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

When Captain America throws her mighty shield (parasol?!?)

So to have a new costume for April, I need to start this now, because I get approximately zero hours per day to sew with a baby around. (And now is actually a month ago, when I started with accessories).

I admit it, I’m still a wee bit salty about never coming in first in the Jordan Con costume contest. I did best with my Lady Moiraine sacque (second place) and my frooftastic Kaylee dress (after hemming 40 yards of silk chiffon; third), and Steel Inquisitor Vin (Best Workmanship the equivalent of second since the judging format changed) I did not expect to place with Sevanna (and I didn’t) and was unsure whether or not Rey had the necessary impact (it did not, but also not surprising).

So what does have impact when you are presenting to a group of judges who are generally not seamstresses? Size. Often props. That indescribable wow factor. (Also, doing something from the author-judges’ books. But I honestly don’t think there is anything left to costume in Wheel of Time [at least until the TV show comes out]. There is still a bit of scope in Sanderson’s work, but nothing that has caught my interest yet).

I thought about doing Margaery’s wedding gown, but that’s more about lots of extravagant detail work (hundreds of small ribbon and leather roses), and if I’m going to put that much effort into a gown, it’s going to be a beaded and embroidered Worth gown extravaganza.

So, going back to my historical costume roots, which is obviously my one true love (If this is surprising to you, hello and welcome to my blog!) Three years ago, I read this article on Your Wardrobe Unlock’d on an Ironman bustle dress cosplay (Apologies, you need to be a member to access it) by the wonderful Costuming Drama. I thought this was a super fun idea, and ran down the list in my head of how you could make other Avengers into bustle gowns. The obvious one was Captain America, where the shield design would be replicated on the parasol. This needed to marinate in my head for a few years, and now it is finally time!

What is more wow factor than a giant bustle gown, covered with ruffles and trim? Conveniently, t also fills the rather large hole in my costume repertoire – right now I have 1850s and 1890s, but skipped right over the bustle era in my wardrobe.

I knew this had to be second bustle era – mid 1880s – because there was a very popular look at the time for a plastron/vest/center panel thingy to be a different fabric than the rest of the bodice. This will allow me to easily swap out the Captain America plastron (complete with red and white stripes and a star) for a historical one, depending on the event.

Truly Victorian 463 – 1884 French Vest Bodice

And now here we proclaim the importance of research:

It turns out that the festoons-of-ruffles skirt of my dreams were more a thing during the first bustle era and natural form era. This was when sewing machines became popular and affordable enough that everyone decided to Trim! All! The! Things! The correct answer to “is there enough trim on this dress” was a definite “no”. Alas, things like “good taste”, and “restraint” were not equally popular.

(Yes, people in ruffled glass houses shouldn’t throw more ruffles on top of it stones, since I do have the fabric to make this plaid dress one day. I never claimed to have good taste myself.)

But by 1885 with these popular vest-bodices, skirts were all about the asymmetrical drapery, and a more tailored look.

Compare these early bustle / natural form skirts:

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine December 1874

From Pinterest, I’m unable to find the original.

To these late bustle skirts:

Interestingly, the vast majority of the dresses I found with buttons up both sides of the vest (instead of the center) all seemed to be seaside/nautical.

Queen Alexandra in a seaside dress

And the one I kept coming back to, which is going to form the basis of my dress:

1887 wool dress from McCord Museum

For the actual dress styling, while there is a wide spectrum of Caps to pick from, I’m drawn to the classic and campy bright colors of the original. Victorians did love them some eye blinding color combinations!

My dress will be bright blue with white stripes replacing the red. The vest portion will have the red and white vertical stripes with a star above. I’ll have red leather gloves and boots, a Victorian flower-pot hat with feathers to match his helmet, and of course, a parasol with the shield design.

Now for the most fun part of costume planning, buying fabric and materials!

