shoulder and in my character research I found several etiquette guides for the SCA (for those of an Elizabethan frame of mind) making reference to gentlemen and their swords and capes – so when I came across an old piece of dress up costume in a clear out at my parents’ house, I decided I would attempt to adjust it for my purposes. As you have probably gathered from previous articles on here I am particular about getting cold or uncomfortable at events and plan for several eventualities when prepping character kit. With this cape I hope to be able to cover my shoulders should it turn nippy at events, even twinning it with my long robe for added warmth once my character has her sleeved doublet for best.
So, read on for a make-do-and-mend project for an Elizabethan-style hooded cape.
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Other sources of inspiriation were the shoulder capes worn by the different versions of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the Florentine “hero” of the Assassin’s Creed 2 game. With the game set in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, around the time of the Wars of the Roses and the early years of the Tudor dynasty, I assume it would have taken a good number of years for this Italian fashion to become part of the English scene.
This velvet and satin hooded cape was originally, believe it or not, a skirt. My grandmother turned it into a cape for a World Book Day way back when to accompany a gorgeous Belle ballgown (from Beauty and the Beast) she’d made for me. With its yellow lined flat hood, black lined body and button fastening; this cape outlived the ballgown that I loved to shreds (literally) and was put in storage for future things when I got older.
It was a little small with its gathered collar and the lining had been torn at some point in its past and the hood lining was far too garish for the characters that are likely to use this item. After a bit of rummaging in the scraps box I pulled together my materials and set to turning this old piece of costume kit into something I could continue to use.
I spent ages unpicking the hood from the collar and the collar from the main body of the cloak before taking the lining out of the hood. Because I did not want to destroy the velvet material, I was especially careful around the collar though it shed a lot after years of friction and wear. I salvaged the button fastening for another project, but had to discard the collar facing because it fell apart as the seams were unpicked and it was part of the reason the cape no longer fit me. It was at this point I discovered the gathering of both the cape and the hood, which I reduced when I put the cape back together.
After ironing the hood, hood lining and the replacement cotton sheeting flat I laid the new lining out under the old to mark the general shape I needed to replace (see below).
Once I’d marked up the shape with chalk I cut the two pieces of black cloth, pinned the central seam and sewed them together. Pressing this central seam flat to lessen the bulk I then pinned the lining to the hood RIGHT sides together and sewed along the outer edge, trying to match the previous seam allowance of the original, leaving the straight edge at the collar open. After turning the hood right sides out I ironed the two layers flat and stitched the collar closed with a straight-stitch. This made it a little easier to handle when I eventually joined the hood to the body.
I then unpicked the side seam of the body as the lining was already sew into the old waist of the skirt, before turning the whole thing inside out and resewed the lining sides to the front edge. Things didn’t quite go according to plan and there is a slight lopsidedness to the lower edge of the lining, but as its covered by the ruffled flounce at the bottom of the cloak its’s OK. This meant that the few tears in the lining were patched up or sewn out and I trimmed the seam before turning the whole lot right side out again. I chose to leave the bottom of the cape lining open so I can make any repairs in future and the raw edges are already hemmed nicely. After sewing the collar edge together again for security I then laid the hood and cape together to look at the fit.
The hood was slightly longer than the cape and as such had a couple of pleats added near the center seam to ease the fit. I sewed these together and prepared the collar facing to replace the band of cotton velvet I had previously discarded. With the collar length determined by the cape I cut a wide band of some suiting material I had to hand and pinned this to the hood side of the seam. Because the hood side of the seam is visible when the hood is lowered I wanted it to have a neat finish, which meant I had to hand sew the facing down along the cape side of the seam.
I pinned the facing to the cape and hand sewed the facing to the underlying cloth with a slip-stitch, being careful not to catch any of the cape outer with the stitches. Once I had this done I turned my attention to the fastening.
Now then, all my reading, picture surfing, Tudors-watching and general research on the Internet had shown me that people had made and did wear shoulder capes, but the closures were really difficult to spot amongst their doublets and other garments. So I decided I would just make some long ties and tie a bow or reef knot so that it sat somewhere under my armpit or across my chest when wearing the cape. This, upon further research after making the item, seems to be the wisest solution. One beautiful garment I found in my research can be found here.
To make the ties I cut some really really long bits of wool and braided. And braided. And braided like mad. I did this when sewing the cape with my sewing machine was unsocial for the neighbours and spent hours on it. My OH despaired as the long piece of braided thread worked its way around various door handles in our front room (occassionally obstructing his passage to and from the room) and was looped around chairs to help keep the tension constant, however after I braided the super long braid I cut it into three and braided a smaller, thicker, braid together which was just long enough to drape over my shoulders and tie. Ideally it should probably be a bit longer, maybe with a tassel end, but I was getting tired of braiding wool. The buttons are a pair I’d bought a while ago as possible Berwickshire badges for another character (the county symbol being a stag or a stag’s head) and I decided that they would do as a costume mock up of brooches or tie points should I choose to wear the cape across both shoulders with the cord tied in a bow. This makes the garment flexible for future characters.
So, I turned the cloak over and found the mid point of the cord, pinning it either side of the center seam of the hood. Because of the way the seam worked I didn’t want to risk stabbing through all the layers or have the braid fall out of the channel that forms between two pieces of cloth in a seam, so I kept the pins in at the center, loosely laid the braid out until it reached the edges of the cape and pinned it in place there before hand sewing both edges of the braid into place, easing the braid along the channel as I worked. I eventually sewed from one side of the center seam to one edge, then back along the whole length of the collar, then back towards the center from the edge. Then I sewed the buttons onto the edges of the collar after trying on the cape.
Below are pictures of the front, back and the closure details for the cape as it would be worn across both shoulders. However, taking photographs of the cape being worn over the left shoulder and tied across the chest proved a little more challenging without a tailor’s dummy, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.
Estimated time for completion ~ 1 day
And why the left shoulder? Wearing it over the left shoulder kept the right shoulder bare and free, meaning a gentleman is able to draw his sword and defend his honour, or that of his lady, without being encumbered with lots of swooshing cloth. Plus it looks dashing and a mite roguish.