American Duchess Cape – Sewing it up

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

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

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

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

This is not a totally awful representation of the colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so much fraying on both these fabrics

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

this is approximately 1/3 of the bottom hem

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

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

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

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

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

And a wee summary:

What is it? A cape from ~1910s.

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

Pattern: A free gridded pattern from American Duchess


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

Hooray I actually finished a thing!

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

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 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!


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:


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:


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.


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 | 8 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).


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.


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.


And embroider…


And embroider…


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).



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.


Tacky AF AND historically accurate, my favorite!

And a snapshot of the back, just for fun:


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).


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



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, Blackwork Coif, 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?


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:


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!


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:


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!


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:


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:


And the mockup:


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:


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.


Basically pretty! Except not enough room at the bust.


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.

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.


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.


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 | 1 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:


This side of the skirt looked nice


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


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

Captain America bustle skirt drapery

Welp, you are now going to have to wait a year to find out how this costume ends, because obviously Jordan Con, scheduled for April, has been cancelled.

I am mostly done with the bodice, but can’t be arsed to finish it right now. Motivation is gooooone.

In the meantime, I did finish the skirt back in February. Last time we talked about the underskirt, now let’s talk about the drapery.

Here’s the dress I’m basing mine on again:

1887 Wool Bustle Gown. McCord Museum. M2009.62.1.1-2

Once again I didn’t use any Truly Victorian patterns. Partly out of cheapness (didn’t want to spend another $30 on patterns), and partly because I wanted to be a Special Snowflake and not use the same patterns everyone else is using. There is such a huge variety in bustle drapery, and I wanted mine to look different.

First I tried draping myself. I was weirdly scared to start this, but I finally just dove in since it’s not like an irreversible thing.


Ick. I realize one failed attempt isn’t much, but I had a deadline so I went back to my original plan, which was scaling something up with apportioning scales from Frances Grimble’s Bustle Fashions 1885-1887. Luckily the scale where 1″ was actually 1″ was for a 29″ waistline, which huzzah, is my corseted waist! Which meant I didn’t need to actually print out the rulers, I could use the numbers as they were printed. (For width at least. For height I did math to shorten it proportionally to my desired skirt length).

I found some drapery in the book which looked similar enough to what I was going for – long and pleated on one side, shorter on the other, and interesting smooshery on the back.

Here was my test of the front:


And of the back:


When you are working from this kind of pattern, keep in mind that this is still is less of an exact pattern and more of a guideline.

Here was the back pattern piece, which indicated 7 pleats on one side of the back


I’ve got no bloody idea how how 11 markings were supposed to indicate 7 pleats. I ended up with 5 pleats, and a ton of extra fabric which I shoved into 3 burnouse pleats. In the front drape, I removed about 3 inches of width total and moved the darts to sit in a more pleasing location. And that was just in the muslin – things ended up sitting differently when I moved to actual fabric since my dress form waist is 1-2″ too big, so I had to mess around with the pleating. Be prepared to be flexible and get creative with your bustle drapery. Luckily no matter how you drape and pleat it it will still probably look right

The best part of this book was just seeing all the pattern shapes. It turns out that bustle drapery is really all just rectangles with a corner cut off, then pleat it up in some way. I’d be much more able to drape my own now after seeing how these shapes work.

Cutting it out – this drapery eats up fabric like mad.


To add some interest to the drapery, I had planned to border it with two rows of silk satin ribbon. Buuut I had only bought 10 yards of ribbon, and it turns out to do two rows I would have needed more like 12 yards. I didn’t feel like buying more ribbon, so I only did one line of ribbon (and in laying it out I decided I liked that look better).

Silk satin ribbon wiggles and shows every pin mark. This was also bordering the edge so it needed to be super precise. It turns out a piece of scotch tape was the exact distance away from the hem I wanted, so I used one piece on the edge of my fabric to butt-up again the ribbon, and machine sewed it verrrry slowly and carefully right on the edge. Pick up the tape, move it down a few inches, and repeat.


Now let’s talk pleats and structure – while your pleats and drapery may look lovely on the dress form, it turns out humans have this habit of moving. Ironing is not enough to keep pleats in place. So all of my pleats are tacked on the underside of the pleat to a bit of twill tape in order to keep them in place. This was done on actual Victorian skirts as well.


Pleats from the right side, falling how I wanted.