Posted in 1880s, Captain America Bustle, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay | 1 Comment

Augusta Stays by Scroop Patterns and Virgils Fine Goods

Back in June I volunteered to be a pattern tester for the Augusta Stays, made by Scroop Patterns and Virgil’s Fine Goods!

I was very excited for this pattern, because my previous pair of stays (sheesh, 4 years ago at this point?) were more of an earlier style in terms of the pattern. While I can handle basic pattern drafting, I would have no idea how to draft those awesome swooping side panels so prevalent in late 18th century stays.


I had a week of planned vacation, so I figured that would be a good time to sit down and bang out a pair of stays, since stays are mostly just tedious (so many boning channels and eyelets).

And then the Small Human Being got a nasty ear infection, so I spent that week watching him instead and had to cut a whole bunch of corners in order to debut the new stays at Costume College… But details ahoy!

I chose the “straight” fit, because I am indeed shaped like a cylinder.

it me

I initially tried a size 38 for the first mockup, but had a gaping bust like whoa. Turns out I had not actually measured my bust since stopping breastfeeding only two weeks before, and I needed to grade the bust down to a 36 😦  I knew I would have to take out length, because that’s what happens when you are 4’11”. Specifically, I took 2″ of length out (because I was scared to do more. Which somewhat came back to bite me in the end, which I’ll show later…)


Artist’s rendition of altering the side-back panel

  1. Not be arsed to figure out where the waistline is (hint, it’s parallel to the ground, and the piece should be at an angle like on the right)
  2. draw a line parallel to the boning channels instead
  3. slash pattern there, overlap by 2″. Hey, each side of the pattern is 2 inches shorter now, so it has the same effect right?

Seriously, I know better. To remove length you need to actually remove length. Doing this alteration on a body would have you pinch out the fabric in a way that is parallel to my waist/the ground as on the right side. But I didn’t think of this at the time, and went on ahead with my mockup.

Taking out length meant the boning channels didn’t line up anymore, so I had to redraw most of them.

IMG_20190619_204932 (1)

Easy to fox on the right, but check out the left.

For construction, I used 2 layers of linen canvas, and an outer layer of a finer beige/gray linen from Burnley and Trowbridge. I did the boning channels by machine with polyester thread, but the eyelets were done with linen thread from Larkin & Smith.


I’ve seen extant stays somewhere with thread connecting the eyelets!

The importance of using a fresh piece of tracing paper!


New tracing paper on the left, trying to be thrifty and reusing paper on the right

By the end I was in quite a rush, and I really wanted to get these wearable for Costume College to show them to Leimomi and Amber in person. So rather than binding the edges, I just folded the seam allowance around to the back and backstitched around the edges.



I wanted to show the stays at Coco – and I also needed my hair curled for the gala. That led to this hilarious trainwreck (in a good way!) of an outfit:


Wearing the stays for ~6 hours at Costume College ended up being very useful, since I discovered these need some changes to be fully comfortable. Namely, they were way too tight on the hips and started digging in by the end of the day. I really needed that extra inch of length removed that I had been too nervous to do in the mockup. The easy way to do this would be to slit the tabs higher.


This is actually pretty good waist emphasis for me! I’m impressed how curvy they look.

However, there is another fit issue. Look how oddly tilted they look – it looks like the stays should get a good hike up the back, but that can’t actually be done.

There is also a huge gap between the straps and the stays front, which shouldn’t be there given that I have way less length over my shoulders from back to torso than the average-heighted person. This comes back to my utterly bonkers decision of shortening the stays parallel to the grain instead of parallel to my waist.

So rather than finishing these off and then never wearing them, I’m going to suck it up, re-alter the side panel patterns properly and redo them. That’s still faster then redoing a whole pair of stays in the future! I think I can get away without redoing the front or back, which means I won’t have to redo any eyelets.

Final thoughts: If you are just looking for historically accurate construction methods, there are a lot of friendly neighborhood bloggers who have already posted this information and you don’t necessarily need to buy a pattern for it. But, if you are an 18th century novice, there is way more detail and instruction here than in any free blog tutorial, and the instructions are really well written and clear.

