The Sunflower Gown : Making a 1830’s Dress

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

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

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

Which meant I had to make a dress that week.

So I did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

resizeI’ll post the full photoset tomorrow.

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

 

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1918 Ensemble, Dressing for Downton

Today I’m dipping my toes into 1918, and the wonderful fashions it has to offer.

I actually researched this period quite heavily earlier in the year when I was pursuing a design job for something set in the early 20’s. The job didn’t work out, and it left me a little bitter towards the era. But this weekend my mom and I booked tickets to the Downton Abbey Exhibition and I thought it would be fun to wear an understated period costume to the event.

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The late nineteens are a perfect period for casual historical dress since the silhouette (though more modest than what is fashionable now) wasn’t dramatic like the early 1910’s, or the later 1920’s. Though corsets would have still been worn during this period, waistlines were starting to widen and you can get away without one. Perfect since I would have to wear this for four hours of public transit!

(it was also 2 days after Thanksgiving so a corset would not have been welcome regardless of the wear time…)

I based this ensemble mostly off of two ads: This one for the blouse, and this one for the skirt. I also made a coat to wear over it, which was based on ones from a winter Sears catalogue.

I had all the materials for this on hand, and made it over a 4 day period (some of those were half days with Thanksgiving and all). I’m really pleased with the end result and this may motivate me to make more vintage themed clothing to wear on a regular basis!

I started with the first piece: the camisole.

I draped this on my dress form. Getting the right amount of flounce at the hem to create the proper silhouette was probably the most difficult part.

This is it transferred to paper.

The body of the camisole is made from silk charmeuse. This particular cut was *very* off color, so one side is more yellow than the other, but it’s only really noticeable at the back.

I sewed a strip of wide cotton lace into the center (backed with more charmeuse) to serve as the statement of this blouse.

I’m not sure when this lace is from, but it came from a collection that included pieces from 1910. Based on the design and weight I would not be surprised if this lace was also from that period. I outlined it with some zig-zag edging to add a bit more texture.

The collar of the camisole is also charmeuse, but I backed it with fusible interfacing. Then I stitched a half inch away from each edge, and used that as a guide when turning the edges inward.

It was pinned to the top edge of the camisole, with the right side facing the wrong side. Once turned the right way out all the raw edges will be hidden!

Then I topstitched the bottom edge down.

The bottom edge was gathered slightly at the front and sewn to an interfaced waistband.

The final addition were straps, made from bias cut strips sewn into tubes.

The back closes with three glass buttons. This is the first time I’ve done functional button holes in…3 years? Maybe longer?

I finally bought a home sewing machine, which though slower than my industrial, has some stitches and features that I’ve missed! The automatic buttonhole is one of those things.

It is a SINGER 4423 Heavy Duty *, if you were wondering. I go more in depth about it (and all my sewing machines) in this video.

I used the camisole as a base for draping my next pattern: the blouse. I believe these pieces would have been combined in the 20’s, with a closure hidden on one side. But I thought making them separate would make the pieces more versatile. And the camisole also provides enough coverage that I didn’t need to wear a slip over my bra.

Here is the pattern I ended up with. It’s shaped by pleats below the shoulder with a drawstring waistband.

I cut all the pieces out from a thin, crisp, silk shirting. This fabric was a dream to work with – I’ve never had something make french seams easier!

I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures for this, since it came together in a single evening. But here you can see the main pieces assembled. All the edges were finished by machine with rolled 1/4″ hems. Seams were flat felled, or finished with lace binding. And the bottom edge was turned inward to create a channel for ribbon.

I tried to draft the sleeve pattern for this the historical way, but I got confused and made it up instead. This worked surprisingly well! Fit the armscye perfectly on my first try. I just had to adjust the length and width a little.

The cuffs were gathered by machine.

Then sewn onto the cuffs. The raw edges were bound with lace binding. I wanted to add button closures but didn’t get the buttons (or know what size they would be) until the day before wearing this piece, so I used hooks instead.

The sleeves were sewn on by machine, then the raw edge was bound.

I also made the collar. This was assembled from a layer of the checked silk, which was backed with interfacing, and a layer of silk charmeuse, which was supposed to be lining. I sewed the layers together with the wrong sides facing each other, then topstitched around the edge.

It looked great! Until my iron smeared burned goop all over the corners of the checked side. I couldn’t get it off, and I didn’t have a lot of fabric left…so I made the charmeuse side face out instead. I actually really like the contrast of this, so it was a happy accident. But it means the topstitching looks a little sloppy since it was originally done on the other side.

I sewed the collar on by machine, then tacked it down a half inch away from the edge to keep it in place. The final touch were silk covered 3/4″ buttons. Three on either side of the bodice, and two on each cuff.

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I also added a snap just above the top button to secure it to the camisole.

And the back! I didn’t expect to love this as much as I do, but I’m really happy with it. It’s delicate yet structured and so different from anything I’ve done before.

