Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Edwardian jacket for half-mourning

For the next installment of my Edwardian half-mourning dress series, I thought I'd show you some of the construction details that went into my jacket. The jacket was the part of the inspiration fashion plate that really captured my imagination and made me want to recreate this outfit. I love the quirky transitional styles from the end of the Edwardian period, and this jacket has such a cool combination of crisp tailoring at the waist contrasted by soft volume at the bust. It definitely wasn't easy, and I can see some things now that I wish I had done differently, but was such a fun challenge and I learned a lot along the way.

To get started on this project, I searched through everything that I could think of to see if I could find a period pattern diagram for a garment with a similar shape. I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered that one of the La Mode Pratique magazines in my collection had a full sized tissue pattern for a blouse with a similar fitted bottom and blousy top. This pattern dated from 1914, so it was 6 years later than my Edwardian inspiration, but I loved that they are both from the same magazine, and if nothing else, it gave me a place to start. (BTW, I'm dying to make up a version of this 1914 blouse at some point in the future too!)

The next step was make a mock-up and then use draping techniques to alter the 1914 pattern into something that was closer to my goal. The Edwardian jacket has a different style of collar, pleating on the shoulders, a strange point up the center-back, and a bell-shaped sleeves instead of tapered ones, so the pattern ended up looking a LOT different by the time it was done. You can see my final pattern pieces laid out flat in the picture below. What a weird shape!

I made this jacket out of fairly lightweight wool, so I decided to interline the entire bottom section with hair canvas to give it more structure.  I attached the hair canvas to the wool with lots of rows of tiny prick stitches at first, and although you couldn't see them on the wool side, I ended up chickening out and removing a lot of them in the end because it caused some slight puckering when the jacket curved across the dip in my waist. I also pad stitched my lapels, which helped them roll a little better. You can see one finished lapel at the bottom of this picture with a strong roll line compared to the un-stitched collar in the background, which still lays flat. All of these tailoring techniques are covered in Gertie's Lady Grey Sew-Along, which is a wonderful place to learn about tailoring techniques.

Once the hair canvas was attached, I assembled the bottom section of the jacket and whipped down the seam allowances. It was finally starting to look like something now, but still so odd!
For the top of the bodice, I made a fitted lining from checked cotton, then I pleated and gathered the wool shoulder pieces and basted them to the lining to keep everything stable. Then I top-stitched the bottom half of the jacket on top of the gathered section. Unfortunately, this is where my photo narrative fell apart. I was too frazzled and tired to remember to take pics on the night it finally all came together, so you'll just have to use your imagination for the last few steps. But I do have a pic of the inside of the finished jacket, which shows the fitted lining  and the inside facings that hide all the raw edges.  

The final step was to add 36 small cord buttons to the pleats on the shoulders, and one large button to the waist. After seeing some really cool antique cord buttons online, I decided to try making one myself.  I took a fabric covered button and wrapped it with soutache with a simple basket-weave pattern in the middle.  It was was a quick and easy project compared to the more complicated Dorset and death's head buttons that I've made in the past, but the techniques are all very similar. I also covered the bound buttonhole with some more soutache just to give it a little extra embellishment. You don't notice it very much in all that sea of black, but it still makes me happy that it's there.  

Here are a few more very over-exposed shots so you can see the details of the jacket, and check back later this week for info about my Merry Widow Hat of Awesomeness(!!!) and some pictures of all the pieces together for the final look.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Edwardian half-mourning costume, pt. 1

The next big event that I have on my lineup is a Mourning Tea Party with the DFWCG in late October, so I decided to make an Edwardian half-mourning gown inspired by this 1908 fashion plate from La Mode Pratique.  Although the original plate wasn't intended to be a mourning outfit, I thought it would translate well to half-mourning if I switched the brown colors to black and left off the flowers on my hat.

