The Vermeer Project: Stage 1

Last week, I wrote about the inspiration for my next historic attire project. Knowing a rolling stone gathers no moss and not wanting to get mossy, I have started on the outfit and wanted to share the progress. During projects like these, that infamous ADHD impulsiveness really comes in handy and helps get you going before you can second guess your abilities!

Previously, I have not designed my outfits based on any existing model. I’ve seen period garments in person and mine are decent replicas considering I use a machine but this is the first time I am basing a gown on an actual garment so there will be a standard to which my garment will be compared. It is a new challenge. I am both excited and nervous.


This is “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher” by Johannes Vermeer, painted during 1662. Although it’s technically the baroque period and ever so slightly late for the Renaissance, this will be my go-to for the Faire and Halloween this year if I get it completed in time. The styles are close enough to get away with since I’m not in the SCA or Faire employee. To learn why I’ve chosen this, read my previous post Vermeer’s Closet.

Of all Vermeer’s paintings, this is one of the few I’ve seen in person because it lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This is something of a full circle because the Costume Institute at the Met is where I went to examine period gowns from the 18th Century when I was making my very first Robe à la Française. This project feels like it’s been years in the making. There is something very emotionally fulfilling about it. Naturally, I am taking my time and really thinking things through.

If I pull this off, I am going to wear my outfit to the Met and take my picture next to the painting! It will be my sublime reward! I’ll have to make sure the painting will be there. A closed gallery would be a bummer.


I love sheets for historic costuming. They’re nice and wide which means you can avoid irritating seams. If you use high-count Egyptian cotton, you get such a beautiful luster so I tend to stick with that. Naturally, I went to IKEA (inexpensive!) to check out some navy blue sheets there but I wasn’t 100% about them. Before committing, I checked out a local fabric shop on Fabric Row and what should I find but the absolutely, most perfect navy blue fabric for $1.98 a yard! In the first shop I went into! This is one of those fabric miracles when you know you simply must complete the project because it has been blessed by the fabric gods themselves!

The gold is from a bustle dress I made last year that I never really loved so am gladly sacrificing for this project. It’s absolutely the perfect color and texture which I didn’t realize at the time but am so happy about now. It was formerly a queen sheet set I scored from Marshall’s for a steal.


Quite a bit of planning goes into a project like this and I’ve been looking at every inch of the painting for hours. Fortunately, I have every angle of the bodice (the top) to view because Vermeer painted it several times. Thanks to Pinterest, I also have photos of a similar bodice from the period as well as numerous reproduction patterns to work from.

I always sketch out what I’m going to do. What fabrics go where. How I’m going to construct the garment. You have to use a little imagination because there is nothing to actually touch and turn inside out and writing out a plan helps. Two other things will help. One, I’ve made a similar gown before and remember my mistakes and two, for the first time ever, thanks to my old sheets that I hadn’t done anything with yet, I am going to mock-up a working version of the bodice so I can really get it to fit perfectly before cutting the final fabric. I could skip this if I had a dressform but I don’t have one (sniff).


A quite happy coincidence is that I had trimmed the bustle dress in black twill tape and it worked out beyond perfectly for the tabs. So not very much work to do for those and all eight are done.


The skirt and bodice are not attached. I see evidence of this in Vermeer’s paintings because the models are often wearing different skirts with the bodice. But, I love the depth of the blue in the water pitcher painting so that is my inspiration. It’s also the only painting where the model’s hair is covered (bonus!) and I need that because of my very non-16th Century hair style.

I was in love with the fabric before I started working with it but all the more so afterwards. It has worked up delightfully! Five yards gathered into 30 inches and not a single broken thread or needle. It’s going to be a very dramatic skirt! Such body! Such depth of color! I simply need to finish the waist to which I made a last minute recalculation. I’ve laid the tabs on the skirt here to demonstrate how they’ll look together. So far, very excited about the results!

Next steps include:

  1. Sacrifice a worn sofa cushion and finish the bumroll
  2. Hem the skirt
  3. Enlarge bodice pattern and cut working version
  4. Finish my bee corset which provides a suitable shape

Speaking of shape. One of the very odd things I noticed about the paintings of this outfit is that the bodice doesn’t always fit the model 100%. In the water pitcher painting, it’s very well fitted. But in the girl with a letter painting, it’s somewhat baggy. So, if I’m not 100% perfect, I think it will still look acceptable. I’ll have to see.

3 thoughts on “The Vermeer Project: Stage 1

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