The Sunflower Gown : Making a 1830’s Dress

Last Thursday I drove by the prettiest sunflower field, and was overwhelmed with the desire to make something inspired by it.

I also wanted to make something that could be photographed in the field.

Unfortunately, sunflower season is really short and I didn’t expect them to be around for another week.

Which meant I had to make a dress that week.

So I did!

I did the pattern drafting on Friday, and actual construction started on Saturday. I had the dress and a headpiece done and ready to be photographed by Sunday evening.

I think it turned out pretty well for two days of work!

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The idea for this was very much shaped by the fabric I had in my stash. In fact, at first I didn’t think I had any fabric that would be suitable for a sunflowery historical gown. I was planning on making a few 1950’s pieces in autumn tones that would suit the backdrop, and that is what I spent a good chunk of Thursday/Friday working on. But the further along I got, the more I wanted to make something historical instead.

So I went through my stash and came across a recently purchased silk shantung. I would lovingly call this fabric baby poop colored…But I still bought it, because it has a very strong gold/green shift, which is striking when light hits it.

It isn’t exactly sunflower colored – but it has yellow, green and black tones in it which is reminiscent.

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This was my original sketch, along with some skirt variations.

I designed this without researching references, but I did look to Costume in Detail* for construction notes regarding 1830’s dresses, which ended up being very helpful!

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The parts I was most excited about (like the big sleeves and gold petal overlays) ended up in the finished dress. But other plans had to be dropped due to fabric and time limitations.

Remember, I only had two days, and six yards of fabric, which isn’t a lot for a historical gown!

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The first idea I dropped, was the plan of having a pleated bertha collar. I decided it took too much fabric and time to create. Instead I draped and off the shoulder bodice which was shaped with gathering at the front and shoulder.

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I made a mockup for this, then got everything transferred to paper. I also drafted the sleeves right away, which is rare for me. I tend to leave sleeves for last (as in, after the whole bodice is done) because I hate them so much. But there was no time to procrastinate!

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The bodice pattern was cut out twice – once from a floral cotton which will serve as lining, and again from the silk. Boning channels were stitched into the seam allowance at the sides of the lining, and at the center seam.

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I stitched the layers together, with the right sides facing each other, all the way across the neckline.sunflowers (5 of 36)

I ironed the lining inward and stitched around the neckline by hand. At this point the side seams were still left open. And I wanted to leave them open until after sewing the sleeves on. Which meant I had to make sleeves.

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I cut the sleeves out from a layer of black cotton sateen, and a layer of floral embroidered glitter mesh.

I’m SO glad I remembered that I had this fabric in my stash. I don’t own a lot of black material and was quite frantic trying to find something for the sleeves that had a lot of texture, but wasn’t too thick or heavy (my previous candidate was velvet, which is both thick and heavy).

This ended up being perfect, and I had just enough left to work as an overlay.

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The sleeves were gathered down by hand. Originally I wanted these to be pleated, but I thought having pleated sleeves with a gathered bodice would look strange. So I gathered them instead.sunflowers (9 of 36)

I was going to pad these to get the amount of volume I wanted, but I decided to try stitching ribbon in first to see if that would help. I’m not sure what this is called (sleeve stays, maybe?) but it is often shown in sewing books.

The ribbon forces the sleeves to stay a certain length, which prevents them from sliding down the arm and losing their poof. These sleeves were about 13″ long in the center. And the longest piece of ribbon is 7″.

I didn’t have high hopes that this would work based on my test fitting…but it totally did! No need for sleeve pads here!

 

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But the sleeves weren’t done! I wanted the gold fabric to lay overtop of the puffed portion, almost like flower petals.

These petals were created with half circles of fabric, in various sizes.

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Each half circle was folded in half, and stitched together to form a quarter circle shape. The quarters were turned right side out and ironed. Then the rounded edge was gathered down by hand until it was an inch or two long.

Five of these will be used on each sleeve, which the longest petal at the center of the shoulder.

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This was stitched onto the top edge of the sleeve. I also finished the lower edge of the sleeves with matching gold piping.

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The lower edge looks a bit messy from the interior, and the top edge is kind of…uh…girthy? It’s almost a cm thick at points! So I decided not to finish this edge, since any stitching or binding would just add to that.

