An Orange Brocade Dress – Making a 17th Century Costume, Part Two

Welcome to part two of making my Orange Brocade dress, if you missed part one it can be read here. That post ended with a fitting, and binding the arm openings of the bodice. This post will cover everything else – from the sleeves, to the skirt, chemise, and hat! It was originally going to be divided into three posts, but since I’ve been off my blogging game recently I thought you deserved them all at once.

Here is what I ended up with…

And here is how I did it!

Since my fitting was successful, it was time to move onto the sleeves. Like the bodice, I copied the pattern from Norah Waugh’s “The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930“*. The pattern is kind of ridiculous, with a bunch of marks that aren’t labeled (seen here). Some markings are for the paned portions, others for knife pleats, gathering, or cartridge pleats. It’s also a lot smaller than I would have expected, being less than 30″ wide.

But this totally worked in my favor since I had barely any material left. After a mock up and a few alterations I cut the sleeves out, and lightly gathered them.

The gathering is only where the paned portions will be. Then there are knife pleats at the lowest portion of the sleeve, which will sit under the arm.

Then I made the paned portion of the sleeves. These are strips of the same brocade, with the ‘wrong’ side facing outward so they appear darker. I turned the edges of these strips inward twice by hand, to prevent fraying. Then embroidered ribbon lace was stitched on by hand to both edges.

There are only 3 panes for each sleeve, which matches Waugh’s pattern. I planned on adding more, but lack of material got in my way once more.

These were sewn onto the sleeves, and completely cover the gathering.

Now it was time for cartridge pleats. You’ll see these on most sleeves from this period and they are glorious. But they usually require a lot of fabric, a thick fabric, or a combination of the two. Otherwise they can look pretty bad. And since my sleeves did not have a lot of material, and are made from a very thin brocade, I had to fake this.

So I cut out facings for the top and bottom edge of the sleeves, made from cotton. Then I marked a line half an inch away from the bottom edge of the facing to indicate seam allowances. And finally, I marked vertical lines every half inch all the way across the facing, except for where the paned detailing is.

Then I cut up pieces of cord (I used 1/4 cord made for upholstery piping that felt almost papery) and sewed a piece onto every. Single. Line.

I hemmed the bottom edge of the facings, then sewed them onto the sleeves with the right sides facing each other. I turned the facing inward and stitched a quarter inch away from the edge to secure it in place.

Then I got out my heavy duty thread and sewed through the facing and top layer of fabric, between each piece of cording. This created the appearance of full cartridge pleats, while only using 1/2″ of fabric and no stiffening!

There are two rows of stitching to secure these, approximately half an inch apart.

I sewed the back edge up with a french seam.

Then made cuffs out of strips of brocade that is backed with ribbon.

The cuffs were sewn on by hand, then covered with embroidered ribbon and the trim I used on the neckline of the bodice. For some reason the cuffs gaped outward at the hem, so I had to hand stitch tiny darts into them. I’m not thrilled with that, but it isn’t obvious unless you get really close up.

The sleeves were pinned in place.

And sewn on with lots of tiny whip stitches.

And that’s about it for the bodice! After another fitting I added a modesty panel, and it was finished.

I’m pretty ecstatic with how this turned out. The fit and the way the materials work together is even better than I had hoped. The skirt didn’t go quite as well, but it all evens out.

The skirt for this project was an adventure. Not because the patterning was difficult – it’s basically rectangles with a sloped top. It’s the waistline that had me stumped. But we’ll get to that later.

Step one was cutting out four 42″ wide panels for the skirt, then sewing them together. This was easier said than done, since I wasn’t sure what petticoats I would be wearing with this, or how much volume the cartridge pleats would provide. So I had to guess the length. But I couldn’t cut the panels too long, since then I wouldn’t have enough fabric for the sleeves. It was stressful!

Once I managed that I sewed the pieces together, with seams at the center front, center back, and sides. The skirt opens from the front, so 10″ of the center front seam was left open.

I also sewed the front seam with a 5″ seam allowance, and with the wrong sides facing each other. Then ironed it open. This causes the darker “wrong” side of the fabric to be visible, and added more contrast after sewing on the trim.

For some reason I don’t have photos of any of those steps, but hopefully you’re still with me!

Next up was the pleating. Much like with the sleeves, I created a “facing” for the top edge of the skirt, which had guidelines marked.

The skirt actually had enough fabric in it to do real cartridge pleats (unlike the sleeves, where I needed to fake it). But the brocade I’m using is very thin, so I would have had to back the fabric with something thicker. And I was worried that would make the pleats stick out too much, creating more of an Elizabethan effect.

So I used cord to pad the pleats. These were cut into one and a half inch lengths.

Then sewn onto the cotton facing, and pinned to the top edge of the skirt.

I turned the facing inward to hide the raw edge, and it was ready for pleating!

After doing half the skirt, it became very clear to me that the cords were wayy too close together. The skirt would have had a waist of 60″ if I kept going!

So I started over and used a seam ripper to remove every other piece of cord.

When I resewed it the pleats were a lot deeper, and the waistline was much smaller.

Now it was time to add the waistband…that seems easy, right?

For most skirts from most periods, it would be.  But 17th century waistbands are a mystery to me because they don’t seem to exist. 

It’s a known fact that most bodices from this period had tabs to prevent the heavily boned bodices from digging into the wearers waist. Which means to cover the tabs, the skirt needs to go over the bodice. Except the waistband for the skirt isn’t visible in any. Of. These. Paintings.

Also – the point at the front of these bodices are visible in every. Single. Painting. Which means the skirt is worn over the tabs, and under the front of the bodice.

You may be thinking that an easy solution is sewing the skirt to the bodice, and having it close down the back. But that interrupts the cartridge pleats and destroys the shape of the skirt.

In this extant garment a small waistband is shown, and after many hours of frustrated searching without finding a better alternative, I decided to go with it. So my waistband is made from strips of brocade that were reinforced with interfacing and folded like double fold bias tape. The skirt was sewn to it by hand, with upholstery thread.

I actually used upholstery thread to do the pleating too, since it’s less likely to break under strain.

Here it is!

And from the interior.

I left the front of the waistband un sewn, since unlike the majority of the skirt, the front ten inches are not gathered. Instead they are left flat, and help create the smooth front, large rump effect that was popular in the mid 1600s (and continued to grow in popularity in the 1700s!).

Here you can see it in it’s current state on my dress form.

I realized that the waistline needed to be lower at the front so it could tuck under the bodice, so I cut several inches off.

Then I tried the skirt on and marked the hem. The skirt is hemmed symmetrically, but not evenly, since it was longer in some places than others, and I couldn’t predict the correct length when cutting the panels since I wasn’t sure how much volume the cartridge pleats would provide.

(The more volume a skirt has, the farther it will flare out, and the longer it needs to be)

And now it was time for sewing on the trim. I used seven yards of embroidered mesh lace that I bought on etsy. This was hand sewn on with two rows of stitching – one on either edge.

As you can see, down the center front (where the interior fabric was turned outward) the trim stands out more.

And on the hem it’s a bit more subdued.

Annoyingly, I was 4″ short of trim. Which left this gap at the back. I didn’t want to buy more trim, since it was only sold in 7 yard lengths, and took several weeks to arrive (at this point I planned on finishing this costume much earlier). My fix for this was sewing the narrower trim down the center back, which covers where the wider trim ends. There is still a gap, but it looks more intentional.

Then I sewed the remaining bit of the waistband onto the skirt, treating it like double fold bias tape.

The final few things to do where redoing things I had already marked as being finished. These things weren’t difficult, but they definitely weren’t fun. So I put them off for two months and only revisited this project earlier in the week.

(oops)

Thing one was tacking down fusible interfacing I had ironed to the center of the skirt to keep it smooth. It had started to pull away from the fabric and refused to stick.

It went from this:

To this! Much better.

I also had a problem with the waistband gaping where the cartridge pleats started. This was fixed with a little knife pleat that I tacked down by hand.

As far as closures go, the waistband attaches to the bodice with a hook and bar on either side. The bar is placed just above where the tabs end.

The slit closes with snaps. Half the snaps are actually sewn to a modesty panel, so the front of the skirt doesn’t overlap.

And that’s IT! After many weeks of work, and a lot of procrastination, this dress is finished! And I love it so much.

The only fault I have with it (aside from the gab in the trim) is that it could have used an extra half inch in the waist, since it’s hard to get the back to close completely when lacing it myself. But it does lace all the way closed if I put the effort in (which I didn’t for these photos…)

This dress will be worn with two accessories. The first is the chemise, which shows slightly at the neckline and underneath the sleeves.

For this I used two yards of sequin mesh – which looks beautiful, but those sequins are like little knives once you have the pressure of the bodice overtop…so I regret that.

 I also didn’t have enough fabric to make this the way I wanted. Or any trim that matched it. I regret that too.

I used the dress pattern as a base for the arm openings and neckline, I just made the bodice much bigger and longer so I could get it over my head.

I also used the sleeve pattern as a base – I just cut it to be more narrow.

After gathering the sleeves I sewed them to a gathered strip of lace, which had more of the sequin mesh sewn onto the hem. I’d originally planned on doing all of this out of sequin mesh, before I realized I didn’t have enough fabric.

The body of the chemise was originally made from two pieces of fabric, but it was comically small. I ended up using what little fabric I had left to form a gusset at the front – this looks really funny, but made it wearable, which was nice!

The top edge is trimmed with the scalloped edge of the fabric.  I hand stitched the seam allowance down to form a channel.

Then I threaded two strands of ribbon through the channel to create a drawstring effect – allowing me to lower or raise the neckline so it matches the neckline of the dress.

I sewed the sleeves on, and it was done! It came together in a few hours and looks quite nice underneath the dress.

The final accessory is a hat. As I said in my first post about this project, the inspiration is this painting. I bought a yard of blue stretch velvet for the hat, along with some bright orange feathers.

I made the base out of felt weight interfacing, with wire sewn into the edges. The brim was lined with brocade, then covered in velvet. The top portion was covered with velvet, then lined with cotton and sewn together.

I bound the brim with gold brocade, and covered the stitching with orange and gold sequins.

I sewed the pieces together and covered the join point with some braided gold cord.

I trimmed it with a gold bow and the feathers. I originally wanted to add flowers, but it ended up looking messy.

With the hat done, this project as a whole is done!

Though there are things I would change if I could, I’m really pleased with this project. I love the dress and the trims and the hat – and even the chemise, with it’s mismatched lace. I’m already brainstorming another (slightly less elaborate) 17th century project. But I may hold off for a couple months.

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed! And hopefully I will be able to photograph this soon.

 

Making an 1860’s Beetlewing Dress, Part One

If you clicked on this post thinking that title is an exaggeration, then you have severely underestimated me and the things I will buy on etsy.

