Category Archives: Hand Sewn Elements

When The Dress No Longer Fits (Regency Edition)

Whether you sew historical clothing or not, I think it’s likely you’ve experienced the following phenomenon: You buy or make a lovely dress or other garment and wear it once (or maybe you wear it a lot). The season changes and you put said lovely garment away in the closet to await the next year’s season. When you next go to wear it, you realize that the garment no longer fits. It has obviously shrunk in the closet! I find that circumferences are the worst culprits for closet shrinking: waists, ribcage, arms… How dare they?!?

This has happened to me with both modern ready-made clothes and historical ones. Unlike modern ones, which usually hang around for a few years until I feel emotionally ready to donate them to someone else who might actually fit into them, my historical clothing has the benefit of being able to be resized with relatively little effort (certainly much less than making a new garment!). Depending on how I’ve constructed the garment, seams might be able to be let out or, being the pack rat that I am, I have more of the fabric hanging around and I can cut new pieces or add to what is there to expand at the necessary areas.

The more often I come across this problem in my wardrobe, the more I realize the benefit of making my clothing more adjustable from the start, with things like drawstrings and lots of overlap on opaque garments. (Did you notice that most of the closures on my recent 1817 Duchess Regency Gown were drawstrings? There might be an intentional rationale there… My 1811 Elusive Blue Gown also closes with ties and drawstrings, another intentional decision.)

1817 gown with mostly drawstring closures.

In the past year or two, I realized that two of my older and oft-worn Regency dresses had experienced closet shrinkage. I wanted to continue to be able to wear them and so I started thinking of the best ways to alter the size to make them wearable again. Luckily, both of these dresses fall into the category of ‘I kept the extra fabric and have plenty to play with to resize them.’

I used a different method on each dress. The first is my 1813 Red Dress, which I made in 2013. It’s seen lots of wear since I made it (yay for actually making good use of something I’ve made!) as well as a pretty major revamp when I accidentally tore a hole in the skirt.

It’s always closed with hooks and eyes, but when I went to wear it last year it wouldn’t close! With some safety pins, we got it to this point, but I was afraid for the integrity of the fabric because it was stretched so tightly.

I was able to use someone’s small scissors to take out the stitches along the back edge with the loops on it to get a bit more fabric across and we used the safety pins for bars with a piece of ribbon folded behind to stabilize the now-only-one-layer of fabric. But I wasn’t willing to let people see it looking like this!

Thankfully, I had a shawl with me and I wore it the entire evening to cover the back. I was apparently nonchalant enough that no one realized I was wearing a shawl to cover the fact that my dress wouldn’t close, but I was awfully warm while dancing! Something had to be done before I would wear the dress again.

I pondered multiple ideas, but the one I settled on was to cut new center back pieces with more width to them and sew them over the current, too-small pieces. I also had to piece the waistband to extend it as well as re-pleating the skirt to fit the larger size waistband, but it looks pretty good, I’d say.

The inside of the dress now looks like this. Previously, it was unlined (I did a post about the original inside finishing of this dress, which you can see here). Now, the center back panel has a lining to help stabilize it and encase the original back panels and waistband extension. Still tidy, yay!

In addition, the armhole openings had become quite tight. I wanted a little more space to be comfortable, so I also added underarm gussets (the upside down triangle). I simply opened up the seam and added a diamond shaped piece. It’s diamond shaped and folded in the center to hide the raw edges inside and out. I didn’t bother to add a band at the bottom, as I figured this gusset was in a place no one was likely to see such detail.

The other dress is my 1812 white square neck Ikea gown. I made this in 2012and have also worn it many times. Before the recent changes, I had made no other alterations to the dress since I first made it.

This dress also had a panel added to center back, but I had to more carefully follow the details of the dress, including the small seams (because of the sheer fabric) and the tucked waistband. This dress has spent a lot of time in the sun, and between that and being gently washed a few times, the fabric has become a much brighter white than it started out. It’s not noticeable, until I add a piece of the same fabric that has been sitting in my stash and the light hits it just right. (It’s convenient for pointing out the new fabric though, because it’s pretty obvious in the picture below!)

