Tuesday, February 23, 2021

...And a Paletot

Intro

Having a whole bevy of historical dresses/separates (of varying quality!) is all fine and good . . . so long as you only plan to wear them indoors, or outdoors in warm weather. If you--that is, I--want to wear them in cold or even cool weather, some outer wear is needed. (Oh, should I note that a paletot is a Victorian jacket? It is.)

Coats are more than a little intimidating. To do them, er, properly, you're really meant to interline and pad stitch and all kinds of things that are probably not as difficult as they seem to be but are still, as I said, intimidating. I mean, people like Bernadette Banner can do it, and while she's much more experienced than I am, I, too, am a person who sews and has two hands, so theoretically I could do it, too.

But did I? No.

Might I have ended up with an even nicer product had I done so? Perhaps.

Do I regret not doing it? Nope.

Am I entirely satisfied with the final product? No. I'm about 85% satisfied, but that's not bad.

In any case, I like to start out by showing you all the final product. On a cool, though not particularly cold, day, with highs in the low 40s, I decided to get dressed up and drive up to Gettysburg to walk around a bit and give my new(ish) paletot a spin:


Abe's bench is pushing my hoops forward here,
so the skirts look bigger than they are.

Here you get a better idea of the proportions of the skirts
to the rest of me, which I think are just about right. The skirt of 
the paletot is blown open, though; hence the big gap.


The specs:

Fabric: wool (possibly wool-cotton blend), a little under 2 yards on the "remnants" table at a fabric store, for $9.99/yard.
Lining: navy-blue cotton, gotten at JoAnn's for around $4/yard.
Trim: Two different types/widths of cotton fringe (because I didn't have enough of the wider fringe); bought online from someone de-stashing; white velvet ribbon bought on Amazon.
Pattern: self-drafted

Getting started

As noted above, I self-drafted this pattern. I did this for a few reasons: I didn't want to pay for a pattern since I'm trying to trim costs as much as possible, and I would have to heavily alter the pattern anyway (patterns are always pretty far off for me). I also happened to come across the following diagram via The Lady's Treasury:

http://www.tudorlinks.com/treasury/freepatterns/em185703wsgpalpatt.html

I thought the finished look was pretty (here it what it looks like) and I realized I could most likely start with a pattern I had already fitted to myself. In fact, it's the pattern for the lining of the dress I'm wearing underneath the paletot in the picture above. (Long story short: the lining fit well, but I wasn't satisfied with the dress as a whole, so I am currently taking it apart and putting it back together, but that's a blog for another day.)

I actually started working on this ages ago--last summer, I think, when I had notions of going to the Remembrance Day celebrations in Gettysburg in November. Because of pandemic reasons, that was cancelled anyway, but it's just as well, because that attempt was a total failure. At that point, I didn't have the diagram above, and I was just going to kind of . . . wing it. I used the old mock-up and didn't do a new mockup, and I pulled out some wool blend polka-dotted fabric left over from a skirt (that may or may not end up in the back of my costume closet forevermore). The fabric was all wrong, using the old mock-up was a failure, and even though I put hours (and hours) of work into it, it was a failure. I tossed it aside.

And then I moved.

Almost as soon as I had unpacked my everyday clothes, I was itching to sew again. I had had a really rough month of it, with the massive stress of finding and buying a home for the first time and with health issues on top of that. It wasn't pretty, but once I had moved, an enormous weight was off of me, and I felt almost normal again. Because of the move, I hadn't done any sewing in probably a month and a half, and I just needed a creative outlet, so I dove right into the paletot.

I knew I had to start essentially from scratch because my previous effort wasn't salvageable. I believe this is when I found the diagram above. In any case, because I'd confused myself with the previous mock-up, I decided to go back to the under-bodice pattern for the blue dress. My plan was to start with that and use the diagram above to get the general shape of the pattern pieces. In order to turn the under-bodice pattern into a paletot, I would need to add the skirt, convert two darts (per side) into one and extend that dart into the skirt portion of the paletot, and draft the pagoda sleeves and cape.

And . . . it was not an immediate success. It fit okay in the shoulders and chest but not around the waist, and the skirt was way off. It folded over itself at the side but didn't reach all the way to the front. It was also quite long, though that wasn't much of a problem. It's easy enough to hack off a few inches at the bottom edge.

