January 2018: McCall’s Patterns & Midcentury Dresses
Welcome to the first post in what will hopefully become a monthly series on my blog!
This year I’ve decided to write monthly review posts, where I go through the projects and things that I focused on over that four week period. If I’m feeling ambitious I may set goals for the following month, too.
I’m hoping this will motivate me to write more (since I can write the post throughout the month), write about a bigger variety of things (not everything has to be sewing related), and give me a visual reference of everything I did throughout the year when we get to 2019.
It also gives me an opportunity to talk about smaller projects that I haven’t documented well enough to write full posts about. This year I plan on focusing more on youtube, and it can be tricky to film the making of a project and take enough photos for a thorough write up. I ran into this problem last year too, and ended up not posting about a lot of the costumes I sewed. This type of format gives me a place to share those pieces on my blog, without having to make a post all about them.
Don’t worry – I will still have a lot of “Making of” posts going up, this is just a supplement to them!
The rest of this post will be organized by the date things happened, but I wanted to start off with the most exciting part of January – my McCall’s Pattern! If you follow me anywhere else you will have heard about this over a month ago, but I haven’t announced it here yet.
Back in early 2017 I was contacted by the McCall Pattern Company, and went to tour their NYC headquarters. Shortly after that I signed a contract, and now a little less than a year later my first pattern is officially out! It is pattern M7732, from the early spring launch. It is avalible online, and wherever McCall’s patterns are sold!
The pattern is of my 1890’s walking suit and includes the skirt, blouse, and jacket pattern. They’ve even included instructions for all the fun details, like the diagonal grain line and soutache detailing!
This has been such an incredibly experience and I’m so excited to FINALLY be able to share it! I won’t ramble on too long about it here, since I go more in depth on my thoughts in this video.
But I will say that I’m really grateful to have this opportunity. And for all of you, who have been part of making this happen. I wouldn’t get opportunities like this is weren’t for the fact that people have read my blog and shared my posts over the years.
I’m also extremely grateful for all the people at McCall’s who have made this a reality. I designed the costume, made the base pattern, made the sample garment, and modeled the piece, but SO much more than that goes into creating a commercial pattern. Dozens of people have worked on this and it would have never made it even close to the shelves without them.
So thanks to everyone involved, and everyone reading this. It means a lot to me!
And an extra thank you to the people who have purchased it. I’ve been told that it is the bestselling pattern of the new releases (eep!!) which is just incredible. I was so worried no one would buy it so to hear that has brought me SO much joy!
I don’t think anything else in this post will remotely compare to that news, but let’s start from the beginning:
I’d hoped to jump into January with a bunch of new sewing projects, but the first day of 2018 was spent organizing instead.
I made the decision to redecorate my bedroom in December, which was a bigger undertaking than I had anticipated. I know I’m lucky to have my own bedroom, but I’ve never really liked the room. It’s always been a little sad and messy looking, with furniture that was too big for the space while also not providing enough storage.
I mean it was fine but I was never in there unless I had to sleep, because I didn’t want to be in there.
So in December I started looking for things to improve it, and I came across a vintage six piece bedroom set, which was much more in line with the style I like now.
(Which is apparently “things that resemble victorian dollhouse furniture” – a young, fresh style since I am such a young fresh person…okay maybe not!)
The set was $250 and avalible for local pickup. My dad and I managed to get it home, but it wasn’t brought upstairs until the 31st, which made January 1st the first day I could organize things.
I wasn’t going to write about this, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. And I think you’ll see a fair bit of it in future videos and blog posts, so it made sense to mention it here.
The new layout and furniture makes the room look so much bigger, and it displays all of my knick knacks perfectly.
I’m especially fond of the settee from the 1880’s, which I recently reupholstered with pink velvet. It sits in front of framed (original!) fashion plates from the 1830’s and 1860’s. The hutch over the dresser stores my hats, jewelry, and a few figurines that don’t fit in my sewing room.
But my favorite part has to be the lamps. These are from the 1940’s by the company Von Schierholz. They weigh 20 pounds each, and stand more than three feet tall. I found them in antique store and fell in love. They were a little more expensive than I had wanted but I couldn’t leave them behind.
Now they are all polished up and the perfect addition to the room! Once I buy artwork this space will be done.
January 2nd was the day my pattern came out. It was also the day I started on my 1950’s ensemble, which I’ve already written about here.
I also published my first fabric haul in many many months, which can be watched here – I go through lots of 20th century sewing plans which should keep me busy for the next few months!
On January 3rd I shipped out a dress and cloak that took me half of December to finish. This piece is a remake of my “Dewdrop Dress” from several years back. I love how the dress turned out, but the cloak was a nightmare. I made the decision to line it, which was an awful idea. I ended up with a puckered uneven hem, even after letting the fabric hang for several days before trimming and sewing. I don’t think I’ve been that disappointed in a project in a very long time, and I was not happy to be sending it off in that condition.
But from a distance it looks nice! And I know the experts will work their magic on the pattern for this.
I wish I had worn photos but I didn’t get a chance to take any!
January 5th was the first day I started properly working on the green swing coat, meaning it became my primary focus. I also began work on the matching pillbox hat, which was finished the following day.
By January 8th the coat, hat, and coordinating dress were all complete. This was also the day I heard my pattern was selling well, which was super exciting!
Unfortunately the following week kind of sucked. I had a really awful headache from the 9th until the 17th and found it really difficult to focus on anything. But on the 13th I went to Jo-anns and saw my pattern in stores for the first time! I also posted the announcement video about it.
On the 18th, when my headache FINALLY went away I got straight to work on a 1940’s design. I’d been wanting to make this dress for a while, ever since I saw this image. I thought the gathering was really interesting and new it would be a fun challenge to recreate.
I was right! It was fun, and in two days the dress was done. I ended up loving the pattern I drafted, but disliking the dress. I don’t think beige is my color, so I’m eager to recreate it from another fabric!
There will be a write up about this piece early next week.
January 20 was probably the biggest turning point I’ve had in a while. I realized I had 12+ videos fully filmed and none of them were edited. I want to focus more on my videos this year, and that isn’t going to be successful unless I actually edit and upload them.
To try and change this, I decided to reward myself with a bit of spending money every time I finish one, and oh boy did this make all the difference. I ended up editing two videos THAT DAY. And a total of 9 videos in January, which is almost the amount I uploaded in all of 2017! That little prize at the end gives me all the motivation I need to pick editing over watching other peoples videos…or playing online tetris.
So that has been awesome. And I’ve put most of my reward money into vintage clothing, since I’ve decided to start guiding my wardrobe in that direction.
I may start doing hauls and accumulative outfit of the day posts on that, but it will be a while until I get to that point. So far I’ve been buying a lot of NOS basic tops and sweaters, since those are pieces I’m less inclined to sew for myself.
I have also picked up some fabric with the intention of making my own pieces. Since it’s still winter I’ll start with a few pairs of pants, but I will be making some more 1940’s style dresses and skirts when it begins to get warmer!
(and a shirt out of that jungle print that I couldn’t resist buying)
The rest of my week was spent filming and editing. On the 22nd I made a pink pillbox hat and filmed the process for this video.
Then on the 23 that was edited, along with a vlog about making the 1940’s dress. The following day I filmed another video and finished two others. My dad was off work for the rest of January, which made the next couple weeks feel like a really long weekend. So I didn’t get as much done as I should have, but I did make an edwardian chemise!
Like always, I draped the pattern myself.
Then I turned that into a pattern, and the pattern was cut from an eyelet cotton. I hemmed the edges of each piece, and topstitched them to 1/2″ lace that was used to create bands of lace inset work. This was my first time attempting this technique and I really enjoyed it. There is something really satisfying about it, and the end result is so pretty!
The front of this piece also features pintucks and gathers…so it was kind of complicated to piece together, but still fun.
It closes with buttons at the front, and has ribbon in the neckline to gather it down and prevent gaping. The skirt is gathered at the waist, with pintucks, ruffles, and more lace sewn around the hem.
Overall, a really fun two day project. And a huge upgrade from my previous uncomfortable (and ugly) edwardian chemise!
It was also nice to get this cotton out of my fabric stash and turned into something practical. I believe this originally cost me $3/yd – and the lace I used was 50c for the lot of 15 yards since it had yellowed slightly!
That piece will be worn under another project from January, which is a skirt made from an original pattern patented in 1909. This is the first piece in my “Sewing through the decades” series which I’m really excited about. For this series I will be following at least one original pattern every month, each from a different decade of the 20th century.
This series is primarily going to be documented through videos on my youtube channel, but finished photos of each piece will be posted here.
