Hot! The ‘Henrietta Maria meets Marni’ dress

I suspect I may have taken a slightly different angle with this challenge than the one Mena had in mind.  I read “any member of the royal family, past or present” and I immediately thought “Past!!!!” and started brainstorming an idea and working on my project.

Then, with the garment done but for the hem, the inspiration board came out.  Mena’s inspiration board is all from QEII’s life.  I guess by “past” she meant royals who were alive during Elizabeth’s early life.  My “past” is a little more “past” than that.  By three centuries.  Oops.

So.  Umm…  Anyway…

Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), Queen of Charles I of England, ca1635, Unknown artist, background by Hendrik van Steenwyck, from the National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, may be a long time in the past, and only barely related to Queen Elizabeth, but she was a member of the royal family, she’s someone who fascinates me, and I love the fashions of her era.

Oh boy do I love the period from 1630-1660.  It’s so pretty.  The full skirts.  The sloped shoulders.  The slightly raised waists of the 1630s transitioning to the smooth, pointed bodices of the 1660s.  And those sleeves.  Oh, those wonderful pleated, puffed, just-past-the-elbow sleeves.

I’ve already made a recreation 1660s gown, and while an early 1630s bodice based on this portrait of Henrietta Maria is on my to-do list, it’s not a week long project.  So I decided to do something 17th century inspired and wearable, rather than literally 17th century.

So I made a list of the 17th century elements I wanted:

  • Low, rounded neckline with dropped shoulders
  • Full just-past-the-elbow sleeves
  • 17th century colours
  • Pleat details
  • Waist definition without a waistline, hopefully with a bow

And, while considering ways to incorporate these details into a modern dress, luck happened.  A friend asked me if I would make her a new version of a Marni dress that she owned.  I said “sure, but I’ll have to make a toile first, to see that it works”.  The dress?  Low rounded neckline, full just-past the elbow sleeves, and, best of all, the shaping achieved through large pintuck-pleats.  So modern day 17th century!

So I killed two birds with one stone, and my Henrietta Maria dress is the toile for my friends dress, with enough details changed from the Marni dress to make it original.

For my historical coloured fabric I picked a strange, drapey and slightly ribbed darkest green viscose fabric that I found at an op shop, and have accessorized my dress with a waist sash made from a wide vintaged striped silk-satin ribbon (and yes, that is silk-silk, not “satin and silk are the same thing, right?” silk) in yellow.

17th century + yellow = happiness.

The darkest green fabric also makes me inordinately happy.  It’s so dark as to be almost black, and historically a lot of “black” fabric had a dark green tinge, because it was so hard to dye true black.

In front of the War Memorial Cenotaph, with the Beehive just visible on my left

Making the dress was both extremely easy, and incredibly painstaking.  The concept is so simple, but the threads at each end of each large pintuck-pleat had to be pulled through to the back and tied off by hand, because backstitching just looked messy and cheap.

It was also painstaking because I didn’t actually have enough fabric.  The op-shopped viscose was a leftover from someone else’s project, and cut in a really weird shape, and quite narrow.  I carefully, carefully cut and measured and thought I could get the dress out with only one bit of piecing in one sleeves.  Once I started sewing the pleats the sleeves just didn’t look right, and I realised I had cut two left sleeves.  Unfortunately I’d already completely pintucked the sleeve with piecing, so the un-pieced sleeve got ditched, and my right sleeve is now pieced in three places, and the grains don’t even match.  And you know what?  I love it.  I think it adds to the dress.

You can just see the piecing on the right sleeve in this image

I first wore the dress to my birthday party on Queen’s Birthday Weekend, but forgot to bring a camera, so DH and I did a photoshoot at Parliament, the Beehive, and the lion statues at the War Memorial Cenotaph on Queen’s Birthday Monday.  I figured you couldn’t get much better than a place where Queen Elizabeth has actually been, and that represents her as Head of State for New Zealand, and on her official birthday too!

Doing my best regal 17th century hand gestures on the steps of Parliament

Beehive on my right, Parliament on my left

The very regal, very English, Cenotaph lion.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 2-ish metres viscose

Pattern: My own, based on a Marni dress

Year: 1630s meets 2012 via a mid-2000s Marni design.

Notions: thread and interfacing

Hours: 4 of actual sewing, another 4 of messing around with the pattern.

First worn?: Saturday 2 June for my sew-in birthday party, then again on the 4th for the photoshoot.

Wear again?: Yes!  I love this dress!  It’s fun, it’s comfortable, I got so many compliments on it, it will travel well and is suitable for every occasion (so very royal).

Make again?: Yes, my friend wants two now, and my sister wants one, and I want another one, or two, or three…

Total cost: $2 for the op-shop fabric.



Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


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  1. Lol I love your photoshoot. I’m actually really impressed that you took something from so long ago and made it work. Great job.

  2. Beautiful! I love the pin tucking detail.

  3. I love this! What a great way to make historical look modern. Those tucks are fantastic!

  4. I want one too! This is divine Leimomi! Love the pleat details and the neckline and the world’s prettiest sleeve length. Aren’t you lucky you even have the 17th Century sloping shoulders to carry it off – how clever of you! Old Parliament House is lthe perfect location for your photo shoot – that shot of you with the lion is wonderful!

  5. That’s lovely. I love the modern take on such an old style. I only wish you’d used a modern pattern that I could put on my must buy list.

    • Thank you! I rarely use commercial patterns (learn to drape your own and it is hard to go back) but I am looking at making this one publicly available. I just have to make sure that my version is significantly different from the Marni dress. It’s very important that I respect other designers ideas!

  6. LOVE the neckline! This is so beautiful!

  7. I love this dress and the photos. When I was 5 years old, my parents took me to Wellington on my very first flight (we crossed Cook Straits from Blenheim)and we did the grand tour of all things important in those days. I have a photo of me posing in front of that Lion, just as you are in my new outfit that Mum made for me, especially for the trip. I will have to dig it out as I remember feeling like Miss NZ in my new outfit and posing for photos in the same locations.

  8. Don’t you just love NZ, where you can take photos of your outfit on the steps of parliament. Great outfit!

    • Haha! Yes! And only a few prime ministers ago their home address was still listed in the phone book! And schoolkids could call up Sir Ed to get his help on their school projects about Mt Everest. It’s a great country!

      The security guard did make me get down from the railings that I am sitting on in the 5th photos down, because it was a ‘health and safety risk’. Sigh.

  9. While this dress reminds me of that time period, there’s also something very youthful and fresh about it too. Cute!

  10. Beautiful job! I wish you would sell the pattern.

  11. Gorgeous job. loved your dress, photos and write up.

  12. Fabulous creation! I love your photoshoot. You look like you would fit right in the the 1600’s, but with a futuristic edge.

  13. great dress! I am in awe of your patience to pull the threads to the back of each pintuck and tie off instead of backstitching. I can tell you now I would never have done that.. I’m definitely from the factory production line school of sewing. lol! I’ve discovered I’ll do anything to avoid using a needle and thread.

  14. This is such a pretty dress. Totally the kind of style I’d wear, too. The pintucks look great. Love the photos as well.

  15. From one historical costume-y person to another I love the way you’ve translated something almost 400 years old into the contemporary. Love your setting, love hearing about your homeland : )

    • Thank you!

      NZ isn’t actually my homeland – at least not originally. I’m from Hawaii, but have lived here for the last 7 years (Kiwi husband). I actually lived in the Bay Area for a few years, so if you do the whole historic costuming scene there I may have seen you at a GBAC event, or Gaskells.