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Even though it was quite thick, my sewing machine stitched through it like a champ.

Once the sleeves were on, I sewed up the side seams. I also added boning to the front seam (it stops just below the gathering) and the side seams. Leaving me with this!

It looked so much better than I had expected it would – which really got me feeling excited about the project!

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Though the sleeves were the hard part of this project, they were made easier by the fact I had a clear vision. Where my thoughts towards the skirt were murky at best.

I knew I wanted some visual interest on the skirt – I recently made two 1840’s dresses with plain rectangle skirts, and I’m a bit bored with them. Not the shape, just the lack of trimming.

And the 30’s were famous from elaborately trimmed skirts, so I felt this project would be incomplete without something.

My first idea was pintucking the skirt, then decorating it with sunflowers. But the skirt would have been too short if I did that (I was working with the fabrics horizontal width for the skirt, about 45″).

Then I decided to trim the hem with large triangles, made from black velvet and piped with matching shantung. These could be stitched to the underside of the hem and turn outward, like petals. They could also serve as frames for hand made sunflowers. This idea is seen in my original sketch.

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I was pretty committed to this idea, so much so that I wasted 1/2 yard of my precious silk to create the piping. I also cut out a dozen velvet triangles, and  poly shantung for lining.

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The piping was stitched to the lining, with the wrong sides facing outward. Then velvet was pinned on top with the edges tucked inward, covering the frayed edges of the shantung.

These looked OK, but I didn’t love it. The velvet lacked texture since it was so dark, and the piping blended into the skirt. I thought it was too harsh and clashed with the bodice. sunflowers (33 of 36)

So I decided to dress the skirt up with lace instead. I had 12 yards of 7″ wide chantilly lace that I bought on etsy a while back. I figured I could sacrifice a few yards for this, and still have enough leftover for a civil war era gown (which I’m pretty sure was my original intention for it).

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Despite my intentions for something different, the skirt for this was just a rectangle. But I had a reason for it! On top of fabric limitations, this fabric has a very different sheen and coloring depending on the grain line. Cutting the skirt as a rectangle means the grain is the same all the way across, and ensures the sheen will look even.

The rectangle for this was 3.5 yards wide, and the full width of the fabric.

I marked a line two inches away from the selvedge, and ironed the lower edge up so it touched that line.

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Then I hemmed it with a super sloppy, very wide catch stitch.

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The chantilly lace was placed 6.5″ away from the finished hem, and stitched on by hand with running stitches. sunflowers (21 of 36)

The top edge was gathered down by hand to match the waist of the bodice, then stitched on by machine.

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After that, I turned the back edges inward. I had about 1.5″ of allowance on either edge, but I wanted them to overlap so I wouldn’t have to add a modesty panel. I also wanted to stitch boning into both edges without any visible topstitching.

I honestly don’t even remember how I went about doing this, but I know the end result was far from symmetrical and not too pretty in terms of construction. But it looked okay from the outside…which is all I can really ask for when making a dress in two days!

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I stitched hooks and bars into the back to serve as closures.sunflowers (26 of 36)

I also added a belt. I debated about this a lot, but strongly felt the dress needed something to break up the bodice and skirt. I pinned a velvet waistband on first, but wanted something with more texture. So I ended up making a waistband from black cotton sateen, then fussy cutting bits of beaded lace out and stitching them on.

This looks a bit messy up close since the lace has a large wandering floral pattern, and really isn’t made to be cut into tiny pieces. But from a distance it still has visible texture and adds a bit of sparkly!

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Now with my limited fabric and time remaining, I decided to make sunflowers. These were created from dozens of 4″ wide circles. Each one was cut out, then ironed into quarters. Like with the sleeves, the curved edge is gathered down.

Except this time they were sewn on to a circular base of interfacing.

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The bases were covered with velvet, and more butchered black lace. I wanted the centers to have a lot of texture to mimic sunflowers, but I didn’t have time (or enough black beads) to embellish the centers fully.

The lace was a way to quickly get the effect I wanted, and it worked perfectly!

