I had some sewing plans. Then I got invited to a wedding with a dress code “fantasy dress encouraged”
hold up it’s new outfit time!!!!
I pretty much based the outfit off of wanting another fantasy cape, because they are so much fun to swish around in. I spent a ton of time looking around fantasy corsets on etsy, was hugely inspired by Sparklewren and Royal Black, and wanted to be a gothy fairy so I settled on a pink and black color scheme.
I started on the corset because obviously that’s the hardest part (a gathered skirt to go with it is easy right? Hold that thought for later…). I’ve made mid-bust corsets before, and figured an overbust wouldn’t be that different (oy). Of course I made my life difficult with a Sparklewren pattern that contains no boning layout or instructions…
The best part – fabric shopping! An Instagram poll ended up evenly split between the top three Silk Baron dupionis shown here on top of the skirt lace. I ended up going with the light pink, since I planned to cover it with black lace decorations.
Before cutting I did my usual pattern adjustments – shortening the length (both above and below the waist) and also letting the waist out slightly. Turns out I am shaped like the world’s fastest hourglass (aka a cylinder) and can’t get much waist compression because my rib cage and hip bone are bffs and hang out next to each other, so all these lovely pattern curves needed to be straightened out.
In canvas, my practicing my first ever single layer hip gusset!
The way I generally do my corset mockups is doing a giant basting stitch to sew the seam allowance down and add bones to those channels. I also have pre-made lacing strips which get basted onto the back.
It’s…a look? Despite wanting cleavage of doom, this was a bit much. And the shape of the flappy bits was odd. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find any pictures of the made-up corset pattern, so I was also going blind on what the flappy bits should look like on a person).
Between mockups one and two I tweaked the shape of the flappies, raised the center front, made the front bottom shape into a way more flattering V point, and took things in a bit to try and fix the back lacing to make it more even.
V1 on the left, v2 on the right:
Closer, but still not there. For the final version, I let out the top of the back a bit more, and also totally changed the shape of the bust. I chopped off the flappy bits (which I like the idea of, but could not make look good) and went for more of a V. I also split the front panel into two, so I could more easily tweak the shape over the bust.
Unfortunately, to truly make a corset mockup, you have to make a corset. Since I wanted the pink corset to be the couture fantasy corset of my dreams, I decided to make a wearable mockup first with absolutely zero shortcuts (rather than spending all that time on plain boring canvas). And since the only appropriate extra fabric I really had was some dark red leftover silk taffeta, I would hopefully end up with a second goth AF corset?
I used various techniques I learned from the Royal Black patreon about working with two fabrics (this is the only Patreon I actually pay $10 a month for, and I cannot emphasize enough how much it is worth it. Truly a bargain for the tutorials and knowledge you get from a professional). The outside is silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics, the strength layer is a cotton twill from Dharma Fabrics. It’s nowhere near as strong as a coutil, but when layered with the silk and all the boning it ends up strong enough.
And when I said couture, I meant it. For each piece of the corset I basted across the waist and the middle to hold them together. Then carefully holding it over a tailors ham, I basted the sides in order to build in the curve that it needs over the body. I also bent over the seam allowance as if it was ironed down and basted just outside of it.
I ended up sewing the whole thing together – including boning channels which cover the trimmed seam allowance – except the channel over the seam closest to the busk. I figured that would leave me enough wiggle room to alter the bust shape if needed.
Then I tried it on –
eww ew nope uggo uggo uggo UGH.
From the front and back it’s not awful, but from the side profile you I ended up with a conical smashed down completely flat shape instead of a nice curvy shape.
Looking at the pattern it’s obvious what’s wrong. The top of 1b and 2 are convex curves (that’s how you get space for the bust), but the piece I split into two (which is now pieces 1a and 1b) also needed some convex curve. Instead it’s more or less straight.
In order for this to not be a total waste of time, I eked out as much curve as I could from the seam allowance between those two pieces. (and also took in the top so it laid flatter)
So it went from unwearably bad to meh. That’s good enough for me to finish and wear at a later date (especially when I cover it with black lace and bling to distract anyone from the shape) but was not good enough to be the wearable mockup for the intended new corset. And since I was running out of time, it got put in the naughty corner to think about what it’s done, and I planned to wear my regular old Victorian corset as outerwear instead (which uh, I still haven’t put up the final pictures of years later…)
And then onto what surely had to be easier to make – a plain rectangle gathered skirt. Right?!? Dun dun dun to be continued…
So 1790s, with gathering under the bust, is known for making you look rather pregnant. Note, it probably won’t make you look *this* pregnant, but I was 39 weeks pregnant here and literally had a baby the next day. I tossed some fake curls in my hair, pulled out a ribbon, and took pictures stat because I knew there would pretty much be no upcoming chance after that (given this post is coming when baby is now 11 months, I was quite correct).
