August 25, 2012

Titanic Gown

So remember these?

As previously mentioned, I bought a couple ok lots of saris and dupattas in my quest to find a few that were crying out to be made into 1912 Titanic gowns.

This dupatta was one of my first purchases, and despite its tendency to get snagged on its own fabulous metal tambour embroidery I really wanted to use it.  I knew it was destined to be an overlay on the final dress, so I started draping it and a few salvaged scraps of sari borders on my mannequin to get some ideas...

Meanwhile I also thought a lot about the basic shape of the gown that would go under the dupatta fabric.  For some reason I find I really like the look of hobble skirts, but that fashion was right out as this was to be worn to a PEERS dance event.  I also loved the trained style of many teens dresses, but trains have a tendency to get stepped on when worn on a dance floor.  Then I saw this Paul Poiret evening dress at the KCI and had a sudden brainstorm.  At the bottom front the skirt silhouette appears to narrow, similar to a hobble skirt.  However, there is clearly a bunch of extra fabric at the back of the skirt that flows into a train.  Now it's entirely possible that the skirt is perfectly normal and it just looks like it narrows at the base due to the way it was arranged on the mannequin, but it gave me an idea.  

I draped a mockup of the skirt that was very fitted at the top, flowed into a wide curve over the hips, then swooped back at the bottom.  From the front, it appears to be similar to a hobble skirt.  The illusion holds so long as the skirt is viewed straight on.

But in the back, there's a bunch of extra fabric that's tamed by two large fitted inverted pleats that are stitched down to mid-butt level.  From there, the fabric is released and falls to the floor and into a very short train. The stitched down pleats ensure that the skirt holds the lovely fitted shape at the waist and over the hips, while below that the extra fabric ensures that one's legs have enough freedom to comfortably waltz.

It's weird and I don't have the slightest bit of proof that it's historical.  It's also pretty and makes me happy so I don't care.  And it's danceable! 

The pattern that resulted from this strange mishmash of styles looks somewhat odd.  It lacks the train and the angled waistline that I added to the real skirt, but it clearly shows the unusual shape of the skirt panels. 

I must have been feeling brave when I picked out fabric to compliment the dupatta, because I chose to use a pale gold silk charmeuse!  I was absolutely seduced by its rich, soft, slippery silkiness.  Problem is, there's a big learning curve when sewing such a finicky fabric.  I scoured my books and the internet for tips and practiced stitching on lots of scraps before I was brave enough to attempt the skirt.  

I ended up hand basting my seams first, used a fresh super sharp thin needle and set my stitch length to slightly shorter than normal and sewed slowly and carefully.  It was frustrating and I still got some slight puckering on some seams, but all in all I'd call the experience a win :)

Before hemming to length

I'll have to apologize, because I don't seem to have a single picture of the draping, patterning, fitting or stitching of the bodice.  I also don't remember much about the process, because this dress was made back March/April!  You'll have to settle for this- I draped a short waisted bodice with a generously curved bustline.  I used some coutil scraps as an interlining to give it some support, and also boned the heck out of it.  I joined it to the skirt messily (oh noes, exposed seams!) because I planned to cover the join with a waistband.  Inside I added a waist stay to take the strain off the rest of the gown; this helped ensure that the bodice wouldn't be pulled down by the weight of the skirt (snagged that idea from this Diary of a Mantua Maker post).  In any case, here's what I ended up with-

Oh hai va voomy curves!  It's certainly no Camille Clifford, but it was a bit curvier than I'd expected, especially as many teens dresses are somewhat less shapely.  At this point the gown shape was looking as though it belonged to a slightly earlier era, but I knew that the overlay would tone it down enough.  

There was a horrible horizontal wrinkle just under the waistline that was likely caused by the fact that the boning in the bodice stopped at the waist.  I should have let the boning continue a few inches into the skirt, but since that was all going to be covered up anyways I wasn't too worried!

The border you see along the top of the bodice was a scrap of beautiful tambour embroidery work rescued from a sari that was too damaged for anything else.  While my piece was relatively intact, the weight of the heavy metal embroidery was already threatening to tear the delicate sari fabric into shreds.  I had to stitch around every motif to attach it to the dress in a way that would support the whole thing.  

Oooooh, sparkly!

With the base gown done I started to play around with draping the dupatta over it to see how to best display the beautiful embroidery.

Once I settled on a version I liked I tacked the fabric down around the waist, cut the upper section free and mucked around with it some more until I had passable gauzy oversleeves.  I didn't end up with quite enough fabric to cover the back, but I didn't mind too much.  I added a sash of bronze silk taffeta and called it good!

