Country Garden Dancers

English Country Dance Performance Troupe

Costume Requirements

Angela Strauss ~ CGD Costuming Director
Ladies and girls need to have chemise, bloomers, two skirts, bodice, muffin cap or biggins, and a crocheted/raffia/straw hat with a garland of silk flowers. The skirts must be a full circle, whether they are gored full or actual circle skirts. The bloomers must be a bright or dark solid approvable color, not a pale shade, and must come below the knee. For other information on colors and color restrictions, please see the section titled "A few words on colors". (Girls under 10 can wear only one skirt.)
Click herefor instructions for making a gored circle skirt.
Men and boys need to have shirt, pants, jerkin or doublet, and either a flat cap or crocheted/raffia/straw hat with a noticeable amount of foliage and/or silk flowers. The pants should be knee length, and if the boots do not cover the lower leg, knee high stockings/socks must be worn.

A few words on colors:

We want to look bright and colorful. I would like for everyone to have at least 3 colors in their costume. You can count a light and dark of the same color as two different ones, but ....
You should have most of your colors in the bright/medium range. If you would describe a color as 'dark' (like dark blue, dark green, etc), limit it to just one of your colors. Also, too many colors that are 'light' will make you look Eastery instead of bright.
Good Colors:
anything from tangerine to pumpkin. Avoid CalTrans or sherbet, though.
Yellow: anything from pale yellow through canary to mustard or goldenrod
Green: pale green and sage count as 'light' colors; so try to limit those. Anything from lime to emerald through hunter green to olive (olive is a 'dark' though). Use your reason as to the brightness; you don't want day-glow.
Blue: anything from a bright sky blue through medium blue to navy (obviously a dark)
Brown: brown can be a bright color, too! Anything from cafe au lait through chocolate and cinnamon to some cocoa shades. Rusts and orangey browns can be nice. (Why do all the browns have food names? Nutmeg, caramel... it sounds like dessert!)
Bad Colors:
too blah. I have never seen something I would consider a 'bright' gray. Freda will object to grays.
White/off white: if you already have an off white chemise, it's okay. If you're replacing your shirt/chemise, look for a color.
Reds: this is a really tricky area. Any red from scarlet through maroon to brick red may get objections from Freda, on a sliding scale. Scarlet is absolutely out, brownish/brick red should be okay (but it would probably be a 'dark'). Some of the pinker dark reds like berry or magenta are okay, but they will probably fade quickly and become muted pinkish instead of bright, so keep an eye on them.
Purples: purple is Right Out.
Stripes are also tricky. First, they have to be a woven stripe. You can tell because they look the same on both sides, whereas if they are painted/printed stripes, the material will be pale on one side (the side that was away from the dye). They need to be fairly narrow stripes, where each stripe is maybe one or two threads wide. The material should be mostly one color, with the narrow stripes of another color, so that from a distance it is one (bright!) color. Margo's mint green skirt is a great example; it has narrow stripes of a darker green.

What kinds of material?

You want a natural fiber material. That includes cotton, linen, rayon*, silk, and wool, or any blends of those. You really don't want anything that is even partially polyester or acetate. About rayon: Rayon is a natural fiber in that it is made from pine trees. However, there are two processes that they use to make rayon. One way is the kind they often blend with linen or cotton, and it's a nice material for faire. My regular faire shirts are a linen/rayon blend, and it also makes awesome skirts. The other process makes the material they use for Hawaiian shirts and things like that; it shrinks like plastic in a fire when you wash it, and does NOT breathe well at all. The moral: the linen/rayon blends are awesome. (Also called "linen look", but BEWARE! there will be poly/rayon materials that look the same, so look at the fiber content on the end of the bolt!)  They dye well and hang well and breathe well. A good price is $4ish per yard; regular price is often $5.99 per yard.
You want the material for your skirts and chemise to not be see-through. Here's the test: hold up one layer of the material (not to the light, just away from the rest of the bolt). Put your hand about 5 inches behind it. If you can see your hand, then you will probably also be able to see anything else through it (not so good for shirts!) Linen looks will be solid enough for the most part. Watch out for the hanky weight linen; you don't want a shirt from that. In general, for skirts you want to be thinking about something that has the same kind of weight (heaviness?) as a tablecloth.

Specific fabric types I am often asked about:

Broadcloth: this is in the quilting area. I know it seems cheap, but resist. It's narrow, which makes it hard to deal with, and it's often as much or more per yard than the linen looks. I know there are lots of pretty colors, but back away! It's not only narrow (meaning more yards to buy) but it's also very light and looks very flat. You can use it for bloomers if you want, but they might not hold up for more than a season.
Muslin: "natural" or off white muslin is okay for chemises or shirts. It's too light for anything else.
Osnaburg: (next to the muslin, usually) this is a coarser weave, and generally comes in a few colors. It's not terribly soft, but it'll stand up to a season of wear. Good for chemises, shirts, and kids' wear. It's a little too limp for skirts, but you might get away with it as an overskirt. It also comes in natural, which will dye well.
Linen/linen looks: I love these. If you've never felt 100% pure linen, just touch it for a minute with your whole hand. Sigh. Look at the price tag. Faint. Recover and move down to the linen/rayon blends; see above. Linen is awesome for chemises, shirts, skirts, bloomers, if you're willing to spend the $$ for it. If you want linen, a good idea is to buy it online instead. It will cost about $6 or $7 per yard plus shipping. Linen shrinks a lot (like 10 to 20%), so buy extra.
Twills: twills are a little heavy for skirts, but you could go there. You definitely wouldn't want both skirts made of twill. It's good for jerkins, doublets, bodices. Hats (flat caps). Pants.
Poplins: this might make a good skirt. I haven't used it before, but if it washes well, it would be okay. Be sure to check the fabric content.
Batiste/shirting/sheeting: too light for anything
Bubble gauze/crinkle cotton: good for chemises/shirts if it's not see through. Too light for underskirts, could be an overskirt.
Raw silks: almost as good as linen for body/movement. Much more durable than you'd think. Insanely light and comfy. About raw silk: Dharma Trading has raw silk (silk noil) for a REALLY reasonable price. The drawback is that you have to dye it yourself. They also (conveniently) sell dyes for silk as well as for just about everything else. They also have some other really wonderful but not as reasonably priced materials. Their shipping is insanely fast. You might as well buy an 11 yard bolt and make two skirts or a skirt and a chemise.