The pattern itself is absolutely worth it – this is the only historically accurate pattern for late 18th century stays (Larkin & Smith is earlier, and JP Ryan is not HA) that I know of! It’s ideal for a less experienced sewer due to the straight and curvy fit options, which minimizes the grading or alterations you have to do. You’ll find it more tricky if you are way short (or way tall probably), but that would be the case for any pattern on the market. Stays are ideal to get in e-pattern form, because stays are so few pieces to tape together! In conclusion, this is probably the best stays pattern on the market, so I recommend buying it if you want to make your own stays!

*I received a tester version of this pattern for free in exchange for testing, but all thoughts and opinions are my own! I was not required to write this blog post in any way, shape, or form.

Posted in 1700s, Corsets, Georgian | Leave a comment

Steel Inquisitor Vin – final pics!

At Jordan Con, I did a photo shoot with my wonderful friend Kathy of A Life Condensed Photography, so all the beautiful shots below are thanks to her!

The Jordan Con hotel actually has a lot of beautiful greenery and nature-ish looking areas, which is totally useless when you are portraying a character in a red sun / ash falling / semi-apocalyptic wasteland, so we did our best.



Spikes going through my head!



Feeling pretty, might kill some Mistborn later, IDK



One change the final dress needs – the hem ended up an inch or so too long, but it’s going to be a pain to detach at the waist, take the skirt up, do the pleats again, and reattach. Or maybe I’ll just wear it with heels (which spoiler, I did at Costume College, minus the eye spikes).

A few more for fun:


Pre-judging selfie, with eye tattoos (eyeliner)


Found an Elend to murder!


Hey, even Steel Inquisitors get hungry.

This costume was so much fun to wear and make, and it nabbed me Best Workmanship in the costume contest, which is basically second to Best in Show! Woohoo! (But Best in Show, I’m still gunning for you…)

Posted in 1840s, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay, Steel Inquisitor Vin | 5 Comments

Steel Inquisitor Vin – accessories and EYE SPIKES

1840s dresses are all well and good, but what makes this a Steel Inquisitor is having spikes through the eyes! These are meant to be heavy spikes that go all the way through the head.

Steel Inquisitor by Laura MacMahon.

While I am dedicated to my costume art, impaling my skull was slightly further than I wished to go, so I needed to have a way to stick bits on the front and back of my head to look like an impaled spike.

A friend of mine had previously done a Steel Inquisitor with toilet paper tubes and sunglasses so that gave me a place to start. His sunglass lenses ended up a bit reflective (and therefore not looking as much like solid metal) so my plan was to go with mesh over the openings instead. Construction pics ahead!


Pieces of paper tubes with rounded edges, which were meant to fit into the inner and outer curves of my eyes. The outer edge needed to be a lot deeper than I expected to fit flush. Made two for each eye in order to have backups!


Painted silver and mesh glued to the opening.


Crayola model magic around the edges to smooth and hide the join.



Glued to my eye socket with eyelash glue for a test run. After 30 minutes it still felt totally secure so I called it good! I could see pretty easily through the mesh.


The whole thing painted silver with a bit of black wash to make them look like weathered steel. The spike tips for the back of the head were formed entirely out of Model Magic and glued to hairclips.

For weapons, Steel Inquisitors carry obsidian axes while Mistborn use glass daggers. I split the difference with obsidian daggers. Luckily these are readily available on etsy these days due to obsidian daggers being a Big Thing in Game of Thrones!

I bought two but unfortunately didn’t think to say the dagger sheathes should be mirror images (you’d think it would be obvious…) and there wasn’t time to order sheathe or make one. So I quick and dirty cut the belt loop off, flipped it over, and used another piece of leather to glue the pieces together.


Fix from the back


And from the front! Looks pretty good if you don’t look closely.

Unfortunately this glue ended up ripping when I actually put the daggers on the belt the first time and I had about 5 minutes to sew through it with giant honking stitches before judging, but the dagger blocks the stitching when it’s in the sheath.

