A big photo post to finish out Captain America

So back in July folks were getting vaccinated, Jordan Con required proof of vaccination to attend, and Delta wasn’t a thing yet, so I was comfortable flying out there! As usual my suitcase was half filled with costume because bustle gowns aren’t what you would call space efficient.

Thank you to my friend Cooper Blackwood for taking all these fabulous photos!

And with that, this loooong project is finally done. And friends, I am *out* of ideas for historically inspired cosplay or fantasy dress for the next Jordan Con, so please to be sharing some ideas with me.

(Remember it’s ok to punch Nazis!)

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Captain America Bodice – (Re) Fitting

When last we left off in March 2020 by photo date or July 2020 by post date, I had more or less finished the bodice, except for the closures.

Since the April 2020 convention had obviously been cancelled, I threw the bodice into the corner until I felt like finishing it. In August 2020, I had on my corset for an 1830s tea party, and decided I might as well try the bodice on:

This was the result:

Side silhouette was perfect and everything I wanted out of this!

I am a centaur!

Back silhouette was pretty good, but you can see some ominous pulling at the shoulders.

The front was a problem.

Trex arms not a good look

Then I threw the bodice into the naughty corner because after so many mockups I was not ok with finding the damn thing didn’t fit.

It fit decent before the sleeves and collar (which admittedly I had never tested in the mockup), so I knew those were part of the problem. So I started by taking off the sleeves to see what that did. That revealed there were still problems in the neck shape.

So I took the collar off as well. Even though it really had fit in the mockup, suddenly the neck was too tight, and the wrinkles only went away when I opened the shoulder seams up a bit. So I did that, and ended up adding a 3/4″ gusset into each shoulder seam at the neck.

Pinned the collar back on, but now that I had made the neck longer, the initial shape I had drafted didn’t fit. I also remembered that I look awful in “high” collars that go all the way around the neck. (Where high = 1″ in this case. I have practically no neck at all, which means a collar with any height cuts into my chin. Plus if the collar goes all the way around, if I look down I instantly have a couple more chins).

So to solve both those problems, I cut the collar off where the bodice ended, leaving the center neck open.

Then it was time to deal with the sleeves! First I remembered sewing 101 and actually clipped the curves of the armscye, which freed up a surprising amount of space. I had a hard time pulling the sleeve on my arm, so I let out each of the two seams 1/4″ (that was all I could do due to the serged seams) but that actually gives 1/2″ per seam, which means 1″ more width total!

Last, I figured out that I actually had too much fabric under the arm, which bunched up and didn’t let me pull the sleeve high enough up on my arm. Rather than piece more fabric onto the cap, I just trimmed away ~3/4″ right at the underarm, which let me pull the sleeve up higher onto the arm and get rid of the pulling at the shoulder seam.

Me smug as hell that I actually managed to fix this thing into something that fit:

Also testing out the pocketwatch pocket positioning on the side there

Then doing the irrevocable step of adding buttonholes

This was done using the buttonhole attachment on my singer featherweight which makes beautiful buttonholes using a template, so you know it’s the exact same size every time. Unfortunately the clamping mechanism is a little rough to hold onto the fabric, and really wanted to chew mine up due to all the layers, so don’t look too closely at the sateen there.

Cutting through these was also pretty painful; but it seemed silly to buy a buttonhole chisel just for one bodice…

Also decorative buttons on the sleeves and peplum! Since these buttons had a shank, if you just sewed the button on top of the fabric they would flop over in an unattractive way.

Flop flop flop

The solution to this is to hold the button on with a cotter pin. I believe the reason these were invented was to easily remove buttons from a garment for washing? You could make an eyelet to protect the fabric, but since I’ll never be removing these I just used an awl to poke a hole and shoved the button shank through. These cotter pins actually came off a bunch of buttons I inherited from my grandmother, but you can buy them new as well.

The buttons on the plastron just went on top, because you *want* the extra space of the shank here so there are room for the layers when you button it on.

These buttons were a phenomenally lucky etsy find. I thought I was going to have to custom print 3D buttons to get ones that looked like the shield.

Some little cuffs that get tacked into the wrists. This is a detail that is generally missing from museum extants, but show up in 99% of portraits/fashion plates, because these were so often detachable in order to change up a look or make them washable.

And some final details:

The inside! Turns out once you see inside one Victorian bodice you’ve seen inside them all more or less.

The whole bodice is flatlined (meaning the outer fabric and lining are treated as one. There is boning on most of the seams and inside the darts. The boning casing is sewn only to the seam allowance. I serged all my seams to hold the fabric and lining together; in an original this would be overcast or a narrow binding. The edges are finished with self-fabric on the bias.

The waist stay is a twill tape is tacked to the back seam, and fastens at the front with hooks and eyes. This helps hold the whole bodice in place.

The silly green crescents are padding. Wearing a corset generally pushes up the bust in such a way that there is a hollow right between the bust and the shoulder, and this causes unattractive wrinkles right there. Adding a bit of padding (whether tacked on at the end, or actually sandwiched between the lining and outer fabric) was a common period solution.

And testing the whole thing on without accessories, a few days before the convention!

