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 IllustrĂ©e 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 IllustrĂ©e 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.