I’m still waiting for a place to wear this! Indoor only because a sheer white silk gown and long silk train don’t do so well dragging on the ground, plus warm weather because of sheer silk dress. And with that, a new era is added to my wardrobe!
I went looking to see if I could find anything remotely similar (because I do love a challenge of trying to find historically adequate 18th century fabrics) and came across this one:
My mother in law got me some for Christmas in 2020, and this outfit started coming together in my head.
First, let’s go over the ways that this is not a historically accurate chine/warp print fabric:
The way the fabric is made. This fabric is a regular satin (or taffeta? It seems to be somewhere in the middle. Not totally a plain weave, but not quite as smooth as a satin. The weft threads go over ~2 warp threads, rather than a single one for a plain weave). The patterned parts are made like a regular jacquard, except the pattern purposely skips over a thread here and there to make the edges look blurry. This is not the same way a warp print was made historically (which was way more labor intensive). But it’s a clever way to fake it!
The scale of the fabric. Those patterned stripe sections are around 6 inches wide, and the purple sections around 8″. It’s clear this is meant to be an upholstery fabric, rather than a garment fabric (compare to the much narrower stripes in the Met open robe, where they alternate ~1″ sections of pattern and plain). This meant I had to be a lot more wasteful with fabric in trying to place stripes where I wanted them or pattern matching, compared to a very fabric-frugal18th century seamstresses mantua maker. I could have used significantly less fabric if I didn’t go for symmetry, but that would have been way less attractive.
For the pattern, I did want it to be a little more earlier-in-the-decade-shaped so I made a new pattern piece by slapping some see-through packing material that acts remarkably like swedish tracing paper over the round gown on my dress form.
A mockup as always, because when you are working with the most expensive fabric you own, you double check the fit:
With that, onto construction! Tldr; it’s basically the same as my round gown, except even easier because it doesn’t have a front to fit, just a band under the bust.
A billion photos ahead!
I did a test run of pleating with muslin to get to something I approximately liked and to get a sense of how much fabric I needed, then went with the real thing.
Turns out there is a reason these extant gowns always place fabric at an angle at center back – if you pleated a straight rectangle, you would need to waste so much more fabric to get the pleats to go low enough as you travel away from center back. Turn your fabric on an angle, and the extra length is just there! Makes sense for a time when fabric is the most expensive part of a gown.
This is the basis of all 18th century garments – as long as your lining fits, you can do whatever you want with the outer fabric (and they did indeed do whatever they wanted, especially during a particularly transitional fashion time like this).
I ended up doing fewer pleats than this test in order to show off the patterned part of the fabric, which didn’t look as good hiding in the pleats. I even used two pieces of fabric here, you just can’t tell because the seam is hidden under the pleats
The side piece got a piece of fabric with the pattern once again. The seam allowance is folded under on both sides and topstitched down.
From what I can tell of museum pictures, it doesn’t look like open robe trains at the time actually had a lining or facing. But mine definitely got a facing at the bottom where it touched the ground, because I’m not dragging $$$ silk on the ground kthx! This is actually some purple polyester satin in a similar shade to the purple in the dress dress that I got for dirt cheap in the Costume College bargain basement years ago.
Top of the train is pleated up and sandwiched between the lining and fashion fabric of the bodice
Raw edge of the lining is turned under and the pleats are whipped to it
Same happens on the outside
Spot the problem?
Then figuring out the strap and sleeve pattern! Aka the absolute worst part. Open robes can have any number of sleeve variations; no sleeves, short, medium, long. I decided to go with the most difficult version and go with a full length long sleeve which buttoned at the wrist.
I put the robe on over the round gown to figure out where I needed to add a bit more to my sleeve pattern, because the open robe had the earlier shape of having a very square corner where the strap hits the back.
I stuck pins in the round gown to mark where the open robe hit and transferred that amount to the round gown sleeve pattern.
I’ll be honest, I could not even begin to explain the frankenpatterning that went on below. It was a combination of my open robe sleeve plus the shapes from a Janet Arnold gown while trying to match it to my measurements.
