Honorable Lady Samrah of Caid
Nothing can replace good solid research, but sometimes imagination and forethought can be just as important. Take time to really look at costume patterns -- the sleeves, particularly at the wrist area and the neckline and even the hemline.
If you know what the Royals wore, you know what every garden variety noblewoman dreamed of wearing. In reality, she probably wore the closest thing she could afford.Now, look at your personal experience level.
Even if you are an extremely talented embroideress, if your experience has only been with small items or pictures, working with costuming is a new challenge. Your projects now have more space limitations, and there is more need of tolerance for repetition. A good suggestion from Ms. Jania (embroidery Laurel of the West, owner of the Green Duck Book Store): Remember when dealing with border patterns, like Celtic, to be done in regular embroidery stitches (not counted work), enlarge the border pattern (Kinkos here we come) to allow you space to work in. This will give you room to be more creative with your stitch patterns...
For the most part, regardless of what documentation you do find, most beginning garb projects should start small. Perhaps collar (or neck edge) and cuffs (or wrist area). Perhaps yokes or if square necklines are popular, perhaps triangular motifs that taper down towards the waist. The main thing is make your first garb projects reasonable, then expand as you gain confidence.
I believe there is documentation out there that most cultures saved the lace and embroidered bits off of old dresses and added them to new ones, so applique is also an option. This can save some hand strain and when your wonderful creation dies, as all dresses do, it makes it easier to save the work. Sometimes the effect is better if you plan the applique in the first place, rather than chopping up the "perfect" dress when it begins to look scruffy due to old age. At any rate, complete as much of the embroidery as possible before you sew the garment together. This will greatly reduce handstrain.
Remember they faced the same challenges in period as we do in contemporary times--things like hand and eye strain, cooking, taking care of family, and other chores. These all influence the amount and locations of embroidery. Think about what colors and materials were available in your time period. What was fashionable? What was easily available? Take time to look through your embroidery and costume patterns and really think like your persona.
Thanks for bearing with me folks! I know this is probably not exactly the information you were looking for, but perhaps it was enough "food for thought" to get you started on some new projects. No one has ever said brevity was one of my virtues.
(All copyright privledges remain with the author. Copyright 2002 The Honorable Lady Samrah of Caid)