The lace had to be stitched on by hand, and while I was at it I stitched on some larger black beads, and some gold sequins. The sequins were a random addition because I love sequins. But I’m so glad I decided to use them, the contrast of the gold against the black makes them look lit up, regardless of the lighting.sunflowers (22 of 36)

I pinned the sunflowers onto the dress while it was on my form, before sewing up the back seam. This way I could remove the dress from the form and stitch the flowers on while the skirt was completely flat.

Even though that made the sewing process easier, I didn’t do the best job of this. They were *really* roughly stitched on with whip stitches at the underside of the fabric. I tried to stitch through the edge of the interfacing centers, since that is the heaviest part of the flowers.

I wish the stitching was cleaner, but I’m actually pleased with the placement of the stitches. Since I didn’t tack down the petals, they flip outward slightly, making them look more natural. sunflowers (29 of 36)sunflowers (28 of 36)

That was the dress done! But I knew I wanted to make a headpiece too.

This ended up consisting of two gathered strips of the black mesh, and a bunch of the small flower “petals”. These were stitched into a a single strip.

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That I hot glued onto a headband and backed with boning and felt. Am I proud of the quantity of hot glue on this? No. But it looked good in photos and took less than 10 minutes to make.

The “finishing touches” included pinning my petticoats so they hung above my ankle. And pinning fabric sunflowers onto my funtasma shoes* so it was less obvious that I don’t have any 1830’s appropriate footwear.

1830’s footwear is supposedly the easiest to fake, since they wore square toed flats. But I do not own a single pair of flats because they make my feet look massive.

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And that was it! Also for those curious, this was worn over my recently completed 1840’s corset based on a pattern from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines*. I have a couple  photos of this on instagram (here, here, and here) and I can vouch for this pattern being awesome – I love the shape of it, and it is pretty comfy!

For petticoats, I wore a cotton/net full length petti that I made a few years ago. It is full length, so I had to pin it up by about 6″ for this photoshoot. And that was stacked on top of two knee length tulle petticoats (specifically, this one).

I’ve been really unhappy with the volume in my other 40s/30s skirts and I thought this would be a good solution. And I was right, look at that poof!

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And as always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed!

 

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Making an 18th Century Riding Habit / Riding Jacket

I’ve been in a pretty serious relationship with this garment for the past three months so i’m really excited to FINALLY be sharing the process and finished piece with you guys.

This is going to be a really long post so i’ll start with an image of the finished product, hopefully that will give you the motivation needed to make it to the end!

Isn’t it beautiful?

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Let’s go back to the beginning. At the start of 2015 I came across this painting of Sophie Marie Grafin Voss by Antoine Pesne and I fell in love. I’ve always been a fan of the structure and details on 18th century riding habits, but i’ve never seen an image of one that really inspired me until I came across this.

Although the beading and details are beautiful, they are also ridiculously impractical, as are the short sleeves and deep neckline. But that’s what I like about it. It’s very different from most of the riding habits* you see and it perfectly combines the traditional frills and details you’d find in an 18th century women’s wardrobe with the very structured menswear inspired design that riding habits are famous for.

So I decided to make it something similar to it.

 *This isn’t really a riding habit. I’ve titled this post that way because it’s the most common term for riding jackets which is what this garment actually is. Riding habits were a combination of matching garments worn for riding. This is just a riding jacket paired with a more traditional 18th century dress.

In December I finally began work on the piece.

The first step was drafting the pattern. This was surprisingly easy since I used the pattern I made for the bodice that goes underneath this jacket as a guide. I changed up the seaming a little bit, lowered the neckline, added larger seam allowances, lengthened each piece by a lot, and made the pieces wider to the bottom so the skirt of the jacket would have a lot of volume.

I also changed the pattern to have a front closure instead of back laces, since those obviously wouldn’t be appropriate for a jacket!

This is the altered front panel.

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Side panel.

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And back.

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I did not make a mock up for this jacket. Mostly because I didn’t have any fabric around that was thick enough to create an accurate mock up (muslin does not lay the same way as heavy wool). But also because I was feeling pretty confident about the pattern since the bodice I based it off of fit really nicely. And since the jacket was patterned with 3/4″ seams I could let it out pretty significantly if it was too small, and I could always add gores to make the skirt of the jacket bigger.

