Tuesday, July 29, 2014

the Grey Lady

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone came out way back in 2001, I fell in love.  In a few brief scenes, you can see the ghost of the Grey Lady in an amazing Cranach-style 16th c. gown. This costume instantly found a home on my costume "bucket list", and although it's been 13 years since I first starting daydreaming about it, the stars all finally aligned and the dress is now a reality!  It all started when our family took a trip to the new Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios earlier this month, which has gotten all of us in a Harry Potter frenzy again.  Then I stumbled across some amazing new photos of the actual Grey Lady dress while looking for quiddich robe pics for my boy on Costumer's Guide.  (thank-you, Maggie, and everybody else who shard their photos of that dress!)  Then I found a bunch of old fabric while cleaning the garage that I forgot that I had, and I realized that I could make almost the entire dress with stash fabric.  The icing on the cake was that our local guild was having a "By the Book" themed party at our Costumer's Lost Weekend this past Saturday, and I didn't have anything to wear to that event.  So even though I only had one week to make it, I decided that making the Grey Lady dress was fate and it NEEDED to happen right now.  lol!  

Luckily, it all went together pretty easily, and was such an enjoyable and fast project.  I used several of my old 16th c. patterns for the basic bodice, sleeves, and partlet.  It was fairly easy to alter the bodice to create a German-style look - I just cut a wide opening for the front that is closed with hidden lacing strips, then I attached a bustband and a stomach placket to one side and hooked it closed on the other side. Although the paned sleeves took more time and trial and error than the rest of of the dress, I found some helpful articles like this one from The German Renaissance of Genoveva that were very helpful for grasping the gist of the construction.  The skirt is made of 3 rectangular panels with the guards applied on top of the foundation fabric. It has a 150" hem and is just pleated with simple knife pleats. 

For the fabrics, I used a fairly thick wool for the foundation layer of the gown since I though it needed something springy and slightly heavy to make the panes and skirt drape correctly.  I covered this foundation fabric with cotton crinkle voile since that seemed to match the texture of the original dress quite well.  I dyed the voile, the embroidered fabric for the bustband and cuffs (which was recycled from the hem of a comforter), the sheer stripe for the partlet, and some while sateen for the stomacher with a mixture of denim blue and taupe Rit dye to give it all a pale blue-grey color.  The guards on the movie dress are lighter, shimmery, and have amazing designs painted on them, but I found some gold and blue synthetic brocade in my stash that got me close enough to the right look.  I did consider trying to paint my own guards, but I finally decided that although I'm crazy, I'm not THAT crazy!  I also saved some time and money by using the gold reverse side of the brocade to make my own piping for the guards instead of edging everything with cord.  The only fabric that I had to buy for the dress was a little bit of grey satin for the lining of the sleeve poofs and the cuffs.  I found a silk satin shirt at Goodwill for $3 that was the perfect shade of blue-grey, so once again, fate seemed to have a hand in the making of this dress. 

The movie costume has a good bit of distressing on it, so I wanted to give my dress a similar raggedy look.  I sewed narrow strips of ripped fabric to the hem and down each pane on the sleeves, and then I hot glued scraps of fraying fabric all over the voile sections of the dress.  To make these scraps, I cut out a bunch of small pieces of the voile and then washed them to make the edges fray.  It looks a bit hokey on close inspection, but I think from a distance and in photographs it does give it ghostly look.

To finish off the look, I bought a cheap vampire make-up kit and used some white foundation along with black, blue, and red shadows around my cheekbones, eyes, and temples to give me more of a ghostly pallor.   I also restyled a cheap ponytail clip hairpiece by removing the claw clip to make it lie flat, then I brushed out all of the crunchy curls and formed them into better ringlets.  I just clipped this hairpiece over my hair in the back, then pinned my own hair over the top of the hairpiece.  Some white hairspray helped blend it all together and make it look somewhat grey.  