After much fiddling and pinning and repinning, I was able to get a shape that I was happy with, or at least happy enough to be getting on with. As for the sleeves, those were fairly easy. Some time ago, I found a good resource on how to draft sleeves, and it served me well here. As for the cape, it wasn't too difficult. As per the diagram, I just extended the lines of the bodice pattern outwards from the shoulder, decided how far down the front I wanted it to come, and drew in the shape I wanted. I had to modify the mockup a little bit to make the front angle deeper, but that was no problem.

Once I was satisfied that I was pretty close to where I wanted to be with the shapes, I cut out a second mock-up, this time from a navy blue cotton I'd bought for the lining. My plan was to save some fabric and time by making the mock-up out of lining fabric. As long as it wasn't too far off, I would simply take apart the blue cotton mockup and use it as lining.

Here are the pieces cut out of the blue fabric:


Going clockwise from the top left, we have the back, the front, the front cape piece, the sleeve, the second front cape piece, and then both the back cape pieces.  Notice the dart cut out of the front piece.

Here, I'm trying to figure out how to get the whole paletot out of less than two yards of the black wool fabric I bought for the project. The wool here folded in half lengthwise. I ended up having to piece the top of the front pieces at the shoulder, but since that is covered with the cape, it doesn't show.

Worth noting: I often use newspaper when drafting patterns. I have a ton of it, it's big, and I don't mind tossing it out if the pattern doesn't work out. More recently, I was turned on to the idea of using wrapping paper with a grid on the back. I got several rolls on steep discount after Christmas. The grid helps SO MUCH in drafting. Ten out of ten, would recommend.


Here in all her glory is the mock-up over my hoops. No, the fit still isn't awesome, but it fits better on me and I figured it would do.


I made a few adjustments to the blue mock-up, particularly adding more width to the center front so the skirts came together. Here, the measuring tapes continues the line of the center front a few inches, since I decided not to recut the front in blue and just make the adjustment when cutting out the wool. You also see here where the front piece doesn't quite fit onto the black wool; that's the bit I pieced.

I went ahead and cut out the wool. The next step was to assemble all of this. Looking at the paletot in the image, I had no idea how it closed. I saw it had buttons down the front of the cape. Were these decorative or functional? If they were functional, how did they manage to traverse all the layers of fabric there? Because the edge of the bodice and of the cape are both turned under there, there are a lot of layers of fabric. I considered having the cape layers wrap around the bodice layers and have it all button as one, but that seemed like it would be too bulky. So I worked out a somewhat complicated system of closure that is probably not historically accurate at all. The cape is only attached to the bodice at the neckline (though not all the way around). The bodice is closed by hooks and eyes down to the waist. On one side, the cape is attached to the bodice at the neckline all the way to the center front edge. The other side is unattached for the last few inches so that it can reach overtop the layers on the other side and attach to the other edge of the cape (by means of a hook-and-eye). Essentially, the separated cape and bodice layers on one side end up sandwiching the stitched-together cape and bodice layers of the other side. 

With the top edge of the cape thusly secured, it lays closed pretty happily on its own, but I added one hook and eye to the bottom edge to secure it. All of this required massive amounts of cogitation and a lot of fiddling to make the angles meet up neatly.

My suspicion is that the Victorians simply managed to make the buttons functional.

Above, we have the body of the paletot in black, all assembled. And a bonus cat.

The next thing to tackle was the decoration. I hadn't attached the sleeves yet because I wanted to do the Greek key design from the image, and I knew that I would have to do that while the sleeves were still flat.


I had to redo this design several times. I painstakingly mitered the corners and pinned it all down, only to realize that my 1" velvet ribbon was too wide. Luckily, the ribbon was backed with something synthetic, so I trimmed it down to 3/4" and melted the edge, and it worked great. I also realized that the velvet ribbon was just too white compared to the fringe. It was glaringly WHITE. So I dyed it with tea (the plush part of the ribbon must be cotton, because it dyed quickly and easily). I pinned on the narrower, less-glaring ribbon only to realize that the ribbon wasn't totally opaque and the mitered corners showed different shades of white where the ribbon folded over itself. Like with the WHITE ribbon that was too white, this didn't look good. If I was going to all this trouble, mitering the trim and all, then I decided I ought to take the extra time to fix this problem. So I unpinned bits of it at a time and slipped some 1/2" white satin ribbon underneath. I started stitching it all down. Then I realized that that didn't totally solve the issue, either, because at the corners I'd folded over the satin ribbon instead of mitering it like the velvet ribbon overtop, and that was visible. So I undid it again and did it properly, mitering the satin ribbon as well as the velvet ribbon. This time, it turned out looking great. Finally.