So I laid all the pieces out onto my wool melton fabric and cut them out. I packed the pieces as tightly as I could on the material since I was a little bit worried that I might have to recut some of them and wanted as much material as possible to be left over.

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Front panels…

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Side panels…
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And the back panels.

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I sewed together the back panels first, backstitching and cutting the thread just below the waistline so the bottom eighteen inches of the seam was left open. The seam was pressed and the unsewed edges were folded inward by three quarters of an inch. Then I sewed the edge down so there was a finished slit at the back of the jacket.

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Then the side back seams were done up. I was really pleased with the draping at the back, even though it looks a bit wonky on my dress form.

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I pinned the shoulder and side seams up and did a quick fitting of the jacket overtop of the panniers and stays. It fit well enough but there was a lot of bunching at the waist since I hadn’t accounted for the angle of the panniers. This was easy to fix, I just added a horizontal dart to the waistline.

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After another fitting I felt comfortable moving forward. The jacket seemed really large at the side seams but I didn’t want to take it in right away since I knew the embellishments on the front of the jacket would stiffen it significantly and change the ease and fit of the front panels.

I drew the trim pattern onto the front panels with chalk. Unfortunately I couldn’t get them spaced perfectly, or as far apart as they were in the reference photo.

After another fitting I realized the lace needed to extend farther down. If i’d noticed that initially I could have spaced them farther apart and made them look a lot better. But I didn’t. And by the time I noticed the problem my only option was to add a sixth strip of trim to each side.

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Speaking of the trim! The one i’m using is from the seller LaceTime on etsy. It was four bucks for two yards and I used four yards in total. Traditionally braided trims and cords would be used on riding jackets but since this one is so fancy I decided to go with lace instead.

I should also mention that I chose to make the detailing of this jacket gold instead of silver (which is the color it probably was) because I thought it looked more striking against the red.

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Here the lace is sewn on to one side, and pinned to the other. Since the spacing was off on my jacket this lace ended up being too wide. So I folded the edges inward to keep it inside the lines I marked.

I may have accidentally sewn some of this lace on upside down and not noticed until the jacket was almost finished. Oops.

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Since the edges of the lace were folded over they looked really bulky. The lace also wasn’t super even since it was difficult to precisely fold the edges over. The end result looked pretty sloppy, and I wasn’t happy with it at all.

So I decided to add an extra step to the embellishment process. I densely stitched sequins around each edge of the lace and overtop of any gaps in the lace where the base was visible. I did this with red thread so it would blend in with the material and better integrate the lace with the  fabric.

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This took forever. So many sequins went into this. Each piece of lace took around two hours to embellish, that’s more than twelve hours of sequining just on the front panels! But it looked beautiful and added a lot of depth to the lace.

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Then the beading began. For this I used two different sizes of gold seed beads and beige colored thread. I followed the pattern of the lace, stitching between the covered cord that makes up the design.

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This is when the lace really started to transform. Above you can see the difference between the side that has beads sewn on and the side without. These really changed the color of the lace, and added a lot more depth and texture to the piece.

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Once I was done beading the lace I tried the jacket on. Here it looks really bulky since I had tons of excess fabric pinned into the side seams but you can get a rough idea of how it was looking.

I also did a test for pocket cover placement, which is what that funny thing on the right side is supposed to be!

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This fitting made me realize that I had to take the waist in by more than two inches and fold the front edge over by two inches instead of the planned one inch. Guess my worries about the jacket being too big were for nothing!

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With the body of the jacket coming along well I drafted a sleeve pattern.

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Then those were cut out and I used chalk to mark the trim placement on them.

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The lace was pinned, then sewn on.

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And sequined, then beaded with the same technique use on the front of the jacket.

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Here you can see the beading part way done.  Really shows how much the beading transforms this lace!

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With the lace completely beaded I moved onto the tassels. On the left you can see the four different types of beads I used for each tassel.  All these beads are slightly different in color and finish which makes the tassels look a bit more interesting.

On the right you can se the two different types of beads that were used on the lace.

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Each tassel is made up of eight strands, which are a little over an inch long.

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Finished tassels on sleeves.

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And finished tassels on the jacket.

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To hide the tops of the tassels I added buttons. I realize embroidered buttons are a lot more historically accurate, but I didn’t have enough coverable buttons left and I wanted to finish this project. I’ll probably end up replacing these in the future with something more accurate.

