Saturday, August 14, 2010

1839 Rosamund's Tea Dress

I have to say I was quite proud of myself for getting this dress done a full 12 days before wearing it at Costume College 2010. However, I lost sleep the night before furiously trimming my bonnet. Argh! I guess since the dress was done, my motivation and speed fell off drastically, so I drug my feet finishing the bonnet. -sigh-

But the bonnet turned out just dandy anyhow. It's covered with light seafoam green silk with the inner brim in a cream silk and lined in soft cotton organdy. The trim is 2" wide chocolate brown double-faced satin ribbon and two large ostrich feathers (which I stole from a previous Regency headpiece). Tiny faux flowers and their leaves accent the inside brim. Fairly simple really - but the effect was true to the period and perfect!

The dress was made from 44" cotton calico purchased at Jo-Ann Fabrics about nine years ago. I saved all 14 yards for a special "someday" project, perhaps in the 1830s/Romantic Era vein. Well, it found its purpose. It really is wonderful for the period. I even had someone tell me it reminded them of the fabrics in the Tasha Tudor Collection Catalog from the auction in 2007.

As I wandered the halls of the Warner Center Marriott on Friday, I kept getting the same question over and over: What pattern did you use? Um... let me think.

As one gets more experience in creating historical clothing, your selection of patterns to begin forming your chosen silhouette becomes quite varied. Here's what I used:

Bodice: This is perhaps a 3rd generation bodice pattern that probably originated from the Truly Victorian 1830s dress pattern. For this 1839 gown, I put on my 1830 "Slytherin" Green Dress for a first fitting, noting how much to lengthen the bodice and any fitting issues I needed to correct. (Shoot me now, because I still haven't worked out that little horizontal pinch across the back - total ARGH! Perhaps I'll just stand up straighter next time for the photo so no one will know.)

Bertha Collar: Drafted off the bodice and copied the V&A original for a nice look-alike.

Sleeves: I started with Hunnisett's Period Costume book and drafted out an Early Victorian multi-puffed sleeve, then greatly reduced the sleeve head and width. The bands holding the pleats were made from my arm measurements. The cuff was cut as 2-1/4" finished width to keep with what I read in Costume in Detail. (The pleats took 2 hours for EACH sleeve and were a pain to get even. I think that part of the sleeve needs to be cut on the bias. Too late to change now.)

Skirt: Cut from my measurements but relied heavily on my measurements from my 1844 Striped Dress.

The 1839 dress is worn over a linen chemise, cotton drawers, basic Victorian corset, corded petticoat, bustle pad, organdy ruffled petticoat, and a plain petticoat. The look was completed with a belt (Oh so period!) made from gorgeous royal blue ribbon with a mother-of-pearl buckle and a oval brooch.

Shall we to tea?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Insanity of July

On one of my sewing bulletin boards I have a button with a picture of Animal from the Muppets with the word "INSANE" at the top. It suits my sewing projects well.

Now, not all my historical costumes are Insane Projects. Only those that pop into my head anywhere from a week to a month before an event - even when I know full well that that event is on the calendar - get the title of an Insane Project.

For 10 years now July has been my Insanity Project month. It's because of Costume College happening around the first of August. What finer thing than to show off your hard work to dozens of those who will admire, compliment, photograph and train-to-make-better-next-time than a group of costuming peers. It's a place to showcase as well as learn.

So waking up one morning in early July, Insanity was calling. 1839? or 1896? I figured that's what I could do with my sewing-from-the-stash budget. I decided on 1839 with this as my main point of reference & inspiration (at the V&A Museum in London):

The fabric is one I've held onto for five or six years for an 1830s dress. I think it'll be perfect here. It's a basic cotton calico I found at JoAnn's and will be piped in navy. I've put in two full weekends now and have a bodice and skirt ready for hand finishing. The underlining is a sturdy white linen.

I started with the bodice from my 1830s Slytherin Dress and did a quick fitting over my corset. For the sleeves, I pulled out my faithful Hunnisett and drafted up a multi-bound sleeve from the era but altered it down quite a bit so it wouldn't be too puffy in the bishop part of the sleeve. I will be pleating it down and adding the piped bands as in the V&A dress.

I decided to make the bertha separate and simply tack it onto the neckline. This way I can add a chemisette with wide collar or a small fichu to change the look without the ruffled bertha collar in the way. (The bertha has still to be patterned and will be done on the gown itself while on my dress form.)