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle | Leave a comment

A Fantasy Cape + pseudo tutorial

Like many folks, I’ve ogled over the beautiful fantasy dresses over at Firefly Path. While it would take some serious doing (and I’m not sure I have the skills) to make a dress like that, the capes seemed within the realm of possibility.

I had initially planned to do a gothy gray ombre cape, but when the Greater Bay Area Costumer’s guild had an Alphonse Mucha picnic, I needed a floaty fantasy cape stat. And since I didn’t want to spend a ton of time (having only 2 weeks) or money (since I didn’t know if it would work) on this, I hit up one of my favorite fabric resources, Fabmo for something that would work for a prototpye. Fabmo is a nonprofit that collects donations of fabric and other crafting supplies, mostly from designers, in order to save them from the landfill. (Alas for my non-bay-area friends, the vast majority of their supplies have to be picked up locally).

The only sheer fabric they had was a polyester curtain, with a watered orange/blue/white effect. I could work with that! The benefit of a curtain also meant the edges were finished and I didn’t need to deal with out hemming chiffon, which is a truly miserable experience.

So, materials if you want to make something like this for yourself:

  • Some kind of sheer fabric (I recommend chiffon or organza that looks the same on both sides, as this is visible from the wrong side. Anything heavier would be a lot of drag on your neck) Mine was 2-3/4 yards x 54″ which made for something with a slight train on me. 2 3/4 yds is probably as much width as you want to cram into one of these as my gathers were about as tight as they could be. The length (width of the fabric in this case) doesn’t really matter, whatever the width of your fabric is should look nice (unless you really want a train, in which case hunt down 60″ fabric).
  • a scrap of fabric (maybe 15″x4″) for the outside of the collar, the same for the collar lining, and the same for some kind of interlining (I used a scrap of linen canvas, it could also be iron-on interfacing)
  • Something for the closure. This can be ribbon to tie it closed, some kind of frog or clasp closure. What I was close with a chain around the front.
  • Optional: any kind of decoration like applique, beads, lace, trim for the collar.

Step 1: Draft a mandarin collar.

Using your neck measurements, hit up youtube for instructions on how to do this. I used the instructions from one of my pattern-making books. The average person can probably make it 2″ tall. I have almost no neck (which makes late Victorian a pain y’all) so mine is only 1″ tall.

Of course, despite that it somehow didn’t fit well, but I used my amazing new Beatrice dress form to tweak the paper pattern on the form until it fit. I also added a point in the back because it looked cool, and had the collar be open in front because I look awful in collars that go around the whole neck (the short neck thing makes it insta-multiple-chin territory).

Back of the collar cut out of linen canvas. This has no seam allowance as it’s just for stiffening/interlining.
And the front, only going partially around my neck.

Step 2ish: Atttach the interlining/interfacing to the lining

Note, because of that point on the neck I decided to handsew the whole thing so my instructions will bias towards that. (If you don’t have a point, it would be way easier to sandwich the cape in the collar right-sides-together and machine sew it)

My lining is a scrap of Joann polyester satin, leftover from my Elsa costume. I basted the canvas with large stitches to the lining. I even did this with a little bit of roll pinning, as I knew this would eventually curve around my neck (aka the laziest most minimal form of pad stitching, for those who know real tailoring).

Wrap the seam allowance around the lining and baste it down. (Or if you are using interfacing, just iron it on). If you are doing a regular collar with no point, leave the seam allowance free. I knew my lining would never be seen, so I just left these basting stitches in and never bothered taking them out.

Hard to tell here, but the reason it’s not lying entirely flat (especially at the edges) is because of the pseudo-pad-stitched basting.

Then some cursing because it turns out when you buy a curtain, it has GIANT HONKING GROMMETS for a curtain rod.

The sound these grommets would have made, if grommets could speak

I initially considered cutting off each sides with the grommet, so I would still have a rectangle shape, but I Really Really did not want to hem chiffon. I also thought about slicing off a bit to patch whatever holes were left if I just cut out the grommets.

Then I had a duh moment and realized I could just cut off the grommets with an angled piece, and make that raw edge be the part that was sandwiched in the collar. No hemming of chiffon, and losing a couple inches of length in the front might not be a bad thing, since I’d be less likely to trip over it.

Step 3ish: Figure out how much fabric is going in the collar, and gather it up

I messed around with pinning the fabric to the collar until I had a good distribution between the back and the front, with a nice drape over the bare shoulders/arms. (I did not write down the measurements here, bug me if you need me to go measure and come back).

Hey first actual picture of the curtain fabric too! I happen to love a burnt orange shade, so I was happier than I expected to be with this curtain.

Once you are satisfied with the amounts, run two lines of gathering stitches using your longest machine stitch on each of the 3 sections. I did not intend for these gathering stitches to be seen or to remove them, so I put both rows inside the seam allowance. The tension will probably be janky going through a thin material like this, but that’s ok when it is meant to be gathered anyways.

Here’s a slight mistake on my part – I should have also done a few additional rows of gathering below the center, as this was going into a point. Instead of having the gathers nicely distributed at the pointy edge, I was trying to fudge them in by hand because the actual gather stitches were 2 inches away.

Step 4ish: Put the outer collar fabric on.