I discovered beetlewing embroidery several years ago, when I was still really active on tumblr and this picture came across my dashboard. I thought it was stunning, and the fact that all the detail work was made from bugs fascinated me. But at the time I wasn’t doing a lot of hand work, and it never crossed my mind that I could make anything similar.

Over the past few months I’ve come across pictures of more extant garments that feature this technique. And after my tiny embroidery project earlier in the year (a stomacher), and an elaborate 1860’s dress under my belt,  I felt like I could actually take this on.

Beetlewing embroidery goes back hundreds of years, and from what I can tell, originated in China, Thailand, and India. I’m not sure how it came to be popular in Europe in the mid 1800’s, but it was, and the results are stunning. This pinterest board has lots of lovely examples.

My first “step” was buying the wings. I ordered 2,000 from this seller, which I’m really hoping will be enough.

The wings feel (and look) a bit like press on nails, but are a bit thicker and more brittle. Though they are wings, they aren’t like dragonfly wings – these are a firm shell.

A few other bloggers have made dresses featuring them, and they mentioned steaming the wings to make them flexible enough to poke holes in, where others used drills. I found this prospect kind of terrifying because I had a lot of wings, but luckily mine haven’t required either method. A sharp (large) needle goes through them and creates a big enough hole to get a smaller needle and a few strands of embroidery floss through.

The more time consuming part has been cutting off the point where the wings connected to the body of the beetle. It’s also sort of gross even though it’s all dried out.

As for fabric, I’ll be using 12 yards of lightweight cotton which I got from Hamed Fabrics.

The design isn’t fully figured out yet, but I know it will consist of a skirt, an evening bodice, and a day bodice. Which is very common for designs in the mid 19th century.

My inspiration for the bodice shapes, and the sleeves, is this ensemble – the skirt design is still kind of a mystery, but I’ll figure it out once the upper half is done. The embroidery pattern is made up, but influenced a lot but every other example I could find online.

The first step was draping – draping loose fitting bodices is always a pain, but I did the best I could.

I tried to change it up a little bit, so instead of the shoulder seam sitting at the top of the shoulder, it’s further back and gathered to add volume to the bust.

Here is one of the front pieces, with the shoulder gathered.

The back pieces, stitched together with french seams.

And here they are sewn together.

The side seams were done up as well, then the collar and hem were bound with bias tape made from green silk shantung. The front edges were also turned inward to finish them off nicely.

Now for the fun part – the beetles! I designed the embroidery pattern on paper, and fiddled around with the wings until I liked the shapes they made.

The paper was then placed underneath the fabric. I traced the stem design onto the right side of the fabric with a wash away pen.

And then the embroidery began! I didn’t do a great job documenting this, since I wasn’t sure it would work. I’ll make sure to take more photos of the skirt during these steps.

The stems were sewn with a split stitch. I outlined each one with two parallel lines of stitching, with a small gap between them, which is where I sewed gold seed beads. Then the wings were sewn on, and the “gaps” between the wings, as well as the base of them, were covered with green seed beads to make them look more like foliage.

I did as much of this as I could with a hoop.

  Then I sewed sequins around the design – a mixture of flat gold ones, faceted gold ones, and some that match the wings almost perfectly. 

Here is one section done!

However when it was all done, it felt a little sparse. So I added bugs. The bodies were made from embroidery floss and gold beads, with the beetle wings making up the wings. Then I embroidered on antennas and used faux black pearls as eyes.

I may make a video showing this process at some point!

After the embellishing was done I sewed in hook/bar closures, and gathered the waistline. However after a fitting I realized the waist was too small, so the gathering was ripped out and re-done.

Now time for the sleeves! It looks like a relatively normal sleeve pattern, but the twist is a rectangle gathered every 4″ to create puffs, which is sewn between these two pieces.

The top piece is the front (ignore the writing saying otherwise) – it’s narrower, so the puffs are more visible from the front and side of the sleeves when they are worn.

Here are the puffed portions after being gathered.

I sewed them onto a smaller piece of material so they held their shape.

Then that was sewn to the other pieces.

They looked okay, but were obviously missing bugs.

(I will never say that about anything else if my life)

I placed the bugs in the center of the gathering points, surrounded by sequins.

The side seam was done up, but I left the bottom few inches open to allow me to get the sleeves on and off. Then I turned the seam allowance inward with whip stitches to hide the raw edges.

The cuffs are made from interfaced cotton, with green silk piping trimming the edges. They are lined with more cotton, and close with two hooks/bars. Weirdly, these gave me a lot of trouble. I cut them the wrong length the first time, and had to re-do them. Then I gathered the sleeves to be too small and didn’t realize until after the cuffs were sewn on and the lining was in…cue me having to re-do it, again.

Here you can see the difference between the front and backs of the sleeves.

They were sewn on by machine, and that’s it!

And here are some worn photos – I don’t love the fit, I feel like it should be a little looser to provide more mobility of the arms. But I also really like how it looks.

(note, the ribbon is a placeholder to imitate the waistband of the skirt, it isn’t part of the bodice)

I think the proportion of the embroidery at the front is really nice, and I love the sleeves, the bugs with the gathering is really charming to me.

One things I’ll have to do before labeling this costume complete is make a corset cover. My corset is bright red, which doesn’t pair well with sheer white fabrics.

And that’s it! I’m not sure when the next post about this project will be done, since the skirt isn’t even started and the evening bodice is missing sleeves. But hopefully it will all come together nicely in the near future!

Thanks for reading!

Making a Striped Cotton Dress, Early 20th Century

I recently took a trip into the garment district, and for the first time in years I didn’t have a list of projects I was shopping for. However I did have a list of materials to keep an eye out for, and one of those was lightweight cotton.

Lightweight cottons are incredibly versatile – they can be used for foundation garments from any period, gauzy dresses from the 18th century to the mid 1800’s, and more practical pieces from the beginning of the 20th century.

I’ve always found it difficult to find lightweight, soft, yet sturdy cottons that would work for these pieces. Especially since (for me) a big part of a garment looking authentic is it’s texture – which is one of the challenges with plain cottons. They don’t have a lot of it, and garments can look cheap or flat regardless of how well constructed they are.

Which is why I really lucked out when I came across this striped cotton. It has a faded look to it, and the dots buried in the stripes add a bit of life to it. I originally thought it was red and white, but it’s more of a mauve. It’s very soft and slightly sheer – exactly what I hoped to find, and perfect for an edwardian day dress, which is what I decided to use it for!

If you read my recent Progress Report you may recall me raving over fashion plates of 20th century ladies in antique magazines, which definitely served as inspiration for this style of dress. But my main reference was this dressit was listed on etsy, with a bunch of close ups which helped me figure out the construction.

I think the end result is pretty lovely – but let’s start at the beginning!

Step one was draping. This was tricky to drape, since I wanted the oh so glamorous pigeon breast shape, where volume from the bust carries down the the waist, which is cinched in with gathers. It’s very easy to over exaggerate this shape and end up with way too much fabric in the front.

I was also challenged by the pleats in the shoulder – they look okay here, but I was concerned the ends of the pleats would splay open when it was worn.

The back has a box pleat in it, for decoration more than anything else.

I transferred that to paper, then made a mock up. The pleats and amount of volume worked surprisingly well, so I moved on without any alterations.

I cut all the pieces out, then marked the pleats on the wrong side of the fabric with pencil. They were ironed, pinned, then sewn down by hand. I also gathered the front of the bodice pieces.

And the back. For some reason the pleat wasn’t symmetrical, which really bothers me! But I wasn’t sure how much fabric I would need for the skirt, and I didn’t want to waste any by recutting this piece, so I didn’t bother redoing it.

Then I cut out a “facing” for the collar, which will actually serve as a base for the lace trim that will be shaped into a collar.

This was pinned on top of the striped fabric to prevent the stripes from being visible through the lace.

(before doing this I sewed up the shoulder seam with a french seam)

For lace I used a gathered eyelet trim from Jo-ann’s (I removed the gathers with a seam ripper, then ironed it flat) and a lace I got in a grab bag when I went to Lancaster. I wasn’t a big fan of this combination at first, but I don’t have a lot of white lace in my collection, so my options were limited.

I sewed the lace together by hand, to create a single two inch wide unit. Then I pinned that onto the collar.

And here it is sewn down. I had to pleat and gather parts, but after ironing it looked pretty smooth. It’s a bit hard to tell with the lighting, but the closure point is on the left side of the collar, imitating the dress I based this on.

Now it was starting to look like a bodice! Since one of my goals for this was to keep it very lightweight, I decided not to fully line it.

Instead I sewed the interior seams as french seams, and created a facing that extended from the neckline to the waistline. This was cut from muslin, then pinned to the right side of the fabric. I sewed it on with a half inch seam allowance, then turned it inward to hide the raw edges. I topstitched a quarter inch away from each edge by hand to prevent the facing from shifting and peaking out. I also tacked the far edges of the facing every few inches.

Now onto sleeves! The pattern I created for this is pretty shoddy, but it worked! The sleeves have four tiers, three made from striped fabric, and one made of lace.

The top tier has the stripes going vertically, tier two has the stripes going horizontally.

Tier three is actually muslin, which the lace was sewn over, and tier four is more horizontal stripes. I’m really happy with how the sleeves turned out, I love playing with the grain lines in fabric, but it can be hard to do without wasting a lot of material – not to mention tedious. This was an easy way to sneak it in and add some interest to a simple dress.

The lace pinned together – ready to be sewn together, then onto the sleeves.

And here they are in all their glory!

I left the sleeves unlined, since none of the fabrics are prone to fraying. But I did the side seam up as a french seam.

Then the bottom edge was turned inward by a half inch. I loved working with this fabric since the stripes served as  guidelines for where to sew.

The tops of the sleeves were gathered down by hand and sewn onto the bodice by machine. Then the seam allowance was whip stitched together by hand. This isn’t the cleanest finish, but it was popular in the 19th century and avoids additional bulk in an area where mobility is important – so it works for me!

Now I did a quick fitting and the end result wasn’t great. Though the pleats looked nice on my mockup, during this fitting they bunched really badly above the bust. There was a lot of folded material at the sides too, which was frustrating.

I ended up mostly fixing this by tacking the pleats down further, and tapering the ends off almost like darts. I did this with pins on the left side, which looks a lot better than the right side.

I think the folded material at the sides was caused by excess fabric in the back, which I fixed by gathering the center back portion down to be an inch and a half smaller. I also regathered the front panels so the volume was more focused at the front of the bust.

Later on I played around with foundation garments, and improved the shape even more – I found a ruffled corset cover made me look too barrel chested, but bust pads really improve the crinkling at the top of the corset.