But I must admit - the dress isn't really the Insanity Project.


It's the poke bonnet covered in seafoam green silk with brown satin ribbon and ecru feathers that I'll make for the finishing touch. Ack! Running out of time. Only 23 days - now that's Insanity!

(Did I mention my need for a new petticoat?...)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Period Accurate Accessories?

Over on the Cloak & Corset Facebook page last week I posted the following: "Remember - any accessory, even if not period appropriate, is better than no accessory."
Apparently this advice, shared by a highly respected, fellow instructor and long-time teacher at Costume College, did not sit well with some or was taken out of context. Allow me to clarify my thinking of using accessories in your historical costumes.

First, inasmuch as your time and resources allow, you should strive to complete your period outfits with appropriate accessories. Many times a costume will seem incomplete - most often it's missing the accessories, including shoes, hairstyles and headwear. Accessories are many times the last thing we put our attention to when hastily finishing the dress to be worn in two days. Then we have that crisis moment of "Oh, crap! I need a hat."

Particularly in 19th C. wear, something on your head is a must 99% of the time. Well, for me, I'd rather grab any sort of hat or doily headcovering (within reason) than go without. I know it's not at all period accurate, but my head needs some sort of clothing/decoration.

Now in relation to my "any accessory rather than no accessory" thought, I would not put on my purple Tinker Bell baseball cap to wear with my new white sheer Regency gown. No way. But a simple straw craft hat from Michaels with a ribbon pinned to the top crown and the sides pulled down over my ears and tied under my chin - well, I could live with it if I had to - and knowing I would be getting a much more period replacement as soon as I was able. It's not accurate, but then again, the costume would not look complete without something on my head.

A modern nylon lace fan is so much better than seeing one standing in a ballroom using her hand to cool off . But on the other hand, a neon pink plastic fan would be totally wrong and would only draw negative attention toward oneself.

A plain black modern umbrella (on the small size) can do in a pinch or even one of those tiny white nylon parasols, but don't be taking a modern umbrella with a Monet painting printed on it and expect an historical looking ensemble.

The thought is to research a bit on the period you are re-creating. Look at museum displays, fashion plates, paintings and photographs - only focus on accessories. Get a feel for what the jewelry, gloves, bonnets, reticules and shoes looked like. Be resourceful with the time and money you have to get as close to that look as possible. And ignore the temptation to use any ol' thing because it looks "old-timey." 'shudder'

Remember, accessories can add tremendous value to your historical ensemble. Use them in relation to your outfit (e.g. no bonnets with ball gowns or boots on the dance floor). And always keep working to improve your period accuracy (if that is what you wish).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When Does Fashion Go Out?

When researching fashion trends of the past it's really hard to tell when the older styles were put aside and forgotten. They usually stay around, being worn by the older folks and those resistant to change, until eventually everyone adopts the new way.

It's kinda like the new iPhones and such. They are the hottest thing in cell phones. But I don't have one. Does that mean my two-year-old phone isn't going to work anymore? I'm going to use it for a long time until it wears out. Eventually I'm sure I'll get some sort of touch phone, but I'll stick with what I have for now.

This is the same sentiment for clothing. I have a favorite skirt from around 2005 that I still wear and isn't much out of style. I'll probably have it in my closet for some time because I love it. And yet, that doesn't prevent me from buying a new skirt today to include in my wardrobe.

All the articles and fashion publications we read from decades past show current trends. Once the new stuff is talked about the old items are lost from the written word.

Take the corded petticoat for instance. Just because the wired crinoline was patented in 1856 doesn't mean the petticoat was discarded immediately. As my five-year-old skirt still is worn, I bet the corded petticoat from 1845 was still worn in 1850 (if it was not worn out of course).

What do you think? How long are fashions worn before they are tossed aside? Would you have continued to wear a corded petticoat when a steel hoop skirt was available?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

1800 White Gauze Gown

It turned out perfect! And I'm very happy with it.

It was a bit of a challenge finishing the inside because the bodice was not flatlined at all. I did, however, cover the bodice/skirt seam with twill tape for support.

The dress is weight-y, despite the sheer cotton gauze fabric, and the shoulders and back neckline take strain because of this. Therefore, I put in the twill tape so it would hug the body snugly and take off some of the weight from the shoulders.

The front closes with two small hooks and thread loops at the waist and a functional drawstring at the neckline. The waistband is a narrow 5/8" wide.

