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:

Counted

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

Freeform

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

BUT

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 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:

Posted in 1890s, Corsets, Symington Corset | Leave a comment

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

Costs:

  • 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

American Duchess Cape (Cult) – Fitting

Like most folks who do historical costuming (or any sewing) on the internet, you may have heard of the free American Duchess Cape pattern.

I volunteered to host a sewalong on TarValon.net for this (as it crosses over to cosplay pretty easily) and figured it would be a nice quick project. After all, it has a bust size of 38 (which is my size) and is one-size-fits-all outerwear, right?

Hah, it’s never that easy. The day a pattern fits me on the first try is the day the universe suffers instant heat death, and then I won’t be around to actually sew up the pattern.

Aaaand as usual, it was bad.

With no alterations, it sat really strangely. If I let the front wraps lay smoothly across the bust, they ended at the side of my hips and never got close to my back.

If I hiked them up to tie in the back, it was gappy like whoa over the bust.

at least there would be room for kittens in there?

First I pinched out two darts. One is right in the center, and one is up by the shoulder:

Marking with pen on the pattern (draw the line where the pin is, on both sides of the pin):

Then transferring those markings to the pattern, and extending them to be full darts.

But not actually wanting darts in my pattern, drafting them back out again. This left me with a curved front, and very slightly curved darts

Taped a bit of paper under the bottom one since there was a sharp corner. Pattern alterations are really just cutting and taping.

Then it was on to mockup number two!

Hmm.

So the darts helped this lie smoother across the bust, but something still wasn’t right. That big fold of fabric pointing towards the collar shows there is too much fabric in there somehow.

Plus, the shoulders were just weird and wrong.

my shoulder seam basically

Those are really far back. Now, Victorian bodices dropped shoulder seam, but that is not a Victorian shoulder, that is something just not fitting correctly. Besides, this is theoretically a 1910s cape, and the shoulder seam had moved forward by that point.

I debated moving the shoulder forward (chop off some of the front shoulder pattern, tape to back shoulder), but then I got smart and pulled out my fitted sloper to compare the necklines.

Here’s the back:

yikes

Ok, that’s not great. You would think that the shoulder would be too far forward given how much extra fabric is here, but my neck needed more room so it was getting pulled back.

And here’s the front:

YIKES

That’s really bad. That scoop is where my neck is supposed to fit. But this had so much fabric shoved in there, no wonder the whole thing was being pulled backwards. My neck was pushing all the fabric down.

So I carved out all of that from the pattern. I also ended up undoing some of the chonky dart I had made near the neck before, since I wasn’t sure if I would need all of it.

No photos of this step, but it turns out this made the neck much better, but I did need the chonky dart. Not just a chonky dart, it became a whole chonky tuck, where I took out length at the shoulder seam as well.

Testing that out with my FOURTH FUCKING MOCKUP THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A FAST AND EASY PROJECT ARRRRRGH

Smug because IT ACTUALLY FITS
Check out that excellent shoulder seam placement

Huzzah it actually fit!

actual recovered video footage of me recovered after putting that on

Ok, so the collar is a little too bunched up in back because my neck isn’t long enough to make that work, but that’s an easy fix.

To add an inch of length (width? I wanted to make the back edge longer while keeping the neck edge the same length) I slashed and spread the pattern to add 1/4″ in 4 places.

Doing it in 4 places instead of one makes for a nice gradual curve to change, instead of trying to shove a whole inch in somewhere in the middle (hurr durr).

And just for fun, here is my final wrap pattern piece compared to the original:

This is what being short torso-ed and narrow shouldered will do to you. This is why my sewing teacher told me to draft all my own patterns…

Next up, finally finally getting to sew, after 3 weeks of pattern hell. This is both fun and terrifying, and I’m using one of the most precious fabrics in my stash, some yardage of genuine wool satin!

Posted in 1910s, American Duchess Cape | 2 Comments

Blackwork Elizabethan Coif

So 6 months ago the world fucking shut down (except the US didn’t actually shut down enough to prevent 200 thousand deaths. I have a lot of angry opinions right now. Anyways.).

Daycare was closed, and my husband and I immediately started trading off watching the toddler while working.

I had no brainpower for anything requiring – well – brainpower.

So I finally pulled out the embroidery kit I bought so long ago that I can’t even remember when I got it (at least 6 years? 8 years?) for a blackwork coif – the Elizabeth Coif from Reconstructing History. (Note, I would never normally recommend a Reconstructing History pattern. However, these were created by Laura Mellin who is an expert in Elizabethan embroidery, and RH is just the distributor).

