Author Archives: Michaela de Bruce

Cut my Cote review

Oh this desperately needs to be reprinted. I requested it as an interloan, and not every library has that function nor do all libraries do interloans outside of selected systems. I’ve known about it for some time, of course, but I never really needed it for my focus. But, yes, working my way through the interpretations of what a mantua is meant I needed it to really understand where those theories came from.

Which brings me back to the importance of reprinting Cut my Cote.

We all know, now, how difficult it was for Janet Arnold to get her publishers to understand the actual needs of those using her works. Colour photos, pattern pieces laid out and *not* overlapping.

But this was far from uncommon.

Blanche Payne’s work had her pattern diagrams removed in the so called expanded version because the publishers didn’t see the need for patterns as other books had them too.

Not those patterns though! And I’m pretty sure the cost of the first edition on the second hand market should have the publisher fighting for the right to do the same justice to her work that the School For Historical Dress has done for Arnold. Payne’s records exist and I suspect include far more than made it into her book.

The rise of social media though has meant a lot of evidence of how much each work is appreciated and needed.

I really liked reading Cut my Cote, and the Royal Ontario Museum has really expanded on it through exhibits and a video which also lead well into the mantua origins. A fair bit of this talk for instance made its way into Patterns of Fashion.

I’ve been a bit stuck, still, trying to get my own archives sorted. Discovering that my newest drive is in exfat so apparently only meant to transfer files, but also has no journaling so if you lose power or connection you can brick the whole thing not to mention if you move files their image previews remain on the previous folder.

I have though I got around the pdf thumbnail issue which has also somehow given me thumbnails for other documents and I do like that.

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Elsa Mantua project

Of course. I’ve had so much bad luck with all my projects for the last few years so naturally I’ve made a bit of a hash of my mantua. I cut my lace to fit a narrow petticoat and I’m not happy with it. In order to patch the lace back together I need to temporarily baste it to some calico and in order to sew the lace to the petticoat I really need it to have an uneven number of panels.

So I have cut each full width down to half, unpicked the hem and inserted a half width into the front that is shorter than the rest of the panels.

The new Patterns of Fashion books help make sense of the original Janet Arnold article in Costume of my favourite mantua. And my mistakes in over compensating for length including upper flounce turns out to be perfectly fine for this.

I’ve even managed to keep a short piece of full width fabric to make the pleated yoke. I’m still working out what shape to make my foundation to help take the weight of all the lace. I was thinking of using the piece I cut from the bottom of my Marie Antoniette hoops seeing as it’s a bit too stretchy to control the steels.

But then again I have plenty of support materials from glazed cotton to linen canvas. So I should raid that stash box instead.

I wanted a simple project in which I’d mix historically accurate pattern with modern materials and stitching and have a lot of fun making an OTT stomacher, but like so many others I’m realising how much the seaming informs the outcome. I’m not investing too much in the petticoat as I have turned the seam allowances to the back and will do a mix of machine flat felling with hand sewing above the lace. But I do now need to consider the order of sewing for the robe itself. And I really should line the train. It needs to be a very light fabric and as this fabric is 100% acetate I think I need something nicer than most modern lining fabrics but not anything expensive either.

I have been also working on the research side of things because there really cannot be enough people sharing what they have learned.

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Progress? YES!

It’s so exciting to be able to post something positive! I’m doing so well with physio and orthotics that I’m *almost* able to walk on tip toe for a bit. Oh trust me this is exciting. It means neural connections are restoring and I’m rebuilding strength on the medial side of each leg (inner.) I’m even stretching deeper and I managed to jog intermittently!

I know I’m not recovered enough to do too much. The reality of Achilles tendinopathy, in general and bilateral especially, is the very disordered healing that follows. It’s a hot mess of inflammation, of influx of blood, of scarring, of thickening. So it’s too easy to reset from start if you get excited and try too hard.

But I can do heel raises on call, and if done quickly I guess I can do 10 reps? But I can feel my ankles do an arc between lower and upper calves engaging, so I am also doing some veeeery slow ones to specifically engage my inner quads. And oh look at that, those *burn* and I can even feel it up to my ribs!

So this is great, it means my efforts to try and limit my whole leg numbness (separate issue) by maintaining posture while sitting, and by raising my cushioned seating works in and each rehab, supports the other.

It’s meant I was able to update my other website and start to plan my “OMG, these are actually bloody amazing” page about English mantua. I can then use that to explain what I’ve gleaned from European gowns of the time.

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Now that I’ve got my mitts on PoF 1(updated) and 6 I can breathe a sigh of relief. The overlap in what I have been doing and what’s in these books reveals that yes I am in the right area of understanding.

Where I diverge is still of interest and still important. That’s a lot like where I am with my understanding of tailoring in the 16thC. Enough that matches that I can probably invest my time in what doesn’t rather than repeat it all.