With the fit fixed, I pinned on the waistband.

And that’s it for this post! Next up: the skirt, closures, hat, and finishing touches!

Thanks for reading!

An Orange Brocade Dress – Making a 17th Century Costume, Part One

It’s taken me longer than I had hoped, but I’m finally back with a “Making of” post! And it focuses on a project I’m really excited about: a seventeenth century ensemble.

I’ve wanted to make something from this period for a long time. It’s not a popular period for historical re-creation, but I’ve been attracted to it since I first started researching historical fashion. The high waists, bright silks, full sleeves, and jeweled decorations really appealed to me. And now that I know more about fashion from the 1500s and 1700s, I find the mid 1600s even more interesting since they are so drastically different than what came before them.

It’s also the period depicted in most of of Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens work, who are some of my favorite artists.

Despite my interest in the era, I haven’t completed a costume from the mid 1600’s. I’ve made some attempts, and even gotten pretty far! But bad fabric choices, fit issues, and poorly thought out designs have led to failure every time.

But this time I was determined. And luckily things went a lot better.

My previous attempts were based on simpler dresses that were free of decoration.  I’d still like to complete a dress of that style some day, but I thought success would be more likely if I went in a different direction.

Then I came across this painting and fell in love. I don’t like the mask, but textures, print, colors, and details really drew me in. I love the sheen on the dress, and how much depth it has. The amount of trim on it, and the paned sleeves looked like they would be a lot of fun to recreate. And I adore the hat, it helps balance out the proportions of the sleeves and skirt.

I couldn’t find a fabric deep enough in tone to match the painting, but I did find a lovely peach/orange/gold brocade in my price range. It’s from Fabric Express in NYC and cost $6/yd. I purchased eight yards but barely had enough material left to cut out the sleeves, so I should have bought more.

The trims are all from etsy. Seven yards of wide embroidered mesh trim (from HARMONYDIYLIFE), twenty yards of metallic embroidered mesh trim (from lacetrimwholesalers), and four yards of braided trim (from ddideas). I spent less than thirty dollars for the lot of them, and really lucked out in terms of color. They match the brocade perfectly. 

Once my materials were sorted, I did a bit more research and came up with a complete design (since the painting that inspired me only shows the top half of the bodice). I mostly used references from In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion*, which has some great images of paintings and extant garments from the period. This ensemble was also helpful to me (especially for the skirt), since it’s more complete than a lot of seventeenth century examples.

The Dreamstress and Before the Automobile have made dresses from this period, and I found their write ups helpful in terms of understanding the construction.

When it came to the pattern I discovered two in my collection – one in Patterns of Fashion*, by Janet Arnold, and another in The Cut of Women’s Clothes* by Norah Waugh. I ended up using the pattern from Norah Waugh’s book, with a few alterations.

I used a trick mentioned in one of the blog posts linked above, and fitted my first mock up over 18th century stays.  I lowered the neckline, let out the waist, lowered the waistline, and made the front piece longer. I debated about cutting the front and sides as a single piece, but decided assembly would be easier with them separate, so that’s what I did!

Then I made the base layer. Which is effectively fully boned stays – there is so much boning in them. The channels were all marked onto cotton, then backed with medium weight twill and sewn by machine. I used plastic quarter inch boning to fill them, then assembled the bodice.

I did a fitting here, and realized the bodice was too big! Well, too big might be a stretch. but it wasn’t giving me the shape I wanted, so I removed a half inch of material from the side panels.

Then I cut out the top layer from the brocade which was backed with fusible interfacing. I wanted to avoid the bodice being thick, or heavy, but I also wanted the top fabric to be thick enough to hide the boning. I haven’t had any problems with that, so I’m glad I decided to interface it.

Lace was sewn into the seams (which were stitched by hand) and in a straight line on the back edge.

Lace was also sewn onto the front panels. A lot of lace. Three rows of embroidered mesh ribbon, with the wider embroidered trim near the neckline. I also cut out brocade strips from the “wrong side” of the fabric, sewed those down, and covered the edges with lace. This added more depth to the front of the bodice.

I basted the center front seam first, just to make sure everything lined up. Then sewed it by machine.

Then the side seams were sewn.

I pinned the top layer of fabric to the base layer. The tabs and neckline were cut without seam allowances, so I whip stitched the edges together. But the back edges, and the bottom edge of the front panel were folded over the base layer, then sewn down.

Now it was time to bind the tabs. I hate binding tabs. I always do a really terrible job – and that’s when working with lightweight cottons! I figured binding brocade would be impossible. Since I was already prepared for them to look bad, I decided to try a new technique and used half inch wide strips of leather.

(The Dreamstress did this for her 1660’s piece as well)

Both the top, and bottom edge were sewn by hand. I don’t think the end result looks great. But I liked doing it all by hand, and the leather curved around the edges better than I had expected. I also liked being able to snip the underside without worrying about fraying.

The underside.

And a close up. I cut the strips from a skin I bought on ebay a while back. I don’t think it was quite as soft/thin as the kid leather that is usually used for this, but it was easy to get a needle through. And my sewing room smelled like leather for days!

Next up was the lining – cut from two pieces of cotton and sewed together at the center front. There weren’t any raw edges on the tabs, so I didn’t bother lining them.

The lining was whip stitched to the base layer.

Then I sewed all the eyelets! It was a bad week for my fingers between these and the tabs, but the embroidery floss I bought matches the fabric really well and I’m happy with how they look.

And the lined interior. The back edge of the lining was sewn after I finished the eyelets so it would cover the loose threads.

I also fray checked the back of every eyelet, since brocade is prone to fraying.

Now I had something that looked like this!

I sewed the shoulder seam, then did a fitting. Which went surprisingly well. The waist is a little tight, but there isn’t any gaping in the back. And it fits my shoulders nicely.

I was even happy with the neckline!

I finished the bodice off with more binding. I used quarter inch wide gold bias tape for the neckline, and half inch wide bias tape in matching brocade to finish the armscye.

And that’s it for this post!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed! I should be back with another one soon.

Part two of this post can be read here.

Fabric Haul and Future Projects, January 2017

I’m happy to report that I’m starting my year off with lots of new fabric, and many sewing plans! Once again I chose to put my Christmas money towards materials purchased in the NYC garment district, and today I’m sharing what I got and what I plan on turing them into.

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I went in with a flexible list of things I wanted to make and was lucky enough to find the perfect fabrics for most of them. I think I bought enough fabric for ten projects – after a few trim orders from etsy arrive I’ll be set for the next few months!

The first project on my shopping list is one I’ve wanted to make for a long time: a mid 17th century evening gown. I purchased material for one a couple years ago, and even got the bodice mostly constructed. But the fit was really off, and I didn’t go in with a solid plan so it was hard to overcome the problems I hit.

However I’ve learned a lot since then, and it’s still one of my favorite periods for fashion. I’m determined to make a dress that will do the era justice. I’m using a lot of reference photos for this costume, but my main inspiration is this funny little painting. I love the bold color, heaps of trim, and the hat!

With that in mind, I purchased eight yards of this orange brocade. It’s base color is peach, but it has rich orange and gold flowers woven into it. I love the sheen it has and think it will make a lovely gown!

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As happy as I am to have found a fabric in the color I wanted with such a beautiful sheen, I wish I had found it earlier. Because at the beginning of the day I came across a very pretty raspberry brocade and decided it was probably the closest I would get, so I bought it.

Now I have two brocades, and no real plans for the first one I bought. But it is beautiful! It doesn’t have the scratchy texture that most brocades have, it feels almost soft, with a very finely woven print. I think it will be lovely to work with whenever I find a use for it! I’m open to ideas.

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It also has a fair amount of body to it…I purchased six yards since it’s 60″ wide. I wonder if that would be enough for something Elizabethan? Though the color is a little unusual for that period.

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Also for the 1630’s ensemble I bought a yard of stretch velvet in a greyish blue. This is for the hat.

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I bought some brightly colored feathers for the hat too, which I think will help tie the costume together.

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And lastly for this project I bought three yards of embroidered mesh. I saw this while walking out of a store and turned back for it. I thought it would be perfect for decorative under sleeves – not the most accurate choice, but it’s so pretty! And it has sequins on it. I can’t resist sequins.

Much to my surprise, it was only four dollars a yard. So I got three yards of it, which should be enough for a decorative chemise. I think it may be too cool toned for this project (it looked warmer under the lights in the store). So I’ll probably wait to make the chemise after the dress when I have a better idea of what will compliment it.

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The next project I purchased fabric for is a simple medieval costume. I’ve been wanting to make another one of these for a while, since really enjoyed the Cotehardies I made this time last year.

I haven’t planned the design for this project too much, but I want it to consist of a front lacing kirtle with a surcoat layered over top. The project won’t have any embellishments, other than some trim on the hem of the surcoat (and that’s only if I can find any I like).

I purchased two medium weight wools for this project. It was quite the challenge finding these fabrics. The person helping me kept asking what I wanted, and all I could say was “Something with nice texture to it that will be $10 or less a yard” because I didn’t have a color in mind, I just wanted fabric with enough texture that it wouldn’t look boring despite the simple design.

Luckily we managed to find something, and I love it. It’s dark purple and  medium weight – too heavy for suiting, but lighter than a coating. I think it’s perfect.

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The second material I purchased is probably less historically accurate – I doubt that weave would have been possible in the 1400s. But I really like the weight of this, and think that texture will look awesome in photos. It was also one of the few fabrics I could find that looked nice with the purple (other options were black, or light pink).

If we’re ignoring historically accuracy, I’m really happy with this fabric. It feels almost like flannel, very soft but drapes the way you would expect medium weight wool to. I think both of these fabrics will be really nice to work with.

Side note: I was really impressed with the store I bought this from, Fabric Express. I’ve been in there before but only bought lace, or talked to the assistant. I was helped by the owner this time and he was really patient and I got great deals on everything – the wool, brocade, velvet, and lace fabric are all from this shop. Silk is cheaper at Diana’s Fabrics but this is going to become one of my go-to stops for other things.

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Another project I have planned is an 1820’s evening gown. I actually came across the inspiration for this while researching another idea I had. One of my search terms brought up this fashion plate and I fell in love.

I like the silhouette of the 1820s in general, but this dress is inspired by renaissance fashion while also having infamous details from the 1820s, like padded hems and trim, which makes it even better. I’ve never made a dress that incorporates padding, and it seems like a fun challenge!

I had hoped to find silk satin for this project, but it was very expensive, even in the garment district. So instead I bought silk shantung. I think the stiffness of this will really help with construction and creating the bell shape this dress requires…but it doesn’t have quite the look I was going for.

For the pink trim I bought cotton sateen. I’m actually disappointed in this purchase too, I feel like the shade of pink is too bright and cool toned. It makes me think of pepto bismol. So I’m going to keep my eyes out for sales and see if I can pick up a fabric in a better shade.