Sometimes, this would bother me. But it’s only noticeable in some light and I hope that eventually the pieces will also brighten. Plus, it’s entirely historically reasonable to piece a gown using more of the fabric that hasn’t faded in the same way as the rest of the garment to adjust the size. It’s much more practical than making an all new garment!

I had to regather the skirt on this dress (like I had to repleat the red one) to accommodate the new waistband size. I also added an underarm gusset on this dress to help the arm openings be more comfortable.

While the red dress fit pretty perfectly after the alterations, the white dress alterations proved to be too much (it’s hard to fit these things on yourself when the closures are in the back!) and I now need to move my eyes over and add a drawstring to the top of the back neckline to keep my undergarments from showing. Sometimes it seems like some garments will never leave the to-do list. Oh well! Does that happen to you? You think a garment is done until you wear it and realize it needs something changed or added? (I’m proud to report that between the time I started writing this post and the time I finished writing this post I completed those final two notes–drawstring and bars–and now the dress is done and ready to get put away! Hooray for getting rid of UFOs!)

Do you ever resize your modern or historical clothing after closet shrinkage? What methods have you used?

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A Gown Worthy Of A Duchess

On the same January shopping trip that I unexpectedly found the blush sparkle fabric I made a 1920s dress out of I also unexpectedly found an excellent fabric for a new Regency evening dress. I hadn’t made one in awhile, but I had a Regency weekend coming up and I was wanting something new for the fancier ball (and of course nothing in my stash was inspiring me). In my wanderings around the store, I discovered an organza curtain sheer that brought to mind this particular fashion plate that has been on my ‘to-sew’ list for years.

1819 – Ackermann’s Repository Series 2 Vol 7 – March Issue

I’d been on the look-out for a sheer with black stripes but hadn’t found anything suitable. Once I found the curtain fabric, I debated whether to use it for a dress in this style or to hold out for the black stripe. As you’ll see, I decided to call this inspiration fulfilled by the gold striped fabric that I found. It’s polyester, but that means it was a good price. Occasionally, a polyester can be just the thing.

In addition to the Ackerman’s fashion plate, I also borrowed design ideas from two other striped evening gowns: this earlier Costume Parisien fashion plate from 1809 and this image of the Duchess d’Angoulême c. 1815. My dress is a conglomeration of these and the 1819 fashion plate. I borrowed the sheer overdress idea from 1819, the single row of scalloped trim from 1809, and the bias cut sleeves from 1815. I date my dress to 1817, as the fluffy nature of the organza pushes the silhouette towards 1820, but the single row of trim pulls it back from 1819 just a bit.

I have a full compliment of nicely finished underthings that are perfect for making the sheer dress opaque. It was never my intention to be a scandalous Regency lady with minimal underthings! In fact, to make the ensemble sufficiently opaque, I wore my chemise plus two petticoats under the sheer dress. Without the second petticoat it was clear where my chemise ended (at my knees, in case you’re curious), but I didn’t want to have the illusion of scandal with this, I really wanted opacity all the way down.

Like the new pelisse, the sheer dress provided another perfect opportunity to make further use of my Vernet petticoat, which has a lovely eyelet border at the hem. Here’s another view that shows off the lace on the petticoat.

It’s usual for me to meticulously finish the insides of my garments, but in the case of a sheer dress, that desire became a necessity. Accordingly, all of the inside seams are nicely finished with a mix of French, flat felled, and folding seam allowances to hide raw edges and whipping them together. I kept the finished seam allowances small, so that they wouldn’t detract from the stripes.

The bottoms of the sleeves and the front and back necklines are all adjustable with tiny drawstrings made from champagne colored embroidery floss. The goal was to have ties that would blend and not be noticeable through the sheer fabric.

The pattern for this dress was adapted from other Regency dresses I have made. I think I most closely referenced the patterns for my tree gown and square neck gown, but adjusted the fullness to give this dress a little more oomph.

