Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IV: Bodice Progress

In the most recent post in this series, I left off my discussion of the creation of my new 1860s dress with an assembled bodice with nicely finished seam allowances. Since then I have made a significant amount of progress on bodice finishing and have also moved on to the skirt and its multitude of trim! But more on the trim in the next post–for now we’re sticking to the bodice.

The next step in my bodice sewing process was boning. The boning helps keep the front point of the bodice smooth over the skirt, keeps the center back edges smooth under the lacing, and supports the other seams, allowing the bodice to fit smoothly over the corset without wrinkling. In the past, I’ve used both steel and plastic for boning 1860s dresses. I’ve found that both options work equally well, though plastic is lighter and easier to cut and shape.

For this dress I chose plastic again. I used ⅜” wide zip ties from the hardware store. They are quite long (18″ I think), so sometimes one zip tie will make multiple lengths and one package lasts for multiple projects, and they are easy to cut with a sturdy pair of scissors (I used my kitchen shears). In addition to cutting the length I needed, I also used the scissors to snip off the pointy corners and, in the case of bones that intersect an edge at an angle, angled the edges to snug up agains the finished edge of the bodice. Here’s an example of what I mean. This is a side back bone sitting next to its bone casing on top of the seam where it will be sewn in.

I cut a length of pre-made bone casing for each bone in the bodice except center back. This densely woven flat tube can be purchased from speciality sewing supply stores by the yard or roll in black and white in different widths. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it approximates the bone casings I’ve seen in 19th century bodices without needing to create my own from scratch. I’ve made some bodices that have used the seam allowances or darts for bone casings, but this fabric and pattern didn’t accommodate that choice.

Here is that same side back bone in its casing, sewn onto the seam allowances with whip stitches. The bone casing end at the top is tucked under to keep the bone from poking out. At the bottom the bone casing is left alone–the bias binding will cover it and keep the bone from poking out without adding bulk.

The photo above also shows the center back edge progress I’ve made. I left extra seam allowance here in order to provide a self facing for my eyelets, then sewed all of the eyelets that won’t intersect with the bias binding (I’ll finish the ones that intersect the binding later in the process). There is a half width plastic bone between the eyelets and the center back edge. This allows for a narrow edge (less than ¼” rather than the full ⅜” width of the zip ties) and stabilizes that edge so it will stay smooth after being laced.

After those steps, I cut, pieced, and sewed very narrow cotton cord into the bias strips for the top edge, armholes, and bottom edge. For this bodice I decided to try something new (based on this 1860-1861 dress at The Met) and do double piping on the bottom edge of the bottom (zoom in on the photos at The Met to see the double piping up close). It’s a subtle detail, but so very 19th century! I made my bias a little wider for the double piping than I did for the single piping.

Here’s the assembled double piping being sewn to the bodice bottom edge. I just winged my method for creating double piping by sewing a first row of cord into the bias, then a second row next to that. For attaching it to the bodice, I sewed between the rows of cord. I graded my seam allowance, then flipped it to the inside to hand sew, just as I would with single cording.

I did run into a few ‘oops’ spots when I sewed the double cord on. Below is an example. Just below the seam is an extra fold of the bias seam allowance. I had to go back and fix a few of these spots.

Aside from that, it was pretty painless! The only problem at this point was that the two rows of cord were pushed apart a bit by the three rows of machine stitching between them, so I ran a line of thread, by hand, between the two rows to snug them together.

Here’s the inside of the bodice with all of those steps complete except for the bias being flipped to the inside and hand stitched down.

And here’s what the outside of the bodice looked like at this point.

Finishing the bias top and bottom edges really pushed the bodice along towards looking done (although it doesn’t have sleeves or a bertha yet… I’m working on the skirt trim first so I can balance the whole thing out in terms of trim). Here’s the bodice in it’s current state: waiting for sleeves, bertha, and a few more eyelets, but otherwise wearable and done!

