August 24, 2014

Orange Regency Sari Gown

I made and wore this last fall for Maggie's Regency wedding, but despite turning out well it's been hanging around unworn and unloved since then.  I finally got the chance to pull it back out and give it another spin around the dance floor for Gaskells last weekend.

You might recall this beautiful cotton sari from one of my last ebay sari buying binges.  The fabric is a beautiful cross weave of orange and wine threads, which gives it a subtle sheen that changes depending on the light.  It's a bit odd to photograph, because the color comes out completely different in every shot!  In person the color shift is much, much more subtle.  It's covered in a small repeating block print, with a pretty floral border all along the bottom edge.

Wine colored warp threads and bright orange weft threads.

Finding matching thread was a bit of a challenge.  Which part of the fabric do you even attempt to match?

The left thread matches the warp strands, the right one matches the weft,
and the middle seems to match the overall color mix the best.

I settled on doing a fitted back with a gathered front and 3/4 sleeves.  I dressed my Uniquely You in my stays and some rice boobs (a la Lauren's Bean Boobs) and got to work draping.

I ended up with a fitted underlayer on the front of the bodice, with a second layer gathered over the top of it.  All the pieces are on grain, with the exception of the side panel, which was cut on the bias.

Late night mock ups are no fun for anyone.

No idea why the front is longer here.  Pretty sure it got chopped off later.

I knew I wanted to use the border for the lower edge of the skirt, and for the bottom sleeve edge if possible too.  Besides looking pretty, doing so allowed me to use the selvedge edge at those spots, saving me from having to hem all that nonsense.  That was an excellent bonus feature since I was on a major time crunch to get outfits done for both Curtis and I in time for the wedding!

Making use of that border and the selvedge edge.

Not a fan of the jumper look, good thing I'm adding sleeves!

I had wanted the lower edge of the bodice to go up in back rather than being level all around, but was limited by the width of the sari fabric.  Had I raised the back waistline further, the hem of the gown would have been far too short in the back!

Underpinnings for this gown include a shift, my gravity defying corded stays and a petticoat with tucks (woefully un-ironed in these photos, sorry).  I dyed my American Duchess Highburys a soft yellow to complement the gown.  For the daytime wedding I wore my giant blue and orange silk bonnet, but for last week's evening ball I turned a scarf into a turban and stuck a feather in it.

Gravity defying indeed.

Bonnet for daytime...

Turban for night!

I love this gown!  It's comfortable, lightweight and cool, and doesn't require too much in the way of crazy underpinnings.  Hell, I managed to get into my stays and fully dressed almost entirely on my own for the ball; I only needed a bit of help with the last few hooks and eyes up the back.  I have a feeling this dress will be one of my staples whenever I need something pretty and easy!

And what the hell, how about another Regency Ladies Wedgie Society shot?  :P 

So hard being a lady, ya'know?

August 22, 2014

CoCo Follow Up

This was my first time attending Costume College, and I was super busy having way too much fun to take photos!  Too bad, because holy shit did people ROCK their amazing outfits all weekend long! 

Here's a mish-mash of the few in-progress photos I did manage. I spend an awful lot of time in the lead up making guy clothes, something I'm not super familiar with.  Things turned out all right though, because Curtis didn't end up attending CoCo naked :P 

First up, the first Men's corset I've ever made!   There was a bit more of a learning curve here than I expected, but all in all it turned out well, and I know more for the next one.  I used a super heavy busk, only to find that it ended up sticking out from his chest weirdly.  I had to bend it into the correct shape, which is something you sometimes see on period corsets.  It worked so well I think I'll be doing this with my own corsets from now on!

Bent to fit.  Totally using this on all my own corsets now.

Being a good sport after several fittings.

Of course I had to make him a banyan for the Sunday Breakfast.  This damn thing gave me fits.  First I couldn't get the shoulders right, then the collar misbehaved, and the silk would shred if you looked at it wrong.  We won't even talk about how many times I redid those sleeves.  Bonus points if you kindly ignore the giant fish dart I had to put in under each arm as a desperate last measure.

Totally worth it though, because it looked beautiful and he stole all the attention wherever he wore it. 

Also worth it because he loved being dressed up so much that he's already further ahead planning next years costumes than I am!  What's more, he's planning on sewing his own stuff, which lets me off the hook.  Let's cheer him on, shall we?

I'm missing photos of Curtis and I during the Gala, but let's just say that his outfit earned him a new nickname of Sexy Pants ;)

With all the making of man clothes, I didn't have time to make a lot for myself.  The corded stays went on the back burner, because there was no way they'd be done in time.  For Friday's Ice Cream Social I paired a teal silk taffeta corset that I'd finished a few months before with a gorgeous sari encrusted with metal embroidery.  Now that I've finally gotten to wear the sari as is a few times, it's time to cut it up and turn it into a gown, but what era?

I did rush to make my green 1830s Gala dress in time, and just barely squeaked it over the (mostly) finished line, though I had to skip the late night parties on Friday to finish cartridge pleating the skirt on!  It's based off of this bodice, though it's missing a lot of detail that I'll be adding in later.

Psst... I did this by machine.  I know, right?