The pattern. It’s actually rather clever how they’ve drawn it up to give you an idea of what it looks like without needing to embroider each one.

I did actually mock up the coif way back in the day when I first bought it, and found that it was a bit big. I scanned it on a scanner/printer at 90% and found that was a better size for my head. These days you could just print the PDF at 90% to make life easier.

I dug out an embroidery frame from where it was under a yoga mat behind my fabric stash. (Having weird things like this in your stash are great!)

I used a nifty trick I picked up from Koshka the Cat to use a pyrex container as a lightbox, for tracing my pattern onto linen. (Extant coifs show ink patterns where the thread has worn off, so ink is historical even if my high quality fine-tipped pen is not).

IMG_20200323_195317-COLLAGE

I tried to trace this on the linen I had bought from RH with the pattern, and it did not work. The linen was so thick that I couldn’t see through it. I tossed it aside in disgust and pulled up some linen from At The Sign of the Golden Scissors that was leftover from making my husband an 18th century shirt. Ahhh, much better. Thinner and more tightly woven.

I bought 3 skeins of Soie d’Alger black silk thread (which ended up not being enough, I needed 4) from my local store Needle in a Haystack (their website isn’t great, but yay for supporting local embroidery shops, plus they are very communicative over email). This is a spun silk thread, which I understand is less historically accurate than filament silk thread, but I also understand that filament is harder to work with and this being my first embroidery project, I didn’t want to make life too difficult.

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My dice rolling box got temporarily repurposed as my embroidery box. With my favorite D20 hanging out in the corner because it’s just so pretty.

Then I began to embroider – stem stitch for the vines, and backstitch for the various flowers.

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And embroider…

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And embroider…

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I had an existential crisis after finishing the first third, where only having only the outlines done with nothing filling in the patterns looking amateur. I poked around some museums for extant blackwork coifs, and found that there were two main kinds of fills. Counted (where you have a pattern filling it in) and uncounted/shaded (where you just speckle it to give dimension).

Some counted examples:

V&A, T.11-1948

V&A, T.12-1948

Some shaded examples:

V&A, T.27-1975

V&A, T.21-1946. Also my favorite coif of all time because there is a LEOPARD on there! I have got to reproduce this one day.

I started trying to do a counted-fill, but without counting. Unsurprisingly that looked awful and I pulled it right out. So I decided to go with a very simple speckled stitch (also known as seed stitch) because actually doing randomness of speckles for real shading scares me. (Seriously, doing random deliberately is really difficult).

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Then all the embroidery was done and it was time for the best part, SPANGLES!

I got real gold-plated spangles from Berlin Embroidery Designs, which cost more than all the rest of the supplies combined, but when I spent months embroidering this thing I figured it deserved the shiniest.

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Tacky AF AND historically accurate, my favorite!

And a snapshot of the back, just for fun:

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And then all the embroidery was done! To finish it off I cut another piece of linen, turned in the seam allowance, and sewed them together. (For some reason historical pieces don’t seem to be lined which is unusual – usually you wouldn’t want something like this touching your hair oils, so I wonder if folks were usually wearing these over another covering. More research needed).

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I bought 2 yards of a hand-woven silk ribbon for the tie, and then it was done for real!

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Now I just need a dress to wear with it. And for the world to not be a pandemic so I can actually be with people again.

Posted in Accessories, Embroidery, Renaissance | 7 Comments

Captain America Bustle bodice – construction

Usually construction is the easy part, but this bodice had finicky steps where order mattered.

Everything is made out of the blue Joann cotton sateen, flatlined with polished cotton.

First, the sleeve needed the white decorative cuff added. I thought about making it go all the way around the sleeve instead of the weird half-cuff the original had going on, but then I would have had to make seams line up and that sounded like too much work, so I went with half:

Looking at both sleeves you can see the red doesn’t go all the way around. I left off the bow on top because I thought that looked silly.

I remembered to sew the white triangles onto the peplum before sewing the back pieces together!

Bones inside the darts had to go in before the binding was on (because that is what holds them in the bottom). I serged off the excess dart to reduce bulk.

For the other bones, I followed the instructions of an 1881 garment book which instructed to bone every seam except the ones right next to center back. I suspect this is because those are the most curvy seams on a bodice and even baleen didn’t curve that much?

