Thursday, August 13, 2015

Scandelously Practical: Italian Drawers - Class Handout

This is the handout for my most recent version of this class taught at Pennsic 44.

I had never taught before at Pennsic and was very nervous. Then I kept watching people show up for my class... and got even more nervous. Laurel wreaths.... terrifying laurel wreaths were adorning (turned out to be LOVELY) people attending MY CLASS.

It was a packed house and both sessions I taught this had at least one male in the room (you go guys!). I've had some discussions on drawers with people both in class and out and will be updating and further researching as well.

And yes, Lady Urtatim, I took out the word Turkish.

Scandalously Practical: 
Italian Drawers


Lady Fortune St. Keyne
Shire of Quintavia, East Kingdom
Saint Fortune @

Flip Up SKIRT!

Venetian Courtesan Diversarum Nationum Habitus (Padua, 1589) by Pietro Bertelli,
According to Cesare Vecellio in his Clothing of the World (c.1590) once dress styles were more influenced by Spanish fashion and the skirts came out further from the body through the use of stiffened petticoats or farthingales (verdugado), the trend of wearing linen or silk drawers began.
How precisely this developed is unknown, but courtesans were known for adopting Islamic styles and men’s-styles. An extant example are patterned after men’s style breeches, embroidered with mottos such as “voglio il core” or “I want the heart”.
Drawers, also called calze or brache, quickly caught on for the more respectable ladies. In Mode a Firenze it is mentioned that Eleanor of Toledo (1522 –1562) possessed a pair of drawers in red silk taffeta, and Maria de' Medici (1573 –1642) had many pairs were made up in splendid gold brocade as the new Queen of France (1610). Englishman Fynes Moryson observed in his travels in Europe (May 1591 to May 1595) that “city” virgins and gentlewomen of many places wear silk and linen “breeches” under their skirts, published in his Itinerary (1617). By 1625 according to Mary Laven's Virgins of Venice nuns were wearing drawers.
Since the origins are murky I’ve looked into what very bare evidence of Ottoman and other Near/Middle Eastern undergarments for women were. The pants worn under clothing have many names: Shalwar,  salwar, or Sarwal/Serouel all are similar in cut and seem to have evolved into drawers, as evidenced by the wide stance. Often these were of thin fabric for women and white, but no slit that we know of. These are believed to have been linen or cotton and are depicted as being very light or sheer.
The extant examples included here are from the early 1600s, so we can only speculate on earlier uses of these garments. However, if study of period costume has taught me one thing: our ancestors were far cleverer than we give them credit for. 
An Indelicate Conversation about Delicate Underthings –

Now, let’s talk about why you should wear them: because most people have thighs that touch. Drawers, especially split drawers are a more porta-privvy friendly option to bike shorts and they can be made of natural fibers.

Personally, I have one pair for every day of an event. Since, you know, they are underwear!

Period Drawers –

·         Wide stance, much wider than modern pants (see extant)

·         Gathered into a thin waistband with a tie through eyelets, descriptions of Spanish drawers list the ties and agelets separately

·         Either gathered into a cuff at the bottom or embroidered with bobbin lace

·         Embroidery is both monochrome and polychrome

·         Decoration on the slit (seems impractical…)


How I Do It – (aka I’m going to an event this weekend, let’s not kid ourselves here)


Meet your new friend, the Pajama Pants pattern!

You need an easy, no frills, pajama pant pattern. No pockets, not for stretch fabric

·         Butterick B5829

o   Includes a pattern for cloth slippers (period looking for shoes!)

·         McCall’s M2476

·         McCall’s M6252 

·         Simplicity 5314 (plus size)

Yardage: I usually purchase 3 yards of fabric, but I am a bigger girl, am tall and a lot of that height is leg. I use the leftover to make a simple fabric pouch to tuck the dirty pair in once worn and toss that pouch into my garb bin.

Cut out the pattern at least one size larger than you would normally wear, you want a little room, but these aren’t harem pants, don’t go crazy.