Binding around all those points was a bitch and a half, but I pulled it off! 

The underpleating at the top of the bodice work out exactly as planned.  I cut strips of golden silk organza on the bias, folded them in half and tacked them to the bodice layer by layer.

I had the bodice fitting well enough at home, but once there it seemed to suddenly decide it wanted to fit oddly, with weird wrinkles popping up everywhere.  I'm seriously considering redoing the entire front of the green part, but on the bias this time.  Only problem is, that would mean having to rebind ALL THOSE POINTS.  *whimpers*

Pinned on in the hotel room, waiting to be basted it.
The sleeves also gave me fits, and ended up being more like giant floppy wings rather than the stand out origami pleated wonders I was going for, but now I'm armed with more info for the next round of redrafting this style.

 My hair turned out smashing, though I ran out of time to put all the extra bits and bobs in.  I did put a bird on it though!  (In the back where you can't see, whoops)  I also needed to put the loops a little further to the front on my head, since despite the fact that they were firmly anchored, their positioning made it look like they were sliding off the back. 

I'll be making some thread wrapped buttons and fancy cord to add to this gown, just like the original.  I also want to cut the skirt into large points to echo the bodice, but that needs to wait until I get more of the organza to cover the space that would be left bare at the base of the skirt.  In the meantime, I've been a bit busy...

Almost 3 weeks after CoCo I've finally dug my sewing room out and made it back into a usable workspace!  I've got at least a dozen half done projects laying about that need finishing, so stay tuned!

July 18, 2014

Stays Cording Tutorial

These stays are certainly the most complex cording project I've done, so I wanted to share how I've been going about it!  First off, I'm using a totally different cording method than the ones shown in my Making a Corded Petticoat post.  In both methods shown in that tutorial, the cord was put in place first and its channel was sewn around it.  Those methods work just fine for a corded petticoat, but won't work very well for these stays.  Instead, I'm sewing channels into the fabric first, then inserting the cording afterwards.  As a reminder, this is the pattern I'm working with:

Fabric Prep

Since the criss-cross cording is the most difficult part of these stays, that's what we'll focus on.  Each of the squares that make up the criss-cross pattern are only 0.25" wide, so they're very small and difficult to sew accurately.  The space between each square forms the channel that the cord threads through.  I'm using a green shot cotton as the pretty outer fashion layer of the stays, with two layers of thin but tightly woven white cotton as the strength layers.  My stitches will go through all three layers of fabric, but the cording will be run between the two white layers of cotton.

The first challenge was figuring out how to mark the stitching guidelines on the fabric.  I could have made all the markings on the back of each piece, but I find that the top side of my stitching often looks a bit more precise than the back, so I needed a way to mark the green fabric so that I could stitch accurately, but not have the markings visible later.

Squares marked with water soluble pen, with a penny for scale.

At first I tried using a water soluble fabric marker that had a relatively fine tip.  It showed up very well on the fabric, but since it is a marker and the fabric wicked the ink out a bit, the line it left was fairly thick.  The thicker line made it very hard to see where exactly to stitch.  Some of my test squares were more parallelogram than square, and the width of the squares varied between 5/16" and 3/16" wide.  It may seem like I'm being overly picky, but that is a difference of 1/8", which means I was off in some areas by the width of half of a square!  When working at such a small scale, even a little bit of deviation becomes extremely obvious.

Wibbly wobbly stitching due to wide fabric marker guidelines.

I considered using a fine mechanical pencil to draw more precise, accurate lines, but there were two potential issues.  One, I was worried it wouldn't wash off well, leaving me with pencil lines all over my stays.  Two, it's actually pretty hard to draw an accurate line on this fabric with a mechanical pencil, as the pressure of the lead warps and distorts the fabric as you're trying to draw.

Can't draw a straight line b/c the pressure of the lead warps the fabric.

Luckily, I was able to solve both issues at once with my favorite secret weapon:

Mah super-sekrit weapon.  Shh, don't tell!

Starch has saved my butt on many a sewing project.  Here, it serves two purposes.  First, it stiffens the fabric so that it is almost paper-like, so now I can easily draw on it using the mechanical pencil without the fabric distorting.  Now I can get perfectly straight, thin, highly accurate stitching lines!

With starched fabric, no distortion!

Comparison of marker lines vs mechanical pencil lines.

Second, thanks to Lifeofglamour's various experiments with tinting starch for use on ruffs, I know that very often, pigments and dirt that are mixed in with or sitting on top of starch wash out without staining the fabric.  When I tested this theory on my fabric, washing the starch out washed the pencil marks down the drain too!  You can buy spray on starch or the liquid kind you dip your fabric into from the store, but thanks to Frolicking Frocks (dude, check out those petticoats!) I'm a convert to making my own out of cornstarch. 

My test stitching proves much more straight and accurate with the pencil
guidelines, and after washing all evidence of the pencil lead is gone!

Now that I've got that settled, the last step before stitching is to use a lightbox to trace my design onto the fabric.


My original plan was to hand-stitch the stays, but I came to my senses after attempting a sample.  I tried using my modern sewing machine, but it's very hard to stitch a line precisely 0.25" and stop in exactly the right place using the pedal control, so I pulled out the little Singer 99 hand crank machine I refurbished a few years ago instead.

