Monday, May 23, 2011

next on the agenda

I don't think I've mentioned this publicly yet, but I'm going to Costume College this summer! Woohoo! Mostly, I'll be wearing costumes that are already in my closet, but I do want to make a few new retro outfits to wear to the classes, and I want something new and fun and over-the-top for the gala. I'll probably be working on all of these things simultaneously over the summer so I don't get burned out on one thing, so forgive me if I jump around a lot over the next 2 months.

The project that I am the most excited about at the moment is my gala dress. After changing my mind a million times, I finally decided to go for something totally random and different. I'm going to make a Victorian fancy dress costume inspired by the telegraph! Is it genius? Madness? Only time will tell! LOL!

Anyway, my plan is to make a pretty close copy of this 1884 illustration from the de Gracieuse archive (it was also found in Harper's Bazar). The only thing that I'm going to change is to omit the silly glass insulator headdress and make a tiara out of tiny telegraph poles instead. I think it'll be a ton of fun to make, and I'm hoping that I can wear it again at future steampunk events as well. It will probably be a few weeks before I get started on this dress in ernest, but I'm having a ball doing all the research and getting the materials right now.

And just for the heck of it, I saved all the fancy dress pictures that I found from de Gracieuse and put them in a flickr set. I hope to continue adding more examples to this set as I find them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

the anticlimactic ta-da!


So I finished my 1883 dress last weekend and had a great time at the train event.  Unfortunately, I was so insanely exhausted from it all that I didn't have the energy to do a blog post about finishing my dress right away, and then a week slipped by before I knew it, and now I'm already knee deep into my next costume plans. Whoops. So this seems pretty anticlimactic at this point, but I just wanted to post a quick note to say that I finished the dress and I'm quite happy with the way it all turned out. I've been wanting an "everyday" Victorian bustle dress for years now, and I am thrilled that this one fits the bill so well. It will be great for wearing to living history events.

I'm out of space on my website, so I'll have to go in and do some housecleaning before I can post an official page about it. But until then, you can see more pictures of my dress and the event on flickr.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I think I have discovered the tragic flaw of this system of pattern enlarging - the shoulders of the bodice are WAY too wide when scaled up as much as I have it.   But once I started thinking about it, that makes sense.  I have a 40" bust, so the pattern has to be scaled up quite a bit to fit my torso, but the measurement from my neck to the edge of my shoulder wouldn't change significantly even if I was 50 lbs. lighter.  That measurement deals with bone structure vs. "fluff", so it doesn't increase proportionally at the same rate as the bust/waist/hip measurements.  Probably if I had read the entire book it would have told me how to deal with this problem while drafting the pattern, but I guess that's what I get for just skipping around to the good parts.  My first try with the sleeves had them hanging way off my shoulders, more like an 1860's dress than an 80's one... which looks wildly ridiculous with a slightly puffed sleeve head.  I took at least an inch off the width of the shoulders, and I'll try again tomorrow.  It's nearly 2:00 in the morning now, so I concede defeat to the sleevils in round one of Battle of the Bodice.  Maybe I'll have better luck tomorrow.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

bodice in progress

I played around with the tabbed waist treatment on my bodice mockup for about 30 minutes earlier this weekend, then realized it was going to be too fiddly and time consuming, so I gave up.  I decided to go with one of the longer coat shaped bodices instead, like the one on the left side of this 1883 illustration.  I also added pleats in the back like the bodice shown here.  I liked how both of these bodices have 3/4 sleeves as well, which I think looks more summery than the full length sleeves.

So once that was finally decided, I forced myself to be brave and started cutting and assembling my real jacket.  I'm using wool twill for my bodice, and it is flatlined with cotton in a reproduction print that I didn't particularly like, but it was cheap and I figured it would make a fun lining.

The first time I tried it on, it was a wrinkly disaster, so I've been making adjustments and steaming and pressing for hours now.  I went back and used the fitting instructions in Fashions of the Gilded Age where you add darts to the lining layer at the bust, side waist, and back of the shoulders and then press and shrink the outer fabric.  This is supposed to make it fit the curves of the body better without having lots of darts on your outer fabric.  It seems to be working, but I could definitely do more steaming still.  The wool has a fair amount of stretch to it, so I think some areas like the side-back piece are just too stretched out, so I'm going to open up the seams and re-stretch and iron and try again.  It's a pain to have to unpick and redo the seams, but I'm determined to get this thing as smooth as possible before I add the sleeves.  I'm also going to add boning to the front bust darts, so I think the front is going to be okay, but the sides and back are annoying me.

Anyway.  I know it's not a very exciting post, but I just wanted to show you an in-progress shot of the jacket so hopefully we can compare it to a much smoother finished version once it is done.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

patterning the bodice

So as usual, everything is taking longer than expected, but I finally got a good mockup of my bodice made.  I wanted to try something different this time, so I used the single-breasted jacket bodice (p. 212) in Fashions of the Gilded Age.  This particular pattern is a reprint of a pattern from Complete Guide to Ladies' Garment Cutting from 1883.  You can see me drawing out the pattern in the artsy, but not incredibly clear photo above.  For these patterns, you plot out all the measurements using an apportioning scale (a.k.a. a little paper ruler) that corresponds to your bust size.  You just measure down a by a certain number, then across by a certain number, then make a dot.  All of these reference points are eventually connected like a big game of dressmaker connect the dots.  This scales it up to automatically fit your size, so in theory, no major size alterations are needed.

And much to my amazement, IT WORKED!!!  This bodice fits me like a glove, and the only thing that I'm going to have to change is to add an inch or two to the length of the torso, but since I am quite tall by Victorian standards, this is something that I always have to do when working from period patterns.  I haven't decided yet if I'm going to cut tabs into the bottom of the bodice like my inspiration pic or just leave it plain like this, but I am thrilled to finally have a good bodice pattern to work with so I can start cutting out my real fabric.