Then again glass seed beads aren’t very 18th century appropriate either but I used plenty of them, so perhaps it doesn’t matter too much!

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Finished sleeves!

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Here are all the buttons sewn onto the jacket.

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Now it was time to make the pocket covers. Which are, like everything on this project, just decorative. I used all but three inches of the gold lace on the jacket so I had to raid my stash for something that would work for the pocket covers. Luckily I came across a different gold lace, which was just the right shape. I used that as a guide for patterning the pocket covers, then cut the covers out from interfaced wool.

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Then the lace trim was pinned and sewed on.

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And the sequining process resumed. These took even longer to do than the trim on the jacket but it sure looks pretty!

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I didn’t like the visible organza in the lace so I covered that with gold seed beads. Then I stitched clear montees into the circular loops of the lace.

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I sewed the pocket covers onto the front panels and finished them off with a button.

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Here is one of the finished front panels!

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So pretty!

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And all the beaded panels together. I think I spent more than eighty hours hand stitching beads and sequins onto this project. I was sick of it at times but for the most part I really enjoyed the process. I find beading really calming, and I would love to do more of it on future projects.

It also ended up being pretty convenient since I could do it in front of the TV. I worked on this through the first four seasons of Downton Abbey and a bunch of Top Gear episodes.

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I did one last fitting before sewing everything together. I ended up taking it in at the waist a bit more, raising the sleeves at the shoulder, and taking it in at the shoulder. Then I sewed the side seams and attached the sleeves.

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During this fitting I realized the jacket was wayy too long at the back, so I removed more than four inches of fabric from the hem. Then I turned the hem inward by an inch and sewed it in place.

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The cuffs also got hemmed.

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And so did the neckline. Shortly after taking this picture I lined the sleeves and secured the lining to the interior of the cuffs.

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Now it looked like a proper coat!

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I turned the front edge inward by two inches until I reached the waist, the rest of the front panel was only turned inward by an inch.

Then I sewed in the hooks and eyes. THERE WERE SO MANY. I used all the size two hooks and eyes I had, which was 19 in total. They aren’t spaced evenly, so they don’t look too pretty, but they line up perfectly so i’m happy.

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At this point the coat was wearable, but it still wasn’t finished. I roughly pinned the lining in.

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After making sure the lining wasn’t restricting the drape of the jacket I pinned it in properly.

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And sewed it in place. This lining fabric isn’t historically accurate at all but it makes the jacket much easier to get on and off, and that’s what matters to me!

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And the jacket is finished! I chose not to further embellish the neckline or hem, since I didn’t feel the jacket needed it, and i’m happy with that decision. I really love the way it turned out. I had so much fun beading this, and the fact that the fit turned out so well delights me to no end. I definitely think this is my most successful 18th century inspired garment that i’ve made so far, and it’s certainty my favorite from a visual aspect.

I’m really proud of it. And that’s a nice feeling!

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Of course there are a couple things I would change. Mostly the spacing of the lace. It would have looked so much better and been way more flattering if I had spaced them properly and only used five pieces on each side. Then I could have used the full width of the lace and the wider lace would have made my torso look longer and more narrow.

But other than that I think it’s pretty great! Not exactly like my reference photo, but pretty great all the same.

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Divots in the wool once again gahh. Luckily they aren’t all that noticeable when it’s worn.

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Here is a teaser photo from the photoshoot I had with this project. This was my first time wearing the ensemble, and I was rushing because of the snow so I don’t think it shows the jacket in its best light. The bodice was slipping at the shoulders, which caused the jacket to sit lower on the shoulder than it should, and the sleeves ended up bunching. I think i’ve fixed the bodice to rest higher on the shoulders so it should wear much better next time!

I’m also going to (eventually) add buttons to the centerfront of the jacket. That was always part of the plan but I forgot to set aside buttons for it and used them on a different project by mistake!

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So that’s it. It’s always weird finishing a project i’ve invested so much time in (ninety hours!) but i’m looking forward to starting new things. And this beauty has a proud resting place on a hook in my sewing room so I can look at it whenever I like!

I’ll be posting about the dress and the hat soon. Thanks for reading!