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. 

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!