Measure from your waist to about your knees, or a few inches longer, add 2 inches to this measurement and fold up the pants pattern at this measurement (measuring on the pattern from the markings for the waistband.

Ignore the layout on how to cut them out on fabric. Be a rebel!


Line up the inner thigh portion with the fold, this is important. You don’t want a seam here, it’s not a terrible thing, but it will improve the experience. Add a couple inches to the top (dashed lines), this is for adjustment later.

Cut out the two legs, You’ll have two pieces with a U shape in the middle. Finish the U shape first, either with a strip of bias tape or by folding over the center.

Sew each leg to itself along the long side. You’ll end up with two tubes.

Now, the goofy step! You’re going to put them on without the waistband.

Cut a strip of elastic so it’s comfortable for your waist. I recommend non-roll elastic. Put on your two leg tubes, put the elastic around your waist over the tubes and safety pin, and adjust at will! You will likely end up with more excess at the front than the back. Go through the rhythms of daily life, walk, sit, squat, make sure it doesn’t pull overmuch. Leave the crotch loose, not tight up against the body, but not to your knees, both situations will leave you uncomfortable.

Once the waist is adjusted, mark with chalk and cut off the excess. Leave 3 inches or so to fold over to create a casing to house the elastic, this depends on the width of your elastic, I usually use 1-1 ½ inch wide. I always recommend using elastic as a backup for drawstring pants. No one needs the drawstring to fail say, when running to court.

There are two ways you can do this next step,  you can either have each leg be independent on the elastic waistband –or– stitch together the first 4 inches  at the center front and at the center back, do a tight zigzag at the split to reinforce this spot. Add two button holes or thread eyelets to run your drawstring through.

Double check the bottom measurement and adjust and finish the cuffs. Add the drawstring and elastic Add bobbin lace for fun. Embroider the cuffs. Write cheeky sayings!

Now, if you’re more advanced at pattern drafting…

Lay out your pieces (or just draft pant legs) with a wider stance to mimic extant garments. (That’s the goal eventually right?)


And if you really want to go crazy –

A pattern for salwar from Master Rashid of the East:

Pattern my Master Rashid for Salwar from Dar Anahita:
Extant Drawers (also called Calze or Brache)


1.    Museo del Tessuto, Prato c. 1630
Extant Drawers 1: "I Want The Heart"

Embroidered with words and a double eagle blue on white linen and the bottom of the leg bound

·         Linen breeches embroidered with the words 'voglio il core' (I want the heart) in double running stitch in blue linen thread

·         The leg is bound with a blue ribbon (probably linen) and the opening is on the inside leg

2.    Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Accession Number: 10.124.4
Due to the slit stopping halfway down, could have been mens (or a helpful later "fix")

Detail of the polychrome and metallic embroidery

·         Linen drawers with embroidered border in silver and silver-gilt

·         At the bottom of the legs bobbin lace worked in metal threads and two different brown silks

·         Embroidered opening from waistband to crotch

3.    Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York c.1600

Accession Number: 10.124.3
If you are looking for these, the Met calls them "trousers", because that makes sense to them....

Detail of the embroidery

·         This pair is marked as being "possibly for a man"

·         Linen drawers embroidered with polychrome and metal threads, some of which are missing, showing the original ink used to mark the pattern

·         Polychrome bobbin lace at the bottom of the leg opening

·         Drawstring waist, missing the cord




Extant Drawers:


Pattern my Master Rashid for Salwar from Dar Anahita:

Middle Eastern Garb:

Persian Underwear by Baroness Rozalynd of Thornabee on Tees:

Turkish Garb Overview by Baroness Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina:

Maghribi Women's Costume (Spain to Tunisia) by Urtatim bint 'abd al-Karim al-hakim al-Fassi        


Pattern from a Civil War re-enactor:

Additional :

Article on Courtesans and their clothing quoting Margaret F. Rosenthal:

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