Aside from that, I’m really excited to get to work on this project. I think it’ll be fun!

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From Diana’s fabrics I picked up more silk shantung. This is the same shop I bought the bright orange silk from for my Pumpkin dress. I had so much fun working with that fabric that I knew I wanted to pick up more, this time with an 1880’s bustle dress in mind.

I went for a lovely copper color, that shines red and brown depending on the lighting. It’s really pretty and I’m sure it will be lovely to work with!

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From the same shop I bought the base material for a dress I plan on making, which is inspired by this painting. I’ve always been a fan of Russian court dresses, but they usually involve long trains covered in elaborate embroidery that would take teams of master embroiders 6 months to make. There isn’t any way I could take a project like that on myself without spending hundreds of dollars on pre made appliques.

Which is why I was very excited to come across this painting. It has some of the features of Russian court gowns that I really like, without the embroidery. Once again silk satin probably would have been more accurate for this project, but I found a polyester shantung in the color I wanted, with a beautiful two tone sheen, and a crispness that should make the pleats in the skirt easier. It was also $5 a yard, which is tough to beat!

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The color is kind of unappetizing, but I think the sheen and two tone effect will make up for that.

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For the front panel I purchased two yards of alencon lace. I think this will provide a good base for the heaps of rhinestones and embellishments that the skirt will eventually have.

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I plan on getting most of the embellishments online, but I did make the mistake of purchasing some at beads world. See that tiny bag on the right? That was $10 dollars. The bag on the left with 12x the number of rhinestones? It was $13. I goofed up by going to beads world first – I always forget how overpriced some of their stuff is.

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Also from beads world I bought white sequins in a variety of sizes/sheens, which I plan on using for the 1820’s dress. And some glass montees for the court dress and headpiece.

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On the topic of notions, I only purchased two trims on this trip (though I ordered a dozen others from etsy). The first is for the 1820’s dress, it’s a very soft and sweet lace trim with a few beads and sequins for embellishments. I thought this would be cute around the neckline and cuffs of the sleeves.

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I also purchased some woven trim. This wasn’t purchased with anything in mind, but I really like the weight of it and think the colors will be easy to match within my stash (or things I buy in the future) so I’m confident it’ll be used eventually.

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Now back to fabrics! The rest of these materials weren’t on my list, they were just things that caught my eye.

The first is a striped silk broadcloth. I love striped fabrics, especially the challenge of matching them up and playing with the different directions they can go. It’s kind of a pain sometimes, but it’s also very satisfying. Unfortunately it’s pretty difficult to find apparel weight striped fabrics that aren’t pin striped. So when I came across this: Striped, light weight and in the color I have a weakness for…I needed to take it home with me.

I purchased eight yards of it. But it’s quite narrow, so I picked up five yards of cotton sateen in a matching color to compliment it. The striped fabric was from Hamed Fabric, and the sateen was actually from Jo-anns.

I plan on using these for a seaside costume – either from the late 1800’s or early 1900s.

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Another striped fabric that caught my eye is this lightweight polyester. It feels like a softer version of taffeta, without the sheen. I really liked the width of the stripes in this, and the tweed texture on the material between them. I though this would work well for a bustle dress, since I could play with the directions of the stripes in the ruffles.

It was the end of the day and I had gone over budget, so I only purchased five yards of it, which isn’t enough for a full dress. But I think it will be easy to match, since the main colors are white, grey, black, and dark red – I may even have a dark red cotton sateen in my collection that would match.

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A project I had in mind, but not on my list was a Renaissance ensemble. I’ve wanted to make another one of these for a while, but didn’t have enough brocade on hand for one. This one caught my eye because it’s an interesting color. I would describe it as a cool toned pink, but it has a strong gold sheen to it.

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It’s almost two tone, with how vibrant the gold is in the light. I think it will make a beautiful skirt!

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From another shop I bought two yards of metallic rose printed brocade. I had hoped this would match the other pink fabric, but it’s way too warm toned. However I think it will make a beautiful foundation garment – I’m making a few 18th century undergarments this year, and two of them are pink. A matching set of brocade stays would be quite lovely!

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The last fabric I bought was one I saw early in the day, but put back because it was too ridiculous. But then I kept thinking about it. Because it’s sparkly, and pink, and ridiculous, and just the time of thing I want in my life but probably won’t use.

However I know from previous shopping trips that when I think about a fabric that much, I usually regret not getting it. And at eight dollars for a yard and a half I figured it couldn’t hurt.

This is a pink mesh with metallic cording stitched on to form scallops and a floral pattern. Both edges have trim, with appliques trailing through the center. I have no idea what I’ll use this for but I really love it.

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And that’s it! I’m very happy with what I got, and excited to get started! Annoyingly I can’t begin on the more elaborate projects until some trim I ordered arrives, but that gives me a reason to finish a few WIP’s from 2016, so it’s probably for the best.

I hope you have lots of sewing plans for the new year too 🙂

Thanks for reading!

 

Making an 18th Century “Undress” Costume – The Jacket

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I was busy enjoying a break from social media obligations, but I’m back now and happy to be writing again! I have a ton of projects to talk about – both ones in progress, and ones I completed last year and never wrote about.

But I’m going to start the year off by talking about the first project I’ve completed in 2017: An 18th Century “Undress” Ensemble. It sounds a bit scandalous, but in this case “Undress” is used to refer to informal garments from the 1700’s, rather than anything that goes underneath them.

I decided to start on this after flipping through reference books in search of inspiration. The patterns for “undress” appropriate jackets in Janet Arnold’s  Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses* caught my eye – and a quick search through my stash showed that I had almost everything I needed to make one…plus a matching skirt and some knitwear accessories inspired by Outlander.

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I’m really happy with material selection for this – I used 6 yards of a checked brown and black fabric from the Plaiditudes collection (my favorite), 2 yards of loosely woven polyester, and a yard of purple sweater knit. I don’t think any of these are historically accurate, but I love the textures they have.

I did have to buy two buttons, two yards of interfacing, a yard of muslin, and two packages of embroidery floss (which came to a grand total of $8) but everything else was from my stash.

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To get started I scanned, then resized the jacket pattern from Janet Arnold’s book and copied it to paper. When doing this I changed the scale from 1″ to 1 1/4″ – which meant my pattern ended up being considerably larger than the original one. This was intentional, since I knew it would be easier to size it down than size it up while trying to preserve the pleats in the skirt.

The end result was way too long waisted for me, but the width was almost perfect. I raised the waistline by an inch, changed the back curve, and added a dart to the bust, but otherwise it was good!

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Here is the mock up I made. This jacket is meant to be worn with a stomacher, but a pattern for that wasn’t included. So I pinned a piece of cotton to the front of my stays, then drew the shape I thought the stomacher should have onto the cotton.

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The stomacher was actually the first part of this costume I began work on, and one of the things that attracted me to this project. I was going through hand sewing withdrawal and wanted something I could work on in front of the TV – hand embroidery seemed perfect for that!

I browsed through a lot of stomacher patterns but most were more eleborate than I wanted (and could manage with my meager embroidery skills). So I freehanded my own design that was simpler.

I drew the design right onto my pattern, then scanned it and made a few changes in photoshop. The design was mirrored, then printed out and taped together.

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wanted to traced the design onto my fabric, which would have made embroidering it way easier. But the weave of the fabric I chose was too loose – pencils didn’t mark it, and ink would spread down the fibers and be visible in the end.

So I used the method I usually use for sequins: Trace the design onto interfacing, then ironing the interfacing onto the back of fabric. I used basting stitches to bring the design to the front, then got to work!

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I didn’t take any progress shots with my “blogging” camera, but I did post a couple on instagram. I used a split stitch to outline everything, then filled sections in using a satin stitch. I tried to pick colors for this design that had the same level of depth as the purple and brown fabrics I’m using for the rest of the costume.

Here it is finished, right out of the hoop.

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And after being ironed! I’ve attempted a few embroidery projects before but this is the first one I’ve finished. Considering that, I’m really happy with it. It isn’t as symmetrical as I would like, but the inconsistencies aren’t too major either.

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I cut the embroidered piece to the right size, then sewed it to canvas and cotton with the right sides facing each other. After turning it the right way out the edges were neatly finished. Plastic boning was inserted between the cotton and canvas to help it sit nicely, then I tacked the layers together by hand.

I added a ruffle to the top edge for a bit of interest, and tabs of ribbon so I can pin it to my stays. And that was it!

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The rest of the jacket pieces (except for the sleeves…more on those later) were cut from the brown checked fabric. The bodice of the jacket was assembled by machine with half inch seam allowances.

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The “skirt” of the jacket was hemmed by hand. Looking back I wish I had bag lined with instead – doing those points was fiddly, and this fabric frayed so much that I had to do a double hem. The end result is really bulky and the pleats didn’t set as much as I would have liked.

But in the past I’ve bag lined the bottom of jackets and the lining was visible and looks awful. I guess the answer would be facing the hem with fashion fabric, then sewing lining in…but I didn’t have enough fabric to do that. Sometimes it feels like you can’t win!

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I ironed the pleats in place and marked the pocket placement with basting stitches.

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The waist seam was sewn – this should have been easy, but getting the point at the center back symmetrical was a huge chore and still isn’t perfect. After redoing it four times I gave up.

With the skirt on, I turned the front edge and neckline inward and sewed it down by hand.

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Then the lining was sewn in. The lining is made using the same pattern and made from lightweight cotton. It has two bones at the side seams and center back, along with a bone from the dart at the front down to the waistline. These help support the points at the front and back of the jacket as well as the eyelets.

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Here it is after all those steps.

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Next up – the eyelets. Annoyingly I couldn’t find brown thread that matched, so I used black instead. These were sewn by hand.

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And on to pocket flaps! I traced the pattern onto cotton, then pinned the cotton to my fashion fabric and sewed around the line I traced.

I cut a generous slash in the back so I could turn them the right way out, then topstitched around the edges by hand.

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Messy on the inside, but the front is what matters, right?

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I sewed them on over the basting stitches with tiny whip stitches.

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I really splashed on the buttons for these. They were a whole 60c.

(I bought and sewed these on after finishing the rest of the jacket so you won’t see them in the next few photos)

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Now it was time for sleeves. I was not excited about these. My instant success with the fit of the jacket did not extend to these – I found the original pattern for them way too wide in the cap of the sleeve, too curved at the elbow, not curved enough at the armscye. They didn’t sit nicely or fit at all.

After a ton of alterations I got something I was happier with. And I freehanded a cuff pattern to go with it.

Originally I was going to make the cuff a different style, but I didn’t have enough fabric for my first choice. And by that point I was too lazy to size the pattern up again just to trace the cuff out so I made something up.

