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.

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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).

Sunshine Yellow Stripes In 1933

Last summer, I decided to make a dress from McCall’s #7153, an archive pattern from 1933 (although now out of print, it was released in 2015 so it’s pretty easy to find with a quick search). This is a pattern I’ve been eyeing for awhile. I decided to make it because I wanted something comfortable, new, and appropriate for daytime to wear to a Gatsby weekend in the heat of August. 1933 is obviously not in the 1920s, but the weekend tends to be more generally 1920s/1930s in terms of clothing, so I figured this would fit right in.

The style of the dress is quite defined by the differing grain lines on the pieces, a detail that is set off by the stripes used for the sample dress. Accordingly, I went off in search of a good stripe for the dress. I couldn’t find one I liked in the right weight with a stripe quite as delicate, visible, and widely spaced as the sample dress, but I did find a lovely yellow and ivory narrow stripe at Farmhouse Fabrics (although now they have this, which is similar to the sample dress–I’m not sure which one I would choose if I had both options in front of me now!). I couldn’t find a yellow belt buckle that was right, so I decided to go classic with a white mother of pearl one from my stash instead.

I cut out a mockup in size 14. This was a project for my #virtualsewingcircle while I was still finding time to sew live. The mockup fit, but was very tight, so when I cut out the yellow stripe I made the dress a size 16 (for reference, my measurements were about bust 40″, waist 32″, and hips 42″).

The only other change that was required was to take up the shoulders (which I think meant that I also lowered the front neckline and cut new front facings, though now it was long enough ago that I don’t remember perfectly). McCall’s must have been thinking people were going to put in huge shoulder pads–there was so much room! I believe I took about about 2″ (4″ total) of height!

In addition, I took Kelly’s advice from making this dress and omitted the zipper down the back to keep things smooth. This was made possible in part because my fabric has a little bit of stretch in it.

I think I mostly followed the pattern directions for assembly. There are some steps in a specific order to get the nice point, particularly in the front.

I machine finished the hems, including the sleeves, and under stitched the neck facing, tacking it down by hand to the seam allowances on the inside. The seam allowances were pinked to keep the seams from getting bulky while also keeping them from fraying. This wasn’t important for the bias cut pieces, but it definitely helped the center back and center front panels that are cut on the straight grain of the fabric!

I completely ignored the belt directions, opting instead to use belting encased in a tube of my fabric. Belting is a great product that, as fas as I can tell, stopped being produced in the last few years. Boo! It’s a bendable but stiff plastic backed fabric that you used to be able to purchase in different widths to use as stiffening for self-fabric dress belts (perfect for dresses from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s!).

Despite the photos of the whole look with accessories (which I’m very pleased with!), when I tried on the dress after finishing the sewing I was so disappointed! I looked so frumpy in the mirror with the calf length hem and my bare feet! I made a lot of faces. Then I thought, ‘Well, I guess I try on the shoes I plan to wear with this.’ That idea did make me a little happier, because I had snagged a pair of Royal Vintage brown and white spectators but hadn’t found a reason or outfit to wear them with yet. And then… MAGIC. Those 3″ heels absolutely transformed the look! All of a sudden that calf length hem looked great! I was probably standing with more confidence rather than disappointment, too, but really, it was like I was wearing a different dress. Has that ever happened to you? The accessories really make some looks come together! And especially with 1930s calf length hems… the heels really help posture and proportions.

I found that my first pair of Royal Vintage shoes are very comfortable. They have a bit of padding in the sole, which is great under the balls of my feet especially, and also arch support. They don’t pinch or rub in any uncomfortable ways. After wearing them for the better part of two days in a row I can say that my feet were tired of being in 3″ heels, but tired or aching in no other way (that’s just a function of being in 3″ heels, no matter how comfortable they are). And boy, did I feel snazzy for those two days!

This next one is the ‘Oh no! My hat is flying away!’ face. It was rather windy, so there actually were moments where I had to hold onto my hat to keep it from flying away! This hat is a refashion of a modern sunhat that deserves its own post–coming soon. I’m very pleased with this updated version and I love how well it coordinates with my shoes!

The stripe in the fabric gets a bit lost when you’re not right next to the dress, but I still like it overall. I found the dress was more comfortable to stand in than to sit in, but it did well in the heat and was cool and breezy. Success!

1896 Black Gaiters For A Sporting Look

Five years ago (yikes, where did the time go?!?), I made ivory gaiters. They were made to wear over heeled shoes, giving the look of two tone boots. Unfortunately, the ivory gaiters I already have don’t work for the the 1896 cycling ensemble on my sewing table! Ivory gaiters would show dirt and be rather impractical for the sporting look, so I decided to make utilitarian black ones for this outfit.