I made a belt using the dress fabric lined with a bit of crinoline for stiffness. It’s machine topstitched on the long edges, and is whip-stitched closed by hand on the backside. I added a rosette (matching the one on the bertha) to cover the hooks & eyes, and used decorative vintage black buckle on the front.



And that was the whole outfit just in time for Jordan Con! Final pictures in the next post!

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Steel Inquisitor Vin – 1840s bodice

Strap in, this is going to be a long one!

long cat (and post) is long

So evening bodice. The base for these are basically all the same from 1830-1860 (princess seams or darts in front, princess seams in back. Hooks & eyes or eyelets in the back closure). Differences over the years look like whether there are points in front or back, what the bertha situation is, what the decorations and sleeves look like, etc.

I took my 1830s bodice pattern and brought it a bit forward in time to 1840s by adding a point in front. (Funnily enough, this started out life as the 1850s Truly Victorian evening bodice pattern. I first made it as an actually-1850s-bodice, sent it back in time to 1830s improving the fit along the way, then took that better-fitting one to use here. It’s easier to fix style lines than fit which is why I went with the most recent one).

Since my 1830s bodice was straight at the waist, and my 1850s bodice had a point in the front and back, this one went right in the middle of that transition with a straight back but and pointed front.

You would think that since this is the third time I’m using this pattern it would fit right out the gate right?

The back was fine, but in lengthening the front I ended up making 3 mocks to get the darts to be shaped and positioned properly

Here’s the first version. It fit, but the darts are so totally wrong (although hard to see here). It’s fun to progress as a seamstress, because a few years ago I would have called this good!

Closeup of the mockup, but drawing in pen where I want them to be (that rightmost black line is a thread not pen):

The idea was to move them way closer to the center, such as in this line drawing of an 1840s dress from 19th Century Costume in Detail:

Apparently I didn’t take any pictures of the second attempt. The darts were better, but the angle wasn’t quite right. I really wanted this to look good, so I actually made a third version to make sure the darts were exactly where I wanted them.


Looks like I also lowered the neckline. I also raised the waist at the sides to make the front look more pointy.


Final version of the pattern. You can see all the way on the right one of the original darts, and just how far they moved over and the slight changes.

I left a ton of seam allowance at the sides, because I’ve previously had issues where the waist was too small after taking into account petticoats and skirt. I both added a bit to the side seam and left myself an inch of seam allowance, and still ended up with a seam allowance of only 3/8″ to make sure the skirt fit over everything!

So then decoration. A plain bodice is a) not historically accurate and b) boring. The decor on a bodice is colloquially called a bertha, although I’m not sure when that term came into being. Let’s do a quick trek through the evolution of those –

In the early 1830s they start out as just being cut in one with the bodice, perhaps in pleats or gentle ruching. I’m calling this a proto-bertha, as it clearly evolved into what costumers think of as a bertha.

Another example, this one clearly shows the bodice fabric is just pleated down to form the decoration.

Then in the late 1830s and 1840s they realize it’s a pain to pleat down that extra fabric and make it even (ok that’s just me editorializing) and it’s easier to cut a separate piece and attach it at the shoulders. So you have a time frame where the pleaty-bits are separate decoration in the front of the bodice but the back is left plain as before.

This gown shows very clearly a separate piece for the front, which attaches at the shoulder seams:

Then Victorians went “hold up, MOAR STUFF is better!!” and extended the bertha to be some nice back decoration as well, in which case it is always cut as a separate unit that is just attached on top of the bodice in some way. Here is the back of an utterly frooftastic dress:

As my gown is 1840s, I went with the middle technique of a bertha-esque piece on just the front, attached at the shoulder seams. (I had already done a pleated front for my 1830s dress and a front/back wraparound bertha with my 1850s dress and I like trying new things). I had thought about doing something different than faking a million pleats with bias strips as that is what I did for the 1850s bodice, but I didn’t have enough lace to use for this in addition to the skirt and didn’t feel like buying more. So a million bias strips it was.


