Monday, August 20, 2007

Civil War Gown retrospective

I made this dress a few years back for my sister and favorite dress up doll. It is a gown of cream satin taffeta and forest green velvet made to Simplicity's gown pattern #5724 and undergarment pattern #5726. All told the gown took ten days start to finish, unfortunately I had bitten off way more than I could chew.
Part One: the Undergarments
I made the chemise easily, really not a big deal there. The corset was a bit more difficult (and weighty, the stays are metal coil) but nothing beyond my capabilities. The crinoline we bought, I just couldn't quite bring myself to make one, unfortunately, since the dress calls for an oval crinoline and the one we got was round, the skirt didn't quite sit right. All this work took about two days. And I was quite happy with the results.
Part Two: the Gown
The gown was begun with the bodice, it was all green velvet with cream puff sleeves. It was
supposed to have a sort of yolk, but that got scrapped early on, you can see it in the picture to the left. The velvet used to make the dress is a plastic rather than cotton or silk velvet so the back is quite slippery, this made sewing the pieces together a rather arduous process and one that I didn't really enjoy. The top of the dress is trimmed in a narrow band of heavy cream lace which you can sort of see standing up from the bodice to the left. The "petals" of the gown are the same velvet as the dress, but are trimmed with a thick band of lighter weight cream lace. Aside from the tricky bit with the velvet, the bodice went together fairly well, even the sleeves were easy enough once I got it figured out. The bodice was finished with some casing made from the velvet to go along the bottom edge and a hook and eye closure up the back. In my opinion, a laced back, or even a zipper, would have been better here as it can take more stress and looks better. Between bursts of activity on the bodice I worked on the skirt, this is where the real problems started. Have you ever done tiers of ruffles? I haven't. And no matter what I did, I could not get them to look good. It was very frustrating. To the right is the dress on my impromptu dress form, a dining room char covered in enough pillows, the corset, and the crinoline to give it a enough body to hold the dress up. Back to the ruffles, first I tried pleating them, but gave up because I just don't have that kind of patience, next I tried to gather them, but then they looked awful, finally I just left the layer I'd gotten on on and called the rest a wash. it looked alright in the end but it would have looked better if I'd have done it right. The waist band of the skirt presented another problem, because of the weight of the velvet, it didn't pleat into the waistband like it was supposed to, instead you basically ended up with a bum roll on top. Instead of doing what I ought to have done and making darts, I decided to be done with it and just stick a draw string in it. Big mistake all that fabric I couldn't get under the waistband didn't want to fit under the bodice either, doh. Eventually, I got the thing hemmed and done enough and I put it away. If I ever pick it up again there's a lot I will do differently, different fabric for one, or perhaps the darts that I should have done. Oh well, it turned out looking alright (modeled below by a friend of mine) but not as well as I should have liked.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Only 5 more minutes, I swear...

First things first, today I needed to fit the kirtle to M, check the shoulders, make sure the back kind of closed, etc. As you can see, at this point we were doing good. M fit the dress, it looked alright, and so forth. After work, I began the last "little bits and pieces" I needed to finish. First the finish work on the gown, I hemmed the bottom first, after leaving it to hang up over night. The shoulder straps were trimmed and then tucked between the brown and black layers, the layers were then folded over, ironed, and sewn shut. Then I ironed, and ironed, and ironed some more. Mmmm... ironing... This completed the gown. (Yay! [By the way, at this point it was about 6:30, an hour and a half after I got home]) Second, finishing work on the kirtle. On this, there were three things to get finished, the grommets, the shoulders, and cleaning the whole thing up a bit. The shoulders were quick; clip, fiddle, iron, fiddle, iron, stitch, pick, fiddle, iron, stitch, iron, pick, fiddle, iron, stitch. I really dislike sleeves, by the way. Grommets took a while, measure, clip, clip, clip, clip (etc.), hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer (etc.). Grommets are easy. To clean things up I put facing on the seam where the bodice meets the skirt and whip stitched the edges down. And that was it for the kirtle. (Yay, I'm feeling soooo accomplished. [Time check 9:30, grommets are fun, but realllllllly slow]) The last thing I needed to do to call this puppy done was make the accessories, the under dress, or chemise, and the partlet. Now, making a chemise is really easy, it's a t-tunic. No biggie, right? Right. Unfortunately every time I go to make a t-tunic I totally forget how much time it takes, especially when I fold and close the seams. So I made my measurements, cut, and set to sewing. When you close and fold the seams, you're basically sewing seams over three times, but it's great because it means your seams hold together really well. So we're back to sew, sew, sew. Four hours later I had a lovely, strong, well made t-tunic, such a nice feeling. (To the left you can see a lovely picture of the t-tunic laid out before being sewn together, notice the use of rectangular construction, there are no curves in the pattern, only straight lines [Time: 1:00 A]) The last thing that needed doing was the partlet, this is a fairly quick and easy process, a partlet is sort of a sleeveless bolero jacket so it doesn't take much fabric or time. For help making one of these go to Drea Leed's site @ Very easy, very painless. (time: 1:45 A) And with that I am done, d-o-n-e, done! Yay! I'm so happy! See pictures below...
Things I did different than Drea Leed's directions: The lacing, I used loops of ribbon rather than metal rings, mostly because I didn't have any rings but did have a huge amount of thin white ribbon. I used less fabric in the skirts, only twice the measurement of M's waist rather than three times. I did not bone the front opening of the gown, there was no need. All in all I found the dress fairly easy to make, mostly straight lines and arm holes. As soon as I get some shots of M in the dress I'll post them.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Making the Same Mistake Twice