And from the wrong side. These pleats are not moving. After doing this I saw a picture of an extant gown that had only one tack per pleat, and not several like I did. Victorians were definitely about minimum sewing to get results so I probably did too many stitches here.

Most Truly Victorian patterns have the drapery on a separate waistband from the underskirt, but my intuition was that was incorrect.

  1. You want the minimum bulk possible at the waist, and two waistbands definitely adds bulk
  2. The skirt drapery and underskirt is often very coordinated, so what good would two separate skirts be?

A quick check in some Victorian costuming Facebook groups with experts who have handled real gowns confirmed that both ways were possible, but overskirt and underskirt on a single waistband was more common. Yay!

Victorian waistbands were also generally not enclosed like a modern waistband. Again, folding in both edges of the waistband would lead to a lot of fabric right at the waist. Instead, the top edge was folded down, and whipped to a waistband which might be matching fabric, or might just be a twill tape. I went with twill myself. The underskirt was whipped to the edge, then I whipped the drapery on right above it.


Bodices always went down below the waist so this non-matching waistband will never show.

An intermediate try-on to make sure things were looking good –


I do wish the front ended up more pulled up like my reference dress and less flat like it is here, but oh well.


The ribbon really helped to emphasize the layers between the drapery and underskirt which was perfect.


And they were! Except the back of the gown dragged on the floor even with heels, and this is meant to be a daywear walking sort of gown, hovering just above the floor. I ended up taking out the cartridge pleats (ugh) redoing them (double ugh) and whipping them to the waistband again (triple ugh, especially when it was still too long after that. More on that later…)

Then I just needed the rectangles on one side. I tested them out with some paper to figure out the size and spacing.


And after all that, remember how I mentioned the skirt was too long? I made a little cushion pad which I tacked to the inside of the skirt and it was STILL too long. And at that point I had an event where I needed the skirt, so I went with Ye Olde Safety Pins to take out two inches. Come at me bro.


But as this post has gotten rather long already, I’ll show the pictures of the first skirt outing in the next post!

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

Captain America bustle underskirt

I’m sure you are bored by now of me saying things like “the whole skirt was supposed to take 2 months and instead is taking 3+!”. Sigh, why is sewing so hard?

I’m going to split the skirt posts into underskirt and drapery so as not to overload with photos.

It all started out with the underskirt – I stubbornly refused to buy more Truly Victorian patterns. (Not that they aren’t great, but I didn’t really want to spend the money). I was going to draft an underskirt from my Frances Grimble book, but looking at the shapes I realized it was basically identically to the pattern I used for the petticoat (which I did buy from TV).

So I just altered that pattern into the underskirt. Steps:

  • do the math of how much fabric the ruffle added on. Add that on to the bottom of your petticoat pattern pieces
  • Also add on extra to the back when you realize the petticoat isn’t precisely even above the ground
  • If you are me and want to make your life difficult, make the back piece flare out at the bottom to be more trapezoidal instead of being a rectangle shape, because that is the shape of the 1887 skirt in Janet Arnold.


I was tempted to go straight to fabric, but I know myself well enough to know that is a bad idea. Cutting this out of an old sheet showed that my math needed some work at the back, because the petticoat was showing


The tucks are pretty, but you don’t actually want to see them peeking out

So bustle skirts have a lot of structure in them to make them hang properly. (Note the Late Victorian Costuming Support 1870-1900 Facebook group is a great resource for this era). Just cutting out the fabric and doing a double folded hem is not historically accurate, and is going to end up very limp.

^ basically your skirt without supporting understructure

First I cut out each piece of of the lining. I used a polished cotton I bought from another costumer’s destash. I’ve never actually worked with this stuff before but it’s beautiful – light, stiff, and shiny on one side to let it slip around over the undergarments.

For the fashion fabric, for most of the pieces you don’t want it to go all the way up to the top. It’s going to be covered with a bunch of drapery, so you save on money and fabric by having it only go up as high as it needs. This also helps to reduce bulk at the waist, and you want the waist to look small for this era (note: look small, not be small. Optical illusions are your friend!).

Between the lining and the sateen at the hem I sandwiched a 5″ piece of crinoline. This helps the hem to to kick out. (In retrospect I should have used even more, but just the 5″ used up all the crinoline I had left. )

Also, I totally fucked up cutting the lining – I had carefully measured out 1″ additional seam allowance, and then started to half cut it off.


Just imagine how much swearing happened at this point.