The side back/back bodice seams were sewn together with a hand backstitch. I followed the seamlines of the sketch from Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail, so I wanted that seam to be topstitched and visible.

You can see the petticoat ties through the fabric here.

Being early Regency, the skirt is gathered all around in the "round gown" style. However, the gathers are not too full around the center front for a more flattering effect. The sides are hardly gathered (to keep the ribcage small in appearance), and the back gathers are concentrated to about 5" at center back.

And here's the dress "in action" as was taken during my "Dressing A Lady" presentation at the Jane Fest on May 8th.

Notice the gown's smooth sides at the waistband. The bodice and skirt are both "flat" here to minimize ribcage width. This is a good tip to follow for any 19th Century sewing - keep space between the arm and ribcage for a flattering look.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's In Your Sewing Toolbox?

To tie in with the May 2010 newsletter, we are posing the question: what are your most used sewing tools? I mean, if you were stranded on a deserted island with fabric, thread and needles, what other sewing supplies would you require?

What are you most can't-live-without tools in your sewing box?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Regency Corset Completed!

Finished! Well, actually it was finished a few weeks ago, but I've been super busy with my new sheer gown so I'm just now getting photos posted of the corset.

(I've also been distracted with geneology research lately. I'm determined to become a member of the DAR: Daughters of the American Revolution , and you need to prove you are a direct bloodline decendent of someone who served (in any capacity) the new democracy. I've found my bloodline patriot: Isaac Workman 1742-1847; now to gather all the proper documents.)

Anyhow... back to the corset: I fitted the mock-up made from the Mantua Maker 1810-3 pattern on my newly updated dressform. Let me just say - I LOVE having a dressform that is my perfect figure.

I only needed the one fitting on the dressform. The adjustments were made to the pattern, and out it came fitting like a dream. I have a nice Regency silhouette now.

Now, flesh squishes a whole lot more than my sturdy duct tape, so the bust is not "fluffed" as it is when actually wearing the corset. My bust sits high and is separated by the wood busk in the center.

You can see above how the wood busk doesn't curve into the abdomen. This makes it easy to breathe, but I'm not sure I like having so much "space" in the front. I can't bring myself to put in a clasp busk (Victorian) in a corset before 1825, so I guess I'll have to live with the shaping.

Again, the back will be laced closer together when I'm actually wearing it.
Oh, and I used 1/4" spiral boning all around as the corset is cut partially on the bias grain. And don't tell anyone I cheated and machine-stitched, in one run, the bias binding. I do use modern techniques when possible or time is of the essence!

Here are the bust gussets. Before sewing the gussets to the main piece I whipped stitched around the folded-in point for reinforcement.

As I mentioned, I'm currently finishing up my white sheer gauze dress. A quick photo of that, along with my other quick Regency projects, will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dreaming of a 1798-1802 Ensemble

In preparation of the Jane Fest in Fresno in May, I have thoroughly immersed myself in Regency research. Whenever starting a new project, even if I'm well versed in the fashion, I *always* go back to primary and secondary sources for new ideas, inspiration and to delve further into the particular period.

I seem to be drawn to early Regency fashion from 1800 to 1810. I rarely think of 18-teens costumes, probably due to my well-endowed bustline and the extremely high waist of that decade. (Although, for another time, I'm becoming more drawn to the 1790s transitional styles too and would love to pull off a nice 1795 full round gown with tall feathers in the hair.)

I remain humble about the fact that I look good in Regency styles. My mentor, Michelle, has a wide ribcage, and therefore has to choose very particular gowns to be flattering on her figure. (So keep your figure in mind when choosing styling details in your new costume projects.)

The dress design will have a low, round neckline with full bodice gathers at neck and waist with a trained skirt also with gathers at the front and the standard full gathered back panel. The opening will be at center front.

My fabric is a natural white cotton fabric that is gauze-like with a windowpane weave. As I was just about to give up my search at my local JoAnn's, I wandered over to the home dec section and found the sheers right on the first row. It is so soft that it'll be a dream to wear. And since it's sheer, I'll also need to whip up a bodiced petticoat for modesty.

I'm working from a sketch from Fashion in Detail of an early 1800s dress. I pulled out my most recent sage green ballgown pattern and spent quite a bit of time altering it. The muslin is cut and ready to be sewn for a first fitting. Although I'm hoping my patterning will allow me to get away with just the one fitting so I can move onto the robe.

