Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Blue Chintz 18thC Gown

I didn't actually plan to make this dress. I knew I needed a new 18thC dress for an upcoming dress talk at a local library, and I had a few things up on the drawing board, and one by one, those things started to prove more involved than I anticipated. I was actually about halfway through a new caraco before I decided to switch gears and make this. The caraco just did not want to cooperate. I used the Janet Arnold pattern, the same one I used for the Curtain Along Caraco, as my guide, but absolutely nothing went right. The bodice wrinkled in weird ways, the skirtings didn't want to sit right, and with just three yards of fabric to work with, I had absolutely no room to rework any flubs or mistakes that might have been made. I decided that, instead of hammering away at it and trying to squeeze it in before a tight deadline, I would set it aside and take my time reworking it when I didn't have to have it finished in time for an event. By the time I came to that decision, it was only a couple of weeks until the talk, and I still didn't have anything to wear!

I hit all the local fabric stores, but things either didn't work or were too expensive. (Another reason I sidelined the caraco - I couldn't find a red satin for the petticoat that matched the fabric I was using on the caraco.) I was on the verge of using something in the Stash that I'd earmarked for something else, when the clouds parted and a beam of light shone down on a bolt of fabric in Walmart. Yes, Walmart.

I had seen it before and knew that I wanted to use it for something 18thC, but I didn't know quite what. Thankfully, there was just enough on the bolt, about 8 yards, to eek out a gown if I made a contrasting petticoat.

I dug out the last bodice pattern that I made that worked and used it to cut out a lining from plain cotton muslin. Then I started on the gown, making an en forreau pleated back and fitted front. Since I actually had a decent amount of fabric to work with, I could actually make the skirt as full as I wanted, rather than simply scrimping by.

Before completing the rest of the gown, I decided to switch gears and work on the petticoat. I took a swatch to the store and began holding it up to fabrics to see what worked, and fell in love with a mustard colored cotton. I bought enough to make a nice full petticoat to go over my new panniers.

With that finished, I went back to working on the gown. I finished the front, added the sleeves, and finished the straps.

I spent the day before the lecture finishing the trim and stomacher. The trim was hemmed and gathered on the machine, but tacked onto the dress by hand. For as little time I had available, I'm really proud of how much hand-sewing went into this dress. The long seams on the inside and the hidden seams in the bodice are sewn on the machine, but the pleating on the back, the shoulder straps, the trim, and the lining at the bodice waist is all done by hand.

I literally finished this dress about 5 minutes before I left for the lecture. I'm actually super happy with this dress - it fits perfectly, looks great, and is actually 100% complete, unlike most of my gowns, which usually have some quick fix in the stomacher or no waistband on the petticoat or something.

I also had to make all new undies for this outfit, which also cut down on the amount of time I had to work on the gown itself. I made a new pannier, a new under-petticoat, a new shift, and new engageantes out of this fabulous embroidered net lace that I found at one of our local fabric warehouses.

The dress talk went incredibly well. I hate public speaking, but it was a subject I was really comfortable talking about, and I had a great audience that came loaded with tons of questions. They were super interested in the clothing and beauty trends of the 18th century, and even though it was just a general overview of fashion, I feel like people went away knowing more about a period that I love and that's very popular in television and film right now.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Chocolate Truffle Bustle Dress

My first finished costume of the year! I'm so happy with how this dress turned out. I had found the fashion plate last fall, and it immediately jumped out at me - the layered overskirt with the graduated leaves, the colors, and, of course, that absolutely spectacular ruffled underskirt. I have always had a weakness for ruffled tiers on a skirt, they're just so eye catching and striking! Ever since my first ruffled skirt, I've been hooked.

I usually make my ruffled skirts with gathered ruffles, which is relatively quick and easy. It still takes quite a bit of time, but they can usually be finished over a couple of days.

But, the skirt in the fashion plate very clearly had pleated ruffles, not gathered ones, which meant I needed to dig out my pleating board and get to work! The back panel of the skirt was about 20 inches wide, which meant that the strip for each ruffle had to be 60 inches. It took days to cut everything out, hem each edge of the ruffle, and pleat each ruffle. In total, it took about 5 hours of work to make and attach one ruffle, so there is about 35 hours of work just in the back panel of the skirt alone! It was totally worth it in the end, but my back certainly wasn't happy about all the hunch over the ironing board.