If you have a straight collar, this is where you would just want to sew your lining to your outer fabric right sides together along the bottom, sandwiching the cape fabric in the middle. If you are me, cut the outer fabric, turn the seam allowance under, and handstitch it to the lining. I was ok with my stitches showing, so I used an 18 century stitch which is like half running stitch/half whip stitch. It has no known english name, and the french name is le point a rabattre sous la main which honestly makes it sound way more complicated than it actually is. Just watch the video to see how it is done.

Note, this is also the point where you need to think about the closure. If you are using ribbon, make sure the ribbon gets sandwiched in at the fronts. If your collar goes all the way around your neck and will close with some kind of frog, then you can wait until the next step to attach it. I sewed a metal ring onto each front (which got sandwiched between lining and outer fabric), with plans to attach a chain on one side and use a clasp to hold onto the other side.

I apparently have no actual photos of these steps, but you can faintly see the handstitching in the photos below. I went through all my fabrics to find something that matched, and ended up cutting a strip of apricot silk dupioni out of the lining of a fantasy gown I made in 2011 (and will never wear again, as it was my first more-advanced gown, and frankly my skills have gone beyond it. Still a bit of a pang to start cutting it up).

Step 5 ish: decoration

The fun part! I ended up cutting out motifs of a 3D lace sample I got from Lacetime on Etsy. This was actually already in my stash, as I had bought this in anticipation of decorating some kind of fantasy corset with it. System win for random stash acquisitions! (And there is still enough of it for that future corset one day).

Playing around with the lace to determine which motifs to cut. The lace matched the fabric perfectly, which is pretty astounding considering they were unrelated purchases.

You can faintly see the netting behind the lace in this picture. I was testing out the final placement with the motifs pinned on.

Then I very very meticulously cut the netting off around all the motifs, and handstitched around all of them, as invisibly as I could. I did leave some bits dangling (like in the center back) without attaching them, for a little bit of movement.

Step 6: Show off in your fabulous new cape

Or more likely if you are me, forget to take a single photo at the event itself, so you will have to be content with these dress form pictures. I actually just wore this over a linen shift dress from Nordtrom Rack because the dress I originally planned to wear didn’t fit over a 4 month pregnancy (oh yeah, that’s happening…). Plus it was in the 90s (farhenheight) that day, so a linen dress ended up being perfect.

The chain is permanently attached to the ring on one side of the collar, and hooks onto the other side with a jewelry clasp. There is also some dangly chain with a pendant attached in the center (which I ended up taking off and replacing temporarily with a much fancier brooch day of)

And to sum it up, total materials cost:

  • Cape fabric: $6.00 (you see why I love fabmo so much)
  • Collar fabric: I’m counting the lining/interlining/dupioni as free, as they were such small scraps from my remnant bin
  • Bottle of Goo-gone to remove nasty sticky residue from where the curtain information sticker had been stuck: $7.48 from Amazon
  • Metal rings, chain, and pendant (alas my jewelry making supplies are not super substantial): ~$10 from Michaels

So a total of ~$23, and frankly I’m annoyed that the Goo Gone cost more than the fabric itself (but it was absolutely necessary, and I’ll have it for the future).

Not bad for a quick prototype! I really want one of these in every color now. The gray silk chiffon ombre gothy version will have to happen one day!

Posted in Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Return to Captain America – making a parasol (or parashield or shieldasol)

So the last time I posted about Cap was over a year ago 😬

Somewhere in the beginning of the year, I decided to go back to this costume, just in case Jordan Con ended up happening. Well, it didn’t get rescheduled for April, but it did get scheduled for July, plus vaccines seemed pretty darn effective (no really, get vaccinated for fucks sake so we can all play dressup together). So luckily in February I started work on something that would take no fitting (because fitting is hard and I don’t like it wah) but was a million percent integral to my costume – the shield / parasol!

This was literally the entire genesis of the costume idea. “How can I make a recognizable Victorian Avenger -> that shield is round like a parasol -> heeeeeeyo”

I got myself a parasol frame from Vena Cava, borrowed the Truly Victorian parasol pattern from my friend at Pigs in Pajamas, and got to work.

A quick test cutting out 10 triangles of muslin wasn’t long enough even though I swear I measured?

Do you know how long it takes to cut out 10 triangles? A WHILE.

But it was close enough that I cut the next “mockup” out of the lining with a bunch of extra seam allowance on the bottom, figuring that I could always tweak that if it didn’t work. In a great stroke of luck, I already had this gray cotton sateen from Renaissance Fabrics (purchased a while ago from a gift card with no project in mind!), and it’s the perfect lining – stiff enough not to get stretched out of shape in a parasol, and also mimicking silver metal. System win for the stash!

Yeah that’s good
A little extra squidge at the top, but I figured I could get rid of that in the outer fabric by sewing my lines more carefully

Thank Thor that my frame had 10 spokes, and the Captain America shield is a 5 pointed star, because holy deities that made my life infinitely easier in trying to do the math. Aka 2 triangles of spokes would make up one point of the star and all my seam lines would line up with spokes (instead of the awfulness of drawing a 5 pointed star pattern on a 6 or 8 spoke frame).

I figured out the proportions by holding a ruler up to pictures of the shield on my computer. Turns out I could have just divided the radius by 4 because each section was an equal size.