This skirt was constructed entirely with lapped seams, which was a first for me!
It is shaped with eight gored panels, and four “inserted pieces” which feature inverted box pleats. Definitely an interesting piece to make, especially following instructions that are over 100 years old!
I also began on the mockup for the next project in this series, which was…I don’t want to say a disaster, but it was close. I’ll leave the rant about this pattern for another day, but I will say that this pattern makes no sense whatsoever. I’m not sure who wrote the instructions and how on earth they expected any human being to understand them.
I DID end up figuring it out. It only took me three attempts and many hours.
And the final project for January was a hat. Specifically a heart shaped hat. I got this idea after filming my pillbox hat tutorial – what would a hat look like if the crown was shaped like a star, or triangle, or heart as opposed to a circle?
I got really stuck on the heart idea since they kind of have the shape of a 50’s fascinator. So it seemed like something that could be pulled off without looking too ridiculous. I played around with cardboard for half an hour to see if I could come up with anything I liked, and somehow, I did!
Okay so that doesn’t look like much. But here it is made out of real fabrics!
The finished hat has a curved brim so it rounds over the head, and looks pretty normal when worn. I’d hoped it would be more recognizable as a heart when it’s on, but I also like that it is subtle.
I filmed the making of this for a tutorial, which can be watched here. And @ursuly_seeews was nice enough to do the lineart and text work to turn my messy pattern into something beautiful and printable!
The measurements I followed are listed on the pattern for the sake of consistency, BUT my hat ended up pretty big. I like how it looks from the front but it did gape away at the back of my scalp. If my hair wasn’t curled to fill it out, it would have looked pretty silly. I’d personally recommend sizing the hat down so it isn’t quite as overwhelming. This would also make it more visible as a heart when worn.
(Just make sure you size the crown and top down equally so they still fit together!)
Usually I start the year off with a wrap up showing the previous years projects and my thoughts on them. But I’m not particularly happy with how 2017 went, and I’d rather move forward with new things than write about my previous work.
So today’s post is going to focus on my first project of 2018: A 1950’s ensemble. This project was inspired by the glorious mid century costumes used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Crown”.
(both of which are wonderful shows if you are looking for something new to watch!)
Mrs. Maisel featured a lot of very vibrant pieces, with outfit changes between almost every scene. I was especially fond of her oversized coats, and it seemed like an appropriate season to sew one for myself!
I didn’t have anything in my stash that would work, and most wools I found online were outside of my price range. But I ended up lucking out and finding a 5 yard cut of bright green textured wool from Fabric Warehouse that was $50. Score!
I did a lot of pinterest browsing prior to draping this, but nothing really sparked my interest. I wanted this to be styled after swing coats, with tons of volume. But I also wanted to have it be functional, with a collar and buttons as opposed to an open front. To make it harder, most of the wintery “swing coats” I found were lacking the dramatic silhouette I wanted.
I had a few ideas sketched out but created most of the design elements while draping. Which was also a challenge – I’m not entirely comfortable draping loose garments, since there isn’t as much of a guide to go off of when it comes to fit. It was also difficult to imagine the design made out of the thick wool when I was draping it from flannel.
I ended up with this, which surprisingly turned into a passable mockup. So I transferred it to paper and decided to go for it! I figured worse case scenario the panels would be wide enough I could make changes as I went.
I focused on the back panel first, since it has the most volume.
It’s made from four pieces – two that meet at the center back, with one gored panel on either side. The pieces were sewn together with one inch seam allowances, then topstitched down. I didn’t worry too much about raw edges since this wool doesn’t fray.
Then the back panels were pleated. I topstitched the top 12 inches of the pleats down to create a slimmer shape around the torso.
Another view – the stitching isn’t perfect but this was very difficult to manipulate through the sewing machine, so cut me some slack!
Then I cut out the sleeves…which were also upper portion of the back panel. The sleeves are raglan style, so these pieces were connected.
I stitched three quarters of an inch away from the bottom edge to create a guide for turning the edge inward.
And here it is pinned on. I topstitched this in place by machine.
The front panels are much narrower, and shaped with darts above the bust. I topstitched the upper portion / sleeves onto these pieces as well.
Even though the edges of the wool don’t fray, the interior of the upper portion was looking pretty messy, so I lined it with a colorful cotton sateen.
Now it was time for the buttonholes. I chose to do welted buttonholes since I like how professional they look. I was a little worried the material would be too thick to pull them off, but it totally worked!
This was actually my first time using this technique on a garment so I didn’t take many pictures of the process, but there are a lot of tutorials out there if you’re curious.
I turned the front edges inward and lined them with more cotton sateen. The lining around the buttonholes got a bit messy – I should have marked the cutout placement on the fabric instead of doing it by eye.
But no one will see that since I only photographed the other side!
The front lining was secured with a cross stitch, and I hand stitched across the center front edge with a running stitch.
Then I sewed on buttons, which are very simple, but MASSIVE. I originally wanted to use vintage buttons on this, but they were all too expensive. So I purchased these from here instead.
I think this was a good call – not only were they cheaper, the more elaborate vintage buttons might have been a bit too much for this design.
Now the shoulder seams and side seams were done up…only for me to find out the jacket was too big. I cut a good two inches of width out of the underarm, then redid the seams. This looked way better.
At this point I was trying to figure out the cuffs. I originally wanted them to flare out and reveal the lining. But the edges were really bulky and I thought the visible splash of pink made the coat less versatile. So I cut four inches off the sleeves and sewed on rectangular cuffs made from a scrap of green wool instead.
This looked so much better, I’m thrilled I made the change.
Now for the collar! This was made from a layer of wool and a layer of cotton sateen for lining.
I made a mockup for this at the beginning of the project, but decided to do another test before cutting it from wool. This was another good call! After a few minor changes to the pattern the proportions of the collar were way better.
I sewed it onto the neckline by hand, then flipped it out and pinned the edges while it was on my dress form. I’m not sure how I came to the idea (because it looked fine before I did this) but I decided to pleat the front of the collar. This added more shape and a really unique detail – so I decided to go with it!
The collar was tacked in place, and that’s it for the jacket!
I did also make a hat to go with this – I didn’t document the process very well, but I’ll do a pillbox hat tutorial in the future. It was basically a rectangle and oval cut from heavy weight interfacing, with wire in the edges and cotton sateen lining.
I padded the top and edges heavily, then pinned an oval of coating on the top. Then I pulled a loop of coating over the sides, and whip stitched around it. The bottom edge of the coating was whip stitched to the lining, and a comb was pinned into it prior to wearing. Easy peasy!
I did also make a dress to go with this. But at this point I was focusing on filming the process (that video can be seen HERE) so I neglected to photograph most of the steps.
The dress was supposed to be a simple number made from a bright pink cotton suiting which was shown in the material picture at the top of this post. But after washing that fabric it felt like cheap, stiff, thick, bedsheets – not really what I wanted. I also wanted to wear black and white shoes with this ensemble and knew that wouldn’t match.
After another pinterest browsing spree I decided to make a fitted bodice with a sheer pleated overlay and full skirt.
Here is the mock up – this was intended to be the base layer. The pleated layer would be made from rectangles that were draped, gathered, and trimmed overtop.
Mockup number one looked okay.
But when I did some tests with my fabric, I realized the sheer fabric I wanted use crinkled up when it became wet. It’s a cool effect, but not for the structured pleats I wanted. It also ruined the dresses washability…so I decided to use the cotton on its own.
This meant I had to pleat down rectangles then kind of cut them to the shape of the pattern pieces…but not entirely, since then the pleats wouldn’t be straight. It was all less than ideal but looked okay in the end.
The pleats are half inch wide knife pleats which I topstitched down a quarter inch away from the edge.
There is also a facing that flips outward to create a decorative collar detail, which is what you see here.
My original button plan had to be scrapped since they were ivory and clashed with the white cotton. But this meant I could use these bright vintage ones I bought in PA earlier in the year! I got these for $1 a card which I was pretty happy about.
Buttons on, buttonholes done. I realize now the buttonholes were too close to the edge because I did my math wrong. So I need to be more careful about that next time..but it still looks okay!
At this point I did a fitting and removed a huge wedge from the side seam. I also shaped the bodice with a dart/pleat instead of the originally planned gathering. Though this was a thin cotton, it looked to bulky when I attempted that.
The seams were done up with french seams. I also drafted a quick sleeve pattern and got that sewn on. I wasn’t kidding about the lack of progress pictures, this is the next one I took!
One of my favorite bits about this is a little placket (?) / tab (?) thing that I added. This extends out from the neckline and hooks on to the second button. It looks cute on its own, and even cuter with a bow threaded through it!
