Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VII: Finishing Details

Next post will be photos of my finished apricot dress… YAY! But first, I have the final finishing details to discuss. Most of the finishing left was on the bodice, so let’s start with that.

Bertha

Side note: have we ever talked about what a bertha is? A bertha is a collar of lace or other thin fabric, particularly popular during the 19th century. Check out this link to learn a little more about the history of the word.

In my last post, I included a photo showing the assembled front of the bertha for this dress before I attached it to the bodice. My goal was to make the bertha completely separate so that it would be easy to change if I decided to do that at a later time.

The foundation is a single layer of ivory tulle cut to the shape of the front (and one for the back) of the fully assembled bodice. A gathered piece of my lace trim was machine stitched to the bottom edge of the tulle, about ½” up from the cut edge.

On top of that foundation is a second layer of tulle that is gathered at both the top and bottom edges. The top edge is folded under by about ½” and the gathering stitch run through both layers so that the top edge is a fold rather than the cut edge of the tulle.

It took quite a few pins to secure the gathered tulle to the tulle underneath. It was finicky–tulle on tulle… not fun!

And I might have made a mistake while ironing my first foundation piece of tulle. Any guesses about what that was?

Oops! I like to iron with a hot iron but the nylon tulle was having none of that! I had to cut a new piece… and turn down my iron for a bit! The bottom gathered tulle in the above photo shows another failed experiment. That tulle is a full double width folded at the top and gathered top and bottom. I decided it was too bulky and not as elegant and decided to go with my previously explained method of only turning the top to create a fold.

After machine sewing my successful gathered tulle to the base layer of tulle it was time to add velvet trim. The velvet was cut on the bias, both edges pressed under, and then it was slip stitched over the stitch lines in the tulle. I also created velvet bows, as I hinted about last time. This is one of the bows I created before I realized I needed more than I had cut out… oops again!

After recutting my bows, this is the velvet I had left. I didn’t include anything for scale, but the longest piece in this photo is about 6″!

Remaking the bows (or rather, cutting new ones and disassembling ones I had already made) brings us back to where we were in the last post. The old velvet bows had top bow parts and dangling bow parts cut on the straight of grain, but due to my limited fabric I cut out the new bows with bias dangling parts. In the end I’m glad I did, because I think they hang more elegantly than the straight cut version.

Brooches

You might have noticed that the center velvet bow on the bertha has a gold filigree oval on it. In my inspiration it looks like these are buckles or brooches of some kind. I started by trying to use my stash, finding two matching football shaped buckles that I hoped could work. But the more I looked at them the more I didn’t like them.

So I spent a long time looking for something else low-cost that would work. Ideally, I wanted two sizes of the same style, but that quickly proved to be hard unless I wanted smallish very sparkly rhinestone buckles. But of course the scale of this dress is not small. Eventually I found the right search terms to find open centered brooches intended for creating your own cameos. I purchased these and painted them gold using acrylic paint. Despite being the same size for the bodice and skirt, I think they worked well!

Sleeves

I suppose I should also mention the sleeves. They made it onto the bodice but I haven’t talked about them at all. They are cut on the straight of grain and are basically a round-top trapezoid shape, with an outer layer of silk that is larger than an inner layer of my flat lining cotton. The silk was gathered around the bottom and around the armhole to fit. Due to the longer measurement of the silk it rolls up inside the sleeves by about 1″, which keeps the cotton from showing while being worn. Here you can see the poofy sleeves as well as the bertha before it had velvet added.

Oh, but those sleeves weren’t done yet! My inspiration had sleeves that appeared to be droopy continuations of the bertha. This is a detail that is different from all of my previous dresses from this period, so I felt it would be a neat detail to include. It took quite a bit of pondering to decide how to achieve the look and it was something I didn’t feel I could tackle until well into the process when I could see what the bertha and sleeves were doing without the extra layer.

My solution was to create sleeve caps of single layers of tulle with more of my lace and silk pleated trim on top. The tulle rather disappears when worn, giving the effect of floating trim. It’s pretty neat, actually.

Sewing the lace on was easy and relatively fast, as I did it by machine. But the silk… well, I thought I had enough left over from my crazy skirt trimming for the sleeves but those pleats eat silk so quickly! I only had about 75% of what I needed.

