Making a Maroon Medieval Dress

Last October I started on a 15th century inspired project which I titled the “Maroon Medieval Ensemble”. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned and the only finished part of the project is a rose colored chiffon chemise (which I blogged about here). The dress ended up in a bin at the top of my closet, which is where projects go to die. Or at least it’s where they go when i’m not ready to throw them out but don’t plan on finishing them.

The reason i’m now blogging about this project is because it’s survived the bin of death! Or at least part of it has.

When I was working on my Medieval Escoffin I realized the colors and materials I was using were quite similar to the fabrics in my Maroon Medieval dress. I even used some of the leftover piping from that project on the escoffin. Though the dress wasn’t wearable at all I got it out from the bin of death, I figured I could salvage some part of it and use it as the base for a dress that could be worn with my escoffin.

Which I did! And that’s what i’m blogging about.

Here is the dress in it’s unaltered half finished state:

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I don’t think it looks bad from the front. The real issue is that it didn’t fit properly. The waist was too long and didn’t flare enough to sit smoothly over my hips. This caused the bodice to constantly ride up and fold around the waist/stomach area which looked pretty awful.

I majorly goofed up on the back. I added boning panels to a bias cut seam and didn’t realize until later on how warped and pointed the back had become, especially around the neckline. The eyelets were also placed too far apart into fabric that wasn’t reinforced properly. And I tried to sew them with rayon thread which is a big no-no, they were an absolute mess!

I decided that the top part was unsalvageable. But the bottom half was perfectly fine – okay, it’s a little shorter than I’d like, but other than that it’s fine. So I decided to keep that part and attach it to a new bodice which would hopefully fit better and nicely compliment the escoffin.

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Before talking about the new bodice, here are some pictures of making the bottom half of the dress. My pattern for the front side looked like this.

I flat drafted it and didn’t make any mock ups, which I think is the reason behind my fit problems.

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The bottom band was also flat drafted. This part of the dress is made from the cheapest jacquard fabric that Joanns has in their home decor collection.

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The bottom band is trimmed with piping. I used a really pretty floral brocade for this. I cut strips out on the fabrics bias and sewed them together.

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Then I folded them in half so they covered a piece of cotton cord and sewed with the presser foot as close to the cord as I could get.

I made this before I realized that lightweight fabrics need another layer of material between them and the cord. Otherwise the markings on the cord are visible through the fabric and the piping can looked puckered  – which totally happened here.

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I think I made fifteen yards of puckery piping.

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The bottom band was sewn together with french seams.

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The raw edges were turned inward by a half inch and hand stitched down.  Then the piping was sewn on by hand. To prevent the edges from fraying I sewed some thin horsehair across the top and bottom edge, but I don’t have a picture of that

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Here is the finished band, which was then sewn onto the dress. I think those are all the relevant progress photos I have of this part. The dress itself is made from a cheap suiting I got for less than $3/yard from fabric.com. It’s a three piece pattern and sewn together with french seams (at the sides and at the back). The collar took the most time but that part got cut off so I won’t ramble on about making it!

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My new and improved bodice is made from more of the red jacquard. I used the bodice pattern from my Damask Print Dress since it doesn’t have any front seams (dresses in this time rarely did) and fit me surprisingly well. I just altered it to be a three piece pattern with an opening in the back instead of at the sides.

I would have cut this as one single piece but I didn’t have enough fabric left to do that.

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I made facings to go around the arm holes and neckline of the bodice.

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It all got turned inward and tacked down by hand so stitches weren’t visible.

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Then I made some trim from remnants of the brocade piping, some damask print bias tape that is covered in gold mesh, and little chiffon ruffles. All these fabrics were used for my escoffin and I thought this would be a good way to bring those textures and colors into the dress.

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Then I sewed a whole bunch of eyelets into the back. They are sewn between two pieces of plastic boning so they won’t stretch or tear.

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Then the side seams got done up. I did this the normal way, then folded the seam allowance inward and stitched across the folded edge to create a boning channel. I added two pieces of plastic boning to each side of the bodice. This is to prevent the bodice from bunching up at the sides, which can easily happen in bodices that don’t have darts or bust allowances in them.