This bow was made from a floral fabric I got at jo-anns. The bow was made from triangles, instead of rectangles, which gave it an interesting shape.
The skirt was made from my remaining fabric – I tore it into two 30″ x 72″ pieces, then sewed them together with a french seam. The front was folded inward several times until the material was thick enough to sew button holes into.
(the bottom 12″ or so of the front skirt panels were topstitched shut as opposed to seamed)
I did a massive 4″ hem on this skirt, then gathered down the top by machine. The pieces were sewn together at the waist, and I bound the edge with bias tape.
And that was pretty much it! A few more buttons were added and its done. Not quite what I originally envisioned, but I like the end result.
It’s slightly long waisted and the buttons are too far over, but for $16 of material and less than two days work I think it is okay!
And with the coat (which is the real stunner, in my opinion)
Now for the finished “look”! Modern pieces are so much more fun when it comes to makeup and accessories.
I tried curling my hair outward to get that Mrs. Maisel flip, but it was sort of a fail – I think my hair is too long. Regardless, I like how it looked, and it held up to the crazy winds we had when photographing this piece.
My lip color is Dusty Rose from Besame, and everything else is pretty much identical to what I show in this video (I go through my hair styling process in that, too).
The earrings were my moms and perfectly match the buttons on the dress!
The belt was vintage from the etsy seller TwinFoxVintage. And the shoes are from Royal Vintage*.
I want to talk about these shoes for a second, because visually they are probably my favorite pair I own. Black and white spectator pumps* are such a classic, and these are beautifully made. They really cup the foot and have sturdy padding in the soles.
Today I’m writing about another casual late 18th century dress. And I’m happy to say, this piece turned out much, much better than the poorly thought out purple linen dress that I talked about yesterday.
For this dress I managed to resolve all the fit issues with my pattern. I drafted a new, much more appropriate sleeve pattern. And my skirt was constructed properly. It took a little longer to make than the previous dress, but the end result is so much better. I’ve included comparison photos at the end so you can see what a difference a bit more time invested makes!
This dress was intended to be a remake of the purple linen dress, but once I started looking for more references I decided to make a round gown instead of a skirt and bodice.
Round gowns were very popular in the second half of the 18th century. You can see a rather glamorous example here, and a more casual style here. But my main form of inspiration was this piece – I really liked the boxier neckline, and appreciated the interior photos.
The fabric for this is a Moda quilting cotton, in a floral print. I was attracted to it based on the colors – I love how purple, pink, green, and yellow have all been entwined so effortlessly. It’s a little busy…but busy prints weren’t uncommon in the 18th century.
I also bought two and half yards of a wool that matches perfectly. So eventually this costume will get a coordinating coat.
Just as a note, this is how the fabric looks in person. The worn photos of this dress do not do it justice since they were taken in really poor artificial lighting. It shines in the sunlight and I can’t wait to get outdoor photos of it – but the snow we have needs to melt first!
I used my pattern from the linen dress as a base, but I raised the neckline significantly and made a few other changes. The first mock up was not great. But I made a some adjustments, and a second mockup, which was much more successful.
The only part I couldn’t get right is the back point. I’m convinced it’s impossible to properly fit this part on your own body. It’s tricky to fit it on a dress form, when you can see everything clearly. When it comes to it fitting YOU it’s a matter of luck, unless you have a helper. This lead to a lot of frustration but I eventually got something passable.
Once I was happy with my mock up I cut out the lining.
I had been intending to follow some techniques from The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking*, since the Italian gown is somewhat similar to this piece and I’m so interested in trying the hand sewn methods…but I got too impatient. And I really liked the construction method for the linen dress. So I did this by machine instead.
But I will hand sew an 18th century dress someday soon!
Here is the front panel. I cut it from linen, then folded the front edges inward by one and three quarters of an inch. I sewed a quarter inch away from the folded edge and inserted a piece of plastic boning. Then I sewed eyelets right next to that.
This is the closure method used on this dress. I thought I would give it a try since I would rather sew eyelets than hooks and bars!
I cut and sewed the rest of the lining together. I also sewed the seam allowance down to create boning channels, then added eight pieces of quarter inch plastic boning to the back and sides.
Then it was tried it on. I was focusing so much on the waist and bust that I didn’t realize the straps were too wide (or that it was gaping on the inner edge of the shoulder). But the waist and bust did fit pretty nicely!
Or at least it did from the front. Once again, the waist at the back was too big. This made my waist look larger from the side than my bust.
How do you fit this on yourself? Someone please tell me! I tried doing it on my dress form but my back slope is different.
I settled on adding a few darts to the back. This improved it a lot, but it still wasn’t perfect.
I also lowered the neckline slightly. I regret doing this – the half inch made all the difference, and the finished neckline is very low. I don’t dislike it, it’s just very different than what I had planned.
I evened up the darts and sewed them by machine. I also altered my base pattern so the reduction from the darts is incorporated in the seams. This way there won’t be darts on the top layer of fabric.
I didn’t take a lot of photos of this process, but the next step was cutting out the back panels. I got into crazy perfectionist mode with the center back pieces, and tried to get the flowers to match up. This is impossible since the pieces are curved, but I did my best!
The rest was constructed normally. The only difference between it and the lining (aside from boning and eyelets) is that I only folded the front edge inward by an inch and a half. This way it extends slightly beyond the lining.
The layers were pinned together with the right sides facing each other.
Then I sewed around the edges with a half inch seam allowance. The only edges I left open were the tops of the straps, and the front edges.
Then I sewed around all the edges by hand. Once again I left my stitches pretty large since I wanted them to be visible. This time I also sewed down the center back.
I also did the shoulder seam up by hand. But after a fitting I finally caught the gaping on the inner edge. So this seam was ripped out, and re sewn wider so there was less volume on the inner edge.
Instead of sewing against the center front edges (which would prevent me from lacing it closed) , I sewed alongside the outer edge of the eyelets.
Now for sleeves! My firs pattern had a lot of guesswork in it, and was SO far off. I don’t know if you can see all the pins in this, but they were plentiful.
My second sleeve pattern was much better in terms of shape. It was just a little large, so I removed a quarter inch from the seams and it was perfect!
It this point I also noticed how wide the strap was. So I undid all the stitching and removed almost half an inch of material. I turned the remaining material inward by a half inch, then topstitched around the edge to secure it.
The sleeves were made from a layer of cotton and lining, sewn together by machine at the hem. When they were turned the right way out I bound the top edge with lace binding and topstitched across the hem by hand.
The sleeves were sewn on by hand, using whip stitches. Then I tacked the seam allowance to the lining for a cleaner finish.
After a final fitting I noticed the back gaped a little, so I sewed two darts parallel to the back seam. These look pretty ugly from the inside but are barely noticeable from the exterior.
Now for the skirt! I adjusted my dress form to my height, then measured from the waist to the floor at the center back while the appropriate foundations were in place. Then I added two inches, allowing for a hem and seam allowance.
I cut four pieces of material that were this length (around 52″, I believe) and sewed them together selvedge to selvedge. I left the top 18″ of one seam open, on the side front panel.
Then I sewed in a modesty panel into this seam. I folded the edge on the other side inward, and topstitched everything in place. This will serve as the closure – note how I put it at the front this time, not the back?
Also I left 18″ open, as opposed to the usual 10-12″ because I knew I would be cutting several inches off the top.
Now I hemmed the skirt. I folded the bottom edge inward by a half inch, then inward again by an inch and a half. This was sewn with a cross stitch.
Since the top edge was straight, it was very easy for me to mark the pleats across the back three panels. I marked and pinned all the pleats on one half, then pinned it to my dress form.
While it was on the form I adjusted the skirt until the hem was positioned how I wanted it. I used pins running horizontally to mark where I wanted the top trimmed down to. I ended up making a pattern for this, to used as a guide later on, but I didn’t get a photo of it.
This test also made me realize the pleats needed to be deeper – the waistline was several inches too big.
Here it is pleated down properly. Note how the top edge is level? That is what you want!
I used my pattern and chalk to mark the waistline onto the fabric. I sewed across this line, and stitched another line three quarters of an inch below that.
Here it is after being trimmed down.
I cut almost five inches off the front panel, then gathered it down to ten inches.
I trimmed the allowance down to a half inch, then backed the top edge with ribbon.
The skirt was pinned to the bodice. The pleated portion will be sewn to the bodice, the gathered portion is left free.
I secured the pleated parts in place with whip stitches.
I notched the curved edges and pinned the seam allowance to the interior of the skirt. This was also whip stitched down.