Then the BEYOND TEDIOUS work of cutting out each pattern piece. 6 pieces times 10 panels equals SIXTY PIECES to cut out. And I traced each one individually and added seam allowance because this needed to be absolutely precise to line up in a circle by the end.

I do not understand people who like quilting and do this on a regular basis.

Then just the job of sewing them together. I ended up sewing each piece together right side to right side, pressing all the seams towards the outside of the shield, and topstitching each piece for extra security (since I figured there would be a lot of tension on them when the parasol was open).

And yes I changed the thread color each time to match.
It’s so great when your project starts to look like an Actual Thing.

Next up sewing the pieces together, and it turns out when things shift by a millimeter it is FRIGGIN NOTICEABLE. (At least to me).

I was resigned to sewing all 10 panels together by hand, when I had the revelation that the problem was because of how I was pinning these.

I was putting the pin straight up and down matching the spot where the pin poked through. But because this had 4 layers hopping down to 2 layers (because of the topstitching), the pin was shifting things by that fractional amount when I angled it to stick the pin back through. Behold crappy mspaint drawing to explain:

The layers start out together, but the top and bottom pink dots end up off when the pin is angled.

I ended up basting all the layers together by hand using quilters clips to hold them together, and phew that worked!

So matched!

Ok some of them still ended up a bit off but at that point I could not be bothered to fix it.

womp womp, please don’t stare this close at my parasol.

Then it got placed on the frame, and the seam allowance was tacked through the rib tips.

I apparently also basted the hem down to ensure it would be even. Note how badly the supima cotton wants to fray.
Same for the lining on the underside, tacked to the ribs in a couple places to make sure it wouldn’t droop down.

And then carefully whipstitched the outer fabric to the lining to hide all the insides!

While lined parasols are historical (if not super common to my understanding), I’m not sure that the rib tips were encased between the two layers the way I did here. I did this to make it look more like a shield and less like a parasol, but I can’t document this at all.

And the para-shield was done! Quick sneak peak of what it looked like open (cropping out the full costume for a future post coming soon).

Your reminder that it’s morally ok to punch Nazis, because they would literally like to wipe people like me from existence.

The best part of this really is that this cutie now calls this shirt his umbrella shirt, because he thinks this is a pattern for umbrellas, not having a damn clue what Captain America or shields or the MCU are.

Posted in 1880s, Accessories, Captain America Bustle | Leave a comment

1790s / regency-ish painted shoes

After throwing my bodice mockup into the naughty corner (and also totally switching gears back to finish 1880s Captain America), I still needed a project that was a breather in between fitting.

Enter shoes! Honestly, I would have been happy to pay someone for custom shoes, but it doesn’t look like anyone is making the interesting shape of the 1790s.

You see a lot of louis-shaped very short kitten heels (as the heels of the mid 1700s start to become the flats of the regency) and pointed toes. I also found a few examples that were clearly made of silk with a printed/stamped pattern:

According to Pinterest these are from the Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. but I can’t find them on their website. (I also assumed these were fabric, but maybe they are leather?)
Unknown Pinterest provenance alas.
Painted leather, from the Museum of Welsh Life

The pattern on the blue shoes was my favorite, and looked pretty easily to replicate. The second image inspired the black binding, and the (not yet made) silk pompom decorations.

Then, searching the internet for satin flats, in a pastel color, with pointy toes. Turns out that exists (but not as cheap as I was hoping to get all 3) I ended up looking at bridal flats that could be dyed, and found Dyeable Shoes. I got their Ballet Flats, and paid the $12 to have them dye them lilac (which is totally worth not having to dye them myself). Consulting friends on the internet, the consensus was to use Jacquard Textile paint in order to paint them without any running.

First I blocked off right below the binding with some tape, and painted the binding black

I carefully blocked off 1/2″ sections with 1/2″ blue painters tape (and tried to match up the tape on the two shoes without being totally obsessive).

I didn’t trust myself to freehand semicircles in paint, so I drew them in pencil then painted over

No the circles are totally not even, but they were too small to reasonably use a template

Then all the circles got their amoeba/gear arms

Last, lots of dots to fill in the space!

The best part – peeling tape! So satisfying!

And shoes were done!

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Seriously, I am so pleased with how these turned out. They’ve just been chilling on my sewing table so I can look at them whenever I want. They will eventually get that black silk pompom decoration, but I’ll need to buy silk buttonhole twist and shoe clips for that.

Of course, now I just need the entire rest of the outfit to go with them…

Posted in 1790s, Accessories, Regency | 1 Comment

1790s outfit (or I just want to be a fluffy sailing ship)

New era time!

So I’ve said for years I don’t like regency. To my modern eye, it just wasn’t a flattering thing. (Not sure if it hurts or helps my view that you can literally hide a pregnancy there).

Then one day Burnley and Trowbridge posted a few pictures on their Instagram of dresses made of amazing ikat (or warp print or chiné a la branche) fabric on their Instagram:

I immediately went “ooooh I wonder if fabric like that exists today”, poked around at all my usual suspects of online fabric stores, then concluded sadly that of course it did not. (There are so many historical fabrics which straight up are not made any more).