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Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part III: Starting On The Silk

The previous post in this series stopped at the point of my successful pattern changes for this new dress. Now we’re on to the more fun part of getting to work on the visible parts of the dress!

The first step after ensuring that my ‘mockup’ flat lining fit was to take the seams apart and press the pieces flat. Rather underwhelming as sewing steps go, but it meant that I didn’t have to cut out a separate mockup of my bodice. Yay!

After that I was ready to cut out the silk bodice pieces!

Before cutting out my bodice, I had to very carefully calculate the yardage I needed for my skirt, the self fabric trim I have planned, the bodice, and the sleeves. It turns out that what seemed like plenty of fabric turned into not as much as I thought once I calculated how much fabric I needed to make pleated trim bands that would circle my skirt three times! 160ish” hem + 3 rows of trim + x2-3 fullness for the pleated bands + maybe seam allowance to do hems on the trim… yikes! I think I’ll be doing a whole post dedicated to my trim plans sometime soon, but back to the bodice for now.

When I checked the fit I didn’t worry about sleeves. I knew that if the armhole fit I could decide on a sleeve option after seeing how much silk I really had to work with.

After measuring all the skirt pieces out and laying out the bodice pieces, I decided to use the sleeve pattern I made for Eleanor with a few changes to save fabric. First, I put the grain on the straight instead of the bias. Second, I made the sleeves a little less poofy than the version on Eleanor.

Then I took the plunge and cut off each skirt panel, the bodice pieces, and the sleeves. That left a few pieces still to be cut–the waistband, bias piping for the bodice, and the skirt trim being the main pieces– but most of the silk cutting was done!

I layered each piece of cotton with the corresponding piece of silk and hand basted each piece around the edges. This flat-lining provides extra support for the silk exterior and allows for finishing that can be sewn to the cotton without showing on the exterior. I reassembled the bodice, pressed my seams open, and then whip stitched each seam allowance over the edge to control the fraying silk.

The next step is to add boning to the bodice to keep it nicely smooth while it is being worn. After that I’m not sure exactly what steps I’ll be inclined to work on. Options include initial work on the skirt and more bodice finishing. Then there’s the trim to think about and execute, too! We’ll just have to see what task appeals most.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part II: The Pattern

Fabric and design decided on, the next step in the process of creating my new 1863 evening gown was to decide on a pattern.

I decided to start with the pattern I used for the bodice of Evie, my 1864 evening gown (this originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2). You might remember that I needed to adjust Evie to fit me two years ago, so I knew that the pattern would not work as is. For the new pattern, I added some space to the waist circumference, bust area, and across the shoulder blades in back.

To test out my pattern changes before cutting into the silk, I cut my flat lining and basted it together to check the fit. Looks good in the front!

And also looks good in the back! Success! No further alterations needed! 

The zipper in the back is my fitting zipper–a long separating zipper I can baste into mockups to check the fit without having to pin anything. This is great for fitting on myself! The zipper ensures the my center back edges will meet nicely so I can move on knowing that the bodice will fit.

As a side note, I have to mention how silly bodices from this period look without skirts! The bodice stops at the natural waist on the sides, which makes my legs look super long and my torso super short! This bodice actually stops even a little higher than my natural waist. The layers of hoop, petticoat, and skirt waistbands all add bulk that needs to be accommodated for smooth lines on the finished bodice.

The next step will be to work with the lovely apricot silk that will be exterior of the dress.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

I finally made a garment this year that qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly! June’s Challenge is: Favourite Technique: make an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique. My garment for this challenge is a pair of split drawers from the mid-19th century.

My technique of choice are French seams. These are durable, tidy, and easy to sew with a sewing machine.