In the Harry Potter movie and promotional photos, the Grey Lady is often shown reading a book or sitting in a classroom, which is one of the reasons why I love her so much.  I had a lot of fun posing for pictures with one of my old bound copies of Peterson's Magazine.  Special thanks to Beth and several other photographers from this weekend who were patient with me while I tried to get some good shots to use for this blog post.   I also tried making my own ghostly photo using one of my pics from the Hogwarts castle at Universal Studios.  I wish I had known that I was going to make this costume at the time because I would have loved to have taken more authentic background photos to use for photoshopping.   But one is better than nothing I guess.  :)  Most of the pics are posted here, but there are 2 or 3 additional photos on my flickr album for this dress if you'd like to see those too. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Regency turban cap tutorial

1810 fashion plate
from Scene in the Past on flickr
I have written in the past about how to make a wrapped turban, but I thought I'd also share my own technique for making one of the Regency hats that has the look of a draped turban, but is actually a fixed cap.  There are oodles of fashion plates showing turbans and brimless cloth caps during the Regency period, and the huge variety of styles and shapes made me realize that it's hard to go wrong with this sort of headwear.  Instead of trying to copy one specific plate or style, I mostly just let the fabric speak to me and I folded and pinned and stitched until I ended up with something that I liked.  I have a feeling that that's what was done in the period too since many of the turban-ish headwear that that you see in period illustrations seems to have little rhyme or reason in regards to construction (for example, check out wackadoo cap #3 in this illustration!)  I think if you make a pleasing mound of fabric, feathers, ribbons, or tassles to cover you head, then you have achieved a perfectly authentic Regency turban.

For my fixed turban, I started with a straw fedora, then I wet the hat and stretched it over my hatblock to make the crown round again.  It would be even easier to start with a hat with a round crown, but woven straw is so easy to reshape that almost any stye of hat would work.  I then cut off the brim right next to the internal sweatband.  If your hat doesn't have a band sewn on the inside and your base is made from woven straw vs. straw braid, you will probably want to sew around the cut edge to keep the straw from unraveling as you work.  

To cover the base, I used some cotton velvet that I dyed myself.  The velvet was originally black (it's all I had on hand), but I bleached it and then dyed it with pearl grey Rit, which has a slightly purple-y color to it that I really liked.  You can see that the color is a bit mottled because I wasn't being very careful when I dyed it, but you really don't notice that when all of the draping is in place.

I cut a long strip that was about 3" wide to cover the bottom edge of the crown and a large oval that was 17"x19" for the poofy part on top of the crown.  I whip-stitched the long strip to the inside sweatband, then I folded it over the cut edge of straw and used a running stitch to secure it to the outside.  The end of the strip where it overlaps in back is turned under and whipped down as well.  

Next I pleated the oval down to a size that fit the circumference of the crown base.  My pleats are pretty irregular and I didn't measure anything or try to space them evenly.  You can even see in the picture above that there are some sections on the side of the oval that aren't pleated at all.  It really doesn't matter much with this sort of randomly draped cap, and I just pinned and adjusted the pleats until it fit.  

I had originally planned on basting this poofy oval to the straw base and then covering the raw edges with a strip of fabric that wrapped all the way around the hat, but unfortunately, I didn't have a long enough strip of fabric left over to do this.  I solved this problem by sewing the back of the oval to the straw base with the right sides together.  This makes the raw edges of the poof turn under and stay hidden in the back once the oval is flipped up over the top of the hat.   

In this next picture, you can see the front of the hat once the poofy oval is flipped over the crown and stitched down with a running stitch.   I left about 2" un-sewn on the sides between the back with the finished, turned-under edge, and the front with the raw edge.  These open spaces will come in handy for the next step when I add the wrapped band.  

Beside the hat are the two scraps of fabric that I had remaining.  The 7"x20" rectangle is the part that will wrap around the front and cover the raw edge of the poof.  I turned under the long edges of this strip and ironed them, but I didn't bother to finish the edges beyond that.  I thought about using the long triangle as a drapey piece with a tassel on the end, but I decided that I liked the hat better without it.