Do I have to mention no corduroy or velvet? or satin? Good, I didn't think so. Also, stay away from any denim that *looks* like denim. If it's a solid or brushed denim it could be used for bodices or doublets.

How much material do I need?

How much material to buy: It depends heavily on how wide the fabric is. Fabric generally comes in two widths, 42-45 inches and 54-60 inches. It will say on the end of the bolt something like "042" which means 42".
42-45": 4 yards or 54-60": 3 yards
Any width: 2 yards (If you're a larger person and you get 42" fabric, you might need 4 yards)
42": Don't buy it. Step away from the quilting fabrics.
45": 5 yards
54-60": 5 yards to be safe, 4 at the very least
2 to 3 yards
1 yard of outside fabric, the same of another fabric if you want it reversible.
4 to 5 yards
45": 4 yards or 54-60" or more width: 2 yards- About the same for lining. (You can use broadcloth for lining, just remember to buy more because it's narrow)

Other tips and tricks:

Look in the home departments of Target, Wal Mart, etc for drapery panels and tablecloths that are on clearance. You can often find decent materials in a nice weight at a good price. You can make a skirt out of one 90" round tablecloth (72" round would work for very short/small people) or out of rectangular tablecloths (probably one 120" long or two of a smaller length). You generally need 3 drapery panels. Remember to read for fabric content!
While you're at Wal-Mart or Target, stop by the accessories area to look for a belt. You want a long (XL or XXL, no matter how big you are...we can punch more holes) straight leather belt that has no extra metal embedded or attached. It should be brown (preferably) or black (if you can't find something better), and very plain.
Then head over to the socks area, and check to see if they have any knee length socks. Wal-Mart has them right now for about $4.
Shoes: plain leather (or leather look) flats, with a back. Buckles are okay, but try to stay away from shoes that lace. Straps and buckles (Mary Jane style) are acceptable. Watch out for the heels; a lot of the popular shoes now have wedge heels that won't be good for dancing. Check the men's shoes for slip on styles, too.

Commercial Patterns:

Men's costumes: a basic men's costume is not hard. It's actually a lot easier to find a commercial pattern for guys. There's a Butterick pattern, #B4574, that's pretty good. You'll want to make the pants straight legs instead of tapered, but the shirt and jerkin aren't bad. The shirt, vest, and pants from McCall's 5446 (yes, it's a pirate costume) are also okay. Same with McCall's 4952. Oddly enough, their "renaissance" patterns aren't as good. Simplicity 4059 isn't horrible either; the shirt is good and the pants aren't horrible, although I would just put a normal waistband on them. You'll probably want to make them baggier too. The doublet is okay, but use the short one, not the long coat-style one.
If you want a doublet style jerkin, you could use McCall's 4695, although the skirting parts look a little wrong in proportion. The Simplicity is a better doublet.
There are also a few lesser known brands that have men's costume patterns, such as Alter Years and Patterns of History, but I wouldn't recommend them to beginning or even intermediate level tailors.
Oh, and the pants should be just-below-the-knee with either a drawstring, elastic, or a band (like a waistband) to keep them there. Then the guy needs to wear knee high socks and shoes or boots. If the boots are knee high, he can tuck the pants into the boots.
Women's costumes: I have yet to find a really good "Big 4" pattern for a women's peasant costume, and I look every year when the patterns come out. If you have a particular one in mind, ask me and I will give my opinion and suggestions on how to make it work.


Every person must wear a head covering at all times when they are not in "Performers Only" areas. Every person MUST have a head covering WITH THEM even when backstage, except in the group area. Even in the group area, it should be close to your hand or on your head.This is a faire rule, and can bring Trouble From Above if it's not followed.
Acceptable hats: straw hats, knit or crochet hats made of raffia, straw, string, or hemp thread. Men can get away with a flat cap. ALL HATS WORN ONSTAGE MUST HAVE FLOWERS OR FOLIAGE. Yes, men too. Ladies and girls need to have silk flowers on their hats. Men can have either foliage of some sort or foliage and flowers, but the foliage/flowers must be noticeable from the back of the audience.
Flowers and flower garlands: use standard silk flowers in natural colors (colors that flowers naturally grow in). Avoid flowers that are obviously tropical like lilies, orchids, and other exotic flowers. Daisies, roses, etc. are fine. Purple flowers are not allowed. Most flowers do NOT grow in blue, so limit blue flowers. Try to have several colors and types of flowers in your garland. Individual flowers should not be larger than the circle you make with your thumb and forefinger (the "okay" sign; about 2 inches across). Real flowers are not out of the question, but they tend to fade and die very, VERY quickly in the weather at faire. Your flowers need to look as bright and vivid at the 4 o'clock show as they did at the morning Maypole set.

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