All my photos from PEERS Titanic Ball are fuzzy, but I ended up wearing this again to Gaskells with several other lovely ladies sporting 1912 styles.  Of course we all had to pose for more pictures! 

Photo courtesy of the lovely American Duchess

Silver and gold sparkly ladies! ( and a bit o'goofiness)
Photo courtesy of the lovely American Duchess
It was fabulous to see so many great gowns and chat about the trials and travails of tacking a new time period.  The dress was perfect on the dance floor and the tiny train only got slightly trod on.  During the second break I escaped the dance floor and took off the ill-fitting corset and discovered that the dress fit fine without it, thought it was a bit tight in the waist. All in all I'd call the project a success, and I'm looking forward to exploring the era a bit more (especially as I scored a darling teens day dress off of ebay that I'd love to recreate!).

August 24, 2012

Titanic Gown Teaser

I'd intended to have a post about my Titanic gown done today, but time got away from me and I'm still writing it!  I'll have it up tomorrow, but in the meantime here's a teaser shot of one of my favorite parts of the gown.

Until tomorrow!

August 22, 2012

Teens Corset (for reals this time)

Accidentally hit "publish" instead of "save" yesterday while writing this, so sorry to y'all who may have briefly seen it half done!  Anyways, here goes, for real this time.

Yesterday's post reminds me that there are lots of things I still haven't gotten around to showing you, so this week will be all about catching up.  Remember those saris?  I did manage to knock out one Titanic dress from that stash, then got stalled halfway through a second one.  But before I show you the completed dress I should show you the corset I made to go under it!  I no longer own this corset; due to fitting issues I wore it twice then gave it away to Lauren, who says it fits perfectly.  I've cobbled the following together from photos and notes I took before I sent it on its merry way.  Despite the fitting issues, I learned a LOT from this one!

While I've made several corsets in modern and mid-Victorian styles, teens corsets were something I've never studied or attempted before.  Luckily, the fabulous Jo at Bridges on the Body started up a 1911 corset sew along!  Her posts cover every part of the process from beginning to end and made tackling this project much less scary.  Of course, despite my best intentions I didn't end up sewing along with everyone else at all; rather I got mine started just as everyone was finishing.

I chose to use the Post Edwardian Longline pattern she provided rather than the Corsets and Crinolines one.  I wanted this to be as easy as possible and didn't want to deal with the gussets on the latter.  I blew up the pattern and made a mockup (forgot to take photos of that apparently).  I found that while the waist seemed like it would be OK, my butt ended up super squished.  The corset was also too short and needed a touch more room in the top.  I raised the top one inch, added an inch to the upper back and two inches to the butt.

The pattern with my additions taped on

I was in a hurry so I decided to not make a new mock up to assess the changes.  If I had, I would have found that I still needed to add space in the mid hip.  I also needed to add a bit to the waist; even though it's the same width as other corsets I own it still doesn't fit right.  Since this style has the waistline sitting a bit higher than earlier corsets the tightest part is actually directly on my ribcage where I don't squish so well.  When I made the original mock up I thought the reason I couldn't close the waist further was because the hip area wasn't laced anywhere near closed.  I thought the problem would be solved by the addition of those two inches at the low hip.  Adding to the hips of other corsets I've made has allowed me to lace the waist tighter before (see Cathy Hay's discovery of the extra room effect), so it wasn't a completely stupid assumption.  Even so, I should know that when tackling a completely new style of corset one shouldn't assume that everything will work the same!

I made the corset out of cream coutil with a patterned quilter's cotton for the lining.  A mustardy organic cotton served as bias binding and covers the garter straps.  I had planned to use a matching twill tape for the waist tape but ended up skipping that part.  I also bought some golden Japanese embroidery thread with the intention of doing some flossing, but that didn't happen either!

Well at least I ended up using half this stuff

 Lazyness prompted me to use purchased casing for the boning channels.  I should know by know that laziness doesn't pay.  The casing can fit two bones side by side, but juuuuuust barely.  In order to get them perfect, I had to hand baste the channels exactly where they needed to go, then carefully stitch about 1/16 of an inch in from either edge.  Then I could remove the basting stitches and carefully stitch down the exact center.  I was a liiiiittle bit off on some and as a result it was difficult to shove the boning in, but I managed.

I screwed up when placing the grommets.  I like to punch a tiny hole where each grommet will go, but this time I got overzealous and didn't notice that part of the corset got folded underneath the rest while I was hammering away!