It was less than a week before the ball. I had returned the scalloped scissors to my friend so I couldn’t cut more silk. I tried spacing out what I had as much as possible without looking different from the skirt. And I was still short! UGH! Last minute challenges aren’t very fun. I pleated and re-pleated. Got a few more inches covered. Then I decided to harvest some pleated trim from my skirt, from underneath the big velvet bow where it wouldn’t be seen. Not terribly fun, to seam rip something you’ve just made. And the pieces I got were about 5″ in length. But I got them. And I put them on those sleeves. And even though they’re pieced you can’t tell at all and those sleeves got done!

This photo shows the first sleeve in progress, before I realized I didn’t have enough silk trim…

I sewed the sleeve caps on with small top stitches to the outside of the bodice at the armsceye seam. Again, this makes them easy to remove if I want. Also, I’d already set the sleeves… so I couldn’t easily put them into that seam (oops?). In the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re on the outside, because the bertha lace completely hides the armsceye along the top of the sleeve.

Bodice Finishing Details

In addition to sewing on the sleeve caps, I also attached both the front and back bertha layers to the bodice.

I finished my eyelets and ran the lacing ribbon through the top half. I find that 3 yards of ribbon allows me to leave the ribbon laced through the top eyelets and still get in and out, which makes getting dressed faster as the person helping me then only has to lace the bottom half of the bodice and tighten the ribbon at the top.

I also made and whipped in a placket. That’s the rectangular piece that’s rather wrinkly in the center of the photo below. While this bodice fits perfectly now, you never know what the future will bring and this will allow for a slight gap (if needed) that will still look like dress fabric and not like underwear.

I added hooks and thread bars to the bertha at the right shoulder, as well as two along the right back neckline to hold it in place along that edge. There is also a hook on the lace to secure it to the lace on the front of the bertha. Once hooked it looks seamless!

The final step was to sew hooks on the front and sides inside the bodice to allow it hook to the skirt. You can see the hook on the boning at the center front in the photo below.

Skirt Finishing Details

The skirt was basically done once I added my giant velvet bow except for a few things.

I added two hooks and bars to the waistband to close the skirt. The narrow hemmed opening is hidden under a pleat and will allow for future changes in waist size if needed.

I added loops to hook the bodice to. You can see one of those on the left. Turns out I didn’t line the side ones up very well (I think this was the very last task late one night on the last night I was stitching), so we added a safety pin at the ball and hooked the bodice to that. The safety pin is visible just to the right of the loop. At some point I need to move the loop to the location of the safety pin. Boo! There’s always something to fix or repair or change once you wear a garment!

And finally, when I added the waistband I also added hanging loops for the skirt. There’s one poking up on the right. These allow me to easily hang the skirt to keep it from getting wrinkled in storage.

And finally… after many, many hours of sewing, this dress is done. I like big projects but I confess to getting a bit sick of this one after sewing on it every day for about a month at the end of the process. Next post will be photos of the finished dress. (And I can report that I was happy with it in the end! Yay!)

1925 Blue Coral At A Castle, Sort Of

I had the good fortune of attending a 1920s lawn party back in July at Winnikenni Castle. This was a new location to me and it sounded quite romantic and fabulous. However, I found that the idea conjured in my head lived up to the choice of materials and architectural style but didn’t quite live up to the scale I was envisioning.

I wore my 1925 Blue Coral Day Dress made last summer. This trusty dress is lightweight and breathable–essential for hot summer days!

The lawn party was on the smaller side, as these things go these days (so many lawn parties have grown to be huge–that’s great, but also a bit overwhelming sometimes). I found this size to be lovely and intimate. It was hot, but there was shade to help stay reasonably cool.

And there was dancing. The idea was lovely in theory, but it was a little hot for too much movement. My dancing was mostly perfunctory and not caught in any good photos. I had no problem taking photos of friends dancing, though!

I chose to add the pink sash for this wearing of the dress (see the construction post for this dress for all my sash options). It’s nice to be able to change up the look of the dress with simple accessories. And as always, I appreciated the circular shape of the skirt which allows for swoosh and movement. (It’s not your average sack of a 1920s dress on the bottom half!)

All in all, a nice day out enjoying the summer weather.

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.

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!