Here, you can better see what I was talking about with the open section on the sides.  I gathered the ends of the long rectangular wrap piece, tucked an end under the open section of the poofy oval, then stitched the end to the straw base.  Once it was in place, I turned under the edge of the oval and stitched this over the wrap piece.  Then I wrapped the long strip around the front, over the raw edges of the poof, and tucked the other end under the crown and sewed it down as well.  

This is the front view of the hat with the wrap piece in place.  I added a few stitches here and there to secure the wrap across the front so it doesn't shift around, but mostly it is un-sewn except on the sides where it tucks under the poof.  To add a little more interest, I dug around in my stash and found a pretty little piece of vintage trim that coordinated well with the velvet.  I hand-sewed this around the edge, and actually, if my oval poof had been smaller (or I liked the crazy chef hat look), it could have been done at this point.  

To tame my crazy poof a little, I simply pulled extra fabric toward the back of the hat, pinched a few folds into the fabric, turned the extra fabric under, and stitched it down in back.  It's amazing what a difference that made!  

Here you can see the back view a little better.  Once of the best things about working with velvet is that it drapes so nicely and hides your stitches so well.  You can see that my back pleating is really pretty random and casually draped, but it still seems to work just fine. 

With the outside finished, I decided to add a simple lining to the inside to hide my raw edges and basting stitches.  Here is what it looked like before adding the lining.

And here it is with the lining in place.  My favorite hat lining method is to use a long rectangular strip of cotton that is whipped to the edge of the crown.  There is a channel sewn along the top edge of this rectangular strip, and a drawstring pulls the fabric in to gather it up at the top. I also added a comb to the front edge to help keep the cap in place without having to use hatpins.  

As a finishing touch, I tucked a set of 3 short ostrich feathers under the wrap piece and stitched them to the base to make sure the wind didn't knock them loose.  This is when it was really convenient to have the wrap piece mostly un-sewn.  I was able to try the feathers in a variety of positions, and I could easily switch out the feathers for flowers or a cluster or ribbons in the future to give the cap a different look.  

And here is what the turban cap looks like on me.  I chose to wear it set pretty far back on my head, although you could also shift it farther forward and not have to worry about curling your hair as much in front if you liked that look better. 

Here is the back view.  I really had no idea what I was doing with this hat when I started, but I'm so happy with the way the draping worked out in the end!

And here it is from the front.  When I am looking straight ahead, all you can see are the feathers sticking up on top, so it really is a pretty subtle look.  I made my turban cap relatively small, but you could easily pad your crown, leave a larger puff on top, or add thicker wraps to make your turban larger if you wanted something more dramatic.  

I hope this tutorial was helpful and gives you some ideas for making your own fixed turban cap. Don't be afraid to drape and experiment and try your own thing - these hats really are simple and a lot of fun to make!

Regency "little white dress"

1813 fashion plate from
Scene in the Past on flickr
Of course everybody has heard of a LBD - a "little black dress", but I think there needs to be a special spot in the wardrobe of historical costumers for the LWD too - the "little white dress".  Years ago, before my personal aesthetic changed and I grew to love Regency costuming, the LWD stood for everything that I hated about this period of clothing.  I always thought that these dresses looked like little girls' prissy nightgowns, and I have to admit that I still have a preference for colors and patterns and the earlier Empire styles.  But what has changed is that now I appreciate how versatile these basic white dresses are as wardrobe builders.  You can pair a LWD with a spencer or pelisse for outdoor-wear, a sleeveless overdress for daywear, a fancy bodice or robe for evening, or you can always keep it plain and accessorize it with colorful accessories for every type of event in between.  It's such a great building block for a huge variety of looks that I finally gave in and decided to make my own Regency LWD.  I'm hoping that my dress will work for a wide variety of Regency looks, but I designed my dress have several of the hallmarks of early 1810's French fashions, like the flat-front skirt, shorter hemline, super-high waistline, and small puff sleeves.  This dress was made to wear to an 1812 Overture concert, so I wanted my dress to be appropriate for that general time frame.