This went through several iterations and mockups.
This pattern below is a fairly common shape for an 18th century sleeve, although it looks bizarre to the modern eye. Modern sleeves are often one piece, maybe with a dart at the elbow for a bit of curve. This results in a sleeve which is straight/unwrinkled when the arm is straight down at your side, but will obviously wrinkle up when you bend your arm. Whereas an 18th century sleeve is curved, such that the fabric is unwrinkled when your arm is slightly bent. I have no idea why this is the case.
It somewhat resembles a modern two piece sleeve (generally seen only in coats), except the tops are stuck together and you do the equivalent of a giant dart at the bottom. It’s pretty cool I think!
And now a nifty way of putting together an 18th century sleeve with no raw edges. Pin the edges together, wrong sides together. But leave out *one* of the fashion fabrics edges. Sew up that seam. Then the fashion fabric that got left out has the seam allowance folded under, and whipped over the top of the seam you just did, to enclose the raw seam inside the sleeve.
Then the part I was dreading the most – handsewn buttonholes. Look, by this point I had literally handsewn everything else in the outfit, it would be silly to pull out the machine for buttonholes now. I practiced with a scrap end of green silk buttonhole twist, and things were looking decent (if not perfect) by the time I did buttonhole test #3 in ivory.
A nifty thing I picked up from Janet Arnold – the buttonholes are angled so that they are sewn on the straight grain. If you sewed the buttonholes parallel to the opening (like a normal buttonhole), they would end up on the bias, which would be a wibbly mess to sew. Sewing them at this angle makes them more stable, and is also a super cool looking design feature.
Then some tedious button covering using whatever scraps I had left. I used the instructions from this Youtube video.
Set the sleeves like any 18th century sleeve. The bottom is sewed on right sides together, the top is tacked onto the shoulder lining. Stick some fashion fabric over the top, folding under all the edge and hand sew that on.
After trying it on over the round gown, the difference in weights on the gown vs the open robe made the round gown poke out from the bottom of the train when walking which was not attractive.
So I ended up making the train SUPER EXTRA and pieced on an 8 inch extension. Which was teeedious (unpicking the hem, sewing this piece on, cutting another lining piece for the extension, and re-hemming all the sides).
To finish it off, I added a narrow gimp trim from Palladia Passementerie around every edge and the cuffs. Matching purples is difficult on the internet, and this is way more blue/purple compared to my red/purple fabric, but pretty sure 18th century folks did not have the same color matching sensibilities as us so I YOLOd and went with it.
And a couple of photos of the finally finished robe!
Ok, since this post is already internet-breakingly long and full of photos, actual photos of me wearing it are gonna have to wait until next time! (whenever that may be. Time is a fake human construct anyways).
A round gown is so-named because it had the skirt attached all the way around the bodice, in contrast to so many 18th century gowns which were open in front to show the petticoat underneath.
(If saying “round” makes you think of the End of the World flash video, congratulations you are exactly the same generation as me:)
By 1790, a round gown was very common (maybe even more so than an open gown?) and you could easily layer different things on top to change up the look. A few examples:
They closed in front where the lining is pinned over the bust, and the outer fabric then tightens with a drawstring (making this extremely size adjustable, and therefore fantastic to mock up during pregnancy when the bust size is a changing target).
You can even see the open front in this portrait!
This dress went through two false starts before I actually got a functional pattern. First I started with my vaguely regency pattern which was altered from a modern sloper, figuring I could change the lines to be more 1790s ish. It wasn’t cooperating, so it got thrown into a corner while I scaled up the 1790s pattern from the American Duchess book. Then I remembered that I am totally not the same size as any standard pattern, so why did I think that would work?
Finally I girded my loins and took a pattern off a ~1770s dress that I started in a workshop with the mantua-maker from Colonial Williamsburg (it’s been sitting unfinished in a bin for years now, but one day I’ll finish it up and show it here). 1790s dresses pretty much evolved from earlier decades to have a higher and higher waistline until it hit under the bust, so I just chopped a whole bunch off that pattern. And whaddya know, it was pretty close on the first try! I did a little tweaking on my Beatrice dress form and draping the shoulder straps. Since support garments don’t change the fit of the upper back or shoulders, this was going to get me pretty close.
Once I had a functioning pattern, time to put it together. 1790s construction is weird. It makes sense once you do it, but it’s so different from modern construction that it takes time to wrap your brain around. It was also a very transitional era, meaning there is no One True Way, and basically as long as it works, you’re fine.
