This post is long overdue. I’ve attempted writing it at least a dozen times, and I never get past the first paragraph. But I was determined to get it up before the end of the month, and I managed to make that deadline!
If you hadn’t guessed by the title, this post is an end of the year wrap up where I go through all the projects I made in 2016. I share my thoughts on each one, my thoughts on the year in general, and goals I have for the year to come.
I’ve written posts like this before, both in 2014, and 2015. Those posts were some of my favorite to write because it made me realize all I’d accomplished and gave me motivation moving forward. But I didn’t accomplish as much as I would have liked in 2016, and looking back on it has made me more frustrated than inspired.
It isn’t that the number of costumes I made that I find lacking or upsetting, it’s the amount of time I wasted. There were weeks that passed where I didn’t sew at all because I wasn’t feeling inspired. It made me realize how much I depend on motivation, and how lost I am without it.
As much as it sucks to look back on a year that I wasted a lot of, I learned a lot in 2016, and it’s made me realize ways I can improve in 2017. So it was worth something – and I like a lot of the things I made – it just wasn’t a good year for me.
Now onward with the costumes! I kept a list this year of things I completed, so this should be a bit more accurate than usual.
Then first project I finished got an honorary mention in my 2015 wrap up, since it was mostly finished then. But I put the final touches on it and declared it complete in January. It’s an 18th century riding ensemble, that consists of a skirt, bodice, embellished jacket, and hat.
The dress has some issues that make it unwearable without the jacket (they are fixable, I just spent so long on this project that I can’t bring myself to revisit it and fix it, even though it would only take a day or two) which is a bummer. But I love the jacket, and the hat, and how it works together in the finished ensemble.
In the same month I also made a set of 1890’s foundation garments, including a petticoat, corset, chemise, and combination set. This is also when I began work on my purple taffeta dress, which I majorly blame for my lack of motivation in the months that followed.
To avoid working on the purple dress, I took on a week long break and made a women’s cotehardie, which was meant to coordinate with the mens cotehardie I made in 2015. The timeline on this dress was tight since I wanted to finish it before we got snow. I think I spent a solid four days working on it before declaring it complete.
I like how it looks visually – the brocade against the blue velvet, the buttons, and the large sequin embellishments. However the rush job shows in the fit of the shoulders and sleeves, which I’m not thrilled about.
After completing that I was still avoiding my purple taffeta dress. However I had put so much work into the foundation garments for it that I decided to put them to good use and make something from the same era. That something was a turn of the century walking ensemble made from red plaid.
This costume really tested my patience (so much hand basting), but also proved to be a fun challenge (the plaid matching). I learned a lot about construction from this costume (collars!), and even tried a new hand sewing technique with the soutache designs on the collar and back. I stepped outside my comfort zone even further by decorating a home made hat with the wings of a bird.
Even though I struggled with this project at times, I don’t think it shows in the finished costume. And it’s by far my favorite thing I made that year, I really love it.
Next I finally (after several months) finished the purple taffeta dress. The only thing I like about this costume is the hat. The rest, as far as I’m concerned is scrap material. It’s too tight and short in the bodice, and too long in the hem. The shoulders aren’t wide enough and the waistband is too wide. It’s a mess.
Working on this really sucked all the fun out of sewing and I regret forcing myself to finish it.
My next costume was much simpler and a refreshing change. It’s a grecian costume that consists of a chiton, skirt, crown, and belt.
This was a costume I had been planning for ages and I was thrilled to finally make it a reality. The dress portion of this was very simple, but I invested a good twenty hours in the belt and crown. They were embroidered and embellished by hand, which took longer than I had expected. But I’m very pleased with the end result – the only thing I want to change is the chiton length, which won’t take more than an hour or two.
It was around this time that I destroyed my neck while making a massive petticoat for my 1860’s evening gown. I regret pushing myself so hard on that one, and making a petticoat instead of a hoop skirt in the first place! This lead to another downfall in motivation, and I didn’t get much done for almost two months.
I split what little time I spent sewing between my civil war era evening gown, a cycling costume, and an 1860’s day ensemble. The day ensemble was the first to be finished…but I use the term finished loosely. It was supposed to consist of a blouse, skirt, and hat, but the skirt didn’t really work out and I didn’t have enough material to fix it. Which is why I only have waist up photos of this ensemble.
The skirt is a shame, but I do like the parts of this project I finished.