I used the same pattern as for the ivory gaiters with only a few modifications: the top edge curves in a bit more over my calf and the back heel is longer so it stays on top of my shoe (in my blog post about the ivory gaiters I share about how they were riding up over my shoe–I solved this with a little piece I added in after the photos were taken, but for the new pair the pattern was cut longer instead). It was lovely to have a pattern ready to go!

I’m pleased that I squeezed this small project into 2018. I can count it for the HSM Challenge #12: Neglected! This challenge is sort of a catch-all for making something that fits into a previous challenge either from this year or a previous year. I chose the September 2018 challenge, Hands and Feet, for this December challenge.

Just the facts:

Fabric: About ¼ yard slightly stretchy black cotton.

Pattern: Created by me.

Year: 1896.

Notions: Thread, ¼” and ½” cotton twill tape in various widths, and plastic buttons.

How historically accurate?: 90%. The look is right but the materials are a mix and match of right and modern.

Hours to complete: Approximately 5.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $5 for the buttons. The fabric and twill tapes were in my stash!

These are constructed in the same way as my previous pair. The seams are covered with ½” twill tape, the edges are bound with ¼” twill tape, there is a strap (in this case made of the exterior fabric), and then buttons and buttonholes finish it off.

The great thing about my gaiter pattern is that they work for a few different decades. The ivory pair was made for a 1917 outfit, but I feel perfectly confidant that the pattern works for the 1890s and 1900s as well. I’m looking forward to trying these on with my cycling ensemble once that is far enough along to put all the pieces together!

A Fortescue Frock

Say that ten times fast! I was originally calling this dress the Cotton Candy Stripe Dress, but while wearing it to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and seeing how well it matched the decor of Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor it earned a new name.

I happened upon this summery fabric while looking for a different striped fabric at Farmhouse Fabrics. I bought it with the plan of using New Look #6143 for the bodice with a gathered skirt similar to my Bubble Dots Skirt.

I very carefully cut out the bodice pieces to match the stripes and was very pleased with the results. Look at how well my center back seam matches with the invisible zipper set in! The shoulder seams match nicely, too, and I didn’t even plan that!

The bodice is lined in lightweight white cotton, in the same way as the New Old(er) Dress I posted about in July. It uses the same bodice pattern and like the other dress this one closes with an invisible zipper down the back as well.

I thought of adding pockets but the fabric seemed to sheer to hide them well, so I decided against it.  I thought of adding a skirt lining, but decided I didn’t want to add bulk at the waist so I would live dangerously and hope that a slip would be enough to provide opacity. Thankfully, a knee length white slip is perfect. To add a just a little bit of volume, I also wear my vintage petticoat with the dress. You can see that petticoat in this past post.

This dress is fun! It’s light, summer-y, and my only fear was getting something on the white fabric while wandering around the amusement park. Thankfully that never happened!  We happened upon this spot while wandering around and it seemed good for a photo! My vacation sunglasses look like a bug and are silly, but I rather enjoy them once or twice a year. I never wear sunglasses that big in my normal life! They were great for the bright Florida sun!

Here are a few end-of-day shots, with frizzier hair and running-out-of-pose-idea poses. We stayed at the Cabana Bay Resort. It’s vintage themed and had some really adorable decor that we really enjoyed!

I made the dress with a 2″ hem but that skirt length was just barely long enough to conceal my petticoat (I realized after looking at photos). It was too close for comfort, so after I got home I decided to lower the hem as much as possible, which I’m very pleased with. Sadly I only got one wearing in with the new length before fall set in. Now the dress is now packed away and waiting for warmer weather next year!

Vintage-Inspired Book Dress

Two or so years ago, I came across this dress as I was poking around the internet. I loved the print, but the style was not for me. The peter pan collar, in particular, isn’t really my style. However, I got it in my head that maybe I could make my own version of this dress, with style details that suited me better.

This led to a hunt for the fabric. With a little bit of searching, I was actually able to find the exact cotton print fabric used in the dress I originally liked! I bought mine from Fabric.com, but it was (and still is) also listed on Etsy. It has a little bit more stiffness than your average quilting cotton, which makes for a dress with nice body. It also has little hints of metallic gold in the book titles, some of which are readable. This makes it a little festive and fun without being over done.