For the seam allowance at the front, I whip stitched it to the lining. This isn’t historically correct, but I didn’t want the excess volume it would provide at the sides if I whip stitched it to the skirt.
This edge was left raw, as was common in the 18th century.
The gathered portion was left raw as well.
I sewed a hook onto the end of the ribbon, and a loop into the interior of the bodice to serve as a closure. Here you can see it done up, the bodice simply laces overtop.
A Purple Linen 18th Century Dress
Today I’m writing about a project I finished almost six months ago. This was made in the summer, a few days after I discovered and binged the entire first season of Poldark.
I loved that show. From the story to the way it was shot to the costumes. It was my first time seeing lower class garments from the late 1700’s represented on film and I quickly decided I had to make something inspired by it.
I went into this project being really excited. I’d been working a lot on my beetlewing dress and thought this could be a fun fast project. And it was! But that mindset lead to me rushing the earlier, very important steps which I don’t find as enjoyable. Mainly the pattern drafting and fitting process.
From a distance I don’t think this project looks awful – or even bad. But there are a ton of problems with the fit that wouldn’t have been problems at all if I had been a bit more meticulous in the earlier stages.
The reason I’m talking about this project now is because it recently motivated me to make another “simple” late 18th century project, just without the plethora of fit issues. And I succeeded! The dress turned out so much better than this one. But honestly, I learned a lot more from this failed attempt than my new pretty dress. And I thought you might too, so let’s go through how I made it, and what I should have done differently.
(Note, there is also a video showing the construction in more detail. It can be watched here)
My 18th century bodice pattern is constantly evolving. Three years ago it started as an incorrectly scaled up version of one from Janet Arnolds Patterns of Fashion 1*. But it has been altered to an unrecognizable state, with me “fixing” things every time.
The last time I used this pattern was for a striped taffeta evening gown. That ended up a bit too small, and cut too high at the waist. So I fixed those things and also changed the shape of the points at the front and back to better represent the later period.
I’m pretty sure I made a mock up of this, and it fit “well enough” so I moved on right away.
The construction was super simple, I cut the lining from ivory linen and assembled it by machine.
I turned all the seams inward, then pinned them down. Once sewn these will create boning channels which add support to the back and sides of the garment.
Here they are after being sewn. I filled these with 1/4″ plastic boning which was purchased from onlinefabricstore.net
Then I assembled the top layer, this time from a brilliant purple linen. The fabric is probably my favorite part of this costume, it’s such a great color! I think it’s around $20/yd from Jo-anns but with coupons it becomes a lot more reasonable.
The only difference between the lining and the top layer is that the top layer doesn’t have boning channels.
With the wrong sides facing each other and a half inch seam allowance I sewed around the edges. The only edges I left open were the tops of the straps. The entire bodice (including boning) was turned the right way out through these two inch openings.
I’m absolutely shocked this worked. It took me a good twenty minutes, but eventually I got it done! Then I used a pencil to make sure all the corners were sharp and pinned around the edges.
I sewed around the edges by hand, using matching embroidery floss. I left my stitches pretty large since I wanted them to be visible. I’m really happy with how this looks, it shows up in a lot of the photos and adds a bit of texture and a home-made feel. Exactly what I was going for!
I also stitched a half inch away from the front edge to create a boning channel. I had to remove some stitching around the neckline to get the bone in, which was re sewn by hand when topstitching around the neckline.
The closures for this piece are hooks and bars. I usually use loops and hooks, but decided to give bars a try. I liked how these looked, but they did not want to stay done up. I’ve had this problem before with skirts that are slightly too large – they seem to undo themselves! I need to start alternating hooks and bars on each side.
The last step were the sleeves. I believe these were cut from an altered Janet Arnold pattern, too. They really don’t suit this style of dress but I didn’t take them time to draft something more appropriate.
They are lined with linen as well, and I topstitched by hand across the hem.
I gathered the tops to fit the armscye, then whip stitched them on. I didn’t even finish the tops of the sleeves!
And that is pretty much it for the bodice.
However you may notice some ugly darts on the back panel. This is because they were WAY too wide, and gaped away from my body pretty spectacularly.
The skirt was a rectangle, with a sloped top edge. I cut it out with measurements I took at the beginning which is not what I would recommend doing at all.
I think it’s much better to cut all the panels as rectangles of the same length, then sew and pleat them accordingly. After the top edge is pleated down, adjust it on your dress form and trim excess off from the top.
When you trim it before pleating, there isn’t a straight edge to use as a guide when marking the pleats. Because of this I could not for the life of me get the pleats even. I ended up doing a lot of them by eye while it was on the dress form, leaving the interior looking like this…
The top edge was bound with straight binding sewn on by hand. I used a skirt hook as a closure. The closure is at the centerback, which I also wouldn’t recommend. The back of the skirt is where the most volume should be, adding a closure there prevents it.
I topstitched the seam allowance on the center back seam down by hand to mirror the handwork on the bodice.
The hem is the best part of this. It is a rolled two inch hem, which was sewn by hand with running stitches.
And that is it! How about we take a moment to appreciate these photos before I tear it to shreds.
Okay. So what is actually wrong with this?
The skirt has a few problems I already mentioned. I should have trimmed the top after pleating, not before. This lead to uneven pleats, and the hem being really odd. The skirt is several inches off the ground at the front, and slopes dramatically at the back to the point where it drags.
I placed the closure at the back, which I’m not a fan of. And my attempt at pleated by eye means the overall top edge measurement was wrong. This causes the skirt to slip off the waist and leaves the top edge visible below the bodice.
For the bodice, the techniques used were fine. I actually used the exact same process for my new and improved 18th century dress. The issues all come down to decisions made in the first hour of starting on this.
AKA: Not testing my pattern properly.
I made a mock up, but a mock up isn’t everything. The real fabrics will behave very differently and constant fittings are crucial to a good finished product. I don’t think I tried this on over stays until the entire thing was finished, which is a huge no-no.
There are also things I should have picked up on from the first mock up which I missed. Mainly that the armscye were way too wide and deep. This hinders mobility when paired with a fitted sleeve, so I used a wider sleeve pattern, which didn’t suit this period and wasn’t very flattering. I didn’t test this sleeve pattern either, so it ripples a lot and has too much volume in the shoulder.
Another flaw is how wide the straps were. They extend to the very edge of my shoulder. That paired with the volume in the sleeves makes my shoulders look broader than they are. I believe I made them wider to support the neckline, but if the rest of the bodice fit properly that wouldn’t be necessary.
Speaking of poor fit, this bodice was way too big for me. Especially in the bust. I can pull it almost two inches away from my chest.
This causes gaping, and folds of fabric near the armpit. You can also spot the sleeves wrinkling heavily in this position.
The final problem is the back panels not being fitted at the waist…at all.
I actually found this part very difficult to fit on my reattempt too, unless you have someone with experience there to help you it’s tricky. But I’m not sure how I got it this wrong.
This effectively ruins the side profile of this dress.
It’s probably three and a half inches too big at points. Ridiculous! And this is after adding the darts. Those darts also had an unfortunate side effect – it caused the point to stick out like a little tail unless pinned down.
And another cameo from the slipping waistband.
I think that covers all the issues. A lot of these could be fixed with darts (lots and lots of darts) but that wouldn’t look very good. Fit issues this dramatic really need to be resolved before cutting out the bodice. Or at least before sewing the lining and top layer together.
It would take more time to fix than it would to remake, so I don’t plan on revisiting this piece. But I’m not too upset, I wasted some fabr
The Downton Abbey Exhibition : Review / November 2017 NYC
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited the Downton Abbey Exhibition in NYC. There have been a few Downton Abbey exhibits before, including the “Dressing Downton” traveling show. This is separate from that and sponsored by Viking (the cruise line) as opposed to a museum.
My mom and I are big fans of the show (and the costumes!) and decided to make a day of it and go into NYC to see it. We booked tickets for 11am, and showed up half an hour early. There was a surprisingly long line (and most of the wait is outside) but we did get in on time. It’s worth noting that the line was much, much longer by the time we left, so it’s probably better to go early in the day.
Before getting into the details, I’ll give my rating, which is around a 4/10.
I’m kind of baffled by a lot of the decisions they made. I didn’t have huge expectations, so i’m not disappointed exactly…I just feel like they could have done SO much more, and a lot of the curation and layout decisions were bizarre. It was presented by Viking, rather than a museum, and I wonder if any of the people involved had prior experience in those roles.
It wasn’t bad exactly, it just could have been a lot better.
The exhibit is spread over three floors, each meant to mirror a floor of Downton Abbey.