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Bottom binding also partially on

I tried doing sprung bones for the first time. This is a technique where the casing is slightly too big and gathered a little bit. This allows the outside of the garment to still be flat when it is tight against the concave curve from your bust to waist. If the bones were perfectly tight in the casing, the outside of the garment wrinkles because it forms a smaller curve than the curve of the bone behind it.

Possibly gathered too much? I’ve never seen a casing look quite this wrinkly in a picture before.

As an aside, I use cheapo cotton twill tape from Joann for my bones, but this doesn’t look at all like extant garments – anyone know of a better material to better mimic them?

This bodice has a buttoning-in center plastron, so how do you deal with a full mandarin collar? Janet Arnold to the rescue! The collar goes the full way around, hooks in front, and just sits independently on top of the plastron.

Last, the buttoning-in-plastron, aka what makes this Captain America and not just a nice seaside bustle gown.

First, getting that dratted star on. I figured the best way to get it on was applique. And since I didn’t trust myself to be able to maneuver around the points of a star by machine, that meant my first ever applique-by-hand. And of course, a star is literally the most difficult shape to applique on.

First a test version to try out interfacing vs not, and different thread types:

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From left to right we have:

  1. green buttonhole silk twist (if I liked it I would have bought white, but I didn’t like it enough to be worth purchasing new thread)
  2. DMC cotton with two strands
  3. DMC cotton with three strands

I ended up going with the 3 strand cotton.

After going around a couple points I figured that was enough practice, and went for the real one. By this point I was working from home full time, and would do the applique during group video chat meetings. Embroidery – it’s better than a fidget spinner!

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The points are not all the same and this drives me bonkers. In retrospect I shouldn’t have folded the edges under, I should have left them raw and the satin stitch would have covered it.

And with the bottom half attached, and just pinned onto my dress form:

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This is the only place on the dress that uses red fabric. I’ll also have red gloves and red boots.

At this point, the pandemic was in full swing, and Jordan Con was cancelled. This only needs buttons and lace to be complete, but buttons are a pain in the ass, so this is on hold for the forseeable future (especially because I’m not confident Jordan Con is going to happen in April 2021 either…) Right now it just sits on my dress form, because it still makes me happy to look at from my work desk. Stay safe y’all.

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay | Leave a comment

Captain America Bustle Bodice – Fitting

Where we last left off, I had finished the skirt in time to wear to an outing(!), and had a goal of finishing the bodice ASAP.

Welp, it’s still not done yet, but let’s start talking about it –

My original plan was to draft a basic Victorian bodice sloper from the Frances Grimble book. All Victoria bodices are basically the same shape – princess seams in the back, two darts in the front. After that you just change the shoulder, or the peplum, or the length, or the collar, or sleeves… But that can all be done with flat pattern alterations. So once I have one fitting bodice, the whole world of Victorian bodices is open to me!

And then a neighbor texted me that there were historical patterns available at Fabmo, and did I want her to get them for me?

Major score, $4 each!

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That bodice pattern is basically a perfect sloper shape. Now, I know I have super narrow shoulders compared to any commercial pattern, so I traced off the pattern for my bust and waist, and held up my sloper to see which size would be good for my shoulder:

All my wats ensued:

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Yeah, that has the waistlines matched up. But the neck and shoulder are a truly insane amount too big. Like 3-4″ of excess in the shoulder and neck area. That is noooot worth my time trying to alter.

(As an aside, it’s clear that Truly Victorian bodice patterns are just not meant for my body shape, or women with narrow shoulders in general. I’ll still buy their skirts, but never buying a bodice again.)

I was resigned to drafting a pattern from scratch, but that point I remembered that my Kaylee bodice from 2016 would actually be a good starting point! It was made to fit over my Victorian corset, and it already fit (well, fit as well as I could 4 years ago, which is only mediocre fitting). Even with changing the front princess seams to darts, splitting the back into three pieces instead of two, extending it to the hips, and adding a collar will be easier than making this absurd pattern with all the correct seam lines actually fit me.

And it turns out that that may be the only pattern in my entire sewing history that I didn’t save the final pattern.

But it only had 3 pieces (a back, a side, and a front) so I traced a pattern off the actual bodice, and used my regular modern fitted sloper ask a guideline to make sure the shoulders and neck looked ok (since a corset isn’t going to reshape that area).

Behold the frankenpattern resulting:

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And the mockup:

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Good thing I didn’t sew the darts, you can see the pinned one bears zero relation to the drawn ones. 