For each ruffle, I had to work in about foot long sections because of the size of my pleating board. I sprayed the fabric with a mixture of vinegar and water, tucked the fabric into the pleating board, and pressed it until all the fabric was dry. Once it cooled, I pinned the pleats in place so they would be easier to wrangle. 


This created a pleated pin monster. After pleating each ruffle, I would pin it to the skirt and sew it in place along the top edge.

It took almost two weeks to finish the underskirt alone, but once it was finished it really did look pretty great!

For the overskirt, I pretty much just wung it. (Is that even a word?) First, I cut a piece of fabric to the length needed, and then I eyeballed the shape based off of the ones in the plate. I used the first one cut as a template for the rest of them, adding 5 inches of length each time to account for the length of the skirt toward the train.

I then layered them from back to front, so the shortest panel was at the center front. I used a few pleats at the top edge to make sure that the panels would lay smoothly.

I added trim to the hemline by making wide tape. I ironed a 6-inche wide piece of the brown fabric in the middle, and then ironed down the seam allowances. I made sure that one side of the tape was slightly shorter than the other so that when I stitched things down from the top, it would be sure to catch both sides of the tape.

I didn't really feel like drafting anything ,so for the bodice I ended up using Burda 7880, which had almost exactly the same shape as the bodice in the fashion plate.


  I especially love the box pleated peplum!

I used the pattern to make some brown trim for the front instead of using the lace and ribbon edging that the pattern recommends, so that it would match the plate. I also had to add brown trim to the sleeves, bound the bottom with a wide band of the brown, and I cut out the sleeve bands and collar in the brown fabric, as well.

The Burda pattern produced really beautiful results, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it for beginners. The instructions were minimal, at best, and it definitely presupposes a certain amount of sewing knowledge coming into the project. Nowhere in the pattern did it ever mention cutting out a lining, even in the cutting layout. It's not even written on the pattern pieces. But, in the instructions, there's a vague little note that says "assemble inside jacket as outside", the "inside jacket" meaning lining. The pattern just assumes that you'll automatically know to cut lining.

There also isn't a size chart on the pattern envelope. It says it is printed on the pattern tissue, but that doesn't help you if you don't know what size to buy. They do have a PDF on the website of their size chart, but it's an unnecessary extra step to have to go online just to figure out what size you are.

There are also other small quirks that are problematic. For example, they have a picture diagram of what notions you'll need, but it's not totally helpful. For instance, it shows a picture of a button with "x24" next to it, but it doesn't tell you what size buttons you need. I ended up using 3/4" coverable buttons, and only needed 19 for my bodice, so they must have intended to use a much smaller size.

Despite all of this, the pattern is very easy to put together, and the bodice itself is beautiful. I'm super happy with how this entire project came out, and I'm looking forward to using the Burda pattern again! There are a few small things that I want to add to complete the outfit - I didn't have time to add the narrow line of trim on the overskirt panels and on the bodice, and I didn't have any lace on hand to add to the collar and cuff edges. I also think I need to make one of those bustles with the train support in the back, to give the train a bit more oomph. I'll be sure to have those added by the next time I wear the outfit, though! :)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 in Review

This definitely was not the intensely sewing-productive year that I anticipated. I thought that my schoolwork would be lighter (hah!), but instead, I ended up practically living in the lab on campus, working on projects for 8 hours a day during the spring semester. I spent the entire summer in Africa on an archaeological dig, and barely had any down time while I was there, so I didn't have a chance to even work on a small hand-sewing project while away. Then, the fall semester has been just as busy, with the added stress of having to find a new job and trying to catch up on bills from my time away. Definitely not conducive to sewing! Oh, and all those goals from last year? Nope, didn't achieve a single one. Sigh.

But, a mere two days ago, I graduated with my Bachelor's! That means that, for a little while anyway, I won't have a school schedule and unexpected assignments popping up to take away from sewing time. There will be a pretty intense job hunt going on for a while, but in the mean time, I do have the opportunity to catch up on some long overdue costuming that I've been meaning to do.