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Everything was cut out. Then I marked the pintucks onto the top of the sleeves.

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These were pretty fiddly to do…

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But offer a smoother alternative to pleats or gathers, which I like.

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Then the side seams were done up.

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And I repeated the process with a silky lining. Not accurate, but makes getting a costume on way easier.

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I sewed these together at the cuff, then turned them the right way out and basted along the top edge.

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The cuffs were backed with interfacing, then sewn together. I used stitching to make guidelines a half inch away from each edge, then turned these edges inward by hand.

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I lined the cuffs with a heavyweight twill to help support them.

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Then I made a ruffle from the same fabric I used for the stomacher. Originally the tops of these were supposed to be visible over the cuffs…but that looked bad.

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After some trial and error I decided they looked best pinned to the interior of the sleeves. I neglected to finish the top edge before sewing these in place. The end result is hilariously messy. I’m kind of ashamed.

BUT I was an hour away from finishing this costume and really impatient, so I pressed on. I do plan on fixing this later, but it would have been a lot faster to finish them in the moment. I don’t know how my brain gets so excited to spent 15 hours embroidering something but can’t take an extra 10 minutes to neatly finish a raw edge.

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Luckily it looks nice from the outside.

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I sewed the sleeves onto the bodice, and that was it!

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Aside from a few details in the finishing (the point at the back, the hem, the interior of the cuffs…) I’m really happy with this. The fit is pretty great, I can get into it on my own, I love the fabrics, and it’s a bit different from what I usually do.

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Here is a crappy picture of it worn.

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In case the dirty mirror makes that photo too horrifying to look at – here is a photo of it worn with the skirt!

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And that’s it for today! Part two should be up soon, but I have a fabric haul to share first.

Thanks for reading, and I hope your year is off to a good start!

 

 

Making a Draped Velvet Dress

It’s that time of the year again! The time where I make a holiday inspired dress out of festively colored fabrics! In the past these have been elaborate gowns, and usually some of my favorite costumes that I make in a year. This years doesn’t rank that highly on my list, since it’s lacking the ruffles and beaded details that I gravitate towards, but I do like how it turned out! Especially considering that inspiration was tough to come by for this piece.

really wanted to make an elaborate 1950’s style evening gown, but I didn’t have the materials for it. The next idea I had and felt enthusiastic about was more appropriate for a snowy winter backdrop, which we won’t get until January or February. So I settled on this design: A “simple” draped gown made from red velvet.

Though this looks easier than my previous Christmas costumes it took longer than last years to put together. I’m far more comfortable with making structured, or ruffly gowns. Doing something sleek and draped requires skills I’ve never had to develop.

But I think I managed to do an okay job! Since the dress was lacking drama I paired it with some home made accessories with hopes it would dress the ensemble up. I think it worked out quite nicely, though it still isn’t my favorite project of the year.

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The first step was playing around with velvet and pinning it to my dress form until I had a shape I liked. I really liked how it looked with the center gathered, a deep neckline, and off the shoulder draped straps (sleeves?) so I decided to go with that. Then I pinned cotton onto the other side of my dress form until I achieved a similar shape.

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I transferred that onto paper and added seam allowances. Now I had a pattern to use for the base. Even though this dress looks loose and (hopefully) effortless, it has a stiff base layer that supports the shape and keeps everything in place. This is especially important for this project since velvet is heavy – keeping it up takes work!

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I debated about making a mock up but since the boning determines the fit, and boning is a pain to sew into mock ups I decided to make the real thing right away. But I was willing to restart if it was really off.

Luckily it fit perfectly! I decided to deepen the neckline, and make it more of a “V” than the sweetheart shape it originally had, but everything else seemed fine.

The base layer was cut from a cheap, stiff, quilting cotton. I cut each piece out four times, so the base is two layers of quilting cotton thick. This makes it more supportive and means I could insert the boning in between the layers of fabric rather than having to sew external boning channels.

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After adding the boning (all 1/4″ plastic bones) I turned the neckline inward.

In this picture the left is turned inward more than the right side to create the V effect I wanted. After deciding I preferred this I repeated the process on the other side

. Since the base layer will be hidden by velvet I sewed all these edges by machine.

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I sewed facings to the arm openings…then realized I forgot to support the highest points of the bodice, which also happen to be where the straps mount. This meant there would be nothing to support the straps, and they would flop outward.

So I sewed external boning channels made from ribbon on either side of the arm openings.

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I also turned the bottom and back edges inward.

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The final step for the base layer were the sleeve supports – which are just pieces of ribbon sewn to the high points of the bodice.

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Here it is on the dress form. The ugly side faces outward, since that will be the side covered by velvet.

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While it was on my dress form I draped velvet overtop and used basting stitches to mark the points where the velvet should be gathered or turn inward.

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Once I took it off my dress form I smoothed out the edges, then used it as a guide for cutting out a piece of velvet for the other side.

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These pieces were sewn together across the front edge with a one inch seam allowance. Then I used pins to mark the gathering line at the front.

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It was gathered down by hand with running stitches. Something about gathering velvet is super satisfying, it’s thick enough to form cartridge-pleat-like gathers but has a wide enough weave that it’s easy to sew through. Every other part of working with velvet sucks, but it gathers beautifully.

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I roughly turned the edges inward and pinned the front panel onto the base layer.

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Then I pinned that onto my dress form and draped the skirt panel for the back of the dress.

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And I used that as a guide for cutting out the panel for the other side.

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The top edge was gathered down so there is more volume at the back of the skirt.

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Then it was sewn onto the bodice portion of the back panel, which was cut from the same pattern as the base layer.

The side seams were sewn up too, with a one inch seam allowance. I sewed all the seams in this normally – no french seams for once! Velvet is really prone to shifting and sewing the pieces together once was enough of a headache, so I just pinked the edges and decided to let them be.

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To make the neckline a little less extreme (and to incorporate a color I plan on using for next years project) I cut four inch wide strips of mesh. I folded the mesh in half so it was more opaque, then sewed it onto the neckline of the bodice in such a way that it extends three quarters of an inch past the base layer.

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Then I pinned the dress onto the base layer. I started at the waistline, then moved upward.

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I sewed the waistline of the velvet layer to the base by hand with whip stitches.

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I tried the bodice on at this point and the result was disappointing. The waistline looked fine, but the velvet was really droopy in the bust area and I couldn’t see how to fix it. I didn’t think the bodice fit my dress form well enough to adjust the draping there, and the dress didn’t have closures yet, so I couldn’t wear it while adjusting it.

After a few days of procrastinating I tried pinning it to my dress form and that worked amazingly well. In ten minutes and with a bit of pinning I had fixed the droopiness. I’m glad I found an easy solution, but I sure wish I had tried it a few days earlier!

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After smoothing out the edges a bit more I took the dress off my dress form, then sewed around all the edges with slip stitches so they are secured to the base layer.

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I also folded the bottom edge of the straps inward, and the material at the back of the bodice. The photo of it finished is a bit blurry, but you get the idea!

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Then I sewed closures in, which are eyelets embroidered with matching thread.

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At this point I decided to finish the dress in two days so I could photograph it that weekend (made more difficult by the limited hours I could work on it and have good enough lighting to film the process) so photographing my progress fell to the wayside. Sorry about that, I’ll try to explain everything I forgot to photograph!

After a fitting I realized the bodice was a bit big – it stayed in place when worn, but wasn’t as flattering as I wanted. I ended up taking it in near the side seams with darts.

I also realized that the straps looked pretty pathetic, which I was expecting. They were really narrow and lacking the draped effect I wanted. So I cut out two rectangles, hemmed the edges with a cross stitch, and gathered the short edges down to approximately two inches. These were pinned just underneath the existing straps. I sewed the gathered edges to the base layer, with the top edge secured to the bottom of the ribbon sleeve support.

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I sewed up the back seam with a one inch allowance and left the top ten inches open. I folded the edges of the unsewed portion inward, then sewed them down by hand. Three snaps were sewn to the opening to keep it closed. Then I sewed a velvet modesty panel to the back, it’s mostly to prevent skin from showing through the eyelets, but I extended to past the opening left in the skirt, since snaps aren’t super reliable.

The hem is a half inch rolled hem sewn by hand. It might be my least favorite hem I’ve ever done – the sewing is fine, but it’s SO uneven. I leveled it while the dress was on my dress form and though it looks perfect when worn, I swear there are four inch discrepancies between each side. I have no clue what happened.

After a fitting I noticed the dress was gaping away from my shoulders. It fit the bust fit fine, but the weight of the velvet I added to the straps made the high points of the bodice fold outward. So I sadly had to add over the shoulder straps, which did not go with the design I planned. But it meant I got to use some of the glittery velvet ribbon I’ve been hoarding since last Christmas, which was nice.

In future I would shorten these straps – I sewed them on the night before wearing it, and did not do a fit check. They stay up but only if I stand very straight, which is kind of annoying.

The final touch were a few velvet poinsettias and sprigs of pine that I glued on.

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I was worried these would take away from the simple elegance of the dress, but I think they add a lot to it. It makes it more interesting it and ties the dress and the accessories together.

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Only thing I regret is placing one pine sprig in such a way that it digs into my armpit. That was a bad decision.

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Speaking of accessories – this dress has three! The first is the headpiece I made last year, which you can see a tutorial of here.

The other two are new additions – a staff, and a necklace. I thought the dress was a bit boring on it’s own, and these made it more exciting and costume-y. They were also really easy to make.

For the necklace I used two strands of red glass beads I got from Jo-anns, plus a crystal pendent. These were threaded onto some 6lb fireline with a clasp at the back. Then I used some thread to tie a piece of chain to the clasp, which hangs closer to the throat. I also tied three smaller crystal beads onto it. The whole thing isn’t very sturdy, I really should have bought a heavier thread, and chain that was meant for beading, not for sewing onto garments, but it’s pretty!

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The staff took longer to make, but it wasn’t very challenging either. My dad and I went hunting for appropriate sticks in our backyard and eventually found a small pine tree that had been cut down a few years prior. We broke off the branches and he cut off the bottom twelve inches so it would fit in the car.

Then I decorated it. Since the bark was spiky I glued ribbon around the point I planned on grasping it. I also glued on glittery pine cones, fake glittery pine branches, and velvet poinsettias to make it more exciting. There is a strand of lights on it took, which unfortunately don’t show up well in photos.

I was worried I didn’t get enough to decorate it (I was too cheap to buy the garlands – the ones I liked would have been thirty bucks). In total I spent fifteen dollars to decorate it and I have a ton of flowers leftover.

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And that’s it! As I said, it isn’t my favorite Christmas costume, but I like how it turned out. Especially with all the accessories – I think they really bring it together.