Clearly not a great fit, but I could work with this. Maybe one day I’ll have a pattern fit correctly on the first try…

Tracking my changes over the various mockups:

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I don’t remember what that math was from at all. Maybe another project?

I always fit bodices from the neck down. The shoulder/neck area is the most complicated part of a bodice to fit, because you have cylinders (e.g. your neck and arms) sticking out in opposite directions. Waists and busts are much easier by comparison, they just go in or out.

I thought this would be straightforward, and then it took me FOUR MOCK-UPS to get something approaching reasonable! I don’t know why this one was so much work. I kept having to trim the underarms down which is weird, since I usually have to raise them up. But once I had the shoulders and neck fitting the waist was 1.5″ too high. Apparently all my shoulder tweaks somehow resulted in things getting hiked up, even though I never once explicitly took the shoulders up. Super weird.

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Basically pretty! Except not enough room at the bust.

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As noted above it didn’t close at the front anymore over the bust, even though it fit fine at the neck and waist. An easy fix would be adding a bit more fabric just at the bust and having a curved front seam. But, every original pattern draft showed a straight front, so I wanted to keep that shape. (Plus, I was going to be cutting out the front to turn into a buttoning-in plastron piece, which I didn’t want to have a center seam. Here’s how to do that:

The amount I needed at the bust was 1″, so I added that to the whole front.
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Then 1″ needed to be taken out of the neck, because it had fit before I added the excess. I measured out that inch (see the tick marks), and drew a line from the middle of that to the bust apex.

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Cut along that line going to-but-not-through the bust apex. Scoot the pattern over until your tick marks match, aka you’ve taken an inch out of the neck. The waist dart is now bigger, as you’ve rotated the extra fabric into that dart.

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For drafting the mandarin collar, I pulled out a wonderful old friend from the Canada College fashion class days (this is an absolutely amazing book for flat pattern alterations). Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong. Absolutely invaluable if you want to make your own patterns.

I did go back to that Truly Victorian pattern for the sleeves. I measured my pattern armscye to see which size I should cut out from their pattern, and it turned out the smallest size (size A) was correct for my arm. (Another reason why I’m ditching TV bodice patterns – I have no idea how I could grade from the smallest size at the arm to 5 sizes up at the bust. Not worth it)

With that, all the fitting was done, and it was time to go onto the rote task of cutting and sewing! Aka the part I actually enjoy. Fitting sucks, constructing rocks!

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay | Leave a comment

Bustle skirt at the Legion of Honor

My last pre-quarantine event with the Greater Bay Area Costumer’s Guild was in the beginning of February 😦

A bunch of FABULOUS PEOPLE, by John Carey Photography

The theme was bustle dresses, while attending the Tissot exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (as Tissot was known for painting sheer ruffle-tastic froofy bustle gowns).

My goal was to have my skirt ready and wear it as a test run, since there was noooo way my bodice would be done in time.

With it, I wore a 1970s-does-1910s polyester blouse:

 

Not me, that’s the etsy model.

To cover up that hot mess of a top, and because San Francisco is always freezing, I bought a vintage velvet and fur capelet from Ebay:

Unlike the top, this is purely fabulous, and can work for nearly 100 years of costuming.

Note, apparently lots of ebay sellers are doing this thing where you save something to your watchlist, and a few days later they will email you with a discount good for ~24 hours. It’s definitely meant to appeal to your lizard brain to BUY THE THING BEFORE IT IS GONE, and in this case it meant I got this cape for $40 (reduced from $60). Sold!

And some pictures from the outing:

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This side of the skirt looked nice

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But what is that hot mess being hiked up in the back there?

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It was classic San Francisco wind outside. That capelet was super handy for not freezing to death.

While the excursion was excellent, I’ll be honest, I really don’t like these pictures.

  1. I look awful in high-necked blouses. I have a really short neck, so any sort of standing collar just emphasizes that, and any time I look down I acquire an extra chin.
  2. I didn’t check my backside out in a mirror after exiting the car, and the back drapery didn’t lay quite right. I really wanted both edges of the white rectangles covered by the drapery and not showing. It was also SUPER RIDICULOUSLY WINDY outside which didn’t help.

At least it was a test run to know where to alter my skirt before the costume contest next year. Mostly a bunch of tacks and french tacks to get things to look all nice and effortless. Although you know what isn’t effortless? Actually doing that. This costume is definitely being put in the corner for 6+ months until I can bear to look at it again; the potential is there to be epic, just needs some more work.

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