Arnolfini Style

Now that Jeremy has posted a few more photos from the Halloween party, I should write a little more about our costumes, just to finish the subject for once and all.

Mr. Arnolfini

Jeremy’s houppelande was constructed from plum satin lined with black cotton cloth and trimmed with a nice low-pile brown faux-fur that we found a good deal on in the scraps bin of a fabric store. We used the rotated-point circle plan houp model to make it. Basically, the garment is composed of 4 quarter-circles with the top few inches cut off the point to make the shoulder seams; the sides were left open as in the painting, and there are seams up to the midpoint of the front and back and triangular gores to change it from a V-neck to a rounded neckline. The edging was all done by machine-sewing one edge of the faux-fur and then flipping it forward and folding it under to be hand-hemmed. When you consider the radius of the circle we created, the bottom hem alone ended up measuring about 50′, not to mention the sides and neck. Kept me busy for more than a few evenings. 🙂 With all that material, it is also quite heavy, but Jeremy was a good sport about wearing it.

The other crucial part of Jeremy’s costume was that fabulous black hat. I decided to knit and felt it, using 4 skeins of doubled Cascade 220 yarn (black, of course!) and a #11 24″ circular needle. Here are the specs:

After swatching both single and double strands of yarn and felting them, I ended up using the latter for greater stability. Garter stitch both added to the thickness of the finished hat and gave the impression of ridges, which are visible in the painting (apparently it was a straw hat). I measured gauge before and after felting my swatches to give myself an inkling of what I would end up with, and chose 70 stitches for the part that would be snuggest around Jeremy’s head. Because that was my only set measurement, I started there with a crocheted cast-on and increased out for the brim, cast off, and picked up stitches in my cast-on to increase up to the crown, a technique that worked perfectly.

I felted it in my washing machine and let it dry over a container that had the right dimensions, not worrying too much about the ripply, floppy brim. I was able to solve that problem with some black craft wire of an appropriate gauge, shaped and whipstitched onto the underside of the brim; following the path of a slightly visible garter ridge made it easier to get my darning needle through the dense felt.

Being so far away from Jeremy, I was worried that it would come out the wrong size, but thanks in part to his thick hair, it fit just fine—and looks pretty good on, if I do say so myself.

Mrs. Arnolfini

I already wrote about the most complicated part of my costume, the dagged, bag-sleeved, fur-trimmed green houp. Under the houp, we made a simple 10-gore, slit-neck tunic in a lovely blue linen/tencel blend. The dress was finished off with a leather belt I found at Value Village; we trimmed it and punched holes for leather thong ties for a nice snug fit.

For my headgear, I made a ruffled veil and a set of felted cauls to attach it to. The veil is a very fine, transparent cotton, cut in a rectangle, with one long edge ruffled (that would be the front), and the two back corners rounded off. After a lot of frustrated searching, I was able to track down directions for sewing a narrow rolled hem for this very delicate material; and I was able to cheat a little on the ruffle. We found some simple (and very cheap) lace ribbon that was basically cotton with a row of lace holes down the center; ironed it in half, and then I threaded the holes, pulled them tight to make a doubled ruffle, and sewed it down to the front edge of the veil. I contemplated doubling it, as in the painting, but I think it would have been too heavy for the fabric; her veil may have been a doubled, or even quartered, piece of cloth.

My cauls were rather a quick project, made from less than one skein of single-stranded Cascade 220, in a light brown color that was the closest match we could find to my hair. I cast on 8 stitches, worked centered double increases until I had about 22 stitches, then basically worked a short row heel with about 8 stitches left in the center, double decreases down to 8 stitches; and repeat all of the above for the second caul. If I remember correctly, I used #10.5 needles for this after making a mock-up on #7s for size and technique. I then mostly concerned myself with getting the felted cauls shrunk to that same size, a simple enough prospect. Slightly more complicated was figuring out how to attach them to my head, as the felt was too thick for bobby pins to penetrate. I ended up working a single crochet edging through the felt (using a darning needle like an awl to poke holes for the hook to go through), and that worked well.

When it was time to assemble the veil and cauls, I pinned the veil to the cauls by poking a safety pin up from the underside of each caul. Then I braided my hair and got Jeremy’s help pinning it up under the cauls with bobby pins. The effect was pretty good, though not quite the same as the painting, and I might consider getting a piece of wide brown elastic and turning the cauls into a sort of modified headband next time for easier wear.

Yes, I hope there will be a next time. These costumes represent a lot of time, effort, and money, so hopefully we will have other opportunities to wear them. Jeremy’s costume at least is in no danger of ever being too small for him. 🙂

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