My gown is a bib-front style with a pattern that I cobbled together from a variety of dress diagrams taken from surviving garments.  Bib-front construction seemed to be going out of style by the 1810's, but it's very important that I can dress and undress myself for events, so I chose this style of gown for convenience more than anything else.  It is made of sheer striped cotton, and the bodice is lined with cotton sateen.  The sleeves and skirt are unlined, so my petticoat and chemise work as the lining layers.  I discovered that it still has a slightly "merveilleuse-ish" transparency when the sunlight shines behind me, which is a fun feature that makes it a little more daring, I think.

The bib is closed with a pair of dorset buttons that I made myself, and a cord that runs through a channel in the top edge of the bib with loops on both ends.  The bottom of the bib is attached to a waistband that wraps around the body and then ties in the front under the bib.  The skirt is left open for the top few inches at both of the side-front seams, and I added some thread belt loops at the sides and back to keep the bib ties from slipping down and making these openings gape or wrinkle.

The back is fitted and pretty simple.  The side back panels tend to wrinkle a little, which I guess is due to the bias cut, but it doesn't bother me too much.  To construct the bodice, I placed the outer fabric and lining together and sewed them as one layer, and then I used a strip of bias tape to finish the neckline.  The sleeves have a thin cord running around the bottom edge that ties in a bow on the inside so that I can adjust the tightness.  They are based on this pattern, but I ended up enlarging the pattern to 120% and I removed the bottom puff after I tried out a variety of sleeve styles.

Since the dress itself was so simple, I had a lot of fun digging through my stash and making some accessories to liven it up.  I started with a 3-sided silk reticule made from these instructions.  It was a fun little 2-hour project, and I even made my own silk thread tassels to finish it off.  Now that I know how easy these are, I'm determined to make a new reticule to go with every dress that I ever make.

I also painted a pair of cheap cloth flats to match my reticule and added some criss-cross ribbon ties to dress them up a bit.  I never could find any ribbons that were the right shade of mauve-y purple, so I dyed some plain cotton tape with a little bit of black Rit, which is a very purple-based color, and they turned out perfect.  

And last, but not least, I made a new turban-style cap out of grey velvet with a hint of purple in it.  I'll save the details about that project for the next post since I actually remembered to take step-by-step photos for a change.  :)

I have a few additional photos on flickr if you are interested, and you can find photos from our 1812 Overture outing there too.  We had SO MUCH FUN!  

I'll wrap this up with one more entry for the Regency Ladies Wedgie Society.  It sort of feels like the wedgie pics are a rite of passage for all of my Regency projects now - it's not truly finished until I take a silly wedgie pic.  :)  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

late 1880s plaid bustle dress

For this year's Frontier Forts Day outing with the DFWCG, I decided that I just couldn't bear to wear another "this old thing" dress.  I didn't have a lot of time to work on anything fancy, but I whipped up a simple summer bustle dress using some fabric from my stash and a few patterns that I wanted to test out for another project.

The underskirt is made from an 1887 foundation skirt pattern in Patterns of Fashion, and the overskirt is made from the Truly Victorian asymmetrical overskirt pattern.  The pattern for the bodice came from a January, 1888 la Mode Illustrée pattern sheet, and the fashion plate that shows the made up pattern can be seen on the right.  I bought the pattern from a seller named ryphat on ebay, and I was thrilled to discover that it fit me wonderfully with very few alterations.  Her stock rotates quite a bit and I don't see the exact pattern that I used for sale at the moment, but I definitely recommend these patterns if you are looking for some new historical pattern options and you are a fairly average size. I did change up the bodice a little to make this dress suit my tastes, and I drew inspiration from several late 1880s la Mode Illustrée fashion plates found on the Bunka Gakuen database.   I decorated the center placket with a double row of mother-of-pearl buttons and added the pleated sections beside the placket to make my dress resemble a few illustrations like the ones seen here.