A quick explantation of how to sew a French seam is to sew with wrong sides together first, press the seam allowances open (they should be on the outside of the garment at this point), then sew the seam again so that the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. A French seam starts the opposite of how you would normally sew a seam (which is with right sides together). To this with your regular seam allowance the first line of stitches is narrower than your full seam allowance (for example: my seam allowance was ½”, so I first stitched with a slightly wide ⅛” seam then stitched again with a slightly wide ¼” seam). This ensures that the seam is tidy on the right side of the garment, with no loose threads showing. To keep French seams narrow on the inside of the garment it is essential that the first line of stitching is close to the edge of the fabric–sometimes that means stitching a wider seam and then trimming it to be narrow. If this is the case then it’s worth thinking ahead when cutting to decide if the seam allowances need to be wider than normal.

Below is a closeup on one of the inseams of the drawers, showing the French seam.

On to The Facts!

Fabric:  1 ¾ yards of cotton lawn from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: My own. I think these were based on a pattern in a book over ten years ago, but I can’t remember what book and I know I’ve made changes since creating the original pattern.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 98%. That missing 2% is for the machine sewing of the waistband to the inside of the drawers, as I think it was more likely that this step would have been completed by hand.

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

These drawers are entirely machine sewn, with French seams, narrow hems, and the ‘stitch in the ditch’ method of finishing the waistband. The ‘stitch in the ditch’ replaces more time consuming hand sewing of the waistband on the inside. It leaves barely visible machine stitches just under the bottom of the waistband on the outside and nicely turned under edges on the inside of the waistband, as you can see at the point on the center front in the photo above. The buttonhole is also sewn by machine. The only hand sewing is securing the button.

These drawers are part of a set that I made for a friend. In addition to the drawers, she will also be receiving two mid-19th century chemises (also sewn with French seams!).

As these are worn without other garments underneath, it was important that the fabric is opaque. Dharma Trading’s cotton lawn is tightly woven and definitely opaque enough for this use. Plus, it’s 60″ wide and a great price! I will say that due to the tight weave of the fabric I had a much easier time sewing it with a fresh sewing needle. The old, probably blunt, needle on my sewing machine was a little struggle-y at first, but I had no problems once I changed the needle.

In total, all three garments took 5 yards of fabric, 7 hours of time, and cost $25 in supplies (the button for the drawers as well as lace and ribbon for the chemises was from the stash).

Autumn Plaid Dress

I’d like to introduce you to my Autumn Plaid Dress! This is one of the dresses that I mentioned in my end of 2018 post as something that was made but never posted about. The goal was to post about it early this year. I would say it’s now mid-year, but better late than never, right?

I made this dress at the very end of last summer. I even made sure to find time to take photos of it while the trees were still in full autumn glory! The colors in the fabric reminded me so much of autumn that I felt that photos with lovely changing leaves were essential!

This dress came about due to the intersection of inspiration and fabric. I think the inspiration came first, when I found this dress (with no further information other than the single image). I loved the irregular large scale plaid, hidden placket, shirt collar, and long sleeves. It’s just a very different plaid dress than the often some-amount-of-circle skirt and smaller scale plaid dresses I am often drawn to.

In November of 2016, I saw the perfect fabric at Blackbird Fabrics. Of course it’s long gone now, but I snapped up 1.5 meters at the time. I loved the rich autumnal colors and large scale plaid! That pop of orange is unusual and great!

After that, the fabric sat in my stash… Until last year, when I actually make time for the dress. In August, I decided that now was the time!

The first step was to figure out a pattern. The bodice started life as McCalls 7351 because I didn’t want to deal with drafting a collar or front button placket. I also thought it might be a good starting place for sleeves.

I made multiple mockups of this pattern, fiddling with the fit especially in terms of the sleeves. I wanted to have a dress I could work in, with full range of motion for my arms without feeling constricted or lifting the dress at the side seams. This is not what I got with the sleeve straight out of the envelope. It looked nice with my arms down, flat and smooth, but I had very restricted arm movement. (So I guess this pattern wasn’t the easiet starting place for sleeves… oh well!)