Here is the first rough draft of the pattern:

The sleeve head has a 1" seam allowance for pin-fitting into the armhole during the fitting.

Initially I wanted a pelisse to complete my outfit. My model for the Jane Fest presentation will be in a spencer and I wanted to show another example of outerwear (despite wanting a new spencer because I love them). But in consideration of the early style dress, I went with the open robe that is quite popular with early Regency costumers.

I've pulled out my Janet Arnold book along with the Cut of Women's Clothes by Norah Waugh which both show the open dress from the V&A. You can also see a reproduction in yellow on Kate Winslet as Marianne in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility.

But I'll have to finish the dress first before I continue with the robe. So back to sewing...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Updated Dressform Complete!

A few weeks ago I decided I wasn't going to procrastinate any longer, wasn't going to wait until I lost those few extra pounds, nor keep debating with myself over "corset/no corset" before I re-did my dressform. Enough of waiting!

I made my first Duct Tape Double dressform in 1998. (You can read about my experience (and an early online review) Here at Leanna's dressmaking studio site. Scroll down and click on "Jennifer - Stand and Taping Ideas.")

That form was good back then. It served me well despite the fact that I kept my hands on my hips so the shoulders were raised out of place. This caused issues when trying to fit garments over that area. 'sigh' So for the last few years I've said I wanted to re-duct tape myself for a better and more accurate dressform. I woke up on a Wednesday and told myself I would be doing it that very weekend.

A quick trip to a discount store brought me rolls of silver tape, beige tape and stuffing. I also picked up two cheap t-shirts for the tape to go on. (You wrap your body over the shirts which you then cut through both the tape and shirts to remove the form.) It took about three hours for my husband to wrap me (keeping my arms down at my sides of course!) and another two to drape it over my current form and stuff to fill out the new layer. I will say that it was much easier this time as my fitting skills are SO much better than before. (And that includes my time spent in fashion school a couple of years after the first form was made.)

Measurements were taken before we cut the form off. As I stuffed and taped up the back I took the same measurements so the form was my perfect size (despite it not being my ideal size. Custom sewing is so clothing can fit YOU perfectly; NOT display a number dress size.)

I think the best thing about having a true dressform again is for draping and pattern fitting over the back (a hard-to-fit spot when sewing alone) and getting the armhole cut just right for movement (crucial when making well-fitted historical clothing). And even though corsets will alter the body shape, the upper back won't change much. With time, patience and a good mirror or two, I can manage fitting issues on the front. Even having the hips the right size will help skirt fitting when I throw on a bustle or hoop and petticoats.

I'm so excited to try out the new dressform with my current Regency project. Stay tuned for an update on how it goes. (A new corset is first on the list.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring - The Season of Sewing

I just love early spring weather! It promotes promise and excitement. It's inspirational, rejuvenating and kind (not freezing or burning hot). Despite the occasional allergy issues, Spring is wonderful!

And as soon as it starts to appear, so does my longing for those unfinished or simply imagined costumes. Every idea starts to swirl around my head: new 18th C. stays; that upper class Civil War day dress in a bright color, complete with new bonnet; the 1890s inspired Steampunk outfit to go with my fur-lined goggles received as a Christmas gift from my mom; a new Civil War shirt for my husband; the embroidered white 1845 ball gown; the 1862 ball gown; a 1916 dinner gown for a summer party; and the Regency everything.

And I do mean everything for Regency. I absolutely LOVE the fashions of that era. But since I can't make it ALL right now, I have a few select pieces on the docket.

You may have heard that I am a special guest speaker at the West Coast's first annual Jane Austen Festival, hosted by JASNA, on May 8th in Fresno, California. I will be presenting a "Dressing A Lady" lecture. Now, I'm not actually the one getting dressed; but I do need to be fabulously attired in new garments for the occasion. (But of course!)

My thought is a new day dress with elbow-length sleeves. Perhaps a chemisette for the day which will be removed for the evening ball. And I'll need to sew up my first pelisse. My model will have a Spencer jacket, so I want to have a pelisse available as a second example of outerwear. (Below is a silk pelisse from the Museum of Costume, Bath, UK.)

But before that I'm tossing around the idea of making period stays. My current early 19th C. corset is fine, but the bust gussets are a bit too small. (A point I discovered is EASY to do when fitting this type of corset. Don't take in the gussets too much to compress the bust. It should be gently cupped and not firmly held like later Victorian corset shapes.)
I'm considering the Past Patterns transition Stays but am unsure about the bust gussets for a full-busted woman. I may just make it up anyway and add a good amount of fabric support in that area along with a strong drawstring around the top.