Then a few months later this popped up at one of those stores I peruse for sales on high end fabrics:

It was extremely on sale, but still cost more than any fabric I had ever purchased. I waffled for a day, when my amazing Mother in Law offered to buy me some as a Christmas present, so 2.5 yards were on their way to me for a 1790s open robe!

Now the 1790s is a truly bonkers transitional era. There is something elegant about later regency (think Bridgerton), but 1790s is fully nutso.

For example:

Unfortunately I don’t know the source, it’s one of the fashion plates of the day

Waists had been slowly creeping upward at the end of the Georgian period, and mid 1790s they finally hit underbust. They still have the fullness of being gathered or pleated all the way around so you have this extreme froof plus extreme accessories – which leads to ladies like the one on the left looking rather like a cruise ship in full sail!

Making it easy for me to decide what to make, literally everything was an open robe over a Little White Dress. (yes there are exceptions, don’t @ me)

Short sleeve open robe over long sleeve LWD:

Elbow length open robe over sleevless or short sleeve LWD:

Short sleeve open robe over 3/4 (?) length sleeve LWD, 3/4 (?) length sleeve open robe over unknown-sleeve LWD:

Gallery of Fashion, evening dresses, February 1795. 

Plus a few extants:

Silk open robe with pleated back. V&A. #T.116-1938
Robe, Musée de la Toile de Jouy (according to pinterest, I can’t find a direct link). This one is fascinating for actually being closed in front.

And of course the one at the Met that started it all, that I suspect I’ll end up copying some aspects of:

See more on my Pinterest board.

It seems like you can pretty much mix and match any length sleeve Little White Dress with any length sleeve open robe! Which is making it tricky for me to understand what makes an evening dress vs a day dress. It may come down to quantity of feathers in the hair?

So given this is a new era for me, I need pretty much everything, including undergarments:

  • A chemise/shift (waiting for Willoughby & Rose to be back in stock, because I decided I’m totally over making chemises and would rather pay other people)
  • Stays (Also waiting for Red Threaded to take custom orders again, because I’m so not into this era enough to make my own transitional stays. Luckily for fitting, a balconette bra provides enough of the same lift that I can get started without having these)
  • A petticoat (you can see the lady in the first image lifting up her dress to show the white petticoat underneath)
  • A Little White Dress. I’ve had some tan-spotted ivory cotton/silk voile in my stash for 7 years that will finally get used for this! I’m planning on elbow length sleeves for mine which seem usable for both day and evening wear.
  • The open robe! Still undecided what length of sleeves this will have, although I’m leaning towards sleeveless.

Posted in 1790s | Leave a comment

The Two Types of Blackwork Coifs

Some Actual Research!

(I know right? Usually I just look at other costumer’s blogs, and that’s not really real research).

When pandemic started, my brain was absolute mush from trying to do my job and watch a 2 year old an 18 month old (holy crap my kid was only 18 months old when this all started, given that he is 2.5 now…) Aka finding a block of time to do any kind of fitting (my least favorite part of sewing) was just not going to happen, plus all events were cancelled for the foreseable future. So I went to my stash, and pulled out an embroidery kit for an Elizabethan coif I bought at least 8 years ago. Turns out embroidery is zen and repetitive and you can just sit down and do it with no prep work, so it was the perfect kind of pandemic crafting.

A coif is a head covering. All women pretty much covered their hair at all times. But of course, any rich woman is going to be a bit ~*~Extra~*~ and make their coif embroidered and blingy to show off!

Here is a bit of the research I did to figure out how I wanted to fill in my coif. I was originally going to leave it as just outlining the patterns, but a third of the way through my coif I panicked that it looked dull and amateur. So I went to the internet to look at extant coifs to see what they did.

There seemed to be two main types of blackwork coifs:

  • Counted blackwork, where you fill in the shapes with very regular geometric patterns. This works best with an even weave linen, because you are literally counting how many threads to stitch over to make the patterns extremely precise. (Sometimes you’ll see this called Holbein blackwork where the front and back of the embroidery look the same, but that kind is just a subset of blackwork where the front and back are both visible like sleeve cuffs. It does not have to be reversible to count as blackwork).
  • Freeform blackwork (a term I made up), where the fill stitches are just speckle stitch (or seed stitch) to add shading and dimension.

Now for some pictures of both:


Coif embroidered with black silk and silver gilt. V&A. Accession #T.11-1948
Coif. V&A. Accession #T.12-1948


Coif embroidered with red silk and spangles. V&A. Accession #T.32-1936 (Check out all the animals on there!)

And the best coif of all time because of the KITTIES (as soon as I saw this I immediately decided I’ll need a second coif one day just to recreate this one, although why I would ever need two embroidered coifs is left as an exercise to the reader).

Coif, embroidered with silk and silver thread. V&A, accession #T.21-1946

I also like how you can see that the pattern was drawn on with ink before embroidering, as a lot of the thread has worn off this one leaving the ink drawing behind.

On my coif I ended up going with freeform, as I really didn’t feel like pulling out a magnifying glass to precisely count over threads of my linen.

One last note on how these were worn – I elected to line my coif to protect it from my hair oils. However, all of these extant coifs are unlined. It’s extremely unlikely that only unlined coifs survived, and there is no way these were being washed as many were embroidered with metal threads. So how were folks actually wearing them on their heads?