The next step was to finalize my trim plan for the body. Above, I'm trying out some different configurations. I went with an edge of wider fringe around the bottom of the cape with a line of the velvet ribbon (dyed but not trimmed down) above it, a line of narrower fringe around the sleeves, a double line of the narrower fringe edging the skirts (to match the width of the trim around the cape), a line of velvet ribbon at the neckline (trimmed down to 1/2"), and some buttons. It was difficult to get the velvet ribbons to follow the curves of the cape and especially the curves of the neckline. I had to make little pleats in it to make it work, but it does work.

Work in progress:


And with that, we had a completed paletot:




I'm really pleased with the result. Unfortunately, I really didn't have anywhere to wear it, given the pandemic. But I finally got the courage to get dressed up a few weeks ago and go up to Gettysburg. In addition to the paletot, I wore tall socks, an extra petticoat against my legs, and gloves (which go with a Victorian outfit anyway). I did get a bit chilled walking around in the 40-degree weather, but honestly it wasn't too bad. I did discover a few things. I should add another hook-and-eye to the middle of the cape, because when moving, it sometimes gaps open. I also might add some kind of closure to the skirts, because they kept blowing open. It wouldn't be an issue if the lining were black, but the blue, while fun and colorful, is really evident when the thing blows open.

Overall, though, this is one of the projects I'm most satisfied with.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

...And a Gazette and a Morgue

This may be exciting only to myself, and perhaps I should have come across this already, but even well after finishing the manuscript for a novel about the Llewelyn Davies brothers (George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nico, who inspired the creation of Peter Pan), I can't help poking around the available resources. Much to my delight, there are a lot of rich available resources, and I can continue to learn. Most of this won't end up in the manuscript, since it's finished and I did, as thoroughly as possible, research everything that does appear there. What I'm finding is a wealth of additional info that just can't be fit into the novel I wrote.

Today, there was a slight exception. I was looking back over the manuscript and realized that I might be able to double-check a fact that seemed to be hazy in my sources. The fact in question was when George and Peter were "gazetted", that is, when they were summoned in the official London Gazette to go to training for war. They enlisted as soon as war was declared August 4, 1914 and were commissioned as Second Lieutenants, but they went home until being told to go to training at Sheerness. That's what happened on September 11, 1914: they were gazetted. In the manuscript, I had written that it happened in "October". When I got to that point in my re-read, I was thinking of my sources, which I'd recently revisited. They both said the brothers were gazetted in September (no date), so I'm unclear why I wrote "October", but today it occurred to me that I might be able to look up the London Gazette online, and I did. Here is what I found:

https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/28899/page/7225

This link is to the page that shows George's and Peter's names. This is what they saw and what they read to inform them they were about to go to war. Peter wouldn't actually see action until 1916, but George went to France in December of that year (1914) and was killed in March 1915.

The other thing I found--which might have been there for some time--was Peter's "Morgue". Later in life, Peter started to put together a family history. It included family letters from the previous several decades with Peter's intelligent, eloquent commentary. He wryly called it the "Morgue." Ultimately, he never completed the project, probably because of how difficult it was for him to revisit the past. The manuscript still exists, however, and can be found here:

https://jmbarrie.co.uk/works/some-davies-letters-papers-aka-the-morgue-1907-1910

https://jmbarrie.co.uk/works/some-davies-letters-papers-aka-the-morgue-1911-1915

I want to go through it more carefully, but I haven't done so just yet.

Friday, February 5, 2021

...And Godey's Lady's Book

 I recall, somewhat vaguely, hearing about "Godey's Lady's Book" in my AP US History class in high school, lo these many years ago. If I remember, it was mentioned in the textbook, one of those bolded words you're meant to take note of. Apparently, I did take note of it.

Godey's Lady's Book was a monthly lady's magazine out of Philadelphia, begun in the 1830s. Magazines at this period were very popular and included all kinds of information and features. It was something of a catch-all resource for women, with short stories, poetry, literary notices (that is, notices of books about to be published), "receipts" (what we now call recipes), architectural plans, music, tips for pressing flowers, drawing tutorials, embroidery designs, all the latest fashion "chit-chat", and full-color fashion plates.

All of which is to say that I was familiar with Godey's Lady's Book when my father's cousin contacted me to say he had a volume of the magazine. I was interested and mildly enthusiastic. On a day when I had another package go awry in strange circumstances, I got the package containing this volume. When I got it, I was preoccupied with that other package.

And when I opened it, I became more than mildly enthusiastic. I was thrilled.