And before the month is out I want to re-duct tape myself for a new, more accurate dressform. I made Jennibeth in 1998.

I think it's long past time for a new one. Then I can actually drape a new Regency dress. I SO want to have a period one with a tiny back and wide-set sleeves. Draping is the best way to accomplish this; and fitting oneself on the body just takes way too many attempts to get it right. I'll keep you posted on the dressform re-make.

So enjoy this new season. Be inspired. Be creative. Look to nature's new wardrobe colors for how to add them to your own historical closet.

Happy Sewing!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Victorian Jet Trim Anyone?

I was recently going through my plethora of historical magazines and other publications to ready more yummy Vintage Articles for Cloak & Corset members when I came across this bit of trimming.

From Godey's Lady's Book, June 1867, you can totally see how easy this trim would be to make for your upcoming Victorian project. You could use any sort of rayon or silk cord with bugle and seed beads. As mentioned, black faux jet beads would be stunning here. But what about red, or royal blue, or emerald green? Use your imagination, and trim away as our ancestors did!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Passionate About Petticoats

One of my biggest pet peeves about admiring reproduction historical clothing is being able to tell where there is a shocking lack of petticoats. A woman may have the most beautiful gown, the correct silhouette, and fabulous accessories - but it can all fall flat if she doesn't have enough (and I do mean that) petticoats. One petticoat usually doesn't cut it.

The worst offense is when a hoop skirt is worn. Have you ever seen a Civil War or 1860s skirt where a distinct wire row is visible about 6" to 12" above the hem? (yikes) Sometimes the row is seen even with a petticoat. Sometimes that one petticoat is not enough. Obviously.

It really IS ok to wear multiple petticoats!

They won't hurt and will make your costume that much better. If you don't want several waistbands under your skirt, set the petticoat panels onto a yoke or set them all together onto one waistband.

The two early-1850s skirts below would not have that gentle bell shape without the use of multiple petticoats supporting them underneath.

I just cringe when I see a fantastically made 1890s gown only to notice the skirt falling limp against the wearer's legs. Even if the skirt has all the proper panels and hem width. And simply adding horsehair or other stiffener in the hem won't cut it. The problem is NOT ENOUGH PETTICOATS.

Our ancestors knew the secret to a fashionable silhouette. They knew that you won't look the same with just a skirt about you, over your chemise and drawers. They knew the extra foundation skirts, cut just so, would show the world your fashionable eye.

So many problems can be solved by adding an extra petticoat - that airy ball gown skirt will stay put; the bell shape you desire will form; the cold air you feel will be dispelled; that train will lay flat.

Plain, corded, ruffled, trained, gored, tucked, paneled, shaped, tied - you name it. That extra petticoat or two could be the missing element of your costume.
Give it a try!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sewing Has Been Done!

After a much longer break than expected, the sewing bug bit last weekend and I actually accomplished something! Although it's not anything historical in style, it does add to my closet. :-)

Way back in high school (20 years ago!) I made most of my own clothes. I LOVED doing it. When I discovered how to make Victorian clothing my world changed. I've only done the occasional modern top or skirt or window drapes since then.

This fall I stocked up on some beautiful suiting fabrics in royal blue, bright rose pink and a navy/teal paisley. I was determined that if no costume project called to me I would add to my current work wardrobe.

The patterns have been altered since November and the fabric washed. Finally I got going on cutting out the blue blouse and skirt. I'd made both patterns before but altered the skirt ruffle slightly this time.

I love it! It fits nice and looks like a suit (even though the top is unlined). Just wish it wouldn't attract so much static! argh

And it showed me what happens when you don't sew modern stuff for a while. My historical skills took over and I sewed the collar perfectly around the whole thing leaving the space open between the center back notches. Trimmed the SA's down to a scant 1/16" to 1/8" turned and pressed.

Well, I sewed it on the bodice then stitched down the facing. Whoops! I had the two ends of the collar flapping loose from the top. Yikes - what happened? Seems it works better when you sew only the outer edge of the collar, turn and baste to the bodice. The neckline edge of the collar is then sandwiched between the bodice and facing. Duh.

Maybe I'll hurry and get the pink suit made before I forget how to sew modern clothes. For now I'll leave the "sewing around the whole thing" for my historical skirt waistbands and belts.