This dress is machine sewn and hand finished. All of the French seaming was done on machine, as was the assembly of the bodice, waistband, and skirt to make a dress, but all of the other stitching (casings, hems, trim, finishing seam allowances in non-French ways, etc.) was done by hand.

The dress has a scalloped trim band around the bottom, set up high enough to show off the lace on the Vernet petticoat. It’s hand hemmed and it seems like miles… though I think it was only about 9 yards. Hemming, gathering, and attaching this was one of the last tasks and it was going right up until about 2am on the morning of the ball. By the time it was being sewn on there was no measuring or sectioning, just eyeballing, so it’s a little wavier than I would normally allow, but one has to make accommodations (sometimes). I was envisioning the scallops would be spaced out more and therefore be more defined, but as I was furiously sewing the trim on I was not about to cut it up and resew it, so all 9 yards made it onto the dress. It’s fine. I’m happy. I do not plan to re-do the fullness of the trim or the placement!

I decided that such a dress needed grand hair and hair ornamentation, and so I justified my desire to wear a tiara by scouring my Pinterest boards for documentation. The Duchess d’Angouleme sports a pretty grand tiara in 1818. And here she is in 1817 wearing what I think is the same tiara.This is Victoria, Duchess of Kent, sporting a fabulous tiara and giant hair poof/bun. Empress Josephine and Caroline Murat (Queen of Naples) have some pretty fabulous tiaras, too. To match the tiara, I accessorized with a pearl necklace and pearl earrings. Worthy of a duchess? I think so!

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1814 Orange Boven Pelisse

At least three years ago I was inspired by a fashion plate, as one often is, and started working on a Regency pelisse following the design in the image. I got really far along, finishing the construction and even part of the trimming, but then stalled and let the ensemble languish for years before determining to pick it up and finish it off this year or else! I’m excited to have finally reached a ‘done’ point in this project so I can remove it from the UFO list!

The pelisse (and hat) are directly inspired by the following fashion plate, which can be seen here with slightly different coloring and here in black and white. In the first of those two links, the garment is labeled as a dinner dress, but I thought the design would make excellent pelisse trimming and so I adapted it.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that the finished pelisse does not have as much trim on it as the inspiration image. Early in this project, before it languished, I cut out all of the appliqués for the neck, sleeves, and hem as well as the front edges. I pressed under a 1/4″ on each side of each piece, too. And then, as I was finishing all that triangle trim on the front earlier this year, two things happened:

#1- I lost steam and really just needed to be done with this project.

#2- I decided I liked the simplicity of the pelisse without the extra trim. It’s so easy to draw lots of details, but then in a real garment the details don’t always translate. For example, the triangles around the neck just looked bad and awkward (plus, I wonder if that is a chemisette collar and not trim on the dress itself?) and the sleeves just looked too crowded. I was also afraid that putting all that work into triangles around the hem would just get dirty and not be a good use of many more yards of the vintage lace I used to edge the triangles.

In fact, despite the somewhat-simplified trim, there are actually a lot of details in the construction of the pelisse. Each back seam is piped and the belt has double piping above and below it. The neck is bound with piping, which is sewn with small, invisible stitches around the neck to hold the seam allowance to the inside. Also, the skirt is knife pleated into the back, allowing for a nice silhouette from all sides.

The pelisse is made entirely from peach colored cotton. It is unlined, except on the belt, where it is lined in order to hide the raw edges. The other seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. Here is an inside view of the bodice section. I do like my insides to be tidy!

The trim fabric is a cream colored poly/cotton blend. Each triangle is edged in very light tan vintage lace. Then, to top it all off, there are peach tassels on each triangle down the front as well. The peach tassels were removed from a length of upholstery trim that happened to be a perfect color match!

The pelisse is machine sewn on the interior seams and hand finished, including the hem, neckline, seam allowances, and all that trim. The darts are also sewn by hand with a small running stitch, a detail I picked up from looking at extant pelisses, though of course it’s been so many years now that I can’t find a specific example. I like how the top stitched darts at a little extra interest.