It’s fun though when you name your “system” modular and finally read a snippet from a tailor who basically supports what you’ve been trying to express for 20 years. It’s also kind of funny to now have so many scaled patterns not just in colour but also with the fabric decoration overlaid. I’ve been using my old photocopies and prints of extant garments and tailoring and dressmaking books and colouring in each piece.

What I was doing though was to support my modular system so I have different colours for skirts, bodices, sleeves. It’s fascinating how fitted sleeves were almost unchanged from the 16thC right through to the late 19thC. And what that reveals, in much the way my work matching established work reveals, is how well they work. And you can then compare the extant pieces and the line art in manuals and recognise how far drafting takes you before individual fitting comes in.

I think I started all this because skirts tend to be the first thing recycled into church vestments or maybe cloaks and we’re lucky when the bodice and sleeves survive this process. It means my focus on frocks is heavily on how that happens. It’s one thing to be able to recycle fabric but how does the cut of the skirts influence how these new pieces are cut and assembled?

This also ties really deeply to my North Rhine research as gold yarn was a trade dominated by women. Said yarn was used for embroidery and passementerie and hand woven trim especially for said vestments. It was also exported to Italy in different qualities to be woven into fabric.

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The importance of digitised records

I’m still skirting outside my 16thC research because I need a little bit of distance from it. So I’m just trying to enjoy my mantua work. One of the questions is where did the term Mantua come from in the first place. This is where digitised records are so very important. One of the likely sources of the term is the French term “manteau.” So far so good. But neither term really brings up a lot of digitised books or archives.

But what if you realised the spelling of the time (late 17th-early 8thC) was very different. And it was “manto” and “mantoes.”

Try saying that out loud.

So I think the French connection is the stronger one than the embroiderers who migrated to England in Henry VIII’s reign from Mantua.

And it helps with connecting to the French fashion plates with the same early style.

I’ve been overlaying the patterns from the disparate sources but am hoping the expanded Patterns of Fashion 1 and new volume 6 does have all of them with much clearer lines and the new colour blocking. These are in various volumes of Costume, the little Museum of London book by Zillah Halls, History of Costume by Blanche Payne, Cut of Women’s Clothes by Nora Waugh.

I did also get a little further boost to what I believe is going on with them. One is from a written description from a book I already have, another is related to how fashions were communicated, and the last is my own timeline of dressmaking. I had to add back in some tailoring books and household books. The latter mostly deal with recipes and how to spot adulteration of foods and toiletries. The quality of digitalisation now means it’s easier to pick through the hundreds of close typed pages to find advice that I’ve otherwise missed out on.

But my timeline of patterns has probably tripled since I published it. And that covers from the 16thC to 2000s. It’s a lot to wrangle and I’m sure people wonder why I do it. But no one repository has all of them, and even when they do the coversheet rarely explains what you are getting. So my preview images are of the bodice at least and a full gown where possible. It really helps to illustrate just how much experimentation went on once dressmakers were responsible for most frocks. They had to get inventive because the tailors were really unhappy and kept their trade secrets secret.

And that is a preview of the kind of depth and breadth of research needed for context of any one era. And a hint as to how expanded my timeline and mantua pages are going to be.

I haven’t even touched on the different tools developed in the 19thC.

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Phoebe and her hot water bottles

This was a beloved story when I was young. It wasn’t just sweet it really touched on themes of identity when all the adults in her life kept giving her hot water bottles when really she wanted a puppy.

So when it came time to do a self directed piece for my Diploma of Performing Arts I knew I needed to reference it.

So for this piece we had to work to a time limit, we used tech for effect, and we needed music. I was stumped on the last. But I knew what I wanted to do with the space.

I wanted it filled with roses. Visual, scented, I wanted realistic ones, I had at least one book on gardening too.

I wanted to essentially be Phoebe but in my piece for me to have people keep giving me roses because that’s as much as they know about me. A mix of not knowing, and not wanting to know. And I really still needed music and I still needed a way to go from isn’t this lovely, she’s talking about her passion, to oh, this is actually bad.

At the time I was living about a 40min walk (maybe more, yes it was more, it was more than an hour) which gave me a lot of time to listen to the radio (yes) and play back lessons to practice singing. Nothing builds core strength and for a lifetime like speed walking and maintaining a smooth line in singing.

And one day I was listening to concert FM and it was some Early Music. It was 16thC French songs and dances and I settled in to listen. And you won’t believe the name of the album.

“Le Jardin De Melodies” by The King’s Noyse.

The garden of melodies.

Okay, so I keep listening and it’s Pavane and Galliarde “de la Battaille” and I’m loving it. Still doesn’t quite feel like what I need. It’s so close though. This mix of gentle and then passion. I could work with it. I’m just enjoying it anyway.

