Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Edwardian half-mourning dress pics

I knew I would be incredibly busy at the DFWCG's Mourning Tea, so I stopped by a beautifully restored Victorian chapel and cemetery near my home so I could take a few pictures of my new half-mourning dress before the party. I was running short on time and never made it down to the cemetery itself, but I did get some pretty shots outside of the chapel. Here are some of my favorites, and there are a more on flickr.  I'm also having fun turning these into faux-autochromes and Longchamps-style photos, so I'll probably keep coming back and replacing these as I have time.

I'll start by reposting my original inspiration from a 1908 edition of La Mode Pratique, followed by two photo where I tried to copy the poses shown in the illustration. I didn't intend to copy every last detail of this dress, but I think I managed to capture the over-all feel of the fashion plate pretty well, which was my main goal for this project.  Out of all the things that I create, nothing beats the satisfaction of recreating an outfit from a work of art.  There's just something magical about seeing an artist's depiction of fashion once again turn into a living, breathing, moving thing.  

Thanks for following along with my little mini-diary about this dress, and if you missed the earlier entries, you can go back to read about the corsetskirt/blousejacket, and hat.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Merry Widow hat and Gibson Girl hair

Lily Elsie from The Merry Widow
One of the main reasons that I wanted to make an Edwardian outfit for the DFWCG's Mourning Tea Party was because I've always wanted a proper "Merry Widow" hat, and a mourning party seemed like the perfect place to wear one. These fabulously oversized confections were inspired by the operetta The Merry Widow, which took London by storm in 1907 and sparked a huge craze for the large hats worn by the leading actress, Lily Elsie. Judging by the the frequent mentions of Merry Widow hats in magazines from from this period, it seems that men found them annoying, cartoonists thought they were ridiculous, moralists saw them as sinful, and women just couldn't get enough of them! They continued to grow in size throughout the end of the Edwardian years, ultimately reaching the largest expanses ever seen in the history of fashion before finally shrinking back to a more manageable size by the mid-1910's. Since I also happen to be a huge fan of ridiculous headwear, I decided to make my own Merry Widow hat with proportions epic enough to make my Edwardian ancestors proud.
Bohemian Magazine, 1908

I've noticed from handling some wide-brimmed antique Edwardian hats that they are often hard as a rock, so I suspected that they used cardboard as a base instead of buckram and wire. Modern sombreros also use cardboard bases, and they are the only hats that I know of that are still as large as Edwardian Merry Widows, so I decided to experiment with converting a sombrero into a historical style. Although sombreros often show up on Ebay or Etsy, the cheapest one that I could find was this hat from the Mariachi Connection (as a bonus, they seem to have frequent sales too).  The sombrero is plain enough that you might could replace the crown only and skip recovering it, but it is covered with a a velvet-like synthetic material that I wasn't crazy about, so I decided to deconstruct the entire thing and see if I could cover the base with my own fabric for a more sophisticated look.

My first step was to remove the edge binding and decorative cords and then pull the fabric off the cardboard base. The cords and binding are sewn all the way though the cardboard, which is impressive considering how hard the base is. The fabric came off easily though, and it seemed to be glued down with something similar to rubber cement. The fabric on the entire top side of the brim was glued down, but the bottom and crown were only glued around the edges. It looked like the cardboard was shaped over some sort of block that formed the rolled edges of the brim, and the larger upturned side had several places where the cardboard was cut and overlapped to make it curl up more smoothly. Once the fabric was removed, I cut off the crown and enlarged the opening for the head to a larger size, although I did not worry about the exact size of the opening until the crown was attached.

The next step was to construct a new crown for the hat.  I found an article in a 1909 edition of  La Mode IllustrĂ©e that gives a pattern and instructions for making a similar style of hat, so I used those dimensions for building my new crown. The article called for a crown that was was 10.5" in diameter, 33.5" in circumference, and 4" tall. I built my crown using a double layer of buckram with wire around the top and bottom edge, and then I covered it with cotton velveteen. It is a bit silly looking on its own, but I had fun modeling it to show you exactly how huge the crowns of Edwardian hats are supposed to be. It felt like I'm wearing a lampshade on my head at this point, but you really do need to make the crowns this large or else they don't sit correctly over the large hairstyles of the period.

After the crown was finished, I then covered the brim with my velveteen. I decided to use spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the cardboard base, and I used Scotch brand Super 77 for this project, which worked quite well. Just be sure to spray the adhesive outdoors, and do it on the grass or on newspapers because the spray glue is incredibly sticky, and it is very hard to remove if you get it on something by accident. It took me two tries to attach the fabric to the cardboard base smoothly, and there are a few tricks that I learned that made my second attempt much more successful. Please forgive my quickie hand-drawn diagrams, but hopefully they will help to illustrate the concepts.

