Making copies of museum garments

Katia Johansen
and Mette Vejgaard Petersen
Royal Danish Collections



What resources can a museum offer if you want to make a copy or reconstruction of a garment? Copies of historic clothes are popular for those working in films, theater, re-enactment groups, cosplay and others. If you are inspired to make a copy or reconstruction from a museum garment, how can you get usable patterns and materials, as well as learning how to sew the special seams that makecopies of historical clothing look genuine?



When does a museum want to make a reconstruction or reproduction of a garment?

  • when the original piece is too fragile or too important to display
  • If an original garment is missing an important part (sleeve, overskirt, collar, etc.) which needs to be recreated in order for the garment to have the right silhouet and be properly understood, a copy might be made. But the museum must be careful to inform visitors what parts are genuine and which are new, so they are not misled. Always mark the reconstructed piece with a label inside ("sleeve reconstructed 2005") so it will not be mistaken for original in future.
  • for educational purposes – for teaching children about historical costume, how it was made, how many pieces were worn, how one needed help to dress, etc.
  • staff, guides and docents sometimes dress in period costume in museums to help interpret and present the museum’s exhibits. These clothes are usually made by outside suppliers, as it is complicated and expensive to make period clothes to fit a variety of staff.
  • making a copy is also an excellent way to study both textile technology and costume and fashion history. Observing how a garment is cut, stitched and tailored helps in understanding our cultural history. Some ways of cutting patterns and sewing parts together are so distinctive that they can help date garments and indicate where they were made.
  • artists and craftsmen may enjoy using historical garments, either existing or from paintings, as inspiration for their own work (as example the artist Isabella Borchgrave, Belgium, who recreates historical costume in paper)
  • if the museum is concerned about how a copy will be used (for example, commercially), it is wise to make a contract. Usually museums can offer help with patterns – if they have them – for personal, private and educational use.


Many of the original fabrics are no longer made: substituting modern materials that look similar is not enough for a good copy. Will your copy need just to look right, or is it important that it feel and move right (which also require correct underwear and fabrics with the right drape and weight)? You need to know if the costume is to be worn or just shown before you begin. If it is to be worn, it will need cleaning, which will influence your choice of materials and sewing techniques.

  • Colors today are also different, as today’s chemical dyes are often stronger and sharper than historic, faded dyes. Optical white, which makes white colors blindingly so, is a new invention. White in the 1700s was more like what we today call off-white or beige.
  • Fabrics: Real silk drapes, handles, sounds, and feels different from polyester. This may or may not be important in a reconstruction.
  • Fulled woolen cloth and fustian (part linen and part cotton or wool) were heavy-duty fabrics that aren’t made commercially any more.
  • Lace: it’s best not to use original lace, which may be valuable and will not stand up to washing and cleaning if the copy is to be worn. Reproductions and machine-made will have to do.
  • Embroidery: you won’t be able to do it nearly as well as the embroidery on an historic garment, which may have been embroidered by a professional who learned from an early age and worked a whole life just with embroidery. Consider alternatives like printing, drawing or projection (showing a picture of an embroidery as a slide on the finished, plain reproduction in white).
  • Accessories, orders, medals and jewelry may be essential to present an historic garment correctly. New costume jewelry is often too shiny, but can be patinated.


Your expenses will be determined by your level of ambition. Bear in mind that good quality fabrics are always expensive, and the work itself in cutting, sewing and embroidering is very time-consuming.

Time frame

Your deadline will determine how much time you can spend on each of the following important aspects: find a model, make or adapt a pattern, find fabrics and decorations, make a toile, made adjustments, cut and sew. If you are doing it for the first time, it will take much longer than you imagine. Finding the best resources and suppliers also takes time.

What happens to copies after they've been made?

Copies and reconstructions won’t become museum objects in our time – and even very old copies are problematic for museums. Good quality reconstructions, with complete documentation, can be valuable in educational departments. The documentation should include information about who made the garment, for what purpose, how it was made, a list of materials and source material as well as pictures of it “in action”. A reconstruction must always carry a label with the date it was made, so it is not mistaken for a museum object sometime in the future.