That was back in 2016. It took me about a year to get around to making the dress, but I finished it in late 2017. And I’ve been wearing it! It just took another year to wear it somewhere that was good for taking photos. (I still hold out hopes of taking photos of it in a fabulous wood paneled library, while holding my hardcover copy of Gone With The Wind. That’s one of the readable titles on the dress! Not sure when that will happen, though.) In the meantime, I’m very pleased with these photos from my trip to Universal Orlando, where we took photos of this dress in various Harry Potter locations.

I used Butterick 5880 (a retro pattern from 1951) for the bodice of this dress. This is the same bodice I used for my Happy Clover Dress, which I finally finished in 2017 as well. Both of these dresses have a different neckline than the original pattern. I’ve found that this is a great basic pattern for me. It fits well, I like the all-in-one-with-the-bodice sleeve, and different necklines work with it to change it up from one dress to the next!

The square neck inspiration for this dress came from a blog reader in 2017, who commented on my Happy Clover Dress post and suggested that a square neckline might be a nice vintage touch. I thought the idea made sense with the square corners of the books in this print and decided to give it a try!

As with the Happy Clover Dress, I did not use the Butterick skirt pattern, instead opting to create my own. My vintage inspired skirt is simply a tube that is 122″ in circumference, knife pleated to fit the waist size of the bodice. I carefully cut and seamed the panels to maximize my fabric use and have side seams as well as a center back seam. Part of the reason I had to maximize my fabric use was that I used up pretty much all of all 2.5 yards that I bought. In fact, I didn’t even have scraps big enough to make pockets out of after cutting out the bodice and skirt pieces! I used what I had and pieced the rest of my pocket bags with fabric left over from my 1860s Flower Basket Fancy Dress project. I had dyed the fabric a mottled brown, had only had small scraps left, and the look reminded me of book leather, so it seemed like a fitting thing to use.

Pockets in a dress is excellent! And you can do that when you make your own clothes. Actually, while I was on my trip I was asked whether I’d made the dress. The giveaways were the fact that I had my hands in my pockets and the knife pleated skirt, both of which struck the person who asked as being vintage and self-made details–not a combination that would be easy to buy in a store. I thought that was fun!

I made this dress using modern techniques. All of the inside seam allowances are finished using a serger/overlocker. There is an invisible zipper in the back. It is almost entirely machine sewn, including the hem and armholes. The only hand stitching is the finishing of the brown bias tape that finishes the neckline, in order to keep that nice and invisible. On the hem and armholes the black machine stitching blends into the print and is hardly noticeable.

I have fun wearing this dress and pairing it with different cardigans in the colder months! Black and red are my favorites. And I can report that it was very enjoyable to be dressed in slightly-vintage-style to visit Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I had no trouble on the rides and was as comfortable in the heat of Florida as I would have been in shorts or capris and a tee shirt, which is what most people were wearing. I felt more put together and enjoyed the themed dress! I might have to do things like that more often!

An Edwardian Island Adventure

Over the summer, my dance group was invited to create a turn-of-the-century atmosphere for a weekend on Bakers Island, off the coast of Salem, MA. Today, the part of the island we were on is managed by Essex Heritage and is home to a lighthouse, but for our visit the idea was that visitors to the island could get a sense of what the island would have been like over 100 years ago when there was a large hotel located there.

We didn’t actually dance, but we played historical games and activities and explained our context to the visitors. They came upon us along various paths during their walking tour.

I wore my 1904 Anne of Green Gables ensemble. This time, though, I had a new belt and I got my hat to behave. It’s supposed to flip up in back, but was misbehaving last time I wore it and was flipped down in back. Boo!

The new belt is green silk covered with the same lace that I used on the skirt. The green isn’t a perfect match to the skirt, but I like that it coordinates without being too match-y. Taking a photo of it also allowed us to capture the subtle lace detail and woven stripe in the fabric of the blouse better than we did last time, which was a bonus outcome.

In between tours, we took some group photos around the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house. The light keeper’s house, in particular, provided us with some really adorable photos. These were provided to us by the light keepers, who keep their own charming blog (currently about their stay on Bakers Island this summer) which you can view here.

Behind the scenes, we needed to arrive before the visitors to set up. Given when boats were available that meant we had to arrive the day before the visitors. There aren’t any indoor accommodations we were able to take advantage of, so it was camping in tents for us. I’m not really a camping kind of person, but thankfully other people had tents to share. Between the modern equipment and food that we needed as well as the historical clothes, games, and amusements, we had quite the pile of luggage for two days and seven people! Here we are waiting for the boat back to the mainland.

A new adventure complete! The croquet set is still in place but the players are gone! Maybe someday there will be others (or maybe us, who knows?) to once again bring history to life on this island.