Before I get into my goals for 2017, let's take a look at what I did actually accomplish in 2016.




I did learn a few things about my wardrobe this year that need to be addressed in the next few months. First, some of my garments have real fit issues, and I've discovered that it's because the mannequin that I usually use for my projects is WAY more short waisted than I am. Those lovely red silk stays above? Too short. Same for a couple of gowns I made. I'm going to try and make a custom form for myself so I have an exact copy of my measurements to work off of.

So, this year, I'm doing it a bit differently. Instead of overall improvement goals, I'm going to set myself some very particular sewing goals that I want to meet.

1) New full sets of undies for Regency, 1760s, 1870s, and 19-teens. By full set, I mean two petticoats, two chemises/shifts, one new corset/set of stays, and a new skirt support. The exception is the bustle era, which I've already made a new chemise and bustle for. Everything else needs new things.

2) Make new outerwear. For 18thC, especially a pelisse. I just love the mantelet I made for the Georgian Picnic, and I want one in a cream and black color scheme that I see in so many portraits. I also need some outerwear for Victorian, 1890s, Teens Era and Regency. I do have one pelisse for the Regency, but it shrunk when I washed it, and needs to be redone.

3) Make a complete outfit for each time period above for M. He needs to finally have a complete outfit, we can't keep cobbling together things for events, it just never looks correct.

4) Concentrate on making some accessories. I need hats for all periods, purses, pockets, reticules, caps, fichus, gloves, fans, the list goes on. I need these things, and I've never bothered to make them.

5) Make shoes. Seriously. I can't afford to shell out the money for American Duchess or other HA shoes, but I sure can learn to fake it by altering some cheap eBay shoes.

6) Make more double-duty outfits. I need some Victorian outfits with matching day and night bodice options. I just dug out a whole bunch of Victorian skirts from the closet and realized that I never really did anything more with them after the initial outfit. I also want to remake one of my first Victorian outfits to more accurately match the fashion plate I drew inspiration from.

7) Finish that damned 1905 evening gown, dammit.

8) For that matter, I need new day and evening wear in almost all the time periods I do regularly, for both myself and M. Our evening events may not be very frequent, but I don't want to be stuck whipping something up at the last minute over and over, especially for menswear. 

9) Make more wigs appropriate for my most costumed eras. Regency I can do on the fly before an event, but 18thC is a little harder, and Edwardian is nearly impossible for me to get right. I need to really experiment and play around with hairstyling so I can finally have an idea of how to properly do these styles in the future.

10) Concentrate less on getting things done quickly, and instead take my time, do things right, and don't rush it. I've had some major fit issues because I've rushed things before, and I need to just slow down and do things the right way the first time. I tend not to rewear the stuff that doesn't fit properly instead of remaking it, so if I just make things right the first time, I'll end up with more rewearable pieces.

So, there it is. Ten big goals for the new year! I'm excited to start on these goals and to improve my overall wardrobe and skills. Will I stick to these goals? I sure hope so. We'll see at the end of the year!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Champagne Taffeta Mantelet

I'm afraid I was a lousy blogger, and I didn't take any pics of the making-of for this one. That's mainly because making this mantelet was a totally last minute decision before the Georgian Picnic this year. Our weather had been in the mid-70s during the day for most of the month, then all of a sudden there was a shift, and they were predicting highs in the mid to low 50s! I didn't have a single scrap of 18thC outerwear, so I picked a project I thought I could put together quickly, grabbed a few fabrics out of The Stash, and got to work.

The outer fabric is a champagne colored taffeta, and the entire thing is lined with black fleece. I took a page from a couple of friends that had made similar mantelets before and used marabou to trim the edges to make it look like fur.

The pattern I used is from the 1769 book, Art du Tailleur. Thankfully, with 54" wide fabric, the entire mantelet can be cut out in one piece, which cut down on assembly time.