After finally sorting out the fit of the sleeves and body pieces, I moved on to changing the front button placket to be invisible as I really liked that feature of the inspiration dress. This tutorial from Threads Magazine was great for this pattern change. Once I understood the different parts and how the folds interacted it was easy to alter the width of each fold to make a narrower placket than the tutorial.

I drafted the skirt pattern on a dress form. I wanted to get the deep pleats and rounded silhouette of the inspiration. It was a bit tricky and required lots of fiddling, playing with pleat depths, and also playing with the angle of the pleats at the waist seam.

Armed with my pattern pieces, I sat about cutting my fabric… and realized that 1.5 meters was not enough fabric to make the dress I had patterned! Oh no! What to do?

The first thing I did was eliminated some of the fullness I put in the skirt. I was able to keep the pleats, but the hem is narrower than I’d originally patterned. (But that’s fine in the end, because I think it’s a nice shape without being too full.) Then I started very, very carefully planning where to put each of the other pieces I needed. I realized that I could use less fabric if I changed the back from the original pattern (with a yoke and bottom section with a box pleat as on a man’s dress shirt) to a simple darted one-piece back. I did some pattern piece mashing, tested the new pattern out, and was able to move forward again.

My detail-oriented brain clearly decided on symmetry of the plaid (even though the inspiration didn’t worry about that at all and that’s something I liked… I find it’s hard to break the desire for symmetry!). That meant the cutting layout needed to be very specific in order to accommodate both that and the quantity of fabric I had to work with.

I fit the skirt pieces on the yardage (with a tiny hem). Then found places for the fronts (without the placket extensions) and back. The sleeves barely fit. I could have shortened them and had plenty of fabric but I really wanted the wrist length. The collar and placket pieces were next. They got squished in between the larger pieces. Of those, only the upper collar is one piece. As you can see in the next photo, the under collar and both layers of collar stand have seams at center back (though I did manage to make them all symmetrical!). The button placket had to be seamed on and pieced horizontally and the buttonhole placket also had to be pieced on. There’s a narrow orange line near the buttonholes just across from the horizontal piecing seam where the placket extension was stitched on to the front piece.

This was absolutely a case of laying out every single piece before cutting anything! After all that, this is what I was left with for fabric scraps. I’d say that’s a pretty good use of all my fabric, wouldn’t you?

I was very amused by the fringe-y selvedge edge and wanted to incorporate it into the dress. I used those selvedges for the inner edge of my plackets. The already finished edge was stitched down but not turned under, so a little bit of the fringe pokes out when the dress is worn. I did debate if it was making the dress too home-made looking, but I think it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t have that effect.

At some point I also made space on the fabric for a belt. There was no way to make this symmetrical without a lot of piecing, given the spacing of the plaid and the placement of the plaid on the dress, so this is my nod to asymmetry. I can line up one of the orange lines somewhere, but somewhere else around my waist they don’t line up.

I finished this dress right around the time that the pre-orders from Royal Vintage Shoes were delivered last fall. I had great fun wearing this dress with my new burgundy Aspen Boots. I couldn’t resist having red winter shoes!

I love these boots! I added an insole under my heel to help cushion my feet and they are so comfortable! I can wear them standing and walking all day and not have aching feet. The low heel is flattering and snazzy without feeling like a heel. The rubber soles are great for wearing in rain and snow. They are great with pants and skirts/dresses. And they’re a fun color! I feel very confident when I wear them and get lots of compliments. Can I say anything else positive? I love these!

What else have I not mentioned about the dress?

The buttons are from my stash and are plain and dark. I was one short, so there’s a slightly different dark button at the bottom. It’s fun to have details like that on clothes you make yourself.

My fabric is a nice medium-weight twill, which makes the dress well suited to fall and winter wearing. The dark colors didn’t really speak to me to wear this spring and it’s not a summer dress, so it’s waiting for autumn to roll around again to be worn. In the meantime, I’m happy to have captured the lovely colors of the leaves with the wonderfully autumnal colors of the dress. Maybe this year I’ll take photos of it with pumpkins…!

