If At First You Don’t Succeed… (HSM #1)

I made this 1928 evening dress and first wore it in 2012. Back then it was simple, with just a small cascade of fabric and no sash or bow (I show the construction in detail in this past post). Three years later, I decided to add the sash, bow, and extra cascade of fabric (and wrote a post about it). I liked the effect but wasn’t pleased with the slippery silk moving all over and sliding around. The armholes were also a bit high under the arms from the beginning, causing the trim to dig in a bit which wasn’t very comfortable.

Due to these issues and the addition of other 1920s evening dresses to my wardrobe I hadn’t worn this dress in a few years. But for an event this January, I decided to give it another go. Luckily, the dress still fit and didn’t cling in unwanted places! The first HSM challenge of 2018, Mend, Reshape, Refashion, was the perfect complement for the updates I wanted to complete.

To be specific about the updates, this time I lowered the armholes about 1″ and then pieced in extra trim to fill in the gap, sewed the sash/bow in place, and added an interior waistband that supports the weight of the bow and keeps the dress from pulling down on one side.

Our hotel room had a bonus vanity table and stool that was a perfect prop for photos…

I did my hair like I did last year but added a gold hair comb I recently discovered at my parent’s house. I’m pretty sure my mom gave it to me when I was a child or maybe a teenager… It’s just been sitting there waiting for me to put it to use again!

Just the facts:

Fabric: The only new fabric was a scrap of tightly woven polyester for an inner waistband.

Pattern: My own, based on measurements.

Year: 1928.

Notions: Extra trim to piece under the arms, thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 95%, with points lost for the polyester.

Hours to complete: The updates took about 4 hours. I felt like hand sewing most of it so I could watch Netflix!

First worn: With the updates in January, 2018.

Total cost: Free!

I love how this dress looks and fits now! Yay! It only took three tries… It’s a good lesson: if you don’t succeed the first time, try again! And keep trying…! Third time is the charm on this one!

 

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1830s Sleeve Puff Tutorial

Why make sleeve puffs, you ask? In order to keep the large sleeves of 1830s dresses from deflating, of course! Here’s an example of my 1832 dress without puffs (on the left) and with puffs (on the right). They make such a difference!

I chose to use a sewing machine for much of the assembly of my puffs, but you could easily hand sew all of these steps instead.

To make these sleeve puffs you will need the following materials:

  • Fabric: ¾ yard of 44″ wide or ⅜ yard of 60″ wide (cotton, linen, and silk are the most historical options, but you can use whatever is comfortable on your skin, just make sure it’s not too loosely woven or too heavy in weight)
  • Stuffing: I used scraps of stiff net and organza, but you could also use batting, tulle, down, etc.
  • Thread

To begin, you’ll need to cut out your pieces:

  • Two rectangles: 25″ wide x 13″tall
  • Two shaped bases: 18.5″ wide x 7.5″ tall at the center and curved down to 2.5″ tall at the sides
  • Four end caps (two for each end of your shaped base): use the shaped base as a pattern and cut the end caps so they are 2.5″ wide

Next, you’ll assemble your puffs:

Step 1: Lay your end caps on each end of the shaped base. Sew around the three exterior sides, leaving the side towards the center unstitched.

Step 2: Trim your seam allowances, corners, and clip through seam allowance close to the end of your stitch line on the shaped base.

Step 3: Turn each end cap so the right sides face out–the clip through the seam allowance allows the end caps to sit nice and flat on the shaped base.


Step 4: Run gathering stitches along each individual side of the four sides of each rectangle (not one long gathering line that turns the corners).

Step 5: Pull up your gathering stitches on the long sides and pin to the curved edges of the shaped base. You want to pin the rectangle to the side of the shaped based that does not have the end caps on it.

 

Step 6: Sew the gathered rectangle to the shaped base and turn it right side out.

Step 7: Now pull up the gathering threads on one short side of each rectangle. Turn the raw edge under and pin the gathers in place. Hand sew these gathers through all the layers, making sure to take small stitches and catch the gathers in many places. Leave the other side open for now.

Step 8: Stuff those puffs!