What resources can a museum offer?

Enthusiastic amateurs may require more guidance and supervision than a museum can provide. On the other hand, museums are the guardians of our cultural heritage and are responsible for sharing this information – if it can be done without damaging the objects. Amateurs with special interests sometimes contribute valuable new insight which busy museum staff do not have the time to concentrate on.

Museums don’t usually have patterns of very many of the garments in their collection. Taking a pattern (linkto article on pattern-taking) is time-consuming and specialized work. However, when a pattern has been made, it reveals so much information about the object that it becomes part of the object’s important primary documentation. It reveals exactly how the garment was made, altered and worn. Not all this information is necessarily required for making a reconstruction, depending on the situation and certain discretionary or security concerns.

Patterns and photographs that can be shared with the interested public will help save wear and tear on the objects and time from the staff.


Mette Vejgaard Petersen: Reconstruction of the wedding dress of Mette Bagge Kiær, 1766.

Katia Johansen: A new “old” costume for Manneken-Pis, ca 1660

Katia Johansen: Dress in Tizian’s “Lady in White”, ca. 1560

Mauritia Kirchner, Reines des Centfeuilles: Historical costume reproductions (see als websote Historical costume reproductions)


Jane Malcolm-Davies, ed.: The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625


Reconstruction of the wedding dress of Mette Bagge Kiær, 1766

Mette Vejgaard Pedersen



Made by:  Students from the School for Textiles and Handicraft Education, Copenhagen, Denmark

Purpose: Celebrating the 250 year-jubilee of Frederiksstaden, Copenhagen, Denmark

Original object: The wedding dress of Mette Bagge Kiær, 1766, North Jutland, Denmark, in the Danish National Museum.

Man hours: 3 students for one month

Preparation: Studies of sewing-techniques. Studies of contemporary drawings, paintings, fabrics, dresses and patterns.

Comments: The dress was sewn by hand and was made for Design Museum Denmark

A new “old” costume for Manneken-Pis

Katia Johansen

Royal Danish Collections

Made by: Britta Hammar, Mette Vejgaard Pedersen, Katia Johansen, contribution by Olle Hammar

Purpose: The suit was made by invitation from the City of Brussels, and the project was chosen by the ICOM Costume Committee to mark its 50th anniversary, which was celebrated during the annual meeting in Brussels in October 2012. The Manneken-Pis statue, from 1619, has had clothes made for him as early as the 1630s, and he has traditionally been dressed on special occasions.

Original: from a painting of three boys in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent. The painter has not been identified, but he is assumed to be Flemish; the date is thought to be ca 1660. This painting was chosen partly because the Manneken-Pis statue’s wardrobe of nearly 900 suits is lacking in “historical” garments, and partly because the boy’s stance in the original painting mimics that of the statue.

Man hours: ca 200

Preparation: investigating the origin of the painting and identity of the boys (which was not successful despite a royal crest on the painting), comparing the boys’ garments and lace with each other (they seemed not to be from the same period), and comparing the youngest boy’s suit with existing garments from the same period in the Royal Danish Collections.

Comments: The history of Manneken-Pis, his wardrobe, clothing statues, 17th century men’s clothing and lace as well as the costume itself is documented in a booklet Dressing a cool Belgian kid, ca. 1660, published by the ICOM Costume Committee 2012 ISBN 978-87-995705-0-8. The project received generous support of ICOM, The Danish Cultural Institute in Brussels, Museum of the City of Brussels, H.E. the Belgian ambassador in Copenhagen, ICOM Gelgium Flanders, VisitBrussels and ICOM Belgium-Flanders.