This was a volume of all twelve monthly issues of Godey's Lady's Book from 1864. A whole year's worth! This volume, according to my father's cousin, had come down through the family (he suggested it had come with the family out to Kansas in the 1850s, but of course that isn't possible since the volume was of 1864 issues). It isn't in very good shape. There is no cover, the first few pages are torn and detached, and the binding it starting to fall apart. In fact, I sat down and immediately engrossed myself in it, flipping through the pages, and I went through it again a few days ago taking pictures of anything that might be of interest, but I will do my best not to open it again. Just going through it twice caused more cracks in the binding and therefore caused more sections to come loose from the rest of the volume.

Going through it that first time, I was delighted. I didn't read any of the stories, but I did glance at some of the poems, which were, I'm afraid, pretty maudlin Victorian fare, focused on death (not a big surprise in 1864, right in the middle of the war). I can't really read music, so I skimmed that. I didn't want to sit down and read the many stories and serials, either. But I was very interested in the various fashion items.

These fashion items came in various forms. There were the gorgeous, full-color fashion plates, of course. These were double the width of the magazine, were a "landscape" orientation, and folded in half fit into the magazine--you know, fold-outs. Sadly, over the last 157 years, some of the fashion plates went missing, lost the half of themselves that once folded out, or were torn along the fold. None were entirely intact. But what did survive is pretty glorious:



(This is just a sampling. About half to two-thirds of the fashion plates survive, reckoning in the plates that are half-missing.)

Aside from this, there was a sections called "novelties", with etchings of various items of clothing, sometimes for children and sometimes accessories. There were images of bonnets and caps and undersleeves and what I would call chemisettes:


There were also line etchings of outfits, ensembles, hair decorations, and coiffures:


I particularly enjoyed this etching of bathing costumes:




There was, alas, only one pattern diagram, but I quite like the bodice it supposedly makes:



Now, if you've seen any other part of my blog, it's pretty evident that I'm into costuming. I've been trying hard to up my game recently as far as accuracy. I've been less than satisfied with what I've sewn, though I'm getting closer as I learn. How better to make an accurate ensemble than to base it on the information in Godey's Lady's Book? This volume can show me the cut and silhouette of dresses, but it also has information about accessories and styling and how everything went together as a look. The hair stuff would be helpful if I weren't so utterly useless when it comes to hair. That is a weak point of mine and is oh-so-important in getting the right look. I'm working on it.

In any case, I am extremely grateful to my father's cousin for sending this to me.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

...And Living and Learning

The other day, a memory popped up on Facebook. Two years ago, Facebook reminded me, I had just completed an 1860s dress made of white Swiss-dot cotton fabric. I knew the dress was flawed, but I was proud of having completed my very first dress and was overall pretty dang pleased with my effort. So I drove up to Gettysburg, to the Victorian Photography Studio, to get a real wet-plate photograph taken. This was the process used at the time of the Civil War and involves standing still for a few seconds as the prepared plate is exposed. Then the plate is dipped in a series of chemicals. The last bath turns the image from a negative to a positive, which is a fun process to watch. It really is like magic.

Anyway, I smiled to see this memory, because I happen to be working on that dress right now. I recently finished a Victorian paletot (I'm sure I will eventually blog about that), and I'd told myself (sternly) that I would go back and fix up a few of my older pieces that needed work before starting something new. This dress was top of the list.

Now, let's start with looking at the photo:


And let's talk about what I got right: firstly, the fabric is lovely. It's a soft, delicate cotton with cute little tufted dots all over ("Swiss dots"). It's period-appropriate. It was a little difficult to work with, but I did a decent job, considering my lack of experience. I also chose a good pattern, the Truly Victorian sheer bodice, and I chose the correct sizing (the beautiful thing about TV patterns is that it gives you instructions for choosing a front and back to better fit your size). So it fits quite well in the back and at the ribcage and waist. I altered the sleeves (they were *way* too long), and the length and puffiness are right. I'm wearing a corset and hoops, and my hair is okay.

Now, let's talk about the things that I improved over the last two years, aside from the dress itself. I altered my hoop skirts to be less A-line and more bell-shaped. I made myself a better, more accurate corset. I improved my hair game (and I now have both a hair net and a bonnet).

Now, let's talk about what was wrong with this dress.