Since May events can be pretty toasty in Texas (I think we hit 90 degrees this year), I picked some cotton fabric from my stash that is almost sheer to try to keep cool.  The underskirt is unlined except for a facing at the hem, the overskirt and sleeves are lined with voile just to keep the color of everything consistent, and the bodice is lined with cotton sateen.  It was actually turned out to be a very cool and comfortable outfit and I was never uncomfortable from the heat, which was such a wonderful thing. Of course, I still wasn't opposed to catching a bit of a breeze to keep my ankles cool when the opportunity arose!  ;)

Best of all, the plaid fabric came from Walmart and only cost me $14 total, and the other fabrics for the lining and accents were given to me in trades, so this is probably one of the least expensive dresses that I've ever made.  Two other ladies - Liz from the Pragmatic Costumer, and Megan from Mistress of Disguise - also happened to be wearing dresses made out of Walmart fabric at this event, and we were quite proud of our fabulous display of Walmart Victorian couture.

But my favorite part of this new outfit is definitely my bonnet.  I LOVE silly hats, and I think the tall, elaborately bedecked bonnets worn in the 1880s like this one from the Met are some of the most wonderfully ridiculous hats that I've ever seen!  To continue my cheapskate costuming streak, I made the base of my hat by cutting down a modern hat that I never really wore very much so that the crown would just perch on the back of my head.  I wired the edges and covered the base with some antique tatted lace from my stash that I dyed dark grey to match my dress.  Then I just added a pile of ribbons, lace, and a few flowers (also from my stash) to the top to give it some height and color.  I've never been overly fond of ribbons that are tied under the chin, but luckily, I found examples in 1880s fashion plates like this one proving that these bonnets could be worn with or without ties.  I sewed a comb under the front edge of the hat and pinned the bottom corners to my hair with bobby pins, and it stayed put all day with no worries.

At first I was hesitant to make what is essentially the same dress two times in a row, but making a wearable mockup  helped me discover a few minor problems with my outfit, and hopefully my next dress, which will be a close copy of this bustle dress, will be even better.  I know these issues might seem nitpicky, but here are a few notes about what I would like to change:

- I wore my short bustle with this outfit, and unfortunately, the hoop boning folded in on itself while I was driving to the event, and I don't think the bones popped out again until I finally noticed my sad, deflated butt toward the end of the day.  And with the smooth skirts in back, there isn't a lot of drapery to to create fullness in back on its own.  Poo!  So the next time, I need to remember to check my bustle after sitting to make sure everything falls back into place like it should.   
- I was unsure what I should line the placket on my bodice with, so I used coutil in the hopes that it would add some stiffness and keep it flat.  But actually, it tended to buckle above my chest when I was sitting, which I'm guessing is because the fabric was stiffer than it needed to be and crumpled more than it draped.  Also, I did not interline my collar with anything, and it wrinkled a good bit as well.  I think next time I will keep my placket soft and interline my collar with some hair canvas to see if that helps the problem any.  

- I was worried from the start that the long flaps of the overskirt would flap around and show the white lining, and yes, they did. Not that this was a huge problem with this dress, but the next dress that I am wanting to make has applied stripes on the underskirt, so I don't want the top layer to blow around and show where the stripes stop. I think with the next one, I might add some hidden button tabs that would attach the overskirt to the underskirt and keep everything in place better.
- I think the fit of my bodice is about 90% there, but I did get some wrinkles under my armpits that show up on my back and the sides of my chest from time to time.  It seems like the fabric of my bodice is getting pushed down a little under my arms, and I have several theories as to how to fix this. I thought about cutting the bottom of my armscye a little lower to remove some excess fabric under my arms, but I'm worried that it will reduce movement if the armscye goes too wide since a tight fit in the shoulders usually moves better than one that is too big.  I also considered raising my waistline a little or adding a waist stay to try to keep the bodice pulled down better so the fabric doesn't ride up from the waist. Or, perhaps those are stress wrinkles and I should let the bust out a little more.  But I'm not sure which of those options would really solve the problem, so I would love to hear your tips if you know how to fix this! 
- Finally, the pattern that I used didn't have a lot of instruction about how to fasten the bodice or the placket, so I used hook and eye tape for the center-front lining and a few large snaps to attach the open side of the placket and outer fabric.  I know snaps weren't used in the 1880s, so I will definitely switch to hooks for the next one, but even more importantly, I need to use more hooks to keep it smooth.  The few widely spaced points of attachment worked okay on the upper half of the bodice, but I need to attach it very securely below the bustline because I discovered that it tends to pull away from the body there if you aren't careful.  I ended up having to add a few extra pins to keep my  placket flat because I didn't use enough snaps.  I would love to do more research on the construction methods of surviving 1880's bodices with plackets before making my next gown.  This was just a "good enough" solution done at 3:00 a.m. on the night before the event, so I know there must be better ways.    
And that's pretty much it!  It's not the fanciest outfit that I ever made, but it was quick and cool and comfortable and I learned a lot from it.  You can find many more pics from our event on flickr.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