I’m also glad I pushed myself a bit, maybe I’ll do more things with draped details in the future.

Thanks for reading! A post with photos will follow this one! And if you want to see videos of me constructing then click here!

Making a Green Edwardian Gown

This weeks project is one I’ve had roughly planned ever since I saw the first season of Downton Abbey and fell in love with this dress. I love the deep green color, and how elaborate it is while still being simple in design. Back in April I bought four yards of green satin faced chiffon with plans to make something similar.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find an eleborate lace in a matching color, so I decide to make my dress a bit simpler. After some more research I came across this dress, which I really like (especially the lace undershirt and use of black netting), along with these dresses.

The finished dress takes inspiration from all of them – plus some stuff I made up!

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I didn’t take any pictures of the drafting process, but the bodice is a simple three panel pattern with darts to shape the back and front. The skirt is also three pieces, with a straight front, flared sides and a bit of gathering at the back.

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I cut all the pieces out from a light green polyester charmeuse that I picked up for $4/yd during my shopping trip in Pennsylvania. It was a tight fit, but I managed to get all the pieces cut from the three yards I had.

The skirt panels were sewn together with one inch seam allowances. I left the edges raw, and facing outward since the satin faced chiffon will cover them.

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I leveled the hem since it was a bit wonky, then sewed horsehair braid into it to give the skirt a bit more body. I also sewed the darts into the bodice, and the waist seam.

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Then I repeated the process with the bodice – here you can see it on the dress form, along with some matching appliques I found on etsy. The darts on this didn’t turn out very well since satin faced chiffon is a pain to sew with, but luckily it wasn’t too noticeable in the end.

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I cut the skirt out of satin faced chiffon too, then sewed the pieces together. I trimmed the hem and turned it inward by a half inch, then inward by another half inch to create a rolled hem that was whip stitched in place by hand.

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I sewed the chiffon to the charmeuse around the neckline, with the right side of the satin facing the wrong side of the charmeuse. Then I basted the layers together around the arm openings and waistline.

I sewed some black lace around the neckline by hand, then placed the appliques. It took me longer than I would like to admit to get these symmetrical, but I’m happy with the end result.

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I should mention that the appliques match the fabric perfectly, but something about the sheen of the chiffon makes it look teal in photos rather than the emerald green it actually is.

(I made sure to confirm this with every member of my family so I know I’m not crazy)

I’ll edit the color balance in worn photos of it if it becomes necessary, but I couldn’t be bothered for the progress photos.

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I sewed the appliques on and now it was time for sequins. A couple years ago a follower of my blog (I’m not sure if she would want her name mentioned) was kind enough to send me some beautiful vintage sequins. I’ve used the clear ones on a few projects, but this was the first time I had a project suitable for the black ones.

I can’t even tell you how excited I was to finally work with these – look at all those colors! They are black but shine purple and green, almost like an oil slick effect.

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I started off with just a few around the neckline, and some on the sides of the waistband (which is just a gathered rectangle of mesh).

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But I quickly came to my senses and realized it needed way more sequins, which led to this!

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This shows the sheen of the fabric (and the sequins) a bit better. I think it’s a pretty dreamy combo!

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After a fitting I realized the lining was visible below the hem of the satin faced chiffon, so I raised the hem with a horizontal dart a few inches below the waistline. This way I didn’t have to mess with the horsehair braid in the hem.

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Speaking of the hem, I decorated it with some green lace that was stitched on by hand (which once again, matches the fabric but doesn’t look that way in photos) and more sequins. The trim had little swirls that were perfect for embellishments.

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I sewed the back seam of the charmeuse and satin faced chiffon separately, and left the top eight inches of the skirt open. Then I turned that edge, along with the back edge of the bodice inward by an inch. Then I turned it inward again and whip stitched it down.

The back closes with hooks and bars. I sewed the waistband down to either side of the closure point, and when it’s worn the waistband ties in a bow.

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It isn’t the prettiest bow, but it’s still a bow!

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Now it was time for sleeves! These are just simple straight sleeves I drafted, then cut from the satin faced chiffon and charmeuse. The hem is finished with black lace, and a doubled band of netting. I embellished the hem with some sequins and finished the top edge with lace binding.

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The arm openings of the dress were finished with lace binding too, then the sleeves were sewn on by machine.

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There are a few pulls in the sleeves that I’ll have to steam out, but other than that the dress is finished! I really love how it turned out. It’s the elegant, sparkly, simple, edwardian gown I’ve always wanted, and I can’t wait to get photos of it!

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The construction isn’t my best, but I don’t think you can tell from the finished dress. I think it’s pretty lovely for a week and a half of work and less than fifty dollars of material!

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I intend to wear that dress over a blouse, as inspired by this dress. I don’t think it’s necessary for modesty like it is with that gown, but high lace collars are a big part of the early 1900’s, so I wanted to have the option.

I made this from scraps of silk satin I had leftover from a chemise, and a piece of lace that was slightly larger than a fat quarter. Since I didn’t have enough lace for the whole blouse, I made half of it from muslin, and used lace trim down the center of the sleeves and back.

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I don’t think I took any progress photos of this, but it was pretty easy to make. There was just a lot of hand sewing since the lace was sewn to lace trim, then basted to satin.

I used another lace around the cuffs, and added a few sequins for a bit of interest.
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The back closes with snaps.

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I think they look very pretty together!

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To finish off the ensemble I made a headband. I started with a strip of black mesh, then chopped the lace trim I had leftover from the hem into tiny appliques. These were sewn on by hand, with gaps left in between.

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I covered the gaps and edges with sequins, then whip stitched the visible netting inward.

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And the final touch were some dyed feathers I got in the garment district last year. I glued most of these onto the underside of the headband with E6000.

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And that’s it! I haven’t tried all the pieces on together, but I plan to this weekend so I can get photographs of it. It’s so different from the other projects I’ve been working on recently and I adore the end result. Though part of that probably has to do with the materials – emerald green satin faced chiffon and vintage sequins do a lot of the work for you!

Thanks for reading!

 

1830’s Plaid Pleated Dress, Photos

Today I have another set of photos to share. Much like the last photos I posted, these have an autumn theme and were taken in a pumpkin patch. I thought it would be make the perfect lighthearted backdrop for a wacky dress like this one, and it did not disappoint!

This was my first time having the whole ensemble on and I was pretty pleased with it – everything fit and was really comfortable. I was a bit concerned the petticoat would show, or that the bonnet would slip around, but neither of those were an issue.

I paired this with my regency stays that I made ages ago, and my “Victorian“* boots. Neither are particularly accurate to this period but helped achieve the silhouette I wanted. I talk more about the petticoats and the construction of this costume in these posts:

Post 1: The Bodice

Post 2: The Sleeves, Skirt, and Bonnet

Before getting into the photos I wanted to mention my last post, where I reviewed a bunch of costume reference books. If you’re interested in any of them this is the time to buy! Amazon has $10 off book purchases, and Barnes & Noble has 15% off your order, which makes the price of those pretty inspiration books a bit easier to manage!

Now onto the photos!

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And some muddy boots after a long morning! Luckily none got on the dress.

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And that’s it! Thanks for reading!

Historical Costume Reference Book Reviews

This post has been planned for years I’ve just always put off writing it. As much as I like writing reviews, looking at a massive stack of books and trying to write intelligently about them is pretty intimidating. But I was determined to get it done, and I have! And just in time for the holiday season! I hope this is helpful for anyone looking to buy books, or if you’re just curious about the books I reference when making costume!

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I have two disclaimers before getting started. Firstly, I do not own the rights to any of these works. The copyright for each book belongs to the authors, publishers, and contributors, not me. In this post I’ve included two pages from the interior of each book which I believe falls under fair use. The photos are sized down or taken from angles where the pages aren’t usable for anything other than understanding the format of each book. They are not intended to harm the commercial value of the books. But I’ll happily take down any of the images if the copyright holders ask.

And the second: The links in this post are amazon affiliate links. This means if you buy something through the links I get paid small percentage of the purchase price for referring you to that item. It doesn’t change the price of the item, or the shopping experience at all.  But if you’re uncomfortable with this the links should be avoided.

Now onto the reviews!

I’ll start with some of the most popular, which also happen to be the first historical fashion books I got. They are a series of books called “Patterns of Fashion” which were written by Janet Arnold. There are four books in the series and I own three.

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Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction  by Janet Arnold

This book focuses on women’s fashion from the 1660’s through the 1860’s. It’s primarily a pattern book but starts off with a fifteen page introduction, which includes quotes from magazines and journals, very brief drafting instructions, notes on how to cut dresses from limited fabric, and paragraphs devoted to things like making piping or pinked trim. I’m sure these notes are helpful for someone but I find them a little vague (and also confusing at times).

But this isn’t why I bought the book, so I’m not bothered by it. I bought it for the patterns!

Unlike a lot of pattern books, this series includes detailed drawings of the completed piece from the front and back, and usually includes drawings of the interior as well. There is also a paragraph or two talking about the dress, including what it was originally made from and any unique construction notes.

The patterns in this book are all made based on measurements taken from existing historical examples, so they are very accurate (as are the notes about each piece). But keep in mind that these patterns will require scaling up, and alterations to fit your measurements.

The patterns in this book are beautifully laid out. They are printed on a grid, which makes them easy to resize and they are filled with construction notes which make the intimidating and unusual nature of historical patterns a lot easier to tackle. The pattern notes are clear and concise – pretty much perfect in my mind! The patterns are also very detailed, with the trim placement and embroidery patterns documented as well.

The only thing I don’t care for are the pieces chosen for the book. Some of them are quite similar. It’s especially obvious with the two 1840’s and 1860’s dresses which have very similar sleeves and tiered skirts. Compared to Norah Waugh’s books which have fewer patterns but a larger variety it’s a bit disappointing.

I still think it’s worth it – over two dozens patterns for thirty dollars is a fantastic deal, even if you only use half of them. And the notes for each piece gave me a much better understanding of the construction progress for historical dresses.

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Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women  by Janet Arnold

This book focuses on mens and women’s fashion from the 1560’s through the 1620’s. It’s twice the length of the first one, with a fifty page introduction. Luckily the introduction in this book is a lot more interesting. It’s filled with pictures and the writing compliments them nicely.

The pictures range from patterns to etchings and paintings. It also has a lot of photographs showing the details on original garments from the 1500s. It’s really interesting to see close ups of the fabric manipulation, closures, stitching, and lining techniques. Things you hear mentioned a lot in other books but never actually see. I’d say the book is worth looking through just for those images alone.

The patterns in this book are documented in the same way as Patterns of Fashion 1. They are on a grid, with one page devoted to drawings of the finished garment and a brief description of the piece. The notes are just as helpful, and even more in depth since 16th century fashion was so complicated.