Luckily the damage is to the very top part of the corset.  It won't be taking much stress at all, and will be covered by lace.  Some quick stitching later, the holes were patched and the problem was solved.  I highly doubt that anyone would even notice it in the finished corset!

What?  It'll be covered up in the end.

This type of corset doesn't fasten all the way down the front; the busk ends several inches short of the bottom.  The bones end around the same point.  The two front halves can then open up when you sit or take long strides.  This design lets the corset be extra long to provide smooth shaping, but still allows you to move.  I loved the long line, but decided I wasn't a fan of the extra fabric over the front of my thighs, nor the super straight line of the bottom.  There's also some wrinkling in the lower third; that's because there aren't any garters to pull the edge downwards yet.

To pretty it up I carved out some curves just above each thigh.  I bound the edges with a thin bias tape made from the mustard cotton and added some pretty lace around the top.  I attached garters at the center front and sides, then clipped them to my stockings to pull the corset into alignment.  What a difference!

The back doesn't close as much as I wanted to, but that's what I get for not making a second mockup.  You can see that there's a flat spot in the back mid hip where there isn't enough space in the corset and it just smooshes my butt down.  The corset isn't laced all the way down because I ran out of silver 00 grommets and had to leave off the last two on one side. 

The poor corset just can't handle
all that junk in the trunk!

Even better, I can sit it it!

Look at how well it maintains that smooth line
all the way down the back!

The busk is shorter than the corset so that it doesn't
poke, and the bottom front edges split open.

It certainly gives me the proper shape, and visually it appears to fit well enough.  It also encourages the wearer to lean forward ever so slightly, adding to the proper fashionable silhouette.  When I first wore it out I thought it was pretty comfortable for the first hour.  Unfortunately, after that first hour it became a nightmare to wear!  I'm not sure if it's just that the sizing is off, or it's the high placement of the waist that is problematic, or if the style of corset is just not my body's cup of tea.  I think that the constant urge to lean a bit forward caused some of the issues.  In any case, I learned a lot from this adventure, and the corset is happy in its new home.  Everybody wins!

August 21, 2012

The Much Belated Dickens Dress Post

Silly me!  I bought some fabric for this years Dickens Faire dress last week and thought about showing it to you today, but then I realized I never showed you the finished dress from last year!

I'd say it ended up fairly close to the original design plan.  Due to a time crunch (I finished this the night before the last day of costume approval!) I ended up using a simpler design for the sleeves and not trimming them.  As dresses go it's quite plain, but given that I was going for middle class I think it's just fine.

The main fabric is a lightweight herringbone brown wool with light blue and white stripes.  I used a blue plaid wool fabric cut on the bias to trim the skirt.  The skirt is simply three rectangles of fabric sewn together, lined with cotton and cartridge pleated to a waistband.  It ended up a bit shorter than I originally planned, but I like my dance skirts on the shorter side anyways.

The bodice is a heavily altered version of TV443.  I shortened it, got rid of the double points in front and put in totally different sleeves.  The seams are all piped with the blue wool fabric.  The undersleeves are cotton and simply pinned in so that they can be easily removed for washing.  Since this dress was going to see some heavy action I chose to sew the bodice to the skirt to avoid any threat of gaposis.  

The bodice is flatlined with cotton organdy.  Some choose a lightweight canvas for this purpose, but I found that the thin crisp organdy gave great structure and support and was light and super breathable to boot.  I spent most of faire at Fezziwig's dancing my butt off, so having a light and breathable bodice was important!   Oddly enough, I didn't bone the bodice at all.  I think I simply ran out of time.  During dress rehearsal I was quite surprised to find that you couldn't tell it didn't have boning!  While it looks wrinkly on the mannequin, it lay pretty smoothly on my body, even while moving.  I will be adding boning in before it gets worn again however, since it will still improve the overall appearance.

The back of the bodice didn't look nearly as good as the front.  I had a terrible wrinkle issue there, but it appears to be because the back and sides are about three quarters of an inch too long.  Pinching excess fabric out makes it lie perfectly, so at some point I'll have to disassemble the pieces and shorten them.  Boning would certainly have helped, but there would still be too much fabric back there with no where to go.

I picked up a beautiful collar from a seller at the Dickens workshops.  I've tacked it down so that it can easily be removed for washing.

The whole ensemble is worn over the bell-shaped hoops I made using my custom hoop drafting instructions.  They've got a circumference of 95", so they're the perfect size for Faire.

I used Truly Victorian's free hoop petticoat instructions to make a petticoat out of cotton organdy.  It looks a little worse for wear here, but that's because it's been through a season of Faire and is in need of a good washing!