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When that was finished I hemmed it and got to try it on for the first time. The fit is pretty much perfect, it’s the right length and doesn’t compress the bust too much or flare out awkwardly around the arms, which is great. I’m really pleased with this pattern!

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Now it was time to work on the sleeves. I decided to do layered sleeves, which will make it look like I’m wearing a kirtle underneath a short sleeved dress.

The long sleeves are made from a two piece pattern. The top part will be cut from stretch velvet so it nicely clings to the arm and the lower section is made from the damask print fabric with a gold mesh overlay. The short sleeves are made from a very similar pattern that is a bit wider and much shorter. Here are the patterns:

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I started by cutting out the short sleeves.

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The lower edge got turned inward by a half inch and sewed down.

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Then I made more of my piping/bias tape/ruffle combo which will decorate the hem.

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That got pinned onto the hem of each sleeve.

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And sewn on by hand. All of this was done by hand because I wanted to avoid visible topstitching.

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The side seam got sewn up, then I sewed lining into each sleeve.

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This is the top part of the long sleeves, made from the same velvet I used on the escoffin. In the end the short sleeved layer will cover this part, so you won’t see it, but I wanted it to match anyway.

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These are the lower sections, made from the same fabrics as the sides of the escoffin. I still love this fabric combo,  I think it looks very rich and has a lot of depth to it.

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To finish the edges I stitched it onto a piece of lining with the right sides facing each other, then turned it the right way out. I topstitched around the sides (by machine) and hem (by hand), then it got sewn on to the velvet part.

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The side seam got sewn up and luckily they fit!

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Then the top edge was sewn inside the top edge of the short sleeves. That edge was a frayed mess so I finished it with bias tape.

I set them aside for a bit and sewed lining into the bodice. When that was done they got sewed in with a whip stitch.

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Which left me with a lovely wearable bodice!

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I’m really happy with this. I like all the fabrics together and it fits, so I don’t have anything negative to say about it at all!

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Now it was time to attach the skirt. I put the dress on and hiked it up a little bit so it fit loosely around the waist. I needed some extra room so I could take the dress in at the back so the terrible eyelets wouldn’t be visible.  Then I marked a line about one inch above my waist and cut across that point.

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I ripped out the boning and as much of the eyelets as I could. I cut about an inch off either side which got rid of half the eyelets, what was still visible I covered with bias tape.

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After it was sewn on you couldn’t even tell!

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Then I sewed the skirt to my new bodice with tiny whip stitches. And the bottom edge of the bodice lining was stitched down to cover the raw edge of the skirt.

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The skirt fabric is too weak for eyelets so I hand sewed in a zipper. It isn’t accurate, but it’s really convenient.

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And that was it! The dress is finished! I love how this turned out. It was a very spur of the moment project which makes the end result feel even better.

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Here are a few worn photos of the whole thing. I should have the entire set up soon but I have a bit of editing to do first!


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Thanks for reading!

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14 thoughts on “Making a Maroon Medieval Dress

  1. igge says:

    Simply amazing!!! I love looking at your beautiful dresses!! I want to try it now, but I know that mine will not look at all like yours!!

  2. mrsmelanievarela says:

    I’m so happy that you rescued this from the Bin of Death. I hate having UFO’s around to remind me of my mistakes and near failures. I was a little concerned the skirt would be too short, but the length looks great. The dress is certainly equal to your escoffin and the match is perfect. You did a great job recovering this dress. I’m looking forward to the next project. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Alethia says:

    Every time I read your post concerning the construction of a garment I am blown away by your patience, time, hand sewing, and drafting skills. OMG! just beautiful.

  4. Jean-Louis says:

    Incroyable Angela, vous êtes la digne héritière des créateurs d’antan, des Diors, des Courèges des siècles passés.*
    *traduction : Incredible Angela, you are the worthy heir of the creators of yesteryear, of Diors , Courèges of past centuries. (Jean-Louis from France)

  5. Linda says:

    What an amazing mind you have!!
    How inspiring to see all your creations and how generous of you to share your projects.
    Such a wonderful present and future you have made.
    Thank you and I will look forward to more viewing more of your wonderful works 🙂

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