I usually shy away from thin or slippery fabrics, unless I’m using them as an overlay. But making a tailored piece out of them was surprisingly easy and fun – I think this will motivate me to branch out more with my fabric choices.

Unfortunately the skirt didn’t go as well. At all. My first attempt was made from a beautiful wool, but the finished skirt looked awful. It had a wide, rounded waistband that made me look so heavy.

There was also way too much fabric, and it drooped at the seams. It was supposed to have pockets, which I tried making out of a contrasting wool, but then there was way too much contrast. So I remade them from matching fabric and it looked even worse! The whole thing was an unsalvageable mess.

Attempt number two was made in three hours from a purple chevron fabric I got from the plaiditudes collection at Jo-anns. I draped the skirt design on my dress form, then used the muslin as a pattern, adding seam allowances by eye. It was SO messy, but the end result turned out a million times better than my first attempt.

This skirt has way less volume, and has pleats in the back instead of gathers. The waistband is still wide, but it’s straight which is a lot more flattering. And there is decorative seaming down the front instead of pockets.

It’s not my best work, but it fit, and it looked pretty good!

I think the same can be said about the jacket. This piece was actually drafted, partially assembled, and completely cut out over a year ago – I even made a video about it. I planned on this being my winter coat for 2016, but after buying a glorious winter coat from J-Crew I lost interest.

The jacket also had some issues I wasn’t happy with. I ran low on material so I couldn’t make the skirt as wide or long as I wanted (it actually has plenty of volume, so I’m sort of glad for that now). I also had to ignore the grain line on some pieces, and didn’t have enough left for a matching hat which I was originally really excited about.

Plus the topstitching on this jacket was plagued with problems. It kept skipping stitches, which meant I had to sew over them again, leaving backstitch marks. This was made worse by my plan to use contrasting stitching during construction.

Even though this was only a year ago, I’ve learned a lot about my machine since then and working with heavier fabrics in general. Unfortunately that helps me moving forward, not with the issues this jacket already had. To fix the topstitching I would have had to completely disassemble the bodice and remove it all by hand. And that still wouldn’t resolve the grain line or length issues.

But I already had a lot done. So I decided to take a half day and get it finished, fully knowing that it was impossible to make it perfect given its other issues.

Finishing it included:

Figuring out which pieces went together

Figuring out wtf I was thinking with the pocket design (the required topstitching would have sewn them shut..)

Sewing the entire bottom half together

Hemming it

Sewing the cuffs on

Attaching / lining sleeves

Attaching bottom half

Lining the waistband

Sewing in closures

Tacking the collar

Sewing on buttons

…in less than a day.

Surprisingly, it turned out okay! I’m not going to share close ups since the finishing isn’t great at all. The interior skirt seams were left raw, and the topstitching  got a little messy at points. But it’s finished, and I love the shape and design of it. Hopefully I can reuse the pattern for a similar jacket, made to my current standards.

It’s a little wrinkly from yesterday.

And that is it! Four pieces in four days. All together I think they looked lovely. And it was surprisingly comfy and weather appropriate!

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I accessorized the ensemble with a pair of Katie & Kelly shoes (these were like $12 on clearance at DSW last year) and the Authentically Academic bag from Modcloth. I had gloves from the 40’s with me too, along with a 50’s themed pair of Quay sunglasses…so it was a little all over the place, but very retro.

For my hair I slept with a mixture of 3/4″ and 1″ curlers in, all wound inward towards my face. In the morning I brushed them out, then tucked the ends under and pinned them to the base of my scalp.

Sort of how you would do a faux bob, but the volume from the curls makes it look more like a fancy up do. I teased my bangs a bit and pinned them to the side. Then sprayed my hands with hairspray and used them to smooth and flatten the top before setting it with a heavy misting. It’s probably more of a 40’s style than 1918, but I felt it looked passable.

Any loose bits are probably from me trying to adjust bobby pins after putting the blouse on and getting the buttons caught in it. That happened several times.

That is it for today! Thanks for reading!

My next post will be about the exhibit itself!

18th Century Redingote, Worn Photos

As promised, today I have the photos of my 18th century redingote ensemble to share! If you missed them, the blog posts about constructing this dress can be found here, and here.

For the fourth year in a row I went to the local pumpkin patch to photograph my newest piece. I really love this as a backdrop, there is something magical about it in the morning! The lighting is so pretty, and the contrast between the field, mud, pumpkins, and corn makes me smile.

My dresses always get a little dirty there, but it’s nothing a bit of water can’t fix, and I think the pictures make it worth it!

This ensemble consists of a redingote, skirt, hat, and fichu, which I detailed the process of making in the posts linked above. It’s worn over a chemise, stays, a bum pad, and a cotton/netting petticoat, which I also made. The only pieces I didn’t make are the socks (charlotte russe), the wig (color.salon, ebay), the shoes (fraser, American Duchess*), and buckles (cavendish, American Duchess*)

If you want to see the layers in a little more detail, I have a video showing the process of getting into this – and a few clips of me wearing it! It can be watched here.

Now onto the photos!

And that’s it! Thanks for reading!