Nooooo! I thought about doing historical piecing, but fuck it modern methods won out.

First, use a bit of fusible interfacing to hold the cut together.
Then zig-zag over it to strengthen the cut with the piece of crinoline attached to the back. Bonus, I didn’t need to baste this piece of crinoline around the bottom!


Part of the reason this took so long is me being super precise with construction (if not cutting). I hand-basted the sateen to the lining in the seam allowances of each piece to make sure there was no wiggle as I sewed them together.

(I did take one shortcut and serged all the sides. This sateen is super fray-y and ain’t nobody got time to be whipping the seam allowance to the lining. [When it’s a Worth repro, sure. This does not qualify].)

Then it almost looked like a skirt!


in retrospect, the fashion fabric came up way too high on the front and back pieces. My drapery is knee to floor length.

A few other fun construction notes:

There is a pocket between the back and right pieces. Always include a pocket!


pocket. nuff said.

There is a proper placket for the opening between the back and left pieces. I used the instructions from Historical Sewing, but they confuse me a bit every time (I think they leave out a step where you need to cut into the seam allowance) so I keep meaning to find better instructions. Or post my own tutorial I suppose…


The hem is finished with a wide bias facing. If I wasn’t adding pleats to the underskirt I would also have bound the edge with tape (preferably a wool tape) to protect it further.


note the serging on the seams here

Then pleat time! I cut long strips of the sateen, hemmed one edge, and serged the other. I eyeballed the pleats and made as many as I had pins at one time.


literally the total number of pins I own

I spritzed them with a vinegar/water mix and then ironed. I don’t understand the chemistry, but when something is pressed with vinegar that fold is never going to move!


Pleats are whipped onto the bottom.


again, lots of swearing at this point

Had to go through all that effort of cutting/hemming/serging/pleating another strip to make up the last 8 inches!

Same skirt, now with pleats!


The top of the skirt is just folded over and whipped to a strong tape for the waistband. This is the historical method of doing a waistband – enclosing the fabric makes it harder to adjust, and also adds a ton of bulk at the waist.


And underskirt done! Yes, this took me something like 1.5 months to do. And after all that it ended up being too long, and you will see my extremely ingenious fix in the next post. (Hint: safety pins).

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay | 2 Comments

A late bustle era petticoat

No shocker to anyone that undergarments have to be done before you can start the main costume!

I hate drafting skirt patterns (my cutting table isn’t really big enough for it) so I decided to just throw money at the problem and buy Truly Victorian 170. (It’s really quite clever how they get 4 eras of petticoat patterns into one envelope just by adding more/less front ruffles and more/less length to fit over a bustle).

I made View C, which is a late bustle petticoat with a flat front but has room for a bustle behind. I took out ~3 inches of length before cutting, but didn’t make any other changes. The petticoat body is made from my favorite combed cotton lawn from Dharma Fabrics (I really should start buying this stuff by the bolt for the discount instead of 5 yards at a time…) The hem ruffle is cotton organdy – rather than using their ruffle pattern, I used the leftover hemmed and pleated strip from making my Kaylee petticoat which I had been saving just for a purpose like this!

My only construction pic: the tucks ready to get ruffled up and attached to the back. So tedious, but so pretty!

petticoat tucks

I actually started this petticoat nearly a year ago when I wanted something with nice simple construction that wouldn’t require any fitting, and thought it would be a quick hour to add the waistband to finish this. Well, I did that, and realized the petticoat ended up around 2 inches too long.

Turns out that while I shortened the original petticoat pattern, I forgot to measure how long my hem ruffle was compared to the pattern ruffle, and that’s where the extra length came from.

The easiest thing to do would have been to add a big 2 inch tuck to the hem ruffle, but I thought that threw off the balance too much and wasn’t pretty. The second easiest thing to do would have been to chop off two inches and re-hem the ruffle. That also wasn’t going to look pretty.

Sooo, I went with a very period, but extremely time consuming solution which was adding four 1/2″ tucks to the hem ruffle to shorten it. Seriously, do you know how long that ruffle is? Each tuck probably took me 1-2 hours to mark, sew, and press.

But it looks so nice! And the extra tucks in the cotton organdy really add a lot of stiffness.

closeup petticoat ruffle

Sooo pretty!

And the full petticoat:

And after doing this I have to move on to hard sewing, like patterning and fitting skirts, ugh. (I prefer the zen-ness of when all the fitting is done and I can move on to more rote things like the actual sewing).