Oh boy. The construction is...not good. I didn't know what to do with the front opening, where the two layers of the bodice and the skirt all come together. The stitching is a bit wonky, and I threw on some pre-bought bias tape here and there. For all that, from about two feet away you can't really tell (especially with a helpful belt hiding it). What you *could* tell, however, was that the shoulder seam was way too high. I ended up with fabric bunched up above my shoulders as if I were constantly shrugging. Also, the skirt was much too long since I'd altered the hoop skirt.

I decided that there was a limit to what work I would do to the dress. The whole thing really needs to be taken apart and put back together, but at that point I might as well make a new dress. I also wanted to preserve this as a "look how far I've come" kind of memento. But I also quite like the dress and wanted to make it wearable. So my efforts have been focused on that. I redid the shoulder seam, bound the neckline, and hemmed the skirt. I ended up taking 7" off the bottom of the skirt, and I decided to use that excess to make ruffles. One row of ruffles has been sewn onto the skirt, and I'm trying to decide whether to add another row (I think I will not). I am going to add a placket to the skirt opening for stability, redo the cuffs (which are a mess), and sew on not-plastic buttons. The rest will just be as it is. I will say that I tried it on after pinning up the hem, adding a belt and bonnet and gloves, and it looks pretty darn good.

When the whole thing is done, I will share the result here.

UPDATE:



I've finished the refurbishment! As promised, I didn't fix everything that was wrong about this dress--that would be basically impossible. But as you can see here, there are a lot of improvements. The first is not the dress itself but the proportions. Because I adjusted the hoop skirt to be smaller and less A-line, the overall shape and proportion (in relation to my body) is much better. The problem with the shoulder seam isn't super evident in the photo above, and the improvement isn't evident in the "after" photos, but trust me, it's better. You also can't see that I added a placket to the skirt opening (previously, the vertical seam at the center front simply stopped a few inches short of the top of the skirt; I added a flap and finished off that seam). You can see that I added a ruffle. If you look closely, you can see I put on new cuffs, bound the neck line, replaced the plastic buttons with mother-of-pearl buttons. You can also see the belt, which is a different belt from the "before" picture. This belt is black with a rosette at the center front (I actually bought this online for a good price). The bonnet is something new I created earlier this year. The dark charcoal color of the bonnet and the beautiful red ribbon look great with the white dress. (The bonnet needs a little work--the ends of the ribbon need to be hemmed and the inside needs a lining.) I also have gloves that I'm not wearing in these pictures.



Friday, November 20, 2020

. . . And Peter Davies's Signature

I think that my blog-related to-do list needs to include a "short story" version of the Llewelyn Davies family history. The more I write about it, the more I want to have a short version I can send people to to catch them up if need be, rather than doing a summary every time I write about the Ll. Davieses.

But in any case, here's the short-short version for the purposes of this blog: 

Peter Llewelyn Davies was one of five brothers who inspired the creation of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. The character ended up with Peter's name through happenstance: Peter was a baby in a pram when Barrie started telling Peter's two older brothers, George and Jack, stories about how baby Peter could fly. The stories morphed, as they do, and eventually we ended up with the Peter Pan we know, the one who never grows up. The real Peter, however, did--of course--grow up. He was seven years old when the play Peter Pan premiered in 1904, and from that time he couldn't disassociate himself from the character, especially because of his name.

Within six years of the play's premiere, Peter and his brothers were orphaned and became Barrie's wards. Peter was at Eton (on scholarship, I feel I should add, rather than on Barrie's dime like his other brothers) and was in the Officer Training Corp when war broke out in 1914. He and big brother George immediately signed up. He was 17 years old, which was old enough to sign up for the army but not old enough to be sent to the front. George went off to the trenches, while Peter remained in England in training. In March 1915, George was killed. At the end of that year, Peter was sent to France. He had a bad experience during the war, watching friends die and cowering under the unrelenting threat of the artillery shells. At one point, he was sent home to England to recover from shell shock, but then he was sent back to the front. He was a signalling officer (meaning he laid and repaired telephone wire, etc.), but during the fighting he, at twenty-one or twenty-two (I should check the dates...), became the commanding officer after all the senior officers were killed. For several days, he led a fighting retreat, and as a result he was awarded a Military Cross.

Last autumn, I had the immense pleasure of viewing the Llewelyn Davies papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Among the papers are Peter's 37 letters home from the trenches to J.M. Barrie, whom he and his brothers (except Jack) called Uncle Jim. (As a note, Peter later carefully added the year to the date of each letter and numbered them--or at least, I'm fairly certain that that's Peter's handwriting. Also worth noting, it was kind of insane to be holding actual letters sent from the actual trenches of the Great War, in fact the actual letters from Peter to J.M. Barrie.)