I took on a quick hand sewing project after that and made a horned headpiece. This took a week or so, and was incredibly fun to work on. I love the variety of materials that can be used in these, and the challenge of bringing the shape to life. It isn’t historically accurate at all, but I think it looks quite believable in a way.
The ball gown was finished next. This was one of my dream dresses. I worked on it for months and questioned whether I would ever complete it several times. I usually break elaborate projects down into pieces or steps so I don’t get overwhelmed while working on them. I did that with this project too, but there were so many pieces and each one was so time consuming to make that it felt like it would never end.
But eventually I did finish it, and I’m very proud of it. Especially the bodice – I think it’s lovely and it fits perfectly. The skirt doesn’t have quite the right shape, but the amount of hand sewing and work that went into each tier was insane, I’m so pleased I accomplished it. I like the headpiece too, I think it ties all of it together!
After finishing that I wanted to make something simple that didn’t require an inch of lace. So I followed a pattern from The Cut of Women’s Clothes* and made a 1790’s round robe. This project wasn’t as simple as I had hoped, since I had to remake the bodice and figure out how it was supposed to go together without any instructions.
But I did appreciate the break from frills and lace, and I think the finished dress is quite lovely (though not particularly flattering). I altered a hat to match, and stuck a quilted petticoat under it. The dress was easy to get into and very comfy, which I appreciated!
Around this time I made a pair of stays – which, like my previous pair of stays, fit horribly. And an 1880’s corset, which looks lovely, but has issues with the busk being out of alignment. Both took far longer to make than I would care to admit, and probably need to be remade in the future. But they did make good bases for things I worked on in the next few months.
I also finished my cycling costume, which had been in progress for weeks before it was complete. I blame the fact this had so many pieces. Including a hat, tie, jacket, shirtwaist, bloomers, shoes, and stockings.
Though it took a while to complete everything, I really like how this turned out. My only peeve is the collar on the shirtwaist. But I find the fit and proportions of this costume quite charming – and once again, it’s super comfy and easy to get into, which is a total bonus.
It was also my first time buying shoes to go with a historical costume, which made such a huge difference in how I felt wearing the costume. It was pretty amazing!
Next up was my reattempt at an 1890’s day dress. My purple taffeta dress (attempt number one) turned out horribly, and I wanted to redeem myself. So I made a few design changes (which made it look a lot more like the dress that originally inspired me, from Crimson Peak), bought a better fabric, and focused more on the fit. I also referenced historical pattern books and used those as a guide which lead to a way better silhouette.
I like this dress so much more than my first attempt. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite thing I made this year, but it’s up there. I consider it quite striking.
I also put together a few dresses for my youtube channel (and posted 40 videos throughout the year, which I’m pretty proud of). My favorite of these is a blue dotted dress inspired by the 1950’s. Researching dresses from this period made me feel excited towards making my own clothes (not just costumes) and potentially creating more 1950’s inspired pieces. Though it isn’t somethings I’ve pursued yet, I’d like to venture into it more in 2017.
I followed that up with a spur of the moment Donwton Abbey inspired costume made from things I had in my stash. This isn’t the best costume I’ve ever made construction wise, since I have little patience when working with chiffon. But I really enjoy the end result.
It was quite different for me, with the large harem pants and fitted sleeves. The bodice is loosely boned and heavily embellished. Though a lot of work went into it, the whole thing was finished in a week!
My next costume was a commission, which was quite a big step outside my comfort zone. I was asked to make a light up ball gown for the Scottsdale Princess hotel. This proved to be a challenge, since I had to find Christmas decorations at the start of October, and only had 10 days to construct it. But I got it done, and I managed to correct a lot of the “mistakes” I made when making this dress for myself two years ago.
I’m especially happy with how the bodice of this turned out – I love the sleeves! And I think it’s given me the confidence to potentially take on commissions in 2017.
(the dress isn’t complete in the photo below, but it’s the final photo I took of it on my dress form)
The next costume is a fun 1830’s ensemble, which consists of a bonnet, top, and skirt. I really enjoyed making this. As much as I like ruffles and lace, it’s nice to focus on the construction and fabric manipulation, which this project requited a lot of. Between the plaid matching, pleats, gathers, and piping, it was a lot of work!
In October I revisited an 18th century Robe a la Turque I started on much earlier in the year. It was a very hand sewing heavy project that included home made trim, hand beaded fringe, and a lot of sequins. The project has a vest like dress with a train, a skirt that is visible from the front, and a turban inspired headpiece.