The pattern for this pelisse is of my own design. I’m pretty sure it was based on my 1819 spencer, but adapted slightly for a different fit. It’s hard to remember since it’s been so many years since I made the pattern! The skirt is a large rectangle–two panels of fabric seamed at center back.

I’m wearing the pelisse with the following garments: a chemise and my short stays, my Vernet petticoat , my recently finished chemisette, and the hat that matches the whole ensemble. I’m excited to have found a use for the Vernet petticoat that shows off the trim at the hem! I did take out the tucks that made it the right length for my Witzchoura so that it would be the right length for the pelisse, but that’s what tucks are for, right? On picture day there was a nice breeze blowing everything around and showing off all the layers nicely.

I was lucky to take these photos in and around some of the Regency period buildings in Salem, MA. You can’t beat buildings from the right period for a suitable backdrop for a garment like this!

Now I have my first pelisse. More outings will hopefully arise in the future so I can wear it again. I’m so glad I’ve decided it’s finished and that it was a comfortable garment to wear, though I maintain that the hat is a bit silly.

 

Orange Boven Hat, 1814 (HSM#4)

I am pleased to report that I made a garment which qualifies for the HSM challenge #4: Circles, Squares, and Rectangles! I wasn’t sure I had anything on the sewing list that would do, but then I remembered years ago when I started this hat and it was only two pieces, a circle for the crown and a rectangle for the binding. Perfect! (I’m not counting the triangular trim. That’s just the trimming!)

As you might guess from the photo, this hat is part of a matching ensemble: a pelisse and hat from 1814. I’ve got lots of details planned regarding the inspiration for this ensemble as well as more pictures of the finished outfit, but for now this teaser will have to suffice. It gives context to the rather silly hat.

Just the facts:

Fabric: Pale peach cotton and cream (likely) poly/cotton blend.

Pattern: My own based on my head measurements.

Year: 1814.

Notions: Thread, two ostrich feathers, and about 1 yard of vintage lace.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. It’s entirely recognizable in its own time and made in a way that is straightforward and consistent with historic garments. The materials are not 100% accurate.

Hours to complete: If I’m only counting the hat, about 3 or 4, since it is entirely hand sewn.

First worn: April 9 for a Regency tea.

Total cost: About $8 for the hat without the pelisse.

A Chemisette (HSM #3)

I’ve wanted a Regency chemisette to complete my daytime looks since 2012, even going so far as to purchase a specific tool with the intent on using it for a chemisette ruffle. (Unfortunately, my cast iron crinkle cutter has been a very useful doorstop for the last few years but hasn’t been used at all for its actual purpose! To be fair, it still hasn’t been used for its actual purpose, but at least I know now that I have a chemisette pattern that fits, which makes me more likely to try it out for a more finely pleated collar version in the future.)

I’m so happy with this chemisette! I had sized up a chemisette pattern from Janet Arnold years ago, but it didn’t fit me as is, so for this I used the pattern for a pelisse I’m working on as a starting point for fit and the Janet Arnold pattern as a reference for grain lines and overall shape.

The fabric is ‘silky cotton voile’ from Dharma Trading. I used it for Annabelle, one of my mid-19th century dresses and had the perfect long straight scraps left for cutting out a chemisette! The weight of the fabric is lovely and so comfortable to wear and it’s nice and sheer just like a chemisette should be. Plus, it behaved so well, finger pressing as I did the seams and the pleats on the two collar layers.

I decided to add this garment to the list of Regency things I’m trying to get together for an event in April rather at the last minute. I was going on vacation with a very long travel time ahead of me and decided that having a hand sewing project would suit me very well. I found the time to cut the pieces and then hand sewed most of it while I was away, using nail clippers as my scissors. (I didn’t want to get in an argument with TSA about how the length of the blade on my thread snipping scissors actually is within their regulations.)