The first floor was probably the most successful in my mind. It was small, but well presented. They had part of the set from the kitchen, along with quotes from the set designer (including an interesting tidbit about cutting down the legs of the work table since the actress who plays the cook was too short for the original one!).
They also had a replica of the main room, complete with the dining table, the wall of bells, and a replica Carson’s study.
In another hallway they had the garments Anna, the butlers, and the other lady’s maids wore.
I was impressed by all the costumes – the sewing work was almost more impressive on these pieces than the evening gowns since there was nothing to hide behind. The collars were all perfect, as were the hems and the little tucks and pleats. Everything was so carefully done it was hard to spot the stitches!
I love the different materials for these pieces too, they look like simple cotton but there were subtle opacity and texture changes between the fabrics used. They ended up having a lot of depth in person.
The text in this part of the exhibit was surprisingly interesting. A mix of things about life in service in 1910 through the 20s, how men and women’s roles differed, and some behind the scenes facts about the show and various roles staff had.
It would have been nice if the text was a little more extensive. Notes on the daily routine of a butler or lady’s maid would have been interesting.
The only downside to this floor is that it was small. I wish there had been more here – maybe an example of Anna’s shared bedroom? Something to give you an idea of the personal space they would have had available.
Plus, there wasn’t a lot of space around each display, which made it hard to see (thus the lack of photos). This was made worse by the fact it was crowded, and a lot of people were loitering while listening to the audio tour (which I understand, but was frustrating considering the lack of space).
The second floor was *way* more disjointed. You are greeted by a 5 minute film with clips from the show, then walk into a corridor with a half dozen evening gowns. This was my favorite part of the floor. The dresses, and all the costumes from this exhibit are impeccable. It was really interesting seeing them in person.
I was surprised to find that my favorite dresses (and the most elaborate) were actually 1920’s originals – I’m shocked these pieces didn’t disintegrate under the weight of the beading, but thrilled to see them in person!
I can’t remember the order, but there were three sets on the floor.
One of them was the dining table – fully set in all its glory. It was pretty to look at, but I wish there was a little more to it. Or more information about it. I found the surrounding writing on plaques about the space pretty dry. This was a problem I had with all the plaques on this floor.
(One of them literally said “The Crawley sisters have a tumultuous relationship that greatly effects all their lives”. I was hoping for more behind the scenes tidbits, or comparisons to other historical households. Not things you know from watching the first episode.)
In this space, one wall was taken up entirely by a picture of Carson and a paragraph about how often the Crawley’s gathered for meals and how expansive the cutlery sets from this period were.
I would have really liked this to be paired alongside a labeled set of cutlery, or even a picture of a table setting from above. Or a fact about how much a set of cutlery would cost. How long it would take to clean…how long the table took to set for the show, maybe some history about how the paintings featured in the dining space were supposed to relate to the characters.…really anything other than what they presented.
The second section shows Lady Granthams study, with two of her dresses. I believe these were her only wardrobe pieces in the exhibit. A bit disappointing since her costumes are some of the most elaborate in terms of design in texture.
The final set in the exhibit represents Mary’s bedroom. I apologize for the awful picture, this area was quite dark.
The bedroom set was large, and had two dress forms in the middle, both featuring delicate foundations. Again it was pretty, but couldn’t help but wishing for more. The set could have been more dynamic with mannequins primping at a vanity for a dinner, or showing the inside of Mary’s wardrobe.
The rest of this room was filled with what can only be described by the word kiosk, and this is my biggest peeve with the exhibit.
These things were tables, with giant pictures of characters coming up from the vertically. There would be writing next to the picture, on the table, and sometimes on lighted drawers that could pull out from the tables. The drawers also held letters or accessories from characters in the show.
But it was so confusing – this plethora of kiosks in the middle of a room were really difficult to navigate since there was no correct order.
They were also so hard to read with the crowds, since one person standing in front of it would block the writing on the table for everyone else. This is why museums put information on walls! I get that it is a (potentially) traveling exhibit but every location should have walls!
Most of the walls had pictures of the cast up, with the occasional poster and blurb. Again I found this information so bland – one touched on the changes in women’s corsets but didn’t have any visual reference. If they couldn’t get an original garment, having vintage ads would have been cool!
(and right next to the blurb about lingerie they had a kiosk about Mary’s child…such an odd layout!)
Unfortunately this layout continued for the bulk of the second floor. The largest area of the exhibition was filled with them. There was clearly a decision to focus on written information as opposed to memorabilia from the show.
There were ones for every character. Some had interesting bits to them, or were paired with costumes (they had Matthew’s military uniform – paired with a vintage belt and boots!). But a lot of the information were things you would know from the show. Any fresh information was hard to find since things were crowded, and with the lack of organization it was easy to walk past things. The arrangement of these kiosks seemed haphazard at best.
The final floor was for the costumes – the pieces were beautiful. Truly impeccable. Every pleat, gather, seam, and stitch was perfect. I loved seeing the textures and fabrics up close – they really were stunning. Something to aspire to a seamstress.
This was made more impressive to me by the fact they were working with chiffon, georgette, and crepe which are notoriously difficult to work with, much less tailor to that degree.
The downside to this was, once again, the layout. The costumes were all arranged in the center of the room, with some right next to the rope, and others 12 feet away in the center partially hidden by other pieces. I actually thought pieces were missing since they were placed so far from the ropes. It would have been nice if these were around the perimeter of the room, so each one could be seen in detail.
Again it was crowded and difficult to read the plaques. There were cases of hats parallel to the costumes, but they were difficult to get to with the large quantity of people.
I also feel like the variety of costumes was poor. There were only a couple a pieces from the earlier seasons, and it was heavily focused on Edith and Mary. Cora had some of my favorite wardrobe in the show and there were only three or four pieces of hers in the exhibit.
What was there was gorgeous and I’m glad I got to see it. I just wish the presentation did it justice.
Overall thoughts: It could have been so much better.
So much happened in Downton Abbey. More than a dozen outfits were featured in each episode, not to mention the accessories, storylines, and relationships. They had so much material to work with – and not just from the show! I’m sure there were scenes that were cut and behind the scenes stories. Not to mention the time period in general, a lot more 1915-20’s history could have been included.
With that in mind, I feel like there should have been more there. I would say they had 60 garments, maybe 50 pieces, of jewelry, and 20 hats. Plus the 6 sets. It was simultaneously underwhelming and felt too crowded for the space they had (mostly because of those stupid kiosks).
If you are used to museum quality exhibits and expecting something comparable, I think you’ll be really disappointed. The mannequins weren’t dynamic at all, there was no interaction in the “sets” and a huge lack of props. How cool would it have been if they had a vintage car and the related gear?
I understand that it is a traveling exhibit, so it can’t be too crazy, but I wish the quality of the exhibit felt close to the quality of the show.
Not to mention the fact that is was majorly overbooked. With the venue size and layout they chose, I think there needed to be half the amount of people in there.
And based on the lines, I think we experienced it during a slow time. They must have seriously underestimated the amount of time people would spend there, or they just oversold tickets.
If you love the costumes (especially from the later episodes) or are a super fan and want to see a look into the sets, it is probably worth going to. But I wouldn’t expect to learn anything new or feel like you are actually experiencing Downton Abbey.
Thanks for reading!
1918 Ensemble, Dressing for Downton
Today I’m dipping my toes into 1918, and the wonderful fashions it has to offer.
I actually researched this period quite heavily earlier in the year when I was pursuing a design job for something set in the early 20’s. The job didn’t work out, and it left me a little bitter towards the era. But this weekend my mom and I booked tickets to the Downton Abbey Exhibition and I thought it would be fun to wear an understated period costume to the event.
The late nineteens are a perfect period for casual historical dress since the silhouette (though more modest than what is fashionable now) wasn’t dramatic like the early 1910’s, or the later 1920’s. Though corsets would have still been worn during this period, waistlines were starting to widen and you can get away without one. Perfect since I would have to wear this for four hours of public transit!
(it was also 2 days after Thanksgiving so a corset would not have been welcome regardless of the wear time…)
I had all the materials for this on hand, and made it over a 4 day period (some of those were half days with Thanksgiving and all). I’m really pleased with the end result and this may motivate me to make more vintage themed clothing to wear on a regular basis!
I started with the first piece: the camisole.
I draped this on my dress form. Getting the right amount of flounce at the hem to create the proper silhouette was probably the most difficult part.
This is it transferred to paper.
The body of the camisole is made from silk charmeuse. This particular cut was *very* off color, so one side is more yellow than the other, but it’s only really noticeable at the back.
I sewed a strip of wide cotton lace into the center (backed with more charmeuse) to serve as the statement of this blouse.