Well, it seems that many coifs were paired with forehead clothes – a triangle of embroidery with strings on the end. Basically the equivalent of tying a bandana around your head? We know they came together because there are extants with matching embroidery:

Coif and matching forehead cloth. V&A. Accession #T.57A-1947


These forehead clothes also seem to be unlined. We do have much portraiture showing coifs and forehead clothes being worn together.

So TLDR; we still don’t really know. Could there be some kind of plain coif or plain cloth under the fancy one.

Posted in Blackwork Coif, Embroidery, Renaissance | Leave a comment

1890s Symington Corset – Construction

So last time, I drafted a corset pattern in September 2019. Then I got distracted by other projects, then a MOTHER FUCKING PANDEMIC. Daycare closed for 3 months, so I had a full time job (which thankfully gave me a lot of part time leave) and a toddler to deal with, so I needed the sort of projects which would not take up much brainpower.

Turns out that while making patterns is lots of brains, sewing them up is more about precision. So I pulled out this corset pattern in March and started slooowly working on it (alternating with an embroidery project yet to be blogged about).

I’ve anecdotally picked up a lot of information about how to sew historically accurate late 19th century corsets from Foundations Revealed, and I made a list of the characteristics for myself that I wanted remember during construction:

  • The majority of (although not all) corsets were one layer of fabric These corsets were muuuch lighter than people think a corset needs to be (compare to my first corset which is two full layers of coutil! A two layer historical corset might be a silk over a lighter twill).
  • Sew your pieces WRONG sides together, trim the seams to 1/8″, and cover them with boning channels.
  • The waist and waist tape is parallel to the boning, which actually puts the waist of the corset on a slight angle. Modern corsets will tell you this is Absolutely!Forbidden! as you don’t want any stretch in the waist. Whereas this very slight bias helps to keep the fabric nice and smooth and avoid wrinkles.
  • Stitch length is 1-1.5mm. (Standard sewing machine stitch length is 2.5mm). This makes for a super strong seam (which is a bitch to pick out when you screw up tho ask me how I know)
  • Boning channels and the top/bottom binding are always cut on the straight grain.

Coming back to mine, it all starts with the fabric. I used one of the most precious fabrics in my stash – a double faced silk duchesse satin remnant in a purple/gray shade that I picked up in a Dark Garden sale in 2013 or so. I had been too scared to touch it, which makes it one of the oldest fabrics in my stash! At this point I finally felt confident enough in my own skills to make the elaborate corset of my dreams!

Note that’s all I had. Less than a yard, and a quarter of it had some interfacing fused to it. There could be no fuckups.

(Narrator: there were fuckups)

First I needed to find a thread that matched. Uh, this is purple in some lights, gray in some lights, and shot with black. And I couldn’t go into a store because PANDEMIC. I ordered 4 threads from Wawak that were supposed to be in the purple family and this is what arrived:

I ended up going with a gray thread I already had and calling it close enough.

I traced each pattern piece single layer and cut them out. Being a millimeter or two off on multiple pieces can throw off the sizing dramatically on your final piece, so I highly recommend cutting corsets single layer.

The rectangle pieces were all going to be corded, which meant the fabric needed to be a bit wider than the final piece. How much wider was important, because I did not have enough fabric to have giant seam allowances. So I used a tiny scrap from between the shaped pieces to test how much fabric cording ate up:

I think it ended up being 1/8″ per these 6 cords?

So adding just a smidge more to these rectangles and cutting them out right next to each other:

Fuckup Learning Experience #1: I backed the corded pieces with actual coutil. I would have preferred a lighter twill, but I didn’t feel like buying new fabric. I think the coutil was way too heavy to be the backing of a duchesse satin, especially when it wasn’t every piece. I should have erred on the side of a lighter fabric (like a sateen) rather than a heavier one. The boning and satin and cords do all the work to make sure your fabric isn’t going to stretch, that backing didn’t need to do that.

Then for Extreme Precision sewing – I basted every piece together on the stitch line before sewing them together with a tiny stitch. This meant I was sewing right over my basting, and I couldn’t always pick it out if my stitch split it. I’m not sure if this is a feature or a bug; but since the seams get covered with boning channels it’s not like anyone could see.

First scary thing, putting in the busk! I was overall pleased with how this turned out.

But wait for it, major fuckup Learning Experience #2. I pulled this busk out of a old corset that I never wore because I didn’t like the fit, and just assumed it would fit in this corset. But I forgot that this one was sitting fairly low, and forgot that my fabric could end below the busk, and it could just bend if I sat down.

that’s how much seam allowance is there

So yeah with 1/16″ seam allowance, I wasn’t able to sew my binding all the way through. It’s just whipped on top of the busk.

Aaand fuckup Learning Experience 3, I didn’t place my knob markings carefully the first time, and had to pull out one of the knobs and put it in a new place. Silk satin can’t take that kind of handling.

At least you can’t see it when the corset is closed.

And then came the boning channels.

So remember how I said I didn’t have a lot of fabric? It turns out that I only had enough left to cut all my boning channels along the cross grain (aka horizontally) instead the normal grain, minus the front facings and one side boning channel. I also only had enough to make all the boning channels the width of one bone instead of two.