My feelings on this are..mixed. I love the materials and a lot of the details. But the patterning in the bodice could be a lot better. It also needed boning, or some sort of support in the bodice which I didn’t add since I didn’t do a lot of research before starting.
I’ve come a long way since I first started on that project, but a lot of the issues were unfixable by the time I revisited it. So it’s frustrating to see those faults in something I recently completed, since I know I’m better than that.
But from a distance, I think it looks pretty great!
Another 18th century project I finished is inspired by one worn in The Duchess. I made something inspired by it in 2014 and it was bad. Like really, really, bad. I’ve wanted to reattempt it for a while now, and when I saw this striped silk I new it was time.
There are a few issues with the fit of this dress – It’s a bit tight, and the waistline is too high. I also need to take the underskirt in, it’s got so much volume it flairs over the over skirt, which is a no-no. But I love the trim on this, the stripe matching, and the mobility I have in it. I really learned my lesson from my previous few 18th century attempts. This bodice is lightweight, but well supported so it doesn’t crumple at the sides or back.
I also very much enjoy the matching hat I made. Trying this on really made me feel like an 18th century lady, I was so sad to take it off! Once I make the necessary alterations I want to get more pictures of it.
In December I made an edwardian evening gown, which I still haven’t got worn photos of. But I really like how this turned out. The construction isn’t my best, but the color, trims, and simplicity of the design make me really happy, and I enjoyed working on it a lot.
I also made a few headpieces in December, including this antlered one!
And finally, my Christmas costume. I’ve gone over my thoughts on this recently, and the remain the same. I like it as a finished ensemble, but It’s far from my favorite thing I’ve made this year.
I also want to give an honorary mention to my 1880’s evening gown. I got this 98% complete (seriously, a hundred hours must have gone into it and it’ll only take two more to finish it) in 2016 but moved on to other things after Christmas and didn’t complete it. In fact I still haven’t completed it – I got distracted by the materials I got for Christmas. But I will finish it soon, and hopefully have blog posts detailing the construction process following that.
There are a few other things that I think deserve mentioning in this post, like my attempt at an 1880’s striped bustle dress. And my sequined 1890’s jacket. And a black 16th century gown. And probably a few other things I’m forgetting that ate up 10 or 20 hours of time but never got completed. I think that was part of my problem this year, when I was lacking motivation I would try to kickstart it by making something new…but I didn’t put a lot of thought into those projects, so they either fizzled out before I reached the half way point, or I realized they didn’t fit or weren’t accurate and never bothered to complete them.
Which brings me into my costume related goals for 2017!
The first one is to try be more diligent. I’m great at working when I’m inspired, but I want to get to a point where I can push myself to work regardless of how motivated I feel. I’m not saying I won’t take breaks, but I don’t want to procrastinate and accomplish next to nothing for several months because I “don’t feel like it”. I did that last year and it sucked.
I’d also like to try and find more balance. I think my procrastination sprees partially happened because I got burnt out or bored. Having projects with a lot of contrast in progress at the same time should help. And I think finding things I enjoy doing outside of sewing would help me relax and feel less burnt out.
Another one would be putting more thought into the projects I take on. A lot of my unsuccessful projects were ones I made on a whim, didn’t sketch first, didn’t research, and didn’t have enough material for. I like taking on spontaneous projects since they can be a lot of fun, but I feel like spending a few hours thinking and researching before getting started would save me materials and time in the long run.
I don’t have project specific goals this year, but I would like to:
Focus more on foundations. I don’t put the effort into these that they deserve, I’d love to have a corset and petticoat that I’m really proud of and fit well. And potentially a chemise with some embroidered details.
Venture into other eras and silhouettes. I gained a new appreciation for the late 1800’s this year and challenged myself quite a lot with dresses from that period. I’d love to push myself even more and make a bustle dress, regency gown, and something elizabethan.
Remember my love of simplicity. I tend to forget how much I enjoy projects that are construction based. I love ruffles too, and I tend to be most attracted to projects that have lots of them. But I really enjoy making simple kirtles and structured jackets. I’d like to keep that in mind this year and potentially make an Edwardian suit, or more casual wear from the 1500s/1600s.
A bit of a silly “goal” – but I would really like to have a dress from every decade of the 1800s. I have dresses from the 1830s, 1860s, 1880s, and 1890s. Along with materials for dresses from the 1820’s, 1840’s, 1850’s, and 1870’s. It isn’t something I’ll push really hard to accomplish, but I should be able to do it and I would be thrilled if I did.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading. I hope you had a productive 2016 and that the first month of this year has served you well.