The chemisette uses a combination of running, whip, and slip stitches for the seams and narrow hems. It ties below the bust using a 1/4″ cotton twill tape. I thought of putting a closure at the neck, but decided against it as there are images of chemisettes being worn open at the neck (like this) and I really like that look on me rather than the head-on-a-platter look of it closed (see a mix of styles including that here). If I had closures but decided to wear the chemisette open at the neck you would see them and I don’t love that idea.

March’s HSM challenge is The Great Outdoors and I’m calling this chemisette a fit for the challenge, as I intend to wear it with a pelisse for an outdoor promenade. Plus, chemisettes are useful for protecting the skin from the sun (which of course you are so much more likely to be exposed to while outdoors!).

So, here are just the facts.

Fabric: Leftover bits of silky cotton voile from another project.

Pattern: Based off of my own, but referencing those in Janet Arnold.

Year: c. 1810.

Notions: Thread and 1/4″ cotton twill tape.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 100% on this one. The materials are good and so is the method.

Hours to complete: I didn’t pay attention because I was leisurely sewing this while on vacation. Maybe 8-10?

First worn: Will be worn in April.

Total cost: All from the stash! Free!

1927 Blush Sparkle Dress

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I was at the fabric store looking for other things… (the beginning of a lot of my fabric buying adventures) when two super sparkly fabrics caught my eye. They were screaming “1920s!” But the colors were somewhat costume-y 1920s and not often seen in my research of actual historical dresses from this period–red on nude net and black on nude net. A bit disappointed, I looked at the sparkly lace section some more and found the same fabric in blush on nude net! It was so sparkly and the pattern on it was so perfectly deco that I had to take some home with me. Luckily it wasn’t expensive and only cost $14 for 1.25 yards. Not bad!

The timing was perfect, because I had a 1920s event in January and just enough time to make the dress.  I didn’t have a slip to go under it that was the right shape or color, so I also squeezed in making a bias cut slip.

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For the pictures, I wore my American Duchess black Seaburys. They provided just the right 1920s shoe shape, encasing the front of my foot in a uniquely historical way that modern style shoes do not. You can see the shape more clearly in this post when I wore the shoes with my 1920s bathing suit in a beauty pageant look.

I was also incredibly lucky that the event was held in a historical hotel that provided fun backdrops for pictures! Those elevator doors are lovely! And look at this awesome phone–it had to be included in pictures!

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Another neat place we took pictures was this stairwell. I love how different these two pictures are, despite being so similar. One is much more about the dress while the other shows off the chandelier and is a bit more artsy and mysterious.

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img_3151-1I was so pleased with how my hair turned out! I tried a style similar to one I did last summer for a different 1920s event that I have yet to post about… oops! But here’s a teaser of just my hair. Soon I’ll post the details and it will bring some warm summer memories to my New England winter.

For the summer event I did my hair when it was wet, resulting in a similar style, but much smaller and closer to my head. For that version, I did all the back curls while my hair was still distinctly damp, making the curls much tighter and closer to my head.

For this event, I braided my hair in the morning while it was still damp (to help create waves on the top but curls on the bottom) and left it all day, meaning it was mostly dry when I took out the braid. Then, when doing my hair for the evening, I added small rats under the puffed bottom portion to add a bit more volume than just my own curls. I covered the rats with the length of my hair then carefully placed and pinned the curly ends to imitate having a sort of 1930s smooth-on-top-curly at the bottom style, like this. This style is a few years later than my new dress, but I think it works as a 20s style for someone with longer hair, like me. I have a lot of hair to hide in a 1920s style!

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Both the dress and slip are entirely hand sewn, due to working on it away from home (I would have hand sewed the dress anyway because of all the sequins, but probably not the slip). The dress started out as a tube, but was more unflattering than I was willing to allow. It was fine from the hips down, but needed to be taken in above the hips. What I ended up with is a curved seam (or a long dart, depending on how you look at it–one side didn’t have a seam to begin with) allowing slight shaping from the torso to the skirt portion of the dress. 1920s dresses can be such bags, but after the extra shaping I am very happy with the still somewhat bag-like, skimming shape of the dress without feeling like it’s an absolute sack.