I've been working on transcribing the letters. They're incredibly rich and vivid, and there's a strong undercurrent of world-weariness and nerviness, with a good dose of acerbic, very English, wit. For instance, he says the whole unit is in good fighting order, including "the signalling officer"--which is, of course, himself. This isn't a joke, but it's a wry way of stating things that I greatly appreciate. There are also some really descriptive, affecting bits, like this: "It is quite delightful going out under the trees with a book and Balkan cigarettes and a box of chocolates while the gramophone plays. One almost forgets the practically permanent noise of the guns." Peter is an excellent writer, in spite of being very young. I find his words at least as evocative as those of his adopted father, J.M. Barrie, perhaps more so for being less sentimentalized.

I got about two-thirds of the letters done, then took a break. I'm only up to mid-1916, but you can begin to see the psychological effects the war is having on Peter ("Honestly, Uncle Jim, I can't write about it - I don't believe anyone could, and I'm not particularly anxious that anyone should."). One of the things that struck me is the signature. He begins his correspondence signing himself "Yr affectionate Peter". Later, it's "Yr loving." In one of the last letters, here, it's what appears to be just "Your" or "Yr" or "Yrs". As you can see, the signature in 1918 is pretty untidy. Though his handwriting is mercifully fairly legible throughout (unlike JMB's!), it does appear to get looser and quicker towards the end of the war, as evidenced by the signatures. Of course, he was writing these letters from the field, and sometimes conditions necessitated him to write quickly or on a less-than-ideal surface, which might explain the sloppiness. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to look at Peter's signatures when he set out for France in 1916 and after two years in the trenches and a struggle with shell shock (a struggle which I contend he never really won and, in fact, lost in 1960 when he committed suicide):


Peter's signature late 1915: Y[ou]r affectionate Peter

Peter's signature 1918: "Ever"? "Your"? Peter

You can see a definite deterioration there, though this isn't scientific and it's impossible to say why the 1918 signature is so sloppy. But he definitely missed the "t" he was meant to be crossing...


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

. . . And Victorian Unmentionables

Introduction

Over recent weeks, I made a few Victorian underthings: a mid-Victorian corset, a mid-Victorian chemise, and a late Victorian/Edwardian petticoat. 

Why? 

I made the corset because the corset I had was fine but wasn't very historically accurate, didn't give me quite the hourglass shape I wanted, and was too long at the sides so that it pressed on my hip bones. Also, the pattern for a new corset was on sale.

I made the chemise because, again, I wasn't happy with the shape of the chemises I had, and I wasn't going to go to the trouble of making a better corset only to wear it over a chemise that looked wrong. Yes, I know that when the whole look is put together, no one will see the chemise, but this is the 21st century and sometimes we take pics in our Victorian "undies" (which are less revealing than most modern outfits).

Finally, I made the petticoat because the dress I'm working on currently definitely made it necessary. It's made of sheer chiffon, so I needed something to go under the skirt.

I should add, these were stash-busting projects for the most part, meaning I used mostly stuff I already had on hand.

The Specs:

Corset:
Pattern: Redthreaded 1860s gored corset (redthreaded.com)
Fabric: Single layer of heavy white twill (about 1/2 a yard)
Hardware: Grommets for back lacing, 11" busk for front closure, zip ties for the boning, twill tape, bone casing, and cording to lace it.

Chemise:
Pattern: Started with Truly Victorian Chemise and Drawers (TV102)
Fabric: White cotton lawn (about 1 yard)

Petticoat:
Pattern: Started with Truly Victorian Late Edwardian Petticoat (TVE14)
Fabric: White Cotton lawn (about 1 yard) and some lace (about 1.5 yards)

Making the corset:

My first corset was a 1910s long-line corset (my Rilla corset--see my blog here), and it went really well, so I embarked on an 1860s corset with optimism. I ordered my supplies (I needed a busk and cording) and made a mock-up in the meantime. I had purchased the medium size pattern based on my bust size (I possibly should have gone smaller, given what happened later, but, well, you'll see). I made a mock-up of muslin, taped on zip ties, and attached a 2" strip of fabric in the back to mimic the lacing gap. This meant I didn't have to fiddle around with a lacing panel, holes, and lacing. I put it on and was pretty pleased. It fit pretty well in the torso, the hip gores hit in a good spot, and the bust gores seemed fine. I noticed the side seam was too far back. Instead of being right at my side under my arm, it was along