Step 9: Now pull up the gathering threads on the remaining short side of each rectangle. Turn the raw edge under and pin the gathers in place. Hand sew these gathers through all the layers as well, making sure to take small stitches and catch the gathers in many places. (This is the same as step 7.)

Step 10: Overlap the end caps about ¼” and sew them together.

Ta da! Now you have some sleeve puffs of your very own!

Extra tips:

I strongly suggest taking a look at extant puffs. As a starting point, I suggest this pair at the MFA and this pair at the V and A.

If you’re worried about keeping your puffs in place, ties can be added to the puffs which would be secured to additional ties in the armholes of dresses. Take another look at the those two pairs of extant puffs and you’ll see ties.

I also suggest looking at the puffs other people have made. It never hurts to see more methods of construction. I referenced Fresh Frippery and Stepping Into History when creating my puffs. Have you come across other 1830s puff making resources? If so, please share!

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When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-19th Century Edition)

A few months ago, I had a post with the same name that focused on two Regency dresses that had experienced closet shrinkage. The post was centered around what I did to make them wearable again. Around the same time I was battling the Regency closet shrinkage, I encountered the same problem with two of my older mid-19th century dresses as well. Boo!

It took me awhile to do anything about the problem and even longer to post about it, but here we are.

There was a time when the back edges of Evie’s bodice met from top to bottom. In fact, if you look at the pictures in this post from 2013 you’ll see that there was even excess fabric around the waist (yikes, but that does mean my waist has expanded a fair bit!); however, by February 2016, the bodice looked like this:

Uh oh! That wasn’t going to do for wearing at a ball! So I brought my corset and bodice (plus the other bodice I’ll mention shortly), got all laced up, and had a friend measure the gap between the back bodice edges and take pictures for documentation (so I wouldn’t forget the measurement, because let’s face it, my memory is pretty terrible sometimes).

Then I pondered my options. There was no way to let out the seams on this bodice, as the fabric has scarred at every point the needle and thread passed through. Plus, I didn’t leave much seam allowance anyway. Given my limited options, I decided that a placket was the best way to go. Many extant dresses using lacing as the method of closure on bodices and I’m sure that ladies in the 19th century changed sizes, too. I went on a hunt and couldn’t find an example of a bodice with a placket showing between the lacing, but museums have the benefit of being able to put their collections on forms rather than real people, which allows for easier adjustability to have the lacing edges touching. (If you know of any examples of a bodice laced with a placket under the gap, please let me know!) Anyway, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that some ladies in the 19th century used the same method I did to allow adjustability in their bodices.

In addition to the placket, I also had to extend the bertha to bridge the gap. For that I was able to unfold my seam allowance, respace my gold ruffle, and cover the remaining gap with a rosette of gold like the one on the front of the bodice (another instance of the benefit of saving all the scraps from a project–this finished off the gold bits I had leftover from the original construction). Thankfully, these changes worked. I wore Evie to a ball in March 2016 and was happy as a clam. The placket was hardly noticeable and now the dress is much more adjustable!

The second bodice was for the dress named Annabelle, which was made in 2011 (and worn again later in 2011). This bodice also closed all the way down the back when it was made. Well, that’s not the case any more. Actually, a few years ago I’d already converted the closure from being hooks and eyes with folded over seam allowance to lacing with less seam allowance folded over in order to eek out a little more space, but that just wasn’t enough. By 2016, here’s how we were looking. It was time for a more drastic update.

I did the same thing I did for Evie, adding a placket and regathering the bertha to make it span the lacing gap. It took me about two years to get to it, but the result is that I was able to wear Annabelle to a recent ball in October, with a back that looked like this.

Not bad! The only thing I want to change is making that top edge actually stay matched rather than the one side riding up. But that’s a minor change. Overall, I’m pleased to be able to continue to wear this dress!

There we are–two more examples of how to fix the-dress-no-longer-fits problem! It was incredibly lovely to receive comments on the Regency post that other people also experience closet shrinkage and have already adapted their clothing to deal with it or are now inspired to do so. It is my hope that continuing to post about this topic will encourage others come to terms with their own changing size as well as ideas for how we can all deal and move forward while still being able to wear our finery.

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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.