3 strips later is when I started cursing myself for marking off 10 bias strips instead of 8…


Finished bertha, basted to the shoulders

(In retrospect, I wish I had gone with an awesome criss-crossed version like this one:

I added a little tab thingy to hide the bertha front seam (Janet Arnold has one of these), since my pleats didn’t end up matching perfectly:



Yeah it ended up looking a bit more phallic than I intended. I added this rosette at the top to try and mitigate that.


Great, now it’s decoratively phallic?

That was the best I could do. And hopefully my friends have less dirty minds than me and won’t see it?


The pieces were all flatlined with a mishmash of stiff cottons in my scrap bin. I have a little bit of actual glazed cotton which would be the proper lining, but I’m saving that for a future dress as I was already taking shortcuts and trying to make this dress on the cheap, not the accurate.


Left to right: Organdy, printed plaid quilting cotton, floral print cotton from a pillowcase. Note the serged seams, no overcasting here!

For details, I basically piped all the things! Victorians loooved piping. They were like software engineers who discover machine learning and decide to use it for ALL THE THINGS even where it just makes your life more difficult and isn’t really necessary.

So we have a piped center front seam and piped neckline:


A piped side back seam:


A piped shoulder seam and a piped armscye:


I love this detail shot so much. Bonus of sleeve lace basted onto the sleeve.

And a double piped waistband. That’s right, I piped the piping.


Atelier Nostalgia has a great tutorial post on an easy way to make double piping, so I just followed that:

Because I wanted to do this dress without metal (because it would be a really bad idea to fight other Mistborn while wearing metal) I made lacing holes for the closure. Here you can see the difference between the first lacing hole (top) and subsequent ones (beneath). I’ve done enough handsewn eyelets that I don’t tend to bother with a practice one anymore, which is why the first one looks like it does.


No pictures of the entire finished bodice, so that will have to wait until the post with pics of the whole ensemble!

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Steel Inquisitor Vin – 1840s skirt

Skirt time! 1840s skirts are just big rectangles so no pattern needed.

I cut three 40″ long panels from my fabric to make a skirt around 135″ around (and making sure to leave enough length for the hem and the waist).


Skirt seam where I remembered to leave an opening for the pocket up top! 

I decided to get all fancy and make a proper placket for the closure instead of having it meet edge to edge (which ended up being a sizable mistake later on. The simple closure would have been better). I can never remember how to do a placket off the top of my head, but Historical Sewing has excellent instructions.


Placket from the outside


Placket from the inside. I used my serger wherever I could on this project for speed!

Next up, the hem. A Victorian skirt always has more hem treatment than just folding up the bottom twice. Here I used a facing of stiff cotton (it would be a polished cotton or linen in period, I used some quilting cotton I had laying around) with an interlining of very stiff crinoline for body. This helps hold out the skirt hem.


Facing is sewn on right side to right side. Then on the inside I attached the crinoline strip to the facing.


Then the whole unit can be flipped up and sewn down.

Normally I would slipstitch that seam by hand so it wouldn’t show on the outside, but I knew my trim would cover it.

Oh speaking of the skirt trim –

This shouldn’t have been this complicated. I wanted to do lace tiers like this inspiration pic. (Black on black, I am so goth y’all)

It turns out finding 8″ wide black lace that doesn’t look a) heinously cheap or b) extremely modern without being c) extremely expensive doesn’t really exist. If this was my dream dress I might have splurged for the good lace from Elizabeth Emerson but I’m not that into 1840s, and I was trying to keep this dress on the cheap (hence why I used cotton sateen in the first place, and not silk).

I ended up buying white lace and hoping it would dye black. Facebook seemed rather pessimistic about this (apparently black is a hard color to actually achieve) but I had already bought 12 yards of this stuff (as it claimed to be cotton). That 12 yards already cost more than the dress fabric…

I used one bottle of Rit black and one packet of Dylon (this was not a strategy, it was choosing randomly from the dyes at JoAnn). This all simmered in the dye pot for 1.5 hours, then sat in there with the heat off for another 1.5 hours while I had dinner and put the baby to bed and cleaned up.