The slip was cut from a pattern I made a few years ago–perfect, since I didn’t have time to pattern something from scratch! I intentionally picked a 1930s pattern in order to have the addition of a perfectly fitting 1930s silk slip to my wardrobe, but also because the shape of the neckline was perfectly suited to the v-neckline I decided on for the sparkly overdress.

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The slip has french seams on the sides. The under-bust seam allowance was trimmed away on the gathered piece and then the body piece seam allowance was turned over it and hand sewn to hide the raw edges. The top edge is mostly bound of with vintage cotton bias (which I removed from the top of the net petticoat I show in this post before shortening it. The piece wasn’t quite long enough to go all around the top edge of the slip, so the center back section is just turned twice and slip stitched, in the same way as the hem.

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The slip fabric is left over from a project that I did about 7 years ago. It’s lovely silk crepe back satin with the perfect weight for making bias cut 1930s clothing. I thought I would have just enough to eke out the slip, but I came up a little short on the back piece and decided to piece it to make it work, as the fabric is so nice to wear and it was the perfect color. As a result, there are two random diagonal seams on the top of the back piece of the slip. Oh well! They add character!

My Favorite Winter Things Skirt

In December last year, I was inspired by a friend to make a Christmas themed skirt. After looking through literally every single the winter and holiday themed cotton prints at Fabric.com, I settled on a print that is not directly Christmas themed. That way I can wear it all through the winter!

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Making the skirt fulfilled one personal goal while simultaneously breaking another. The first goal was that when purchasing fabrics a garment should be made right away, as I did with my winter wool skirt. The other goal was to go away for the holidays without any sewing or knitting project in order to give my wrists a break. But I was so excited about my fabric that I took it with me and started hand sewing the skirt anyway, in a low key way. I didn’t finish it on the trip, but I finished it soon after returning home. At that point, I just wanted it done, so I finished it up mostly by machine.

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I decided to take the pictures on the only really snowy day we’ve had here so far this winter. We’d had a storm the night before with about 6″ of fresh snow that was just begging to be played in and have this skirt as a companion.

I didn’t have anyone to take pictures for me, so out I went to explore the area around my house, finding random objects to support my phone (trash can, bleachers…) and using the self timer. I made a stand for my phone out of a cardboard box and it worked pretty well once I found something heavy enough to anchor the base. As a result of me taking pictures by myself, I have lots of pictures and lots of bloopers, as well as more far away shots than normal, as I wasn’t able to use the zoom feature with the timer.

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I wound up having lots of fun playing in the snow by myself. I bundled up in multiple pairs of fleece lined tights, a wool sweater, and my new carriage boots, amongst other things. The boots did great in the ankle deep snow! My feet were nice and warm and the snow brushed right off (I did spray them with stain/water repellant ahead of time).

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The skirt makes me smile, hence the name of this post. Penguins and polar bears are some of my favorite things, so what could be better than these silly guys having winter fun–skating, sledding, and skiing! Plus, they’ve got winter accessories and fox friends (and igloos!). Some days just need the extra boost of silly. I like to think that the skirt is fun, not juvenile…

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Regardless, I enjoy it. It’s just two widths of 44″ wide cotton seamed into a tube with a waistband and an invisible zipper. The pleating pattern was stumping me, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I went looking through Lily’s creations at Mode de Lis (since she often makes such lovely things out of cottons) and decided I liked the pleating pattern of her flamingo dress, so I copied it–flat in front for about 6″, then knife pleated towards the back around each side until center back when the two pleating directions meet. And I like it! It’s different than my other skirts. (She’s got lots of closeups of the pleating pattern, if my explanation makes no sense to you. I would normally have taken pictures of the pleating, but I couldn’t do it myself and I didn’t think pictures of the skirt flat would do it justice. The snowy background is essential!)

I had hoped to have a winter fun day with friends this weekend, but we have no snow, so I though this post would be perfect to remind me that I did take the time to get outside and have some fun in the snow the last time we had some.

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