Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Costume: Demelza from Poldark

I'm in real need of a personal project to get me back into the swing of things. I have a fair few commissions to be getting on with but I really needed something I could focus on for myself. A costume that was REALLY for me. I still want to do Anna from Frozen and have some of the fabric but I've been waiting too long to start that and I'm not feeling very enthusiastic about it. Then I started watching Poldark.

I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this show. The first episode didn't really grip me but I decided to persevere anyway, I love Aidan Turner and enjoyed seeing him in a more "nice guy" role. I'm now very glad I kept it up. I've fallen in love with Demelza, her spirit, her way with words and her strength (and she's a ginger). Both her yellow and red dresses are colloquially quaint, and that gown from episode 4 is stunning. The red one is the dress she wears the most often and through most of episode 4 and I just knew I wanted to make it.

On the surface it seems quite simple but once you start to research it becomes very clear that there are many more layers to this outfit. A lot of attention was paid to making it historically accurate and although the construction may not necessarily be historical in nature (I'm sure on the inside its overlocked and interfaced), I'm going to do my best to stick close to contemporary garments.

So lets start with some references. These are all promotional images found on Google.


 This dress is a good example of a late 18th century gown with a full pleated skirt, 3/4 sleeves and front closure. There is no silk or embroidery here as she is technically a peasant so we're looking at fabrics that could be washed such as linen or muslin. Despite being of the poorer classes she will still be wearing foundation garments, especially a corset as the bodice is not boned and that flat look cannot be achieved without one. She also wears a petticoat and a chemise.

The Dress

Lets start with the most important part first: the red dress. As I mentioned before its a typical shape for the late 1700s and luckily for me I made a half scale dress very similar while I was at uni that I still have the pattern for. Its not exactly the same but it was a good starting point for figuring out the pattern. Armed with this knowledge I can look at screenshots of the dress and begin to work out how its made, where the seams are etc. Most images from here on out were grabbed from BBC iPlayer.

The neckline of her corset can be seen clearly under her dress here as well as the closure on the front.

Here you can see the grain of the fabric on the front pulling at a diagonal but straight on the sleeve.
The bodice follows a typical shape at the front with a scooped neckline and slightly boxy body. I was unsure at first how the garment was fastened; you can clearly see in these images the little nicks down the opening. My first thought was hooks and eyes but did they use those in the 18th century? Yes they did. Surprisingly they are quite common during this period.

The grain line of the fabric is very distinct on the front. It appears to run upwards at a diagonal, almost mimicking those striped gowns fashionable at this time. An intuitive idea if you're a poor commoner and can't afford striped fabric.

One concern I have, and one I haven't decided fully upon yet, is the shoulder strap. Generally in these types of gowns, there is a separate shoulder strap pattern piece. It would attach at a sort of diagonal on the front and on the back (see images of back below). The problem I'm having is that I can't see a seam on the front at all where it would normally be attached.

The seam is very clear on the back as you can see in the images. But if its not there then its not there. I have found some evidence of gowns without the separate shoulder strap and perhaps I will discover during the patterning process that it works just as well as an extension of the front.

The bottom of the front of the bodice is a rounded point with a much sharper and dropped point on the back. Again very late 1700s. The sleeves are two-piece which gives them that more tailored look.

My notes on the bodice:

Patterns based on my college project.
The skirt is fully pleated at the waist; it is not gathered, this would have been too bulky and messy so pleats were much more popular. While its hard to tell from the images whether there is any kind of train on the dress I have decided to add a slight drop at the back for a proper period look.

While I cannot be sure of the fabric used I'm fairly certain it is a natural fiber and has been dyed to that beautiful wine red colour. I had a search through my local fabric shop for fabrics that looked similar to the one used and decided that linen had the best look and weight.

I will back the linen with a lining, possibly muslin as this was a commonly used material for lining dresses at the time.

The colour will hopefully be achieved through dyeing and I will experiment with different mixes to get the perfect shade. Looking at the Dylon chart, my best bet is with Rosewood Red and Burlesque Red. I will have to mix varying amounts of each dye and do several tests on the linen to find the perfect match. Depending on the results, I may need to add a little bit of brown too.


Luckily, in episode 4, we get a glimpse of Delmeza's corset which makes life a lot easier! Corsets come in all shapes and sizes, and they all achieve different effects. By getting a view of her corset I was able to tell how much boning it has and what style I'm looking for.

If you're interested in making historical corsets I cannot recommend the book Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh enough. It has a great selection of 18th century corsetry including one I think will work perfectly.

The only change I intend to make is to remove most of the horizontal boning at the top. Upon close inspection of the corset that Delmeza wears in the above scene, I can see that it is generally vertical boning. I may still include one bone across the top however.

 I found steel boning on the roll for £1.70 per metre at my local fabric shop. I wasn't expecting to find it so easily!

My notes on the corset:


The chemise/smock/undershirt is a fairly standard shape throughout the 1700s. Demelza's can be seen at the neck and cuffs.

This will probably also be made of linen preferably with a stripe to it. Both the neckline and the sleeves have a drawstring to allow for resizing. The change in the cuffs can be seen in the wedding scene where they are left wide and then when she is working in the kitchen they are pulled tight.

The pattern for a chemise is fairly simple.

How to Make an 18th Century Chemise.

How to Make an 18th Century Chemise.

The petticoat will also follow the standard for the time which was a full gathered skirt with the front and back sewn onto two separate waist tapes. The back is tied on first and then the front. I will demonstrate this once I have made the petticoat.

It appears to be a subdued pink colour and probably made from linen also. I will weight the hem by making it thicker so it doesn't get caught up with the outer dress.


Demelza's signature wild ginger hair is usually contained by a scrap of linen tied around her head in a typical late 18th, early 19th century fashion.

I already have a wig that is perfect for this costume. I used it for my final project at uni, the embroidered blue gown from The Secret of Moonacre. I found it, dusted it off and pinned it up. Perfect!

Well not quite! It needs a little cutting and styling but it'll work.

As you can tell, this is going to be a huge project for a simple dress. My current plan is to have it ready for MCM Comic Con in London in May. I'll be working at the cosplay desk but it should be a fairly comfortable costume to wear.

If anyone has any suggestions or tips please leave a comment. And follow for updates!

No comments:

Post a Comment