I’m not sure when this lace is from, but it came from a collection that included pieces from 1910. Based on the design and weight I would not be surprised if this lace was also from that period. I outlined it with some zig-zag edging to add a bit more texture.
The collar of the camisole is also charmeuse, but I backed it with fusible interfacing. Then I stitched a half inch away from each edge, and used that as a guide when turning the edges inward.
It was pinned to the top edge of the camisole, with the right side facing the wrong side. Once turned the right way out all the raw edges will be hidden!
Then I topstitched the bottom edge down.
The bottom edge was gathered slightly at the front and sewn to an interfaced waistband.
The final addition were straps, made from bias cut strips sewn into tubes.
The back closes with three glass buttons. This is the first time I’ve done functional button holes in…3 years? Maybe longer?
I finally bought a home sewing machine, which though slower than my industrial, has some stitches and features that I’ve missed! The automatic buttonhole is one of those things.
I used the camisole as a base for draping my next pattern: the blouse. I believe these pieces would have been combined in the 20’s, with a closure hidden on one side. But I thought making them separate would make the pieces more versatile. And the camisole also provides enough coverage that I didn’t need to wear a slip over my bra.
Here is the pattern I ended up with. It’s shaped by pleats below the shoulder with a drawstring waistband.
I cut all the pieces out from a thin, crisp, silk shirting. This fabric was a dream to work with – I’ve never had something make french seams easier!
I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures for this, since it came together in a single evening. But here you can see the main pieces assembled. All the edges were finished by machine with rolled 1/4″ hems. Seams were flat felled, or finished with lace binding. And the bottom edge was turned inward to create a channel for ribbon.
I tried to draft the sleeve pattern for this the historical way, but I got confused and made it up instead. This worked surprisingly well! Fit the armscye perfectly on my first try. I just had to adjust the length and width a little.
The cuffs were gathered by machine.
Then sewn onto the cuffs. The raw edges were bound with lace binding. I wanted to add button closures but didn’t get the buttons (or know what size they would be) until the day before wearing this piece, so I used hooks instead.
The sleeves were sewn on by machine, then the raw edge was bound.
I also made the collar. This was assembled from a layer of the checked silk, which was backed with interfacing, and a layer of silk charmeuse, which was supposed to be lining. I sewed the layers together with the wrong sides facing each other, then topstitched around the edge.
It looked great! Until my iron smeared burned goop all over the corners of the checked side. I couldn’t get it off, and I didn’t have a lot of fabric left…so I made the charmeuse side face out instead. I actually really like the contrast of this, so it was a happy accident. But it means the topstitching looks a little sloppy since it was originally done on the other side.
I sewed the collar on by machine, then tacked it down a half inch away from the edge to keep it in place. The final touch were silk covered 3/4″ buttons. Three on either side of the bodice, and two on each cuff.
I also added a snap just above the top button to secure it to the camisole.
And the back! I didn’t expect to love this as much as I do, but I’m really happy with it. It’s delicate yet structured and so different from anything I’ve done before.
I usually shy away from thin or slippery fabrics, unless I’m using them as an overlay. But making a tailored piece out of them was surprisingly easy and fun – I think this will motivate me to branch out more with my fabric choices.
Unfortunately the skirt didn’t go as well. At all. My first attempt was made from a beautiful wool, but the finished skirt looked awful. It had a wide, rounded waistband that made me look so heavy.
There was also way too much fabric, and it drooped at the seams. It was supposed to have pockets, which I tried making out of a contrasting wool, but then there was way too much contrast. So I remade them from matching fabric and it looked even worse! The whole thing was an unsalvageable mess.
Attempt number two was made in three hours from a purple chevron fabric I got from the plaiditudes collection at Jo-anns. I draped the skirt design on my dress form, then used the muslin as a pattern, adding seam allowances by eye. It was SO messy, but the end result turned out a million times better than my first attempt.
This skirt has way less volume, and has pleats in the back instead of gathers. The waistband is still wide, but it’s straight which is a lot more flattering. And there is decorative seaming down the front instead of pockets.
It’s not my best work, but it fit, and it looked pretty good!
I think the same can be said about the jacket. This piece was actually drafted, partially assembled, and completely cut out over a year ago – I even made a video about it. I planned on this being my winter coat for 2016, but after buying a glorious winter coat from J-Crew I lost interest.
The jacket also had some issues I wasn’t happy with. I ran low on material so I couldn’t make the skirt as wide or long as I wanted (it actually has plenty of volume, so I’m sort of glad for that now). I also had to ignore the grain line on some pieces, and didn’t have enough left for a matching hat which I was originally really excited about.
Plus the topstitching on this jacket was plagued with problems. It kept skipping stitches, which meant I had to sew over them again, leaving backstitch marks. This was made worse by my plan to use contrasting stitching during construction.
Even though this was only a year ago, I’ve learned a lot about my machine since then and working with heavier fabrics in general. Unfortunately that helps me moving forward, not with the issues this jacket already had. To fix the topstitching I would have had to completely disassemble the bodice and remove it all by hand. And that still wouldn’t resolve the grain line or length issues.
But I already had a lot done. So I decided to take a half day and get it finished, fully knowing that it was impossible to make it perfect given its other issues.
Finishing it included:
Figuring out which pieces went together
Figuring out wtf I was thinking with the pocket design (the required topstitching would have sewn them shut..)
Sewing the entire bottom half together
Sewing the cuffs on
Attaching / lining sleeves
Attaching bottom half
Lining the waistband
Sewing in closures
Tacking the collar
Sewing on buttons
…in less than a day.
Surprisingly, it turned out okay! I’m not going to share close ups since the finishing isn’t great at all. The interior skirt seams were left raw, and the topstitching got a little messy at points. But it’s finished, and I love the shape and design of it. Hopefully I can reuse the pattern for a similar jacket, made to my current standards.
It’s a little wrinkly from yesterday.
For the fourth year in a row I went to the local pumpkin patch to photograph my newest piece. I really love this as a backdrop, there is something magical about it in the morning! The lighting is so pretty, and the contrast between the field, mud, pumpkins, and corn makes me smile.
My dresses always get a little dirty there, but it’s nothing a bit of water can’t fix, and I think the pictures make it worth it!
This ensemble consists of a redingote, skirt, hat, and fichu, which I detailed the process of making in the posts linked above. It’s worn over a chemise, stays, a bum pad, and a cotton/netting petticoat, which I also made. The only pieces I didn’t make are the socks (charlotte russe), the wig (color.salon, ebay), the shoes (fraser, American Duchess*), and buckles (cavendish, American Duchess*)
If you want to see the layers in a little more detail, I have a video showing the process of getting into this – and a few clips of me wearing it! It can be watched here.
Now onto the photos!
And that’s it! Thanks for reading!
Making 18th Century Accessories + Shoe Review
This post will cover making the accessories to go with the redingote featured in this post! I’ll be talking about a ridiculous hat, a fichu, and a petticoat/skirt. I’m also including a review for the shoes I purchased to match, which are the Fraser style by American Duchess.
I’m going to start with the skirt, since it’s probably the “biggest” part of the costume, after the redingote.
My original plan for this was two rectangles, one for the body of the skirt, and one for a ruffle around the hem. But I just finished making a skirt like that out of a different fabric. And I made two others the year before. And another the year before that. They are easy to do, but kind of boring. I knew I wanted to put a twist on this, and eventually decided on making the ruffle with a zig-zag hem.
I thought this was appropriate – it kind of reminds me of the texture of leaves, or if we are really stretching to meet the Halloween theme, the teeth of a carved pumpkin. I’m glad that I did this since it’s way more interesting than my other skirts…but it was alway way more labor intensive.
I decided to back the main suiting with a thicker one. This will give it more structure and help the points hold their shape. I probably would have used taffeta, or a lighter material if I had one around, but this worked in a pinch.
I traced all the points onto the lining – this along took an hour. This was an eight yard strip of material.
Sewing them took another hour. Then I trimmed around each edge, and clipped the points and corners. I also used a seam ripper to remove the stitch at the very top of each concave point. This makes it turn out smoothly, but does reduce long term durability.
And it was gathered down to be four yards long, the same width as the top portion of the skirt. Here you can see the drawer unit I kept rolling around to support the fabric as I sewed – this was super heavy!
I sewed it to the top portion of the skirt with a three quarter inch seam allowance. It still looked a little drab, so I decided to make a ruffle out of leftover brown taffeta. This helped tie the garments together, and added more interest since it’s a different texture.
I cut strips out of the fabric on its bias with pinking sheers. Then I sewed the strips together, and gathered them down the middle. I sewed it onto the skirt in large scallops.