Regency Intensive Dance Weekend 2019

It’s been two years since I last did a post covering the entirety of one of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Regency Intensive Dance Weekends. I thought this year would be a good year to bring back that tradition, so I made sure to capture moments throughout the weekend (or I helped friends make that goal happen!). So… prepare for a long post with lots of photos!

Saturday is a day full of dance classes. The name of the weekend does include the word ‘intensive’, right? The level of dancing achieved at this event is quite a step above a stand alone ball and I love how special that is. Here we are in the morning, learning the special steps that are particular to Regency dancing.

Saturday evening brings a ball to practice all the dance steps learned throughout the day. This year I decided to wear my red and gold 1813 evening gown and red and gold tiara with my red and gold reticule. I enjoy how well these different pieces coordinate with each other!

Amusingly, two other ladies were also wearing red and gold dresses. With cross fronts! Isn’t it neat how a description such as ‘red cross front short sleeve gown with gold trimming‘ can be the same but each dress is unique?

I find it pleasant to observe lovely clothing on elegant people during the course of ball. New dresses and accessories add a bit of excitement to a gathering! I enjoyed seeing this dress because I also have a dress made from the same Ikea curtain fabric.

Sunday morning we have more dance classes followed by a mixture of tea, promenade, and games in the afternoon. The activities have varied over the last seven years but we’ve always had an afternoon of non-dance fun incorporating at least a few of these activities each year. This year we started with a promenade. Thankfully we had good weather: a reasonable temperature with just a little bit of sun that accommodated pelisses, shawls, and spencers.

We ended on the town common and stopped for photos. Isn’t this one lovely?

On our return stroll, I might have become distracted by one of the historic houses owned by one of the museums in town… The property had a fabulous wrought iron fence that I insisted we take photos with. Lots of photos… These are just a few!

As you can see, I wore my 1815 tree gown, 1819 spencer, and 1815 bonnet. Plus, I finally made use of a muff I made back in 2012 at Dress U! The scale of this muff is generally for the 18th century so I really haven’t used it since I made it, but the color matched my accessories so well that I decided to wear it with this outfit and I love the result. It’s super cozy and warm and the cover is completely separate from the down stuffed pillow inside so that in theory I can make other covers for it someday. This lovely item is the result of a class I took with LadyDetalle. (She has an Etsy shop that often stocks muffs like this as well as many other beautiful and historically inclined goodies.)

Back at the hall, tea was well underway. This year’s group really enjoyed chatting with each other and playing games. It was charming to observe such enjoyment.

Not too long after tea comes the grand ball across town. We have always started this ball with a reception that includes champagne sabering in a little park just near the hall.

Arriving back at the hall, guests are greeted with sparkling cider.

We took a few minutes out of the evening to document our clothing, as one does. I wore my 1817 Gold Stripe Duchess evening gown again (I just wore it in February as well), but with different accessories. I love how these accessories changed up the dress to have a different feel. This wearing included my 1819 purple hair flowers, purple shoe clips, the new necklace and earring set from the wearing of this dress in February that is from In The Long Run Designs and a white organza sash just like the green one I wore in February. The white really didn’t show on this dress except for a hint of fluff at the bow, but the two purple accessories stood out and of course the jewelry was sparkly and wonderful!

Purple and gold seemed to be a theme at this ball, just as red and gold was the night before! Raven of Plaid Petticoats had a new dress that fit the theme very well. She and lots of helping hands were working on the dress all weekend in order to finish it for the ball!

It’s quite grand, seeing everyone dressed in their Regency best for this ball. And I think many people are surprised by how well the dancing goes! It’s a special treat to have such advanced dancing.

This ball is always accompanied by lavish refreshments carefully arranged to impress.

And at the end of two wonderfully long days of dancing I’m always exhausted! I hope that reading through this post was exciting and not exhausting! If you’d like to read more about the magic of previous years, I posted about the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 as well.