The thing I don’t like about this book is, once again, the lack of variety. I believe there are twelve mens doublet patterns, half of which are pretty similar. The variation in the women’s clothing patterns is good, but lacking some of the “classic” tudor styles. The examples are all very elaborate, which I find inspiring, but they are complicated and probably not the best for beginners.

Like the first book, I think it’s a good deal and the notes are very helpful whether you’re using the patterns included or trying to draft your own in an accurate way. If you have an interest in the periods it covers I would highly recommend it.

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Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women  by Janet Arnold

I regret buying this book.

This isn’t a bad book by any means. In fact it’s really interesting to read through, and I’ve never seen anything like it before. It focuses on accessories and underpinnings for men and women, which isn’t the most exciting topic, but the introduction is filled with close ups of the detail work on garments from the 1500s and 1600s.

It has diagrams of the stitches used for openwork seams, eyelets, lace, and embroidery. It has pages devoted to the variety of cuffs that were worn, and another for collars. It’s fascinating to see that alongside photos of embroidery work done five hundred years ago. And like the last book, the photos are accompanied by descriptions. But the descriptions are a lot more brief, and the pages far more photo heavy than the previous book.

The patterns are well documented, with drawings of the embroidery motifs and lace patterns in case you want to recreate them.

The reason I regret buying this book is because I’m not at a point where I’m willing to spend forty hours adding blackwork embroidery to an undershirt. And even if I was, I feel like that information is available online. As far as the patterns go, I’ve never followed them. Because things like smocks and ruffs are very easy to draft on your own – they are just rectangles. There are a few patterns for gloves and collars that are unique, but also pretty easy to draft on your own or find elsewhere.

I think this book is best for someone who wants to make exact historical replicas. Otherwise it probably won’t get a lot of use. I’m hoping to take advantage of the embroidery patterns someday, which is why I’ve held onto it, but this isn’t a book I feel I need in my collection.

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Another silly complaint which I have about all these books is that I don’t like the size of them. They are maybe 11″ x 16″, and since they are thin and paperback they don’t stand up, even if you lean them against something. And they take up a ton of room when laid out on a table. Plus the pages are too big to scan, which is sort of silly since that’s what you have to do to resize the patterns. Though it isn’t a deal breaker for me by any means, it’s kind of frustrating!

The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies

This is a book I bought when making my Tudor Ensemble, since Patterns of Fashion 3 didn’t have quite what I was looking for and I was completely clueless about this period. This came highly recommended on every blog I read, so I decided to give it a try.

To be honest, it isn’t my favorite book. Compared to other pattern books (like Janet Arnold’s and Norah Waugh’s) I find it uninspiring. The patterns and examples all seem to be lacking the exaggeration and detail work that that period was famous for. I don’t want to make anything from the patterns since they seem lackluster, where with other books I want to make everything!

But it isn’t a bad book! Much like the others it starts off with an introduction, except theirs is split into chapters. One of which focuses on the basics, another talks about the materials and dyes that were available, and another shows construction techniques. The pages are pretty dense, but it’s easy to read through and really interesting.

The patterns each have one page devoted to assembly instructions, with a photo (or drawings) of the finished piece. Each pattern has several variations, with the amount of material needed to make it listed. The patterns are also on a grid, which makes them easy to size up. I really appreciate the range in patterns – each one has a different silhouette, and they cover everything from dresses for the everyday tudor woman, to court gowns for the rich. It has mens patterns too, patterns for foundation garments, and patterns for headpieces.

I think this book would be good for beginners, since everything is much simpler than Janet Arnold’s, and it has more notes than Norah Waugh’s. If you find those patterns overwhelming, this is a better place to start. It’s also a lot more complete – you can make everything from foundation garments to accessories with it.

But as I said, I find the patterns lacking the exaggeration and detail work that I like in patterns. And for as simple as the patterns are, the lines are wobbly and the markings for pleats and boning are less clear.

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Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh

This is by far the most used pattern book I own. Every corset I’ve made has been based on patterns from this book in some way or another.

Unlike the other books, there is no introduction. The book is split into chapters, with several dense pages of text between each pattern. This text doesn’t usually relate to the pattern, just the period that pattern is from. Some of the text is heavy, and since it was written seventy years ago it can seem a bit stiff. But I’ve read it pretty much cover to cover and enjoy how much information is packed into it, and how nicely it explains the transition between silhouettes and foundation garments.

In addition to her own words, this book includes samples from journals and newspapers. Some of these are silly (and in another language) but it’s interesting hearing about the foundation garments from the perspective of people who wore them.

The patterns are quite simple, made from a few pieces with only the boning placement marked. However the patterns aren’t on a grid, instead you use a key at the bottom of each page as a guide. The patterns also lack notes, which isn’t a big issue since corsets are quite self explanatory, but it’s very problematic when recreating things from her other book “The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930“. Things like how the dresses close, and the order of assembly can be tricky to follow without anything but the pattern to go off of.

In addition to patterns on bodies, stays, corsets, and girdles, this book also has patterns for hoop skirts, panniers, and petticoats. It’s incredibly helpful for creating the proper silhouette for historical costumes and I would highly recommend it – though once again, keep in mind that alterations will have to be made for the patterns to fit you.

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Norah Waugh has two other books, The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 and The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900.

Though I don’t own either of these, I have followed patterns from the Women’s book and had the opportunity to look through it. I really enjoy the patterns included in this book since the variety is a lot greater than what’s in Janet Arnold’s, with patterns from the 1600s all the way to the mid 1900s. It covers a huge range of styles and silhouettes, and no two patterns are alike.

As much as I like the patterns, as I said earlier, the lack of construction notes becomes a bit problematic with some of these patterns. They can usually be figured out with a bit of experimentation, but the way things are supposed to go together isn’t always clear since there are no notes.

A recent addition to my collection is 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns by Kristina Harris

You’ve probably heard me talk about this book before, since I used it for three recent projects. It’s quickly become one of my favorites since I’m a bit enamored with the 1890’s, and this is one of the few books I’ve found that focuses on that period.

This book has a single drawing of each finished garment, plus a paragraph long description of it. The garments are organized by date and season. Though it primarily has patterns on women’s fashion there are a dozen or so children’s patterns.

I find a lot of the patterns to be quite similar, but there are subtle differences between them. And at the price point (twelve dollars or so) It’s easy to forgive. The patterns aren’t on a grid, and there isn’t a key that makes them easy to scale up. Instead the edges of each piece have measurements listed. The patterns do have errors that I’ve noticed, the most major being that they often use improper fractions like 3 7/4″ or 9 13/5″, which is confusing at times!

Much like Waugh’s book, I wish the patterns had notes on them. To create poofy sleeves and gathered bodices the lining often has a completely different shape than the fashion fabric that goes overtop of it. But it isn’t always clear how they go together.

However I still really like this book. The variety in sleeve patterns is fantastic, and the skirt pattern I followed for my recent 1890’s dress was wonderful. It’s a great book to have around, and you can’t beat the amount of patterns you get for the price!

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The “Keystone” Jacket and Dress Cutter: An 1895 Guide to Women’s Tailoring by Chas Hecklinger

I’m not sure if i’m allowed to review this since I haven’t used it the way it’s intended to be used. I bought this as a visual reference for making fitted 1890’s jackets with flared skirts. And I’ve since used it as a visual reference for how double breasted jackets and shirtwaists should look when flat…then used that as a guide when draping similar garments.

But this book is intended to be a drafting manual. It includes instructions on how to measure yourself and how to create flat patterns based on those measurements. Since this is an older book, the instructions are stiff, but don’t seem very difficult to follow.

After the drafting system is explained it has pages devoted to garment diagrams, and a page of drafting instructions to go along with each one.

The diagrams cover everything from short fitted jackets to to double breasted riding coats with flared skirts. It also has diagrams and instructions for sleeve patterns and several shirtwaists. At the back of the book there are drawn examples of each piece.

Overall, this served the purpose I bought it for. It helped me understand what lat 20th century patterns looked like flat, which helped me drape my own equivalent. But I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the instructions since I haven’t followed them!

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Costume in Detail: Women’s Dress 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield

This isn’t a pattern book, but I keep it with my pattern books since I think it’s a great accompinment to them. This book has a unique format, with at least two pages devoted to each costume. Each costume is dated, with a paragraph of typed text about it. But the rest of the pages are filled with drawings and notes made by Nancy.

There are a lot of unique notes and information in this book. In addition to sketches of the exterior of the costume, there are notes about the interior – how things were lined, what materials were used, where the boning was placed. How long the train was, and how much of the train was lined. Even things like the width of the fabric used, and the number of seams in a skirt are documented alongside detailed sketches. Technically things that can be learned through pattern books, but alongside the sketches it’s a lot easier to follow.

Ecspecially for things like lining and closures. Seeing how the fabric drapes over the closures, along with how they looked from the interior makes it seem more approchable. In addition to dresses, shoes, petticoats, hats, and chemises are all discussed as well.

Though I wouldn’t use this as a standalone reference for a costume, It’s a fantastic resource to use along side inspiration books (with lots of photos of costumes, but none of the construction) or pattern books that are hard to imagine in a three dimensional way.

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Those are all the construction focused/pattern books I own. Now I’m going to talk about inspiration books, which feature a lot of images of historical costumes, but very little information about the origin or interior of the garments. I use these when I’m not sure what to make, or when I want more references to build out a costume idea I already have. These first four are all illustrated, with no photos of costumes.

Complete Costume History by Francoise Tetard-Vittu (artwork by Auguste Racinet)

I originally discovered this when I took a class and the teacher had the large copy of this book. looked through it one day and fell in love with the full color illustrations that were packed onto every page, and the huge variety of styles it included.

I personally own the smaller version, which has two volumes. The first volume has the illustrations, and the second has more information about the drawings. The drawings in this book aren’t modern, they were created and researched in the 1800s, which means they aren’t the most accurate depiction of history.

But the drawings are beautiful. And every time I look through the book I find something new I want to make. Unlike most books it isn’t exclusively european fashion. It has pages devoted to Egyptian times, Ancient Greece, China, Africa, and Spain. In addition to hundreds of full page color illustrations it also has drawings of furniture, architecture, weapons, instruments, and even camels. It provides a well rounded image of not just what people wore, but also what they were surrounded by.

The only negative I can say about this book is that the time periods for each page aren’t labeled. They only have the country listed. Volume II does have additional information about each page, but it’s awkward switching between them. Now I know enough about historical fashion to know approximately which decade each page focuses on, but when I first got it I had no clue.

Also as I said earlier, this isn’t the most accurate depiction of history. If your goal is to make historically accurate costumes you’ll need additional references. Even if you don’t want to make historically accurate costumes you’ll probably want more references since most of these drawings only show one side of the garment, and don’t delve into the details.

