The Fine Art of Documentation, by Ailith Mackintosh

I wasn't sure how to do documentation for my garb, so I asked Mistress Rondinella to send some examples of documentation and how to go about doing it. I believe the basic style of documentation for any period art or science would be very similar to the format that she recommends.

Documentation is just like a short newspaper article. You need to get across certain facts as simply and quickly as possible. It is easy if you follow the reporter's way of writing using "What, When and How."

Begin by saying "this is a _____ from _____," and the year (When). Then show What you are basing this on. Try to have a photo of the actual article (post cards are great, a plate in a book, or a photocopy of the original piece.) Next is How. This is, of course, the big one, but you will do fine if you break it down. When doing garb, show: color choice, design (seams and special touches), and fabric choice.

If I were to document the dress from the Stadl, I would first show a picture of the gown, say that this dress is Italian, based on the portrait, then I would explain why I chose the fabric and color and show how they are period or why they were used as a substitution. The gown has couching on it. I would talk about it and cite another source as well to show that this technique is one that was widely used.

Next I would discuss the cut of the gown, why the seams are where they are, why I lined it, and why the grommets are covered. I would cover other specific techniques, like cartridge pleating. Be sure to footnote so that the judge knows where you got your information. A bibliography is essential. It will show the judge what your sources are and help her/him to determine if you are making a valid assumption based on a good source, or an incorrect assumption based on a bad source.

There are several types of sources. A primary source is the actual garment or sword or whatever. A secondary souce is a period painting/fresco/drawing/description of the item. Either of these is acceptable. Tertiary sources are non-period paintings, artists' sketches of what an author "thinks" an article should look like. Never use a tertiary source. Try to keep your text to one page. Your bibliography can be a second page.Be honorable. NEVER use anyone else's documentation! The research is part of the fun (and it REALLY is FUN!) You learn so much more if you've done the documentation yourself! If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them, or else find someone who can!

The following is an example of documentation for a gown that Mistress Rondinella made for the 25 Year Celebration of the Society. I think it will give you a good idea of how to do your own documentation.

This gown is based on the painting "Portrait of a Lady" by Lorenzo Lotto (postcard displayed). It hangs in the National Gallery, London, England, and is dated 1530.

I have chosen cotton for my fabric as I wanted something cool and easy to care for. Cotton was readily available in Europe from the beginning of the 13th century1 and it takes a dye easily. Both green and gold were possible to obtain at the time. The gold hue could have been obtained through the use of onion skins or the berries and leaves of the mulberry bush; the green by using mulberry leaves or woad2.

The gown laces down the front to the waist and is open another four inches beyond. We can see this from the fur lining which peeks out below the waist in the front. The entire bodice was lined as existing garments from the century show.3 All lacing holes were made with grommets and then the grommets were carefully covered for strength and a finished look. Garments of this century did have their grommets covered as can be seen in the Eleanora of Toledo dress as featured in Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold.

The skirt is cartridge pleated, as can be seen by the rounded pleats, the same as the original. Cartridge pleating is achieved by gathering the fabric at equal intervals and sewing it to the bodice. Cartridge pleats must be sewn finished edge to finished edge. To achieve the finished edge on the skirt, I folded the material back. In the portrait, another piece of fabric was sewn to the top of the skirt and left to hang like a modern peplum. I omitted this since I was concerned about the gown being too warm; I also omitted the fur lining for the same reason. Snaps were also added to secure the front since the gown tended to gape open below the waist. I believe that the original garment had heavier fabric which would have made this problem minimal or may perhaps, have been secured with hooks and eyes.

The entire garment is pieces. Using the subject's hands as a guide, I determined that the thin stripes were one inch wide. Size was adjusted in the wider panels. There is a pattern to the stripes; this pattern is repeated throughout the bodice, skirt, and sleeves of the gown. The pattern also helped me to determine the proper widths of certain sections of the gown and the shape of the shoulder. In the portrait, one can see the top of the shoulder has four stripes, while the body has only three. This fourth stripe produces a dropped shoulder effect.

The chemise word with this gown is of cotton and gathered as if for cartridge pleating to achieve the ruffled effect. There is also a corset and petticoat under the gown to achieve the overall look.


1Black and Garland. A History of Fashion. (New York, William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1975) p. 103 & 129.

2Berenice Gillette Connor, Dyes from your Garden. (Miami, Florida, E.A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., 1975) p. 88 & 91.

3Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. (New York, Drama Books, 1985) p. 20 & 26.


Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. New York, Drama Books, 1985.

Black and Garland. A History of Fashion. New York. William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1975

Boucher, Francois. A History of Costume in the West. London. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1988.

Connor, Berenice Gillett. Dyes from your Garden. Miami, Florida. Seemann Publishing Inc., 1975.

Wilson, Michael. The National Gallery of London. London. MacDonald and Company Ltd. 1988.