Dress in Tizian’s “Lady in White”, ca. 1560

Katia Johansen

Royal Danish Collections


Made by: Katia Johansen

Purpose: A special exhibition in 2010 at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, presented the newly restored, well-known “Lady in White” by Titian. The curators had joined forces in an all-around description of everything about the painting. A reconstruction of the dress was a welcome addition to the pigment analyses, charts, X-rays, and conservators’ and art historians’ reports. The dress was reconstructed with the length that is visible in the painting, although it was of course originally full-length. The short skirt showed how successful it might be as a minidress and appealed in this way to younger visitors! Only the left sleeve was copied, to focus on the details of materials and tailoring. The materials included twined strands of tiny pearls, loop-manipulated silk cord for the front lacing, small “gold” flower ornaments, and period lace with hand-stitched details.

Original: “Lady in White” by Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), ca. 1560

Man hours: ca 100

Preparation: examining other portraits by the artist, and other contemporary portraits, interviewing curators of paintings and costume, gathering information about contemporary fashion, pearls and early Italian lace

Comments: The dress was planned to be only as long as what is shown in the painting , and just to show the left side. It was exhibited on its own mannequin in a glass case, where visitors could get very close to see details. In the exhibition it was possible to compare details in the painting with details in the reconstructed dress. Afterwards, the dress has been used by the educational department to illustrate 16th century dress.

Historical costume reproductions by Reine des Centfeuilles, Leidersbach, Germany


Wedding suit, Christian 7th of Denmark, 1766

Made by: Reine des Centfeuilles & Ricarda Wienert-Oefelein

Purpose: ordered by a private customer, 2005

Original: in the Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Man hours: approximately 5 months, inclusing embroidery

Preparations: fabric specially woven in Germany with threads of real silver (several kilos weight!) and then pressed between rollers for better sheen

Habit á la Française, Randvijk suit, Den Haag

Made by: Reine des Centfeuilles & Ricarda Wienert-Oefelein

Purpose: ordered by a private customer, 2003

Original: museum display

Man hours: approximately 3 months, including embroidery, with work of several embroiderers and tailor

Preparations: Copy of original silk fabric woven in England. Customer is the owner of a house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used to stay.

French court hunting suit, Christian 7th, Denmark

Made by: Reine des Centfeuilles & Ricarda Wienert-Oefelein

Purpose: order by private customer, 2007

Original: suit in Royal Danish Collections, given to Danish King Christian 7th when he visited Louis XIV at Versailles

Man hours: approximately 3 months

Preparations: pattern was provided by Royal Danish Collections. Wool, braids and trimmings from antique market or completed with Hand&Look products.

Riding gown, copy from painting by Stevens

Made by: Reine des Centfeuilles & Ricarda Wienert-Oefelein

Purpose: order by private customer, 2008

Man hours: oil painting

Man hours: approximately 1,5 months

Preparations: Riding gown: wool and silk waistcoat. Fabric of blouse: vintage 18th, cotton. Antique buttons and cravatte pin. Hat made according to one shown in Journal de la Mode.

Late Victorian wedding gown

Made by: Reine des Centfeuilles & Ricarda Wienert-Oefelein

Purpose: wedding of daughter of company owner, 2012

Man hours: vintage textile

Man hours: approximately 2 months

Preparations: Copy of a wedding gown from 1878 which is part of Reine des Centfeuilles’ collection, and was made in the atelier Dover & Allen B. Lower, Seymore Street, London


The Tudor Child

Jane Malcolm-Davies, ed., The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625, published 2013. ISBN-978-0-9562674-2-9 (UK) and -978-0-89676-267-1 (USA)


Made by: Jane Malcolm-Davies, Jane Huggett and Ninya Mikhaila

Purpose: research for this publication, reconstructions subsequently offered for educational use, workshops and exhibition

Original: sources of all types have been used: contemporary prints, paintings, effigies, existing costume, literary references, wills, inventories and other archival material

Comments: This new publication is eminently useful for anyone wanting to see how well copies and reconstructions can be made. Information about every stage of choosing and completing a project is generously available, including patterns. That the authors are experts at what they do is evident in the multitude of charming and informative illustrations. Materials, supplies and copies of patterns are available at

Images from The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625
The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485 to 1625 (© The Tudor Tailor; photographs by Adam Shaw), with kind permission from the authors.

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