Here we go again...
Having completed the mock up of the bodice, I set out to do the cutting of the real deal. Because M is so small I only needed 2 yards of each color of fabric. For the under dress (hereafter called the kirtle) I chose a russet brown-red linen/rayon blend, the overdress (hereafter called the gown) was the same linen/rayon but in a nice rich brown and black. The red in the image to the right appears much brighter than the actual fabric. Cutting the fabric out was much easier than I assumed it would be, basically the bottom 42 inches of the fabric became the skirt and the remainder was used to create the bodice. After I was done, there was very little remnant, something that made me quite happy. Because I didn't make any tabs in my pattern I encountered the mistake in piecing together the bodice that I had made in my mock up. Once again, the back center piece was upside down. So after going sew, sew, sew I went pick, pick, pick and then sew, sew, sew again. So this is important, put tabs on your patterns, or at least up/down arrows! After sewing together two identical bodices, one out of the red and one out of white linen/rayon, I set about to make the skirt. Basically this was just a tube that was box-pleated and attached to the bodice with enough of a slit in the back to fit over M's shoulder. To give the skirt a little body, I added a two inch band of cotton batting to the top edge of the skirt, where the pleats were rather than lining the whole thing. If you are a little iffy on the production of box pleats (which I used because cartridge pleats are no fun at all, a close up of the outside of the box pleats on the under dress is below and to the right, keep in mind the pleats are being pulled slightly open to make them more obvious) I recommend the Elizabethan introduction to pleats. the selvage edge which you can see to the left was eventually covered by red bias tape to help keep it tidy. The gown and kirtle were made in the same exact way, excepting of course the openings, for the kirtle the opening was in the back and laced closed, for the gown, the opening was made by not including the front piece of the bodice pattern and putting the back piece on a fold. This meant that there was about a 5" gap down the front of the gown that is laced closed with thin white lacing. The last thing I did with the kirtle before setting it aside for the night was roll the bottom hem closed. To make the gown, I followed the same procedure as the kirtle except that instead of sewing the two layers of the bodice together and then attaching the skirt, I attached the skirt to the bodice and then sewed the two layers together. Doing it this way made things a little unwieldy but it means that the gown will be completely reversible. The other difference between the kirtle and the gown is that instead of having two haves to the shoulder straps, I made just a single long shoulder strap for each side and plan to tuck it in the back. Tomorrow I will take these pieces in to work and fit the shoulder straps to M and then do the finish work on the the kirtle and gown, make the chemise and partlet, and fit it to M one last time. Yay.
Tune in next time for "Only 5 more minutes, I swear..."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Flemish Dress c. 1570

Flemish Working Women's Dress

This image from Drea Leed's essay on 16th C. Flemish working women's dresses at (it's awesome!)

Day 1:
Confession time, this is not the first time I've made this dress, so I've already learned some of those little lessons like, "don't try use trigger" and "bias tape should only be on the inside." Also, this is not my first piece of seamstressing, I've been sewing since I was big enough to hit the pedal.
I had two motivations behind this dress, 1) a co-worker needed some new clothes for our local ren faire, something that looked better (and felt better) than the traditional wench wear favored by faire staff, and 2) the State Fair is coming up and I don't want the same woman to win first prize for costuming for the millionth time running, it's getting old, she makes the same exact outfit over and over in different colors.

The look: My co-worker, lets call her M, had a few stipulations when I got started on the dress. First, it needed to be in muted tones, browns, blacks, and other peasant-y colors, especially it was not to have any over riding greens, blues, or reds as these are colors reserved for the three "courts." Second, the dress needed to be serviceable and tough, something she could work in (she sells tomatoes and grovels) and be comfortable even on a hot day. Third, she is supposed to be a lowly friend of the dirt so it couldn't look too pretentious or "middle class." After hearing her various rules, I suggested a Flemish dress as meeting all her requirements and looking correctly renaissance-y. In the end it was decided that a rust colored under dress would not be too red and the black-lined, brown over dress would tone the whole piece down enough that she could wear it at the faire.

The Process:
1) Measurements: The measurements I took were numerous (and probably some were rather useless); waist, hips, bust, back to waist, front to waist, waist to floor, shoulder point to shoulder point, shoulder to floor, arm length, circumference of bicep, widest part of hand, head, and total height.
2) Pattern: To draft the pattern I used Drea Leed's corset generator and directions for producing an Elizabethan bodice. On my first attempt the bodice turned out to be quite the wrong size, as did M's, however, after my previous experience I knew what needed fixing and was able to increase the measurement of the waist without remaking the whole pattern. The pattern was drawn onto newspaper and then traced onto white muslin to make a mock up to fit to M.
NOTE: Do not forget to include a seam allowance, this will help you keep from feeling stupid later!
3) The Mock Up: You may be able to see in the photo above that there are no tabs on the pattern so that I might know which way some of the fiddly bits go, this was a mistake. the first mock up I made had one of the side pieces in upside down and naturally didn't fit. This meant I had to tear my mock up apart and start over, not a really big deal, but annoying. The mock-up took about twenty minutes after the false start and fit M fairly well and was deemed safe for used on the kirtle (the under dress). At this point I packed things away for the day and got some actual work done, tune in tomorrow for our next exciting episode, "Making the Same Mistake Twice"

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Welcome to my Dress Diary! Here I plan to post information on dresses and other clothing projects for the edification of those interested, I hope you find the information educational and entertaining.