I did all of this by machine since I was rushing. If I wear this again I want to cover the stitching with trim or beads. It doesn’t look great and isn’t super even since the skirt was so hard to get through my machine. But from a distance I really like it!
Then I lifted the waistline of the skirt until it sat at the length I liked. I trimmed the excess, and gathered the top edge.
I made the waistband out of matching fabric, sewed in a hook, and sewed up the side seam. I really like how this turned out, but the waistline is a little large – it kept slipping down and is visible in some of the pictures. So the hook has to move before re-wearing.
Next up: The fichu. This is basically a shawl that could be worn under dresses as an alternative to an undershirt. They would fill out the neckline, make dresses more modest, and serve as a stylistic choice. I made mine in an hour or two, out of a scrap of thin cotton and two four yard lengths of mesh lace.
I started by cutting out a triangle – as large as I could from the material I was working with. Then I turned the edges inward by a quarter inch, twice in order to finish them. I did this by hand, but machine sewed everything else, which was sort of silly!
I used two four yard lengths of lace from etsy. One has little bows on it, the other is a leafy design. I liked the leafy one more, so I put it closer to the top. Then I covered the gathered edge with a narrow mesh lace.
I like how this looks, but I wish the lace was more dense. I may add onto it before reusing it. I see myself getting quite a bit of use out of it with other costumes, since this was a staple in most 18th century ladies wardrobes!
Now for the hat! I might be biased, but I think this is the best part of the costume. Looking at it makes me smile. Wearing it makes me smile. It’s great.
I made this based on images in Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles*, along with references from various paintings. I constructed it from a self drafted pattern, out of felt weight interfacing with wire sewn into the edges. Then I covered the pieces with interfacing, lined them with scraps, and stitched them together with upholstery thread. It took me two evenings to finish.
The brim is lined with orange silk (leftover from the pumpkin dress!) and more brown taffeta ruffles.
I trimmed the exterior with a strip of the striped silk (I cut the edges with pinking sheers), and a band of the orange silk. These were loosely sewn in place since the top of the hat narrows and they kept trying to slip upward.
For decorations I made a rosette from more strips of silk. These were gathered down as tightly as I could, then I sewed up the side seam. I was going to add a smaller ruffle to the center, but I decided beading it would be more fun. So I stitched a base of suiting material onto the back to support the embellishments.
The embellishments consisted of a bunch of faux pearls, and a spider brooch. The back of this had bent and was really thick, which made it difficult to wear. So it got a new home here! I think it looks quite comfortable.
In my mind this added to the totally not obvious witch element. I also liked how the orange stones would catch the light.
That was glued on, along with a white feather and two pieces of fake fern. I was originally going to use orange feathers, but I like how the white one ties in with the pearls and lace on the dress.
The ferns – though completely inaccurate, tie the colors together really well. They fade from a deeper orange (like the striped silk) to a lighter orange, like the shantung scraps. It’s one of my favorite hats i’ve ever made – I think the contrast and trims are perfect!
And that is it for the pieces I made! So if you want you can stop there. But I did want to mention, and give a little review of the shoes I bought to go with this.
These were my main purchase last month. The price hurt a bit, but I’ve enjoyed my other historical themed footwear so much that I wanted something similar for 18th century projects. I invest so much time into pieces that accurately(ish) represent the period from the hem upward, it seems like a shame to skimp out on the shoes! Plus they will go with a lot of future projects too, not just this one.
(also I don’t think the price of these is unreasonable at all, it’s just much more than my other shoes)
They are the “Fraser” 18th Century Leather Shoes (Black)(1700-1760) by American Duchess, listed here. I purchased them in a size 10, along with the cavendish gold buckles.
Overall, I like these. The shape is lovely, and surprisingly flattering to the foot. I adore the side profile – the heel is so cute! And the shell of the shoe is very soft and flexible, which makes them more comfortable than the vast majority of my shoes.
I also like the sheen of the leather used, and that natural materials were used for the lining, too. The construction of them seems nice, and they were symmetrical and free of flaws. They also came with replacement heel caps.
I compared them to other shoes I own that are a similar heel height, and they were the same length if not a little longer. I’m a solid size 10, and these fit me well lengthwise.
On the downside, the fit is hard to determine until after the buckles are installed, and they obviously aren’t returnable after the buckles are in. I found the shoes a little big width wise and assumed the buckles would tighten them. I placed the buckles as far back on the latchet as I could (up until it tapered to a point where it would not fit through the buckle smoothly) and they are still a little large on me. I probably would have returned them for a 9.5 if I had known.
The buckles are also way harder to install than I thought. There is a diagram on the website, but I feel like a video or picture tutorial would have been more helpful. I ended up using photos of the shoes with the buckles installed as more of a guide than the actual tutorial.
Neither of those are really flaws of the shoes, just things I noticed.
My only real disappointment is how much the lining frays. The edges are topstitched to the interior of the leather, not folded inward. So there isn’t anything preventing it from fraying. And since the shoes are black the raw edges of ivory lining are quite obvious. I’m going to trim the frayed edges and finish them with glue, which isn’t a hard thing to do at all, but it would be nice if it wasn’t an issue.
Now for the wear test!
I wore these for around 2 hours during the photo taking process. They really are one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I’ve ever worn, and the leather didn’t mark at all – even when walking through some rough terrain. The soles got super dinged up, especially around the edges, but I was expecting that.
I was walking through gravel, and on unpaved paths, so it’s understandable. But it was a very very short walk. I’m not sure how these would fair at reenactment events where you are more active on similar terrain, or even on a daily basis with textured asphalt.
(I’ll scrub the dirt off before putting them away!)
I did notice that one shoe creased quite a lot at the toe. I’m not bothered by this, but it’s kind of odd that it only happened to one of the shoes. It looks like I buckled this one a little tighter (though I could still get it on and off without unbuckling it…so I don’t think it was *too* tight) which might have been the cause.
Todays post is about a real doozy of a dress that I made over the last two weeks. It consists of a redingote, petticoat, hat, and fichu. I even bought some fancy period appropriate shoes to go with it!
I’m going to split this into two blog posts – one about the redingote, and another about the accessories. Both posts should be published back to back, with photos of this ensemble following on Monday.
This project was driven by the idea of making an 18th century witch costume. This has been in my head ever since discovering this magazine page, which is the 1890s take on a 1700s inspired witch fancy dress costume.
I felt very strongly throughout making this that is was a witch costume. I think the hat made me think of pilgrims, which reminds me of the salem witch trials. The timeline for those things doesn’t even line up, but it was so clear in my head while constructing it.
However looking at it now, this costume doesn’t actually have anything that makes it “witchy”. So i’m not sure why I felt that way about it. But that was definitely in my mind while working on it (especially the hat)! And this motivated some of the choices later on so I thought it was worth mentioning.
As far as design, I’ve always wanted to make a tall 18th century hat, and been interested in redingotes since discovering them during my riding habit research a couple years back.
Then during a visit to Fabric Mart in PA I discovered an orange/brown striped silk taffeta which seemed perfect for an autumn themed 18th century ensemble. I combined that with a suiting fabric I had around, and some other scraps, and this piece was born!
My inspiration was originally this piece, but that was more of an inspiration to make a redingote, not something that shaped the design. For the collar and cuff details I used this as a major reference. And I used more elaborate examples, like this, to justify the long impractical train.
To be honest, I didn’t do a lot of research on redingotes prior to making this. I was too impatient to delve deeply into it before getting started!
From my understanding, “Redingote” was a term used to describe riding and hunting costumes for both men and woman (interchangeable with the riding habit). But *most* plates and pieces described as redingotes have a skirt extending from the waist to the ground, and are ofter paired with contrasting petticoats.
Women’s riding habits were usually two matching garments, with a shorter flared jacket and skirt with side closures.
It also seems that the term redingote was later used to describe open front day dresses that lacked the practicality that most riding habits have, but still have some of the military style detailing. Mine definitely falls into the latter, impractical category.
This project began with a bodice mockup. It’s three pieces, with the collar incorporated in each piece (as opposed to being sewn on later). I also used very appropriately themed mock up materials!
The mock up fit pretty well, I was thrilled with how the collar looked. There were only minor alterations to be made at the centerfront and straps.
For the first time in a long while, I made this bodice without a heavy duty base layer. I was worried the seams would get too thick if I did, and lighter dresses are always more comfortable to wear. So I cut the “base” from quilting cotton.
The lining is a suiting fabric I bought online for $3 a yard. It’s a low quality suiting, but I like the texture it has. And it’s a weird greyish light brown that matches the brown stripes in the taffeta really well.