I absolutely loved the mantelet once I was finished with it! It was so snuggly and warm, and I felt so elegant while I was wearing it. The hood is absolutely gigantic, as it was designed to be able to fit over the tall hairstyles of time, and I think it would fit over even the most elaborate of coiffures. The length is nice, as it ends at just about the waist, and so it doesn't make me feel like a big tent. I do, however, want to make an 18thC pelisse sometime in the future, which is totally tent-like and crazy.

In total, this version took 6 hours to make - 2 for total assembly, and 4 hours to sew on the marabou by hand. Thank goodness for tv marathons that I can sew to. I absolutely thought that I'd have the entire project done in an hour or two, but that was a big nope. At least I know for next time how long it takes, and if I do a fur edging, it will take at least twice as long to sew on the trim, so I can budget my time a bit better.

I want to make a couple more, with some actual fur (faux, I'm too broke for the real stuff) edging rather than marabou. There are a lot of images of matelets like this in a cream silk with fur edging, and I'm completely fixated on making a similar one.

I'll also take way more pictures so I can do a proper write-up!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Black & Plaid 1890s Winter Dress

This originally started as a totally different project. I really wanted to wear 1890s to the Pumpkins & Plaid picnic (which I never actually made it to), and I had planned to wear my gold skirt with a new shirtwaist and jacket. I had pulled a fabulous gold and red plaid from The Stash, made up a pattern for the jacket...

...and completely destroyed my fabric. I just could not match the plaid, no matter what I did! Every piece turned out slightly off, and before I knew it, I had mangled my entire length of fabric. I was devastated.

So, I pulled out the only other length of plaid I had that would work, which was the black and grey plaid that I had used to make a few things for our trip to New Orleans last year. I wasn't super thrilled with it, but I was determined to make the best of it.

I started by cutting out a simple circle skirt. At this point, I was still thinking that I'd make a skirt, a shirtwaist, and maybe a plain black jacket to go with it.

I then realized that I didn't have any black taffeta left in my Stash! I always have taffeta in my Stash, so that was a bit of a shocker. So, my plans changed yet again, and I searched through Pinterest for inspiration. That's when I found this.

I love the look of that dress, and even though I would have been happier with a purple plaid, I decided to go for it. I started by draping a pattern for the underbodice.

I then cut out the pattern in my fashion fabric, using what little black taffeta I had left in the Stash to create my center front panel.

I then draped the pattern for the front overlap panel and yoke over the underbodice.

I then cut the overlap panel from my fashion fabric, and the yoke out of a black cotton velvet that I had rediscovered in the Stash. (The scrap pinned to the waist is just to see how it would look as a waistband.)

Even though the bodice wasn't entirely finished, I was tired of messing with it so I moved on to the sleeves. The entire reason that I wanted to do 1890s was because of those amazing, absurd, wonderful sleeves! I took out my copy of 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns and found a sleeve pattern in there I liked.

Because the diagrams in the book are so clear and thorough, I was able to transfer the sleeve pattern directly onto my mockup fabric by following the measurement.s

I cut out the mockup and tried it on. It fit for the most part, but it was a good 4 inches too short! That's crazy considering that it was taken directly from the original measurements, but it was an easy enough problem to fix. Once I had the mockup adjusted, I used it to cut out my sleeves from the same black velvet as the bodice yoke.

The sleeves are created in two pieces - the outer sleeve, made of the fashion fabric, and a narrower inner sleeve lining. This creates a negative space between the layers that can be stuffed with tulle or batting so that the sleeve keeps its gigantic poofy shape. I ended up using a LOT of tulle to stuff my sleeves, and they ended up even bigger than in the photo above.

Once I had finished the sleeves, I went back and finished up the bodice interior. I added the boning to the lining and finished off the waist with a bit of tape.

The seams were left as they were. A lot of bodices from the period look like this, and I suspect it's so that they could be taken in and let out easily if the wearer changed sizes. You wouldn't have to futz with taking out and replacing the lining if you were altering the size.

Once the bodice was finished, I added the collar and the waistband, and the dress was finished!

I had planned to wear it to the picnic, but we ended up missing the event. I did manage to convince M to take some pictures of me at a nearby park, though!


I was going to do a writeup for the little red hat I made to go along with the outfit, but I realized that I stopped taking pictures about halfway through making it. I'll have to be more diligent about my picture taking in the future!