So we get to the “Almande / Saltarello” And hey this is nice. And then really quickly you feel like you’re slightly forward with the music. Then you get a bit of relief, then you fall forward again and… bang. Right into “Schiarazula Marazula”

I got goosepimples.

And the best part, is the music then starts to right itself. We’ve had this music that seemed so standard but felt wrong, to this music that startles with the instruments, but it feels like we’re coming back together.

So in my piece the Almande reflects external expectations, but it feels wrong, then the start of Schiarazula is my own recognition of how I’ve been part of the same expectations. As the music builds I started to look for anything but a rose, breaking them all up on stage. When the music pauses is the start of calmness and rebuilding, but by my own hand and imperfectly a rose that is now entirely my own. It’s about rebuilding and keeping what was good. The music builds faster again, but this time it feels like heading to new place.

PIAS represents the Harmonia Mundi label and they’ve created playlists of many albums including Le Jardin:


Also yes. If you’ve ever heard me sing anything at an SCA event it’s likely Helas Fautil. It took on a different meaning for me in 2016.

But my voice is classically trained and getting a vibrato let alone the ability to do trills was so very difficult that I’m not giving up the placement I use which also has protected my voice from wear.

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under pressure

Yep, growing up with this song has meant some phrases really stick, rather than being a very catchy song.

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves

It’s something I think about a lot because the pressure I put on myself to produce my work is because I can’t repay in kind the kindness I receive. I wouldn’t need it if I could do it. So I try to express that in ways I can. And that is my vast library that is digital, physical, and everything that is still stuck in my head.

I desperately want to get my work on tailoring and Anne of Cleves published. It will probably have to be self published because I’m just so very stuck with having to rebuild my sites, my pc, my archives. It means I’m finding it harder to work towards a timeframe than ever before.

And currently relearning to walk in this protected recovery from my Achilles injuries. It’s starting to work, but it’s so much harder than other injuries I’ve recovered from. The amount of time and energy and appointments to just be able to stand steadily really does take so much out of me.

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Last time I wrote about wanting to make a mantua with my taffeta it was quite hard to get really nifty views. Still true for a few but my word! The Shrewsbury mantua! It looks brand new. And all the wonderful joins are now recorded. And what’s really exciting about these early examples is that they were developed outside the work of tailors.

I think we can recognise how the rules dressmakers/milliners had to follow in not cutting seams to fit- the curved darts do this- but I think it’s always why you get the wedge panels through the sides. Tailors still used side seams, with classic extensions that go to the selvage then over. They had centuries of records of how to do this.

Milliners/dressmakers did not. But they probably had a lot of experience with linen goods.

And the diagonal to straight seaming might be something to pin experiments on.

Because this was all pretty new.

I was only supposed to be looking in my files to really have a bit of fun and recover from a very heavy week of sadness and stress.

I’m actually going to make my Elsa mantua.

I just got way too excited about all this new imagery!

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Could this be a positive post?

Yes it is! Despite some weird OS update stuff (I got the welcome screen but then couldn’t find any new updates) and explorer breaking, again, I’ve actually been doing some really nifty work finding art in places not previously recorded. The only downside is it means I have to go searching for “Flemish” art to find even more.

But I kind of need to stop where I am because I need to write up why I’m so sure about two images in particular- because it’s not “just” what I know about frocks. It’s also what I know about how artists worked in different forms. It’s even in legal proceedings some artists undertook to recover their own sketches. One of the ways you get influences in art is through the kind of theft this reveals.

In many ways the reason there is so much work to do is to not believe there is this rich level of information in depictions of frocks.

So if I can write up why these depictions are so easy to spot then conservators and historians with access to the art can continue that work.

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heart broken

I’m sad to say I am not able to present my research at the IMCS. While I seem to be on the path to recovery in regards to my PC I’ve just been put so far behind that I haven’t been able to practice. The reality is also that regardless of whether my CNS issues are fibro or vanilla RA it does mean I have to practice more and put in place many more stress relievers.

On the plus side my work isn’t in vain. When I put my paper up for consideration I was mostly working with a negative space around Anne of Cleves. Much of what I could do was really limited by the quality of images and a lack of open access written work. It’s been further hampered by the curation of catalogues that remove depictions of women. Luckily the efforts to digitise collections has rectified this but it’s taking time to fold all this new information in.

The last year has been a particularly bad year but I kept working on this project because I do believe it’s important not only to people interested in Anne or even in North Rhine fashion, but more widely in how much we don’t know because the information is so broken and separated.

But now I need to take a break. Missy seems to have had a fright overnight so she wasn’t on my chair this morning and she’s only eating outdoors. Fluffy is now back to being in my room, which he shared with Carlo until we needed to protect Carlo by keeping doors closed while he was in my room or also when he was in the lounge. So we’re all a bit out of sorts.

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