Remember this one?  Isn't she pretty?

With a hand crank, it's really easy to stop right at the exact number of stitches you want.  A lot of fiddling and several tests later, I settled on a stitch length calibrated to precisely 1/16 of an inch, giving me squares that were 4 stitches wide on each side.  Getting the correct stitch size is no mean feat on these old machines, since you set the length by screwing an unlabeled knob in or out as needed.

That knob is the stitch length regulator.  Notice the distinct
lack of numbers or any useful markings of any sort?

Now that I've got the length set, sewing each square is now as easy as starting the needle in the right place, sewing 4 stitches, sinking the needle on the 4th stitch, raising the presser foot, turning the fabric, putting the foot down again, sewing 4 more stitches, etc, all the way around the square.

This leaves a bunch of thread tails all over the place.  Of course I can't just trim them because the stitching would come out, so the loose threads are pulled to the back and tied off.  Since I'm a bit paranoid about the knots coming undone, I put a dot of Fray-Check on each to prevent unraveling.  Remember to test the Fray-Check on an inconspicuous spot first!  My layers are thin, and on the first few knots I used too much and it soaked through to the front.

Threads pulled to the back for tying.

At first I was tying the threads after each square, but it's more efficient to sew several squares, then flip to the back and start pulling through/tying off.  The problem with doing it that way is that those loose tails get in the way of stitching, and if you sew through the tail of a square a few rows down it's a mess to untangle.  Luckily, I'm owned by two exceedingly furry felines, and thus have a clothing de-furring brush that doubles as a way to clear all my loose threads off to one side with a single swipe.  Guess the fuzzbeasts are good for something.

There's something like 200 tiny squares on just ONE front panel, plus more on each side panel, so you can see why this has been taking me a while!


After washing the starch out, drying, and pressing each piece, it's FINALLY time to stuff some cord in there.  I'm using the same Sugar n' Cream cotton cord that I used in my corded petticoat.  You'll want a cord of a width that fits fairly snugly in your channels, so choose accordingly, or stitch your channels to accommodate the cord you wish to use.

I'm using a thick, blunt needle with a wide eye.  Tapestry needles are perfect.  The eye should be large enough that the cord just fits through it, but not so big that the needle won't fit through your channels with the now doubled cord in tow.  I also have a pair needle nose pliers, because despite my best efforts, the eye of my needle still gets stuck in the fabric sometimes.

When I made my last pair of corded stays, I broke the only good needle I had and swapped to one that was nearly the same, only sharp instead of blunt.  It sorta worked, but the sharp tip kept shredding the fabric on both sides, and those scrapes later unraveled into larger holes, allowing the cord to poke out.  I wouldn't have minded if they were all on the inside, but most of them were on the pretty outside!  If all you can get is a sharp needle, grind the tip down.

Holes in channels caused by sharp needle shredding fabric.
Sadly, these are on the front, so they show when I wear it.

On the backside of the stays, I poke the needle through just one layer of fabric right at the start of a channel.  Since the needle is blunt, with some fabrics an awl is needed to start the hole.  It takes a bit of practice to get the tip to go through just one layer of fabric, but practice makes perfect, right? 

Using an awl to start the hole.

Threading the needle into the channel.

Once inside, the needle is pushed down the length of the channel, dragging the cord behind it.  It's tight, and I have to moosh (super technical term) and manipulate the fabric around the needle to move it along.  Sometimes the pliers are necessary to pull the needle through the channel too.

The eye is stuck at the entry to the channel, so I use pliers to help it along.

At the opposite end, I poke the tip of the needle back out through the back fabric and pull it out, taking care to not pull all the cording out with it!  The pliers are also super useful here, as the eye of the needle generally gets stuck on the way out.  All the pushing and pulling on the needle is pretty rough on my fingers; using the pliers instead solves that problem.  The downside is that I'm more likely to break a needle when pulling on it with the pliers.

It's easier on my fingers to just use the pliers to pull the needle out.

I don't trim the cord close to the fabric just yet; instead I cut it so there's about 1" still hanging out, then move on to the other channels.  The places where the cords cross are a bit tricky to get through, but it's doable.  Eventually I end up with a small forest of cord ends growing out of the back of the stays.

Well that's a right mess.

Once I've got a whole section done, I start trimming the stray tails.  I cut the cord pretty close to the fabric, but not right flush with it.  There are till some tiny tails hanging out.

Trimmed close, with just a little bit hanging out.

Then, without holding onto the cord, I tug on both ends of the channel, stretching the fabric slightly.  Most of the tails pop back into their holes and disappear.  A few are still sticking out a bit, but this is the inside of the garment, so I don't care overmuch.  

Gently stretching each channel.

There are still holes at the start and end of each channel, but again, it's the inside, and they close up a little with time anyways.

No more tails!
Wow, that got lengthy!  If any part of this tutorial isn't clear, let me know and I'll try to unmuddy it a bit.  If you've got a cool cording project you're working on, show us in the comments!  I've still got a few panels to go, so I'm off to the sewing table again for another late night.