And the exterior is the striped taffeta! Carefully cut out so the back seam would line up.
The cotton and suiting were layered, then assembled together. The cotton adds a bit of stiffness to the flimsy suiting.
The seam allowances were turned inward and stitched down to create boning channels.
The bones are all plastic, purchased from onlinefabricstore.net.
The construction process was repeated with the silk taffeta. This material was on clearance for $8/yard, which is hard to beat for silk! Five yards of it went into this dress.
I managed to get the back seam matched up without basting – I was very pleased!
I sewed the lining to the silk with the right sides facing each other – I stitched around the collar and waistline, only leaving the arm holes and front edges open. Then I turned it the right way out and used embroidery floss to stitch around the edges. This added a bit of texture, which I liked.
Unfortunately as a whole, I didn’t like it. It looked dull.
The suiting didn’t have enough contrast with the silk, and the collar didn’t look as big and dramatic as I wanted. I didn’t have enough material to recut things, so I decided to sew piping around the collar. This made it appear slightly larger, and more interesting with the addition of a new fabric.
This piping is made from brown poly taffeta over cotton cord. I had the taffeta leftover from the brown doublet I made several years ago. The piping was made by machine, but sewn on by hand.
All the raw edges were turned inward and tacked down with whip stitches. Unfortunately these are on the outside of the bodice, which I don’t like, but they are hidden by the collar.
The sleeves were a lot of trial and error. I based them on a Norah Waugh pattern, but they ended up totally different. I cut the sleeve cap way down and played around with the width. I wanted them to be tight, but allow more mobility than the original pattern did. I also wanted to get them on and off without having to add closures at the wrist.
Boy were these a terror. The mock up looked good, but the finished sleeves were an inch too big! I took them in three times before the looked okay. Then I made the cuff, and sewing those on made the sleeve too tight. So I had to remove the cuff, remove the lining of the sleeve, let the sleeve out, then resew on the cuffs.
They still aren’t perfect – they are a little wrinkly and baggy around the upper arm. Maybe i’ll redo them someday.
The cuffs were made from the same suiting, but I backed them with interfacing. The edges were turned inward by hand, then piping was sewn on.
The piping for these was made very carefully, there are gaps without cord so the pieces can overlap without additional bulk. And the cord ends before the seam allowance starts, so there isn’t bulk there either.
The sleeves were finished with a lace ruffle. I used a lace with a feathered trim, which adds a really nice texture.
The lace was gathered by machine, then whip stitched into the cuffs by hand.
Here it is on the dress form. At this point the only thing left were closures, and the skirt. The closures consist of 6 hooks and bars that secure the bodice one inch to the left of the center front.
The buttons were placed on either side of the closures, spaced evenly from the center front. I planned on looping lacing made from taffeta around these, to create an effect similar to the one seen in my main reference. But the lacing wouldn’t stay on, the shank of the buttons wasn’t long enough.
I don’t mind it without the lacing, but I still want to add it at some point since it was part of my original plan.
I don’t have many pictures of the skirt, because it was made in three hours the day before photographing this costume. It’s two 63″ x 58″ rectangles sewn together, with the bottom edges rounded out. I turned the edges inward by a half inch twice, then whip stitched them down by hand.
The top edge was pleated with 1/4″ pleats, then sewn to the bodice.
I left the top edge of this raw, and didn’t whip stitch the seam allowance down since i’m not completely sure if I like the skirt positioning. I think it sits too far back at the bodice, so I might redo the pleats before finishing it properly.
And that is it! Overall I like this garment. My only complaint is that it’s a little big. My seam allowances must have gotten screwed up somewhere, the silk is almost baggy on top of the lining (though this could also be related to the lack of a thick base layer). The sleeves are still a bit big too.
But it was really comfy! And I think the fabrics and proportions work really nicely in the finished piece.
Thanks for reading – keep an eye out for the following posts!
Making a Rapunzel Inspired 1820’s Dress, Part Two
It took me longer than it should have, but here is part two of making my Rapunzel inspired 1820’s dress!
If you missed part one, it can be read here. And I’ll be picking up right where I left off!
At this point, it was time for sleeves. I usually dread this part of projects because sleeves suck. But short puffy sleeves aren’t too difficult – and I had a pattern for short puffy sleeves laying around, which made the process even easier!
The pattern was originally drafted for an 1820’s dress that has a similar armscye and silhouette, luckily the proportions worked out really well for this piece too.
Here are the sleeves cut out – I would have preferred the floral design to span the entirety of the sleeves, and go vertically like the print on the bodice. But I didn’t have enough fabric for that. So I focused the print on the front portions of the sleeves.
Like the bodice, these were cut from the glittery floral overlay and satin, then sewn together before construction.
I gathered the sleeves by machine. The top was gathered down to 17″, and the bottoms to 12.5″. Then I attached them to a cuff, which is made from scraps of the netting and satin, trimmed down to form a 1″ strip.
I thought the sleeves were missing something, so I added a lace ruffle.
The sleeves were sewn on to the bodice with 3/4″ seam allowances. This seam also helped secure the bands at the neckline.
At this point it was really coming together!
I bound the raw edges with some eyelet lace – I picked up a 300 yard spool of this lace, so you’ll probably see me use it as seam binding in a lot of future projects!
(also the extra is listed here – if you’re interested in it/supporting the blog!)
With the sleeves sorted, it was time for the skirt! I intentionally left this for last so I could use all the remaining material and get as full of a skirt as possible.
I started by straightening the short edges of my remaining satin, then I trimmed 9″ off the long edge. The end result was a 53″ x 125″ rectangle.
I hemmed the satin layer with horsehair, which stiffens the hem and causes the skirt to have a bit more volume. I also gathered the waistline down to 25″ to match the width of the bodice.
The overlay is also a rectangle, and was cut to be a half inch longer than the satin layer.
I took some of the length off the top of the netting, and some off the bottom since I wanted the hem to follow the straight floral boarder rather than starting at a random part of the design.
I had originally intended to fussy cut around the scalloped edge of the netting and let that be the hem. But on my past couple projects that hasn’t worked out well – the skirt seems to short if you cut it so the edge of the scallops graze the ground (since the arches between the scallops are higher), and too long if you make it longer.
This netting was also just stiff enough to pickup lint and threads when it dragged across the ground, so an actual hem seemed like the best idea.
I ended up doing a 1/4″ rolled hem, which was stitched down by hand with whip stitches.
Then I sewed the back seams for these layers individually, leaving a 10″ opening at the top to serve as the closure point.
The satin layer was sewn with a french seam, since it frays, and the netting was sewn with a regular half inch seam.
I gathered the top edge of the netting as well, then sewed the layers together at the top edge. Here it is on my dress form over the appropriate petticoat.
Before sewing the skirt onto the bodice I added closures. The bodice closes with hooks and bars, and the skirt closes with several snaps.
I also basted the layers together 1.5″ away from the top edge. This is to prevent the layers from flaring up and getting caught in the waist seam as I sew it. This happens to me all the time and this does a really good job of preventing it.
Here are the pieces sewn together – I ended up leaving the seam allowance raw, since it wasn’t fraying much and I didn’t want to add bulk to the waistline. But I do have an abundance of purple seam binding, so I can always do that later…
The final step was sewing on the waistband, which is a scrap of netting that I fussy cut out. This was actually one of the first pieces I cut for this project, since I wanted to make sure I had enough material to do it and I was worried I would forget if I left it until later.
These two photos were taken in my sewing room, which is painted blue, so the colors are a little cooler toned than the dress is in real life.
And these photos are taken in my bedroom, which is ivory and red, so it makes the dress look a lot warmer toned than it is. But at least you can see it full length without a distracting background of figurines and fabric (which is what my entire sewing room is).
I also tried this dress with a few brooches, since that was how I intended it to be worn. But I like the banding detail so much, I think this takes away from the overall design.
This is the one I was originally going to use. I think the metal is too brassy.
And a different one, which was actually my great grandmothers. A better tone, but maybe not the right shape? What do you think?
And no photos of the back, since there is a 4″ gap at the waistline which doesn’t look very nice. I’ll try to get some when I take worn photos!
I think that is it for this dress! Overall it was a very fun project. It took me three days of work, and $65 worth of materials. I think it turned out beautifully – I love how it looks historical but has a fantasy element based on the fabric alone.
If I see more fabric like this in the garment district I’ll definitely snatch it up – I had so much fun working with it, and making this piece. One of the few cases where I wouldn’t mind making another one to sell.
Thanks for reading! I think my next post will be about an 18th century piece…or that progress report I promised…or a haul & store review post from a trip I recently took to PA.