First of all, be sure to cut your circle of fabric a good bit larger than the actual size of the hat, and don't cut out the center hole until after it is completely stuck down. It is hard to line everything up exactly when applying the fabric, and you really only have one shot at getting it on there right with the spray glue. The first time I tried it I was a little off center, and I didn't have enough fabric on one side to completely cover the edge. The second time I tried, I cut wider selvages, and I also marked the middle of the brim and the middle of the fabric with chalk so I could stick the center down first and then work my way out to the edges instead of working from one side to the other. I did this to the top side of the brim first, and then I repeated the same process on the bottom. Once it is all stuck down, then you can trim off the excess fabric and cut the opening for the crown.

The other tip that I learned is that the direction of the bias is incredibly important when trying to get the fabric to lay down smoothly over the curves in the brim. The first time I glued down the fabric, there were small wrinkles around the edges of the hat, but on the second try, I managed to smooth out all of the wrinkles by stretching the fabric on the bias in specific areas. I discovered that the straight grain needs to run up to the highest point of the upturned edge of the brim, and you will do the most stretching and smoothing along the sides of the upturn. The spray adhesive actually stays tacky and the fabric is repositionable if you don't press it down hard, so I started by sticking down the edges of the hat where the straight grain runs, then I would stretch and smooth the bias sections until all the wrinkles were gone. After stretching, then you can firmly press everything down to get a permanent bond.

The brim was finished by sewing a bias strip of the velveteen around the outside edge. This step needs to be done by hand with a curved needle, and it was a pretty long and tedious process considering how large the brims is. You probably could glue some trim around the edge instead, but I think the hand-sewn edging looked really nice, so I'm glad I took the time to do it that way.

Once the brim and crown were both covered with fabric, I attached the crown to the fabric on the top side of the hat brim - again by hand-stitching it with a curved needle. After the two parts were sewn together, I then went back and cut the round opening in the brim larger so that it fit the position and shape of the crown. The last step was to hand sew a strip of cotton around the edge of the opening for the lining of the crown. I made a casing on the top of this strip and ran a drawstring though it so that I could gather it up and adjust how high or low the hat sits on my head.

So at this point, it was finally a real hat, although quite an awkward looking one without the decorations. But never fear, because hats like these are all about the feathers and flowers and fluff. In the photo series below, you can see the hat as it looked bare, then with a super-wide vintage moire ribbon tacked around it, and then in the final shot, you can see the finished look with 5 extra long ostrich tacked across the front. Much better!

The last secret to making a Merry Widow hat look authentic is creating a large enough "Gibson girl" hairstyle to support a monster-sized hat. I taught a class on Edwardian hairstyles a few years ago, so I already had a variety of rats and hairpieces that I could use, plus a collections of images on Pinterest to give me inspiration. My hair is just past shoulder length right now, so I wore a long wavy wig to give me some more length to work with. I used the Stephanie wig by Wig America, and I hid the edges by combing some of my own hair over it.

The poofy sections along the front and sides of my head are made by combing the wig hair over a large rat on one side and a foam pad attached to a comb on the other. I made the rat by stuffing a stocking with wool, then I wrapped some lose braiding hair around it, then I covered it with a hair net to keep it tidy. On the back side of the rat, I have two toupee clips stitched to the stocking to hold it in place on my head. The smaller foam pad is something that I bought at a beauty supply store recently. It worked okay once I wadded some of the extra length of wig hair over it, but it was harder to secure, and I plan on replacing it with another home-made rat in the future.

Although 1910's hair-styles concentrated the fullness at the back of the head, earlier Edwardian styles were more like a pompadour with the bulk of hair hanging over the forehead and fullness at the top and sides. To create a similar look, I did not pad the back of my hair at all, and I just twisted the back length up and pinned it into to loose curls at the crown of my head. I was in a rush on the day of the party, so my hair is a bit messier than I intended, and I could have done a better job of covering the rat and arranging the back, but it still worked out okay, and I'm sure I'll do better next time. The large size of these Gibson girl 'dos are a bit of an adjustment if you are not used to wearing big hair with your costumes, but you really do need this sort of bulk to fill out the bottom of the crown and support the wide expanse of brim.

Be sure to check back later this week for more pictures of my new Merry Widow hat and the final reveal of how the whole outfit looks together!

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.