It turns out there was a reason Victorians made their boning channels go on the straight grain. I should have gone for a contrasting fabric when I realized what a pain this was going to be.

They frayed So Much.

The only handling here was basting and ironing.

The fabric was also so bouncy in that direction, I had to baste all the boning channels to themselves (see above) before basting them to the corset itself in order to get any kind of precision.

So. Much. Basting.

Because they were narrow, the seams liked to poke out from the channels, no matter how much I tried to shove the threads back in.

Worst of all, when a thick thread frayed out, it means you are losing more of the fabric:

This frayed bit is totally unfixable, so I hope not too much stress is on that spot.

Compare the boning channels here on the single channel which was on the cross grain, to the one lone channel I was able to cut on the straight grain:

You can barely see the stitching on the straight grain channel, because the thread only had to go over the very thin weft. But hopping over the big warp threads left very obvious stitching.

Once it was clear what was happening, I probably should have scrapped these boning channels and made contrasting channels out of another fabric.

So not a mistake precisely, but a really dramatic Learning Experience that led to all these mini fuckups. Which overall made me sad, because I wanted this to be The Perfect Corset after holding onto this fabric for so long. Oh well.

What do the GIFS say about this?

Ah yes, an always good reminder from the Dowager!

Moving on then. Adding decoration so you don’t notice the mistakes!

I did my first ever corset flossing, a fairly simple X pattern using silk buttonhole twist.

For the trim, I reached out to my friend Elizabeth Emerson, owner of Elizabeth Emerson Designs. She has literally thousands of rolls of antique ribbon (way more than are displayed on her site), among other trims and goodies, so you should definitely do all your trim buying from here.

I ended up with some cotton lace, some ribbon, and some dark gimp which I combined into a single trim.

How did she color match the color of the ribbon to the corset so well online, when it’s such a weird purple/gray color? She is a wizard.

Basted that trim on, and corset was done!

And after all that I’ve still been too scared to try it on to see how it fits. Once I have some free time I really will!

And this was all the fabric that was left:

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1890s Symington Corset – Fitting

Hooboy, so I started this corset a while ago. Back in July 2019 when pandemics didn’t exist, I thought I might have time to make a new corset to wear with my Captain America Bustle for Jordan Con in April 2020 (haha lolsob lolsob lolsob.)

I’ve been a member of Foundations Revealed for quite some time, so I’ve been reading about making corsets for years, but still wore my same old Victorian one (made in 2014!) under everything from 1830s-1890s. My body isn’t particularly squishable in the waist, so even though there are differences in the corsets over the years, no one is really going to notice that it’s not the perfect silhouette.

So in July I started with the Foundations Revealed free article for drafting a corset (I’m not sure if it’s still free after their site migration), but partway through my draft I realized I had screwed up a measurement. When starting over, I decided to use a different drafting tutorial for a Symington corset (behind the paywall). I really don’t have a good reason for this. I think I decided I’d rather use the draft for a purposely-historical corset rather than a more generic “victorian” shape?

Here was the first draft and it certainly looked pretty!

Pro-tip: Label the hell out of your pieces. If these get flipped over or upside down and they aren’t labeled, good luck.

I generally prefer to draft my patterns without seam allowance, but it’s also a pain to draw it in on every mockup piece on the fabric (especially since I cut corset pieces single layer). So here I added it only to the sides, but drew it on the paper to remind me it was there. A bit wonky, but it worked.

And sigh, mockup time. I used some heavy mystery canvas fabric from Fabmo, and no I didn’t bone it. (Yes, a proper corset mockup should use boning. I generally can learn enough from the unboned mockup to make at least the first round of tweaks.) Having stripes on the mockup fabric does make it really easy to make sure your grain is correct, so that was a nice bonus.

Yes, I am shaped like the world’s faster hourglass (aka a cylinder).
Other pro tip: Take the time to make one pair of lacing strips if you are going to make any corsets like ever.

You can see it was giant over the bust. So that got cut waaay down and taken in. Something like 1.75 inches? Despite this being “drafted to my measurements” no body block is taking into account how short my torso is. Unfortunately that made it hard for me to keep the nice swoopy U shape there, so that kindof got lost.

The corset is also way too loose (it is closing with no effort) and a friend on Instagram noticed the back piece looked way too big, so I removed a solid inch from that piece. I also raised the back a bit. You can also see a few faint black lines where I slightly took in some pieces and slightly let out the back hip. My goal in doing fitting changes was to leave all the rectangle pieces as rectangles while only adjusting the curved pieces, since that seemed to be more true to the original corset draft.

Next version, this time with some boning. To do boning in a corset mockup, I just run a stitch down the seam allowance using large basting stitches to form a channel. The large stitches are important since I generally need to rip them out to make another round of alterations.

Hey, not bad! I don’t have a picture of the last round of pattern changes, but I’m guessing it was minimal from here (raising the underarm, trying to get rid of the sticky-out bit on the stomach).

And then it was October 2019 and I realized I needed to get back to work on my actual bustle gown, so I put away the fitting pattern. And then there was a fucking global pandemic (WEAR YOUR FUCKING MASKS PEOPLE) and my bustle gown was abruptly no longer needed. So in March 2020 when I got the tiniest bit of sewing mojo back, and came back to this corset, as all the hard boring parts (e.g. fitting) was already done, and it was time for the part I liked, aka the sewing! Which will be discussed in the next post.