This is a new era for me, and I'm having to build quite a few costume pieces in order to make it come to life, so I thought I'd break this project down into a few different blog posts so I can talk about each garment in more depth.  Actually, the true beginning for this series was with my Atelier Sylphe Edwardian corset, which I posted about two months ago.  After making the corset, I moved on to three additional garments that I could make from commercial patterns.  I'll start  by sharing some more pattern reviews and give you a few sneak peeks at what I've finished so far.

My first step was making the skirt, and for that I used the Truly Victorian 1905 Circle Skirt.  I'm a pretty huge cheapskate, so at first I thought about drafting this pattern myself to save some money.  After all, it's just a big half circle, so how hard could that be?  But then I came to my senses and remembered what a colossal pain it is to draft and fit large curved pattern pieces.  I am SO glad that I decided to buy this pattern in the end!  It saved a huge amount of time and aggravation for me.  Yes, it's a really simple pattern shape, but the massive size makes it tricky to work with.  I think it took longer to clear out a large enough section of floor and smooth out the fabric for cutting than it took me to cut out and assemble the entire skirt.  I was very pleased with the way the waist and hips fit (looks better on me than my non-curvy manikin), and it has a lovely sweep to the back. Definitely a good pattern to own.

I made a bit of a theatrical choice with the plaid that I chose for my skirt because I fell in love with some black and white boucle of unknown fiber content and authenticity.  I was worried at first that plaid boucle wouldn't be documentable for the Edwardian period, but a Google Books search came to the rescue, and I found over a dozen references to plaid boucle fabrics from the late Victorian period and the early decades of the 20th c., such as this reference in a 1903 Dry Goods Reporter stating:

So even though I haven't found any examples of plaid boucle fabric exactly like this one in Edwardian photos or surviving garments, at least I know that the concept was something that they were familiar with.  Unfortunately, that still doesn't solve the fiber content issue, but "shhhhh"... I won't tell if you won't.  ;)

Because the skirt was so fast and easy to assemble, I decided to also make a new petticoat to wear under it using the same circular skirt pattern.  This time, I cut off the bottom 14" from the pattern and added a ruffle of eyelet fabric that came from a bedskirt that I picked up at an estate sale.  This made assembly even easier because the flounce was pre-gathered, and the whole thing only took me about an hour to make from start to finish. Nice! It's not the fanciest thing in the world, but I think the extra layer will help hold the demi-train out, and combined with a few other petticoats, it should give the skirt a pretty nice shape.  Once again, this circular skirt pattern really paid off.

The other pattern that I tried out for this project was the Folkwear Gibson Girl Blouse, which I used to make a guimpe to wear under my jacket. This pattern only cost me $1 at a recent antique show, so I was super excited to give it a try.  I used some antique eyelet for the bib part of the blouse, and I changed the bib slightly so that it was V-shaped instead of rounded in the front.  I also made the top of the collar higher and left off the sleeves because Edwardian guimpes often left off sections like the sleeves or the back to conserve fabric when they were intended to be worn under other garments.  This pattern was a joy to work with too, and everything went together easily and fit well right off the bat.  It definitely made my task easier, and I would love to try making another version with sleeves at some point in the future. 

So now that the easy parts are finished, I'm working on the jacket, which has proven to be much more of a challenge.  I'll be back soon to show you how that project turns out!  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wearing History Kickstarter

If you haven't seen it yet, I just wanted to mention that my friend Lauren from the amazing Wearing History website and pattern company is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a line of her own ready-to-wear vintage clothing.  Even if you prefer to make your own vintage styles instead buying them, you can help support her project by buying one or more of her amazing Victorian, Edwardian, or Retro patterns as one of the Kickstarter options, and the funds will go directly toward making a her dream a reality.   I bought two of her patterns, and now I'm wondering how I will ever narrow it down to just two - they are all so wonderful!