1-hour dress, lawn party edition

I've been so busy sewing and attending events this spring that I am falling WAY behind on blogging about my projects.  But before too much time passes, I wanted to share a few notes about a new 1-hour 1920's dress that I made for the Jazz Age Sunday Social at the end of March.

For this dress, I started with my Dowonton Abby 1-hour dress pattern but made a few modifications so the two dresses wouldn't look exactly alike.  I shortened the waist to remove the side gathers in the torso, slightly shortened the skirt, and created pleats at the hips instead of gathered swags.  I also shortened the sleeves a little and added a rounded neckline.  I created a pattern of this new dress so you can better see how small modifications to the basic 1-hour dress pattern can give you lots of variation in styles.

The other major difference is that I used some soft cotton plaid  to create a casual day-dress version instead of the slinky silk velvet that I picked for the Downton Abby dress.  You can see that the cotton dress is much less body hugging, and that combined with a slightly wider skirt means that the dress has a bit of a flare thanks to the stiffer drape of the fabric.  I don't mind that since I wanted something more casual for the picnic, plus a lot of these early 20's dresses had more fabric in the skirts than you would expect. But I thought it was fun to see the difference that fabric can make.


I think the hardest part about this whole project was deciding how to decorate it, and I spent more hours looking through fashion plates for design ideas than I spent sewing the dress.  In the end, I started running short on time so I finished it very simply with a contrast binding around the neck, a narrow belt, and a pair of long bows all made out of bias strips of scrap fabric.  This isn't a direct copy of one dress or fashion plate, but I had seen enough similar elements in various 1920's illustrations - like the ones seen on the fabulous What I Found blog - that I felt like it would be a plausible choice.

The best part about 1920's fashions are the hats, so I was thrilled to have an excuse to steal one of my husband's old straw garden hats and reblock it into a wide-brimmed cloche.  To do this, I removed the sweatband inside of the crown, completely wet the straw, then stretched it over a wooden hat block.  If you don't have a hat block, you could also reshape a hat like this on a styrofoam head that is used for holding wigs, and you can wrap thick towels over any type of head form to make the crown wider, which is very used for 20's styles.  After I left the re-blocked hat to dry overnight, I then cut down the brim so it was much shorter in the back and widest on the sides.  Finally, I stiffened the edge of the brim with thick jewelry wire (I ran out of millinery wire, but this works nearly as good) and covered the wire with a strip of straw braid that I removed from the edge of the original hat.  The decorations are made with bias strips of silk and a vintage mother-of-pearl buckle that a friend gave me.

So that's pretty much it.  It's nothing fancy, but it was quick and easy and all of the materials came from my stash, and that's always a good thing.  And once again, I bet you are wondering if it really took one hour to make, right?  Well... it was more like three hours this time because I didn't want to top-stitch all of the binding, and figuring out the pleat size in the skirt slowed me down a bit.  But that's still not half bad!  If you are interested, more photos can be found from my event album on flickr.