And hey, it turned out perfect!


Shown over white fabric and black fabric.

In an ideal world I would have liked a lace without flowers, given that flowers didn’t exist during the Mistborn timeline on Scadrial, but lol that was never going to happen given how difficult it was to find this lace to begin with.


Three tiers carefully spaced and sewn on.

Because the top edge of the lace wasn’t a pretty finished edge, it would need to be covered up by some kind of trim.

I had planned to do a gathered zig-zag trim, which was 100% inspired by this gorgeous dress by Atelier Nostalgia.

Yeah that failed epically. It turns out that pinked edges – which work fantastically as an edge finish on a tightly woven fabric like silk taffeta, are a fraying hot mess on cotton sateen. I also tried pleating it (similar to 18th century trim) but it was also an uggo-fest.


Big pile of nope right here. The gathered zig-zag attempt on the left, knife pleats on the right.

I raged for a while, and tried to find something online I could use. Silk ribbon would be pretty, but I didn’t want to use it flat, and if I needed to pleat or gather it, the math was something like 3 tiers X 3.75 yards-per-tier X gathering it in a 2:1 ratio = 22.5 yds + a bit extra for screwups = SO MUCH MORE MONEY THAN THE ENTIRE REST OF THE DRESS UGH.

This pre-pleated vintage trim from etsy would have been perfect, but there wasn’t enough yardage.

So I sucked it up hard and knew I was going to throw time instead of money at this problem and make my own trim. I cut a bieber-billion strips of the sateen, and hemmed them all on both sides. I wanted to use my rolled hem foot (you can see how desperate I was to consider using that devilish widget) but I only have one meant for finer fabrics and the cotton sateen didn’t fit through it. Then I ran all hemmed strips through the ruffler foot on my machine (and it turns out buying a new ruffler foot for my Bernina did practically cost more than the rest of the dress combined. But hey at least that’s an investment for the future? I have a Singer ruffler foot for my old White machine, but it was hella janky when I tried it out and I didn’t want to risk it eating up my fabric strips.)


A test. Hemmed strip on the left, unhemmed strip with a small pleat every stitch in the middle, and unhemmed striped with a big pleat every 6 stitches on the right. I went with the middle sample option (but hemmed).

Then I handsewed all those suckers onto the dress. It’s theoretically possible to do the ruffling/attaching in one step by machine, but I couldn’t get good enough control and I wanted this to be pretty!


To be a Google shill for a moment – this is how good the Pixel 3 camera is, to get this kind of black-on-black detail work.

And it was pretty! A bug which became a feature is that the double folded hem on the strips added a lot of bulk, that made the gathered strip do this zig-zag/wavy-ish thing seen here, as opposed to lying flat like the test sample. But I like the effect and it helped to hide that the gathering was done by machine.

Last, this dress was gonna have pockets. Duh. I know JordanCon costume contest judging takes 2 hours and I needed a place to stash my badge, phone, hotel key, accessories, and mini flask.

According to this nifty article from the V&A, early 19th century pockets were very similar to their 18th century counterparts, and this image from the Workwoman’s Guide backs that up.

Screenshot 2019-02-20 at 8.46.26 PM

Screenshot of Pockets from the Workwoman’s Guide. They are still separate and not part of the skirt.

I used my 18th century pocket pattern and made two. The openings are bound with dark gray rayon seam binding since I didn’t feel like cutting matching bias tape.


These were whipstitched to the inside of the skirt waistband after it had been attached to the bodice (the very last thing I did actually, Friday morning of the convention in my hotel room).

Apparently I don’t have any pictures of just the skirt by itself, so I’ll get into how it attached to the top (and what a mess that was, thanks to my pesky placket) when I talk about the bodice!

Posted in 1840s, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay, Steel Inquisitor Vin | 2 Comments