But I love this book! Looking through it makes me happy and fills me with ideas. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in historical fashion, regardless of whether they make costumes or not.

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Historic Costume in Pictures by Braun & Schneider

This book is quite similar to The Complete Costume History in that it consists only of pictures. Except this book lists the date on each page in addition to the country of origin, which I like. The drawings are more detailed in this book, though there are less of them, and the pages are in black and white.

The costumes plates in this book were originally researched and published in the later 1800s, so once again they aren’t the most accurate. But I still enjoy this book. When I got it I didn’t know very much about historical fashion, flipping through this gave me a good grasp on the various silhouettes and styles, how they evolved, and when they were popular. Since the information in it is limited, that means it’s easy to absorb. I’d highly recommend it to beginners, as long as they are aware that the drawings aren’t completely accurate and are willing to research the garments more on their own.

I don’t think I’ve made anything based on the drawings in this book, but I do enjoy flipping through it when in search of inspiration.  However I enjoy The Complete Costume History more and don’t think you need both.

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Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar, 1867-1898  by Stella Blum

I think this is a great book to get along with one of the ones listed above, since it covers the major decade they miss: The mid to late 1800s.

I purchased this early in the year since I was struggling to find references of garments from the 1890’s. Disappointingly, this doesn’t have a lot of pages devoted to that period. It’s far more focused on the bustle dress eras. But I’m very happy that I purchased it, since it’s made me enjoy, and respect a period of fashion I previously thought I hated.

Though these fashion plates were also drawn in the mid 1800s, they are very accurate since they depict the garments that were worn during that period.

This book has my favorite format of all the “Inspiration” books. Each dress is accompanied by a short, concise paragraph that talks about the style, colors, and when it was worn. It gives you enough information to research it further on your own, and some insights into how dresses were trimmed and the fabrics used.

Though the majority of the pages are devoted to full length dresses, there are many drawings of accessories. Headpieces, foundation garments, parasols, children’s clothes, shoes, and jewelry all have pages of their own.

I think this would be a valuable book for anyone who appreciates historical fashion in general. I didn’t expect to like half the examples in this book since I’m not a huge fan of bustle dresses, but I still really enjoyed reading through it and seeing how the styles evolved. It’s also been a fantastic reference for several of my projects, and served as the main inspiration for a few things I currently have in progress.

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Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles: Medieval to Modern  by Georgine de Courtais

This is one of my most referenced books. It isn’t detailed enough to be a standalone reference on hats throughout history, but it’s a really great start and source of inspiration. I bought this when I knew very little about hats and after flipping through it once I had a basic understanding of  historical hats and what periods they belong to. Even now that I know more about hats, I’ll still look through this for ideas on what to pair with ensembles I’m planning.

The book has one page of numbered drawings accompanied by a page of text that explains each hat in greater detail. Something I like a lot about this book is that it talks about how hats evolve – it doesn’t just say “This is a flower pot hat, worn in the 1890’s” is says why they were called that and how they are different from the hats worn a few years prior. Along with how that style changed throughout the decade.

The book covers a huge range of time – from 1100 all the way to 1980, with the 1700’s and 1800’s being covered with the most detail.

A downside to this book is that the illustrations only show each example from one angle. The descriptions are very helpful, but short. So you don’t get enough information about each example to use them as your only reference when making a hat. The writing is also a bit blocky, and lacking line breaks between the explanations for each piece, so it isn’t enjoyable to read through in it’s entirety.

I’d still highly recommend it if historical hats are something you want to learn more about. It’s taught me a lot and was my main motivation for getting into headpiece making.

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Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century by The Kyoto Costume Institute

I think this is the prettiest book I own. And also the heaviest!

It’s a two volume set of books, which as far as I know have to be purchased together. The first book shows fashion from the 18th century to the early 20th century, and the second book is entirely 20th century fashion.

These books are beautifully put together, especially the first volume. I really can’t recommend the first book highly enough. The garments chosen are beautiful, and wonderfully styled and photographed. It’s incredibly inspiring to look through and made me fall in a bit more in love with historical fashion.

The photos mostly show the full length dresses, but there are pages devoted to the detail work and accessories. Each dress is accompanied by a very short explanation, with some having full paragraphs. Some pages have more text than others, but the real star of this book are the pictures. Most of the images are photographs, but some of them are paired with fashion plates and drawings.

Overall It’s a stunning collection of garments and photos. I’ve had it for almost a year now and I still really enjoy looking through it. It would make a fantastic gift, since not only is it a great reference, it’s also pretty enough that people who don’t really “get” historical fashion can enjoy it.

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Volume II however…Well, it’s not my cup of tea. I enjoy the first portion since the 1920’s dresses are beautiful, and a lot of the dresses from the 50’s are nice too.

The rest of it is a bit weird and I find the examples they chose for garments very odd. There are shoes made out of grass, dresses made from plastic, and a plethora of awkwardly shaped runway pieces. I understand that the uniqueness of these pieces are why a museum would have them in their collection, but I was disappointed by them. It didn’t feel cohesive with the tone of the first book. However if you like unusual fashion, and appreciate the more sculptural aspect of clothing you’ll probably really enjoy it.

Overall I think it was worth what I paid (a little more than twenty dollars). I would pay the same amount over again for just the first book, since I think it’s fantastic. But the second book isn’t my favorite, and I wish there was an equal amount of focus given to all the periods, rather than the 20th century getting a volume of its own, with the prior two hundred and fifty years compacted into one. More examples of fashion from the 1800’s and turn of the century would have made it a lot more enjoyable for me personally.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion by Anna Reynolds

Speaking of pretty books, this one is a beauty! I purchased this as a visual reference since I wanted more examples of Elizabethan and mid 17th century fashion in my collection, something this book is filled with. Every page has at least one painting printed on it, and almost a quarter of the pages are taken up entirely by prints.

This book really focuses on the details, often cropping paintings to highlight the embellishment or textures used on the garments. It also pairs paintings with photographs of similar items to what’s worn in them. For example a chemise with blackwork embroidery is on the page across from  a tudor portrait of a woman wearing a blackwork embroidered partlet.

Even though the real star of this book is the artwork, there is a lot of text too. Far more than I had expected. To be honest I haven’t read a lot of it, since I purchased it primarily as a visual reference. What I have read was well written, but not especially captivating.

My only peeve with this book is the formatting. Large portions of pages are often left blank because of photo placement, ands sentences run on between several pages. For example “The embroidered waistcoat is clearly decorated in a similar manner to a waistcoat in the Fashion Museum, Bath. Wheras” – that sentence continues three pages later. It seems poorly planned.

Another note is that this book is divided into chapters such as: Dressing Children, Dressing Men, Dressing Women, Painting Dress, Dressing Across the Borders, etc. This is nice because it means all the examples within a chapter are relatively cohesive, since they have the same theme. I’m sure that makes it nicer to read too.

But I’m used to historical fashion books being sorted by date, with the earliest examples at the beginning. And in this they are scattered all over within the chapters. From the perspective of someone trying to use it as a reference, it can be difficult finding what I’m looking for. It usually means I have to look through the entire book to find anything – but it’s a beautiful book, so that’s usually a treat more than anything else!

Overall I love looking through it and the examples they chose to include. They never cease to inspire me. It’s visually pleasing from the outside too, and would be a nice coffee table book in addition to being a wonderful reference.

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20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment by Francois Boucher

I think out of all the books I own, this one has the most “complete” coverage of historical fashion. It begins with prehistoric fashion before moving into things from the early third millennium. Egyptian artwork and how it depicts costumes has two chapters of its own – and so do many other periods that don’t fit into most historical fashion books. I reach for this when working on medieval projects, since it has far more examples of artwork from the 1000-1200s than any other book I own.

The book is quite text heavy, but every page is dotted with pictures that help give you a sense of the period. I’m not a huge fan of how this is written, it’s readable and interesting but not compelling. My attempts to read it from cover to cover have been squashed, but I do enjoy reading pages related to what I’m currently working on.

The pictures are a mixture of paintings, fashion plates, sculpture tapestries, and photographs. To get inspired I always flip to the pages about the period I’m planning on making something from. Though the pictures aren’t as pretty as other books, they pick a lot of unique examples that differ from what you usually see on pinterest.

It’s a book I’m very happy to have in my collection, but probably not one I would recommend as a gift since it isn’t as immediately exciting as the others.

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I have one technique focused book to talk about and then I’m done!

This is called The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff. The cover caught my eye when I was browsing, and the reviews won me over.

I don’t use this book very often, but it’s fascinating. Each page describes multiple techniques and has instructions on how to do them. The instructions are usually paired with diagrams that show the steps.

It begins with basic things, like making ruffles. Then moves onto similar, but more elaborate things that use the same techniques, like fluting and furrowing. It also has picture examples of everything – including gathering examples that show the fullness of of fabric when it’s gathered to be one half, one third, or one quarter of it’s original length.

The techniques get more complicated as the book goes on, but still cover basics like shirring, godets, pleating, and making simples flounces. A lot of the examples go far beyond the level of patience I have, but it’s still neat to see instructions about them, and how they look executed perfectly in the examples.

It’s an interesting book to have, regardless of your skill level. Since it covers the basics it can work for beginners, and I guarantee that no matter how long you’ve been sewing there will be something in here you’ve never seen before.

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Some other books I own but don’t feel comfortable reviewing yet include:

Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques – I’ve referenced this for specific projects a few times, but haven’t read it from cover to cover. So far I like it and how they touch on things not usually mentioned in modern sewing manuals.

The Art of Sewing Books – I got these at a vintage book store. I like the way they are laid out and the diagrams but they aren’t relevant to what I’m currently doing so I haven’t read them.

Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences manuals/textbooks – My Great Aunt gave me these and they are wonderful. I love the way things are explained and the huge variety of techniques. If you can find them I’d highly recommend them, they are really useful and also a piece of a history since they were printed in the 1920s!

That’s it for reviews! I hope you enjoyed this and found it helpful.

It would be nice if the comments were a bit of a discussion – are there any historical costume books you would recommend? Any I liked you that didn’t? Ones on your wish list?

I’m hoping to get “Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette”  for Christmas and am keeping my eye on “Art Nouveau Fashion” – I want more picture books!

Though I used amazon links in this post, remember to look around for better deals! A few of these were purchased from Barnes and Noble since they were cheaper there AND had $10 off coupons for Black Friday. A fifty dollar book on amazon cost me $28 with free shipping from B&N. Book prices also change all the time, so if something is too expensive keep checking back – I’ve seen prices drop from $55 to $38 in a day.

I think that’s all I have to say for today, thanks for reading and I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving – or if you don’t celebrate, then a really fantastic week in general!