Posted in 1890s, Corsets, Symington Corset | 1 Comment

American Duchess Cape – Sewing it up

After the ridiculousness that was FOUR MOCKUPS FOR A FRIGGIN CAPE sewing it up was nice and straightforward.

The outer fabric was an easy choice. I’ve had some dark gray wool satin in my stash since 2012 (sheesh both my stash and I are getting old) that I bought when it was on sale with no real plans for it.

It’s absolutely impossible to get a good photograph of the wool. Wool satin is 100% wool but done in a satin weave (remember satin is a weave not a fiber; you just see it most often in silks or faux silk). This makes for slightly shiny wool!

I wanted to use a nice silk to compliment the awesomeness of the wool, but I everything in my stash was too bright or too light colored. At the end I was deciding between this dark green shantung, and a polyester purple jacquard.

This is not a totally awful representation of the colors

In the end the purple was the winner. The color looked the best, and I was trying to keep this as a stash project (even though a silver silk satin would have been the absolute best choice).

Since this was such a precious fabric, I went for super duper precision. Since both the wool and the lining were fairly bouncy, I basted every dart before sewing them by machine (which comes out to 12 darts!)

pretty nifty looking jacquard from the back! Those long white threads are actually pretty fragile and there are a number of places where they’ve pulled out entirely, but those spots are on the lining at my back where no one will see it.

Following a suggestion I saw in the Foundations Reveal’d Facebook group, I catch-stitched a cotton twill tape in the shoulder seams of the wool to prevent it from stretching.

1/2″ is a bit wide, but it was the narrowest twill tape in my stash. This is a lovely vintage tape that is so much thinner than the stuff I bought in bulk from Joann. Not sure if the quality is better because it’s vintage, or because anything is better than Joann…

Back to basics! While my seams are the same length, once you add the seam allowances the edges are no longer the same length when dealing with curves. When sewing a curve to a straight line (or an outer curve to an inner curve) you want to clip the shorter seam allowance and notch the longer seam allowance so you aren’t fighting them (I find it easier to remember it that way than thinking about outer vs inner curves).

The one place where I didn’t have the inclination to do the couture way – I just used some fusible interfacing on the uppercollar instead of using this as the time to learn padstitching with canvas.

No, it’s not supposed to be that uneven at the bottom center, but I was running low on interfacing.

The undercollar was trimmed to be 1/8″ shorter on 3 sides so that when I flip it right side out it pulls the seams under just slightly, so they don’t show on top.

Some tediousness – I detest bag lining, so I knew I would be turning the seam allowances under and whipping (? felling? I am blanking the name of this handstitch for some reason) them together. Since the bottom is a long curve, I tried out a tailoring technique for shrinking wool. I ran a gathering stitch through and steamed the heck out of it which should theoretically shrink it, so when it got folded under there would be less fabric bulk. Manipulations like this are why 1) wool is a super cool fiber that tailors adore, and 2) why real tailors are geniuses.

This only works on natural fibers, so the poly got the regular cut-notches-into-it treatment.

Ok I lied – I did sew just the topmost edge (going across the top of a wrap section, around the neck enclosing the collar and around the other wrap top) right-sides to right-sides. Then let that whole contraption hang on my dress form for a day in case the wool was going to stretch at all.

so much fraying on both these fabrics

Then flipped it so the right sides were showing, and for the rest of the sides I folded the seam allowance in towards each other. Holy cow this thing has a long hem! I did it in sections because I didn’t have enough pins!

this is approximately 1/3 of the bottom hem

Careful stitching so it only catches the seam allowance and doesn’t show on the right side:

Then I gave the seams a final press, and hung it on my dress form because I was done!

And realized I had forgotted to deal with closures. Whoops! I sewed a ribbon into the ends instead of hooks and eyes, because that leaves me a bit of flexibility regarding the size instead of using hooks and eyes.

And pictures! I thought about waiting on proper pictures on me (or even just using a sheet taped to the wall as a backdrop), but honestly I’m dealing with a toddler in a pandemic and I’m exhausted. So in the interest of actual posts, you get the real-life background of drawers and stuff behind the cape.

that’s not a trick of the lighting, that’s the shine of wool satin
a peek at the ribbon tie closure in the back

And a wee summary:

What is it? A cape from ~1910s.

Materials: Dark gray wool satin, purple polyester damask lining, 2″ wide silk ribbon

Pattern: A free gridded pattern from American Duchess


  • Wool – originally $50 for 2 yards plus shipping at fabric mart (but hey it depreciates after 8 years in the stash right? Also, this is a phenomenal price for 2 yards of wool satin, even if at the time it was the most expensive fabric I had ever bought.)
  • Polyester – $10 I think? From a local costumer’s stash sale
  • Ribbon – not a clue, let’s say $5 for the < 1 yd I used
  • Pattern – $15 (yes it’s free, but I hate scaling up patterns, so I paid a local friend who had made it to trace and it ship it to me. The money was totally worth saving me an hour or two).
  • Total = $80 if you had to buy everything today

Hooray I actually finished a thing!

Posted in 1910s, American Duchess Cape, Uncategorized | Leave a comment