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Undergarments | 5 Comments

1880s hat

So, that Captain America bustle gown. For once, I decided to start with the accessories, because that’s what takes this from a perfectly nice bustle gown to the cosplay concept.

I wanted a quick and easy win, so I decided to start with the hat, because that doesn’t actually require any fitting and I could go straight into construction. (I had previously decided to outsource all millinery, but for a costume contest I’m better off making it myself. But any non competition millinery is going to be commissioned).

I used Truly Victorian 550 – 1880s tapered hat pattern.

I went with the “tall” option since the pattern says that is good for 1884-1889.

Note there are lots of ways to cover a hat. I went with what made sense to me, using a combination of the Truly Victorian instructions and instructions from when I took a millinery class previously. Note a great resource for hatmaking is “From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking” if you are new to millinery.

Here are all the pattern pieces with millinery wire whipped on. I just use a doubled-thread and a regular whipstitch, nothing fancy. I left off the wire on the inner brim because I didn’t see a point to it, and I was feeling lazy.


The pattern says you can leave those wires bent over the crown piece or cut them off – they were so obviously bumpy and showing through the fabric I don’t know why you would leave them, so I cut them off soon after. The pattern also didn’t specify whether the straight pieces on the crown and the outline pieces should be on the same side of the buckram or not. I put them on different sides which ended up also being a mistake – I recommend being consistent and having all wire whipped to the “inside” so nothing shows through.

Here is the first major pattern deviation, I added mull (mulling?) to all the pattern pieces. You can buy an actual mulling fabric, but I went with a cotton flannel which works just fine.


You can’t see the orange through my blue fabric, but match the fabric and thread to the outer fabric if you have something more sheer. I basted all this by hand, but you can use glue.

You really just want anything with a bit of bulk to it to hide the buckram and cushion the outer fabric. I also added some loosely woven bias tape around the corners/edges. This helps to soften the edges where the buckram is joined. They make an actual product for this, but no reason to buy something special when we all have fabric scraps to use up and I can’t remember what the product is called anyways. I highly recommend mulling your hats, otherwise you risk the buckram showing through the fabric. This really makes for a much more professional finish.

Finally purchased quilting clips! So much easier than pins for this kind of project.

Brim with all the mull and bias tape basted on.

Crown with the fashion fabric prick-stitched on. Here’s where I made a silly mistake – after wrapping fabric around the top circle, I only cut out notches on half of it. So you can see some bulk where I didn’t cut the notches – it’s that line around the top. Seriously, why did I only do this on half?


Same principle as clipping curves. Just do it around the whole thing?!?

Same piece from the inside. Pro tip, make sure your crown and top circumference are the same – I had a bit of difference so I really had to squidge (professional term there) it into place when whipping the two together, and it’s very minorly gapping in places.


This is also where it would have been smart to have all the wire on the same side of the pieces.

I bent the brim slightly before adding the fashion fabric, to account for the fact that bending it makes one side slightly bigger than the other. If you added the fabric with the brim totally flat, it would pull on the bottom and wrinkle on the top (similar to accounting for turn-of-cloth in places like collars and lapels).


Another deviation from the pattern – instead of cutting the bottom circle bigger and folding it over and whipping it to the top piece, I finished the edge with a piece of bias tape. I would only do the pattern finish if you planned on covering that seam with some trim.


Keep your stitching close to the edge and come up through the tape, and this is a nearly invisible seam.


At this point the colors started feeling like a toothpaste advertisement.

Cutting out the center hole and all the tabs.


After all that effort to make tiny prick stitches, I ended up needing to do great honking big stitches to hold these pieces together because I couldn’t be accurate and delicate going through the tabs and the crown. You could add the crown fabric after this step to avoid this problem (again, many ways to cover a hat), but then it’s more difficult to handle that piece. I figured this will be getting a band around it to cover the stitches anyways, so ugly stitching didn’t matter.


Trying realllly hard to cover those basting stitches at the bottom left of the brim

A finished hat, modelled by my water bottle!

(Also, so much for quick and easy win, I think it took me 4 weeks to make this. Hence why I’m starting now for an April contest.)

This is going to be trimmed with feathers on each side, and a (likely removable) band with the ‘A’ on it to mimic Captain America’s helmet.

Ugh, and then on to work that actually requires difficult things like “fitting”.

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Hats | 1 Comment