Mary Boleyn and tudor undies

Hi everyone

Apologies for my lateness! It seems like a long time ago I started on the Tudor ladieswear project but really it's only been a couple of weeks and as usual we have achieved so much in a short space of time. I came in on the Monday morning eager to find out which Tudor lady I would be basing my costume on. We were each to be consigned a design for either one of Henry VIII's wives, a daughter or a mistress. My design is to be for Mary Boleyn who was mistress of Henry VIII for a short time before her sister Anne caught his attention. I won't lie I was secretly hoping for Anne Boleyn seeing as I have a kind of fascination with her plus I wanted to make those amazing bell sleeves too. Still I'm more than happy with my design and I love the rusty colour scheme. 

a bit about Mary Boleyn

There is sparse information about Mary Boleyn in the records, even the painting above is debatable as to whether the sitter is in fact Mary Boleyn due to her wearing ermine fur in the painting. Ermine being reserved for royalty and the upper nobility it would be something she would not be entitled to wear. Still it's debatable and I like to believe it is her despite the ermine. 

Mary Boleyn, born around 1499 at Hever castle in Kent was one of 3 surviving children of Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn. She had a younger brother George and of course a sister Anne. It seems to be of common consensus that Anne was the eldest of the three. Her father Thomas Boleyn was an ambassador to the court of France and a courtier of Henry VIII. He received many royal grants and elevation in status due to his daughters involvement with the king and as such he is often portrayed as a ruthless and power hungry man. However the sad fact is that Tudor women were considered second class citizens and marriages within the nobility were an opportunity to rise up the social scale, it was purely a business arrangement and love matches must have been a rarity in such times. Thomas Boleyn may have been ruthless, but it was normal for the times to use marriage as a means of social elevation.

Due to her fathers connections in France, Mary was sent to be a lady in waiting to Henry VIII's sister who was married to Louis XII for a short time. Mary then became a lady in waiting to Queen Claude, wife of king Francois I. It was here that Mary is thought to have become the mistress of Francois I and by the time she returned to England she had gained herself a reputation for wanton behaviour. 

In 1520 Mary was married off to William Carey, a gentlemen of the privy chamber. A position that granted him contact with the king on a daily basis, although he had no other titles to his name he was a valuable connection for the Boleyn family in being so close to the king. Mary was granted a place as a maid of honour of the kings wife, Catherine of Aragon. Sometime around 1519 Mary became Henry VIII's mistress, an affair which probably lasted 2 years and resulted in the Carey's being granted various estates and manors from the king.

Mary had two children, a son and a daughter. Some believing the son, named Henry was actually the son of Henry VIII. He never acknowledged him as such but by this time he was fervently pursuing Anne Boleyn and probably didn't want the association with Mary to get in the way of his divorce of Catherine and marriage to Anne. 

William Carey died of the sweating sickness in 1528 and it seems Mary stayed at court during her sisters long campaign to become the kings wife and the queen of England. No attempt seems to have been made to find Mary an advantageous marriage and in around 1534 Mary fell in love and married William Stafford, a member of the royal entourage without money or lands. The Boleyn family were furious and Anne, now queen of England banished Mary from court. Her father cut off her allowance and she was reduced to begging Thomas Cromwell to intercede on her behalf for forgiveness. She writes to Cromwell 'I dare not write to them, they are so cruel against us.' 

The Staffords were not forgiven and remained outcasts in Rochford, Essex. Just as well for them as they were not embroiled in the witch-hunt that brought about the disgrace and downfall of Anne and George who were both tried and executed for treason along with 5 other men within their circle. 

After her parents death Mary inherited the Boleyn properties in Essex, her children went on to prosper in the reign of Elizabeth I who showed special favour to her mothers kin. 

spanish farthingale 

So without further ado we set to work on making the farthingale, an undergarment worn to create the circular structure of Tudor dresses. The pattern we used below is one size as the farthingale is adjustable by ties at the side seams and also has pleats at the waistband. We scaled up the pattern and used calico for the fabric with flexible steel rods between the channels to hold the circular shape needed.  

Below: Using cotton twill tape to make the channels, must have used meters of the stuff! Each channel was machine stitched onto the calico making sure to leave the channels wide enough for the steel to pass through. This is harder to do than you might think when you're battling with a mountain of fabric at your little sewing machine desk!

Next I made the pleats on the waistband using the mannequin to gauge how much to take in at the waist according to my measurements. 

The steel rods were inserted in the channels and the ends of the twill tape were slip stitched closed. Mine is the one on the right. 

Last but not least we made a bumroll and attached it at the center back seam of the farthingale. A bumroll is kind of what it says it is, it's a small cushion that is attached at the back of the farthingale. It lifts the skirt creating a rounder shape and flattening the fabric down at the front. 

My finished farthingale, does my bum look big in this..

the corset

This is the Tudor corset pattern, unlike the victorian corset which draws in the waist the Tudor corset was designed to create a cylindrical shape and to flatten and raise the bustline. 

We used a heavy coutil fabric for the corset. Coutil is perfect for corsetry being densely woven and very strong.

Below:sewing the channels into the corset front

The corset front, the outlines have been tacked with a dark thread to make it easier to sew the channels in accurately and hold the layers of fabric together. 

The corset back with channels sewn in.

Inserting the boning. We used synthetic whalebone which is really easy to cut and shape. It's also perfect for period corsetry being as close to the real thing as possible. 

Punching holes in the corset back for the metal eyelets to be inserted. 

All the corset needs now is a bias binding edging to finish the top and bottom edges.

Sewing the bias binding onto the tabs. Tricky stuff is bias binding, it's basically a strip of fabric cut on the bias making it stretchy and good for finishing rounded edges. On the right side I machine stitched the binding which then was folded over to the other side to make a nice edging. On the wrong side of the corset I hand stitched the binding down for a neater finish. Probably took me a good 2 hours to do at least. The tabs were then whipstitched to the bottom of the corset.  

The finished corset :)

Next week we will be cutting out the fabric for the main bodice and the skirts, we also have a trip to London where I will be checking out some of the dresses in the V&A archives. I'll let you know how that goes :)

Michelle x