So if you'd like to pick up some fun new patterns, or even better, some fabulous retro clothing, go help her out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Edwardian corset and pattern review

For my birthday last spring, I splurged and bought myself something that I've been lusting over for years - one of the gorgeous corset patterns made by Atelier Sylphe.  After a lot of waffling over the many beautiful choices, I finally picked corset ref W since it has such an amazingly curvy Edwardian shape, plus it looked like the construction would be relatively simple since it didn't have as many pieces as some of the other patterns from this period.

There aren't a lot of instructions included with these patterns - just some notes about the corset materials and measurements, plus a page of diagrams showing the construction method for the seams.  But for me, that was plenty, and I didn't have any trouble with assembly since I have made a number of corsets in the past.  However, if you are new to corsetry, the pattern designer gives you links to several of her incredibly helpful online tutorials, like this one showing you how to set in bust gores.  She also provided about 20 additional photos in an online download showing the original corset from every angle imaginable, both inside and out.  I really loved that!

The pattern itself is beautifully drawn and very accurate when assembled.  My only tiny complaint is that the boning length was not marked on the channels in this pattern, and since it appears that some of the bones in the original were shorter than their channels, it would have been nice to know exactly where they ended.  Another thing that I wanted to point out is that different pieces of the pattern have different seam allowance widths, which I found to be a little confusing at times if I wasn't paying close attention to the pattern after I cut out my fabric pieces.  Personally, I think it would have been easier for me to cut down the paper pattern to the exact measurement of each piece and then draw my own more standard seam allowances, but that is easy enough to do on you own if you aren't used to the specialized seam allowances that are common in corsetry.  I really appreciate how accurate the designer was by including information like this in regards to selvages, but unfortunately, it was a little over my skill level since there were no written instructions specifically telling me how to make each seam for each piece. But I think advanced corsetmakers would love it, and it's simple to change for the rest of us.

I made my corset with a layer of coutil and a layer of silk brocade treated as one.  There are boning casings on the inside of the corset, and it is boned with spiral steel.  I built my version almost exactly like I made my 1910's corset.  My favorite part of this project was finding some beautiful antique lace with silk ribbon beading for the top of the corset.  Good lace is so hard to find, but such a wonderful treat when you stumble across the perfect piece.  

I did not alter the proportion of the bust/waist/hips on this corset at all, but I did enlarge it by a few inches just by making slightly smaller selvages on a few pieces and adding a bit to the CF and CB edges.  I also added 1" to the length of the torso since I am long waisted and have to use this adjustment on almost everything that I make.  The only other change that I ended up making is to cut down the length of the bones in the front so that they don't go all the way to the bottom edge of the corset.  During the final fitting, I discovered that the bones dug into my legs when a sat down, so it was much more comfortable to raise them a bit, and it didn't change the shape of the corset at all.  

I was a little disappointed at first that my corset didn't create the extreme waspy shape that you see in the original, but I think I have finally accepted that corsets can only do so much. There are some body types that are more naturally suited for that sort of exaggerated hourglass look (I'm looking at you, Beyond the Automobile!), and I'm sure years of waist training would probably help too, but even the best corset pattern in the world can't work a miracle on an average modern body.  But this pattern still creates a gorgeous shape, is comfortable to wear, and I'm thrilled with the final results!  I definitely recommend this corset pattern to experienced corsetmakers or anyone who is ready to "level up" a bit.  I thoroughly enjoyed making it, and I hope I get a chance to try out more of the Atelier Sylphe corset patterns in the future.  


I just wanted to take a minute to thank everybody for the sweet replies to my Empire gown post... and all my other recent posts too.  I wish Blogger made it easier for me to reply to you all directly, but maybe this is better than nothing.  It's been a tough year for me due to lots of personal issues that I don't usually talk about publicly, but all of your kind words about my dress really boosted my spirits and made me feel wonderful.  I am honored beyond words.