I was originally going to follow construction instructions from the American Duchess book, but partway through I realized that also wasn’t going to work as well due to some of my design choice (e.g. I wanted the fronts to be all one piece, and not a separate skirt and bodice piece). So, I turned to the amazing construction writeups/tutorials from Koshka the Cat (things like this are why I still love blog posts, and try and maintain my own blog and not just instagram) and more or less followed this.
I used a lightweight linen for the lining (I’m pretty sure this is leftover from making my husband an 18th C shirt, no he still does not have any of the rest of this outfit) and a sheer spotted cotton/silk voile I bought on sale for $4/yd from Fabric Mart back in 2014(!). While sheer cotton dresses are historically accurate, and silk dresses are historically accurate, and spotted dresses are historically accurate, I can’t guarantee the combo of all of these is. But it certainly looks good, and huzzah for using a 7 year old stash fabric!
Flip the whole thing over, mount the side pieces onto the lining, fold under the seam allowances, and topstitch them onto the back piece. I used a spaced backstitch since these are under a little bit of strain going around the body.
You can also see how I stopped stitching about an inch from the bottom, to give myself room to fold the waist seam allowances towards each other. This gets finished, and later the skirt will be whipped onto here.
A quick try-on before attaching the fronts:
The front is one big piece of fabric. I laid the front pattern on the fabric, and cut out my fabric following the top of my pattern, but extending the bottom into a skirt, and extending the front into what will be gathered up over a drawstring, making it so the sides of the skirt are selvedge-to-selvedge. This hopefully makes more sense in the next photo, where I apparently had already sewn a tuck for the underbust drawstring casing and rolled over the neckline for the neckline drawstring casing.
Since my front is all one piece instead of two, I cut a slit and narrowly hemmed in to give the drawstrings somewhere to actually exit.
Here’s where you can see a small mistake – while my lining pattern is only two pieces (a back and a front-side combo piece), my outer fabric actually needed to have a separate side piece (due to not wanting the underbust drawstring to go all the way around to the back and needing it to stop at the sides). But I forgot about that when I was cutting the fronts. Having different patterns for lining and outer fabric is a very common 18th century thing. As long as your lining fits the body, you can do whatever you want mounting the outer fabric on top.
The front piece has the seam allowances turned under at the sides and stitched on top of the sides, sewing through both the outer fabric and the lining. But, it’s left completely separate at the fronts (including the neckline and underbust seam) as the front lining and front outer fabric have separate closures.
Then time to attach the skirts at the back! My original plan was to cartridge pleat (which I love, because there is no fudging pleats to fit. Just move pleats over to cover the area) but my fabric was so light and sheer that the cartridge pleats didn’t take up enough space, and would have been massively gappy in the back.
So I sucked it up and made some knife pleats (which I hate). And then I ended up with too much fabric left in the middle, so I did just turn the middle bit into cartridge pleats. I’m pretty sure this combo is historically accurate, and it ended up looking decent.
The skirt top is just folded down and the edge left raw, but it’s not going to get a lot of rubbing. If it really started to fray I would whipstitch over the edge (the OG form of serging). Then the folded top of the skirt and the finished edge of the bodice back are whipstitched together.
One more try-on to see how it’s looking, and it’s looking fabulous!
Then onto sleeves!
Ugh, that means I needed to fit a sleeve pattern.
I pulled the sleeve pattern from my Eliza Schulyer dress as a starting point, knowing that they needed a higher sleeve cap (in their current incarnation on that dress they really really pull the shoulders down off my shoulders. One day I’ll piece in some fabric to fix those…)
Not shown here, me going through about 3 mockups here to fix them. They were made slightly easier by the fact that I wanted these to be short-ish sleeves ending just above the elbow, meaning I didn’t need any curved shaping around the elbow.
Once again, if you want to know how to set an 18th century sleeve, hit up Koshka’s lovely tutorial! TLDR; you attach them right side to right side at the bottom, but then partway up they just sit on top of the strap lining and are pleated to fit. Then topstitch a strap of the outer fabric on top, covering those seam allowances.
Here’s a test sleeve basted on (right sides together at the bottom, then pinned on top):
The top of the sleeve edge on top of the shoulder strap lining. Those raw edges eventually get covered.
Same test sleeve from the back. It flips from folded under to not-folded right where it will be covered.
And once the real sleeve has been backstitched into the armscye on the bottom and basted on top, a rectangle of material is cut and draped on to cover all the raw edges:
Fold under all the strap seam allowances, and topstitch this piece on! I either used a running stitch or a spaced backstitch (or maybe a combo? Don’t recall.) as this piece isn’t taking a ton of strain.
And the dress was done! And as usual, no pictures of me wearing it because I ended up going straight to the open robe in anticipation of wearing it to a friends costume tea (and then lol ended up not actually wearing it for other reasons like weather). So just a dress form picture:
And showing how the closure works:
Next up is the whole reason I made this dress to begin with – the open robe – aka cutting into the most expensive fabric I’ve ever worked with :O
Because time is wibbly wobbly (especially in whatever year this is), in March 2020 I posted about planning a 1790s outfit all based on an amazing fabric I was gifted for an open robe.
Apparently the only thing I posted about this outfit since was painting shoes, in June.
While I’m approaching the end of finishing the whole ensemble (uh I have literally 1 week to finish the open robe before having a baby, plz baby don’t come early so I can finish it), let’s see what can be blogged about in the meantime?
I bought a regency shift from Willoughby and Rose because as I’ve said, I’m totally over making shifts (although the neckline ended up a bit high for this dress and I’ll probably cut it down).
I was going to buy custom 1790s transitional stays from Red Threaded, but by the time they came back in stock I was too pregnant to take reasonable measurements. This balconette bra is actually a shockingly good approximation of the regency figure, with the square neckline and wide straps so that’s what I’m going with!
And then I needed a petticoat. Turns out, there isn’t a ton of evidence out there for what a 1790s petticoat should look like. Rather than doing my own research I relied on this blog post by The Dreamstress who actually Did The Research on regency petticoats (reminder, I’m not a historian or academic. I just like to play dressup).
I went spelunking in my stash to find white cotton (thinking I must have some of my favorite combed cotton lawn since I buy it in 5-10 yard increments these days [omg looking for it just now it’s discontinued!!]), and ran into the problem that apparently I used up the last for a bustle petticoat.
All I found in the stash was around one yard of lawn (left) and one yard of organdy (right).
Alrighty, I guess we are going to have a mix and match petticoat, as I’m trying to be more thrifty in my fabric purchasing and usage!
My lawn turned out to be a wonky shape (see again bustle petticoat) in a couple pieces. In order to maximize the width, I pieced in a big square (which is itself two pieces of fabric).
After that it was fairly straightforward. I had two rectangles which I french seamed together. They got gathered up and attached to a piece of twill tape which acted as a waistband (although the waistband is right at my underbust). Two more pieces of twill tape are straps (which angle very steeply towards the center of my back in order to keep them on my narrow shoulders). I cut a slit in the back and very narrowly hemmed the slit in order to get this on. The back closes with one hook and eye.
I added tucks because 1) I’m extra like that and 2) tucks are pretty and 3) tucks really do help to hold a skirt out from that bit of stiffness.
Ok fine initially I done goofed my math and measured wrong and had to take out a tuck after it overlapped the one below it instead of being spaced apart. That was a lot of seam ripping.
I would have preferred to have the piecing in back of the petticoat (on the off chance that it shows through my sheer gown), but I wanted the heavier organdy in back and the lighter floofier lawn in front since I figured it’s always better to aim on the side of having more volume in back.
And for the silliest part – a wee little pad to help hold out the pleats on the back of the dress! I got this from the American Duchess 18th Century Guide to Dressmaking book, which does have a 1790s ensemble (although I elected to make this strapped petticoat rather than their bodiced petticoat).
Seriously, look how small this thing is!
After making this, I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure whether a petticoat with straps (rather than a bodiced petticoat) is a reenactorism. I found that straps still wanted to fall down (these will definitely get pinned to my bra) and the sides droop between the straps. Maybe one of these days one of the academics who do Real Research will turn up a more definitive answer.
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.
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.
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!
Back silhouette was pretty good, but you can see some ominous pulling at the shoulders.
The front was a problem.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
Then some cursing because it turns out when you buy a curtain, it has GIANT HONKING GROMMETS for a curtain rod.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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!
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”
A quick test cutting out 10 triangles of muslin wasn’t long enough even though I swear I measured?
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!
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).
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.
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).
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:
I ended up basting all the layers together by hand using quilters clips to hold them together, and phew that worked!
Ok some of them still ended up a bit off but at that point I could not be bothered to fix it.
Then it got placed on the frame, and the seam allowance was tacked through the rib tips.
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).
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.