I don't seem to have any good photos of me actually wearing the dress, which means this grainy iPhone image is the best you get for now.  No idea why my petticoat suddenly decided it wanted attention, but there it is peeking out!

Bonus photo: Ty can't go go Faire, but that doesn't mean he can't play along at home!

August 2, 2012

Miles and Miles of Polka Dots

Well, I'm two days in and I already have a finished skirt!  I'm still mulling over my design for the bodice, but I've got a few more days to get it made.  In the meantime, here's the 411 on how the skirt went together:

The Plan

My basic design is a triple tiered skirt, with the tiers stitched to an underlying full length skirt.  I decided on a finished skirt length of 45".  Since there are three tiers, that meant that the visible portions of each tier would be 15" in length (red lines and text below).  Of course, the tiers actually needed to overlap a bit, so that adds about two inches to the top edge of the second and third tiers (orange lines and text below).  There isn't anything overlapping the top edge of the first tier, so it doesn't need those extra two inches.

Oh look!  A handy dandy visual aid!

All tiers needed seam allowance added to the top and bottom.  I choose to add 1" to the top so I had a nice fat allowance for sewing it to the skirt, and a mere 1/4" to the bottom for a tiny rolled hem.

Skipping forward a bit, I'd like to point out why it's a good idea to sit down and do all the above math ahead of time and WRITE IT DOWN.  I didn't.  Instead I was doing it in my head as I went along.  That resulted in this error-

This is bad.  Don't do this.

I forgot to add those extra inches for overlap and seam allowance to the middle tier, which ended up leaving the top edge of the bottom tier exposed.  I had to take a big tuck all around the middle of the underskirt to pull the bottom tier up two inches, leaving me with a skirt that is a bit short and barely covers my hoops.  Thankfully, I also screwed up and made my third tier too long, so that tuck actually ended up making all the tiers look more or less equal in length again.  Happy ending aside, don't be like me.  Plan ahead and you'll stand a good chance of not f***ing up all your hard work.

Back to the math!  I like to squeeze a fair amount of fabric into my skirts.  To get that super full look and make sure that each tier had a proportionate amount of fabric, I measured the circumference of the skirt at the point where bottom edge of each tier would hit and tripled that measurement.  For example- the hem of the skirt was 10 feet around, so I tripled that and gathered 30 feet of fabric for the bottom tier.  Repeating that formula for the other two gave me 25 feet in the middle tier and 20 1/2 feet in the topmost tier.

The Actual Sewing

I ripped my fabric into the appropriate heights/widths for each tier (yay for ripping fabric!) and got to work on hemming.  75+ feet of fabric is a lot to hem, so to save my sanity I used my secret weapon- a narrow rolled hem foot.  You feed your fabric into this lovely thing and it turns the edge over twice to encase the raw edge, then stitches it all down.  It makes for a perfectly finished tiny little hem.

Mah super sekrit weapon

I set aside the tiers for a while to work on the underskirt.  I draped a six panel gored skirt that fitted closely over my hoops and sewed it up in a basic white cotton fabric.  (Edited to add: I forgot to mention I should have made it out of the same polka dot fabric so that the underskirt wouldn't stand out if one of the tiers flipped or flew up when dancing)  I measured down 15" from the waistline to mark where the bottom edge of the first tier would fall, then another 15" down to mark the bottom edge of the middle tier.  I drew lines 2" above each the first two lines to mark where the tiers would actually be sewn on. 

I have nothing interesting to say about this photo

I sewed three rows of gathering stitches along the top edge of each tier.  Why not got the easier route and cord gather instead?  Apparently I'm a masochist.  Also, I completely forgot about cord gathering until I was about halfway through.  Anyways, I figured three rows of gathering stitches would give me nice even gathers, plus some security against one of the threads breaking.

I gathered each tier to fit the skirt, then sewed them on upside down so that they'd have a little extra ompf when flipped down to show the right side.

 Tier sewn on upside down

 Tier flipped down to cover seam allowance

Sewing the first tier on wasn't so bad, but by the second and third ones the massive amount of fabric involved threatened to engulf my machine!

My machine soldiers on, oblivious to the fact that it's about to be eaten by the very fabric it's trying to sew

But bit by bit it all came together...

As mentioned earlier, I sewed a tuck all around the middle of the underskirt to correct for the too-short middle tier.  Last but not least I added a waistband (still have to sew on large hooks and eyes though). 

And finally, a finished triple tiered skirt!

Now for that bodice...