*hugs*  You guys are the best!  I feel so privileged to be a part of such a supportive and amazing online community!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Painted Empire Gown

I made this dress for a Regency dinner party with a few of my dearest friends way back in March, but it was dark and rainy and my hair didn't want to cooperate that night, so I didn't get very many blog-worthy pictures of the dress at that time.  I kept thinking that I would get dressed up again and do a photoshoot during the spring, but then life happened and time just slipped away.  Part of the problem is that this outfit seems too fancy for most of my usual photoshoot settings.  Plus, once I add 24 inches of ridiculous feathers sticking straight off the top of my head, I'm well over 7 ft. tall, and that's no fun in a car, as you can see from one of the photos from March!  So I made myself a little backdrop in my sewing room last weekend and took some pics that I am finally happy to share.

The inspiration for this dress came from two major sources.  First, I fell in love with the shape of this 1797 printed gown from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy.  It is almost like an open robe with those flaps under the bust, but it appears to be all one piece like a round gown.  I don't think I ever found another example quite like that, but I love it like crazy so I decided to do something similar with my own dress.

But I also fell in love with the idea of painting a design on my dress.  There are loads of examples of painted dresses from the 18th century, but it seemed to be less popular during the Empire period.  But I did find a several examples of Empire dresses with painted borders in Gallery of Fashion, webbed by the Bunka Gakeun library.  One of my favorites was this dress that is described as a "robe of white tiffany, with a painted border of vines".

Painted textiles during this period were typically made with tempera paints, but I couldn't imagine doing work like this with a paint that is water soluble, so I cheated and used satin finish acrylics instead.  It took quite a bit of trial and error before I came up with a design that I liked, but my final pattern was inspired by the top design this 1815 embroidery pattern sheet from Ackermann's Repository.  EK Duncan has webbed a large number of these embroidery patterns on her website, My Fanciful Muse, and they were an enormous help when I was creating my design.

The painting was a bit long and tedious, but not particularly difficult.  My research found that the fabric "tiffany", which was mentioned in the painted border fashion plate, could be a thin silk similar to taffeta.  I was thrilled to find some semi-sheer silk taffeta at my favorite local fabric store, Fabrique, that seemed like it would be a good modern substitute for tiffany.  It made painting a million times easier because I was able to draw off a few repeats of the design, then create large stretches by splicing copies of that drawing together.  I was able to place this pattern under my fabric while painting so I didn't have to transfer the design to my fabric at all.  I painted each section in stages (leaves, then flowers, then final shading) to streamline the process.  I painted the bodice and sleeves before assembly because I wanted to line those areas and I wouldn't be able to see my pattern once it was assembled, but I painted the skirt after hemming since it was unlined.  My original design idea used a very wide border with lots of different colors, but even though I'm a fast painter, I had to scale it back by a LOT because it took so much longer than I expected.

I drafted my own pattern for this dress by altering the pattern from my 1790s round gown.  The silk on the bodice is flatlined with white cotton so that the color would be consistent compared to the fabric over my chemise sleeves and petticoat, and then the bodice is lined with linen.  The gathered front section and sleeves are lined with white voile since they are so sheer and I don't like seeing too much of my undergarments through the dress.  The bodice closes with lacing on the foundation layer, then the front is gathered down on two ties at the neckline and waist, then the outer bodice flaps hook in the center front.  To conserve fabric the gown is pieced in several places, which you can see here under the arms.  The entire dress is hand-sewn using 18th c. sewing techniques with linen and silk thread.

To finish off the outfit, I am wearing my collet necklace and earrings from Dames a la Mode and a super long paisley shawl.  My turban and feathers are huge and crazy and fun, but I think I liked the simple look even better when I switched out the turban for a brass headband, which is actually a repurposed Victorian papier mache bowl handle.

I realize that this style of dress is a bit of an acquired taste.  The crazy high backs and kooky headwear are pretty odd looking, and the heavily gathered skirts are not the most slimming fashions ever created.  But for some reason, I just can't get enough of these late 1790s dresses!  There is just something about these fashions that feel so elegant and exotic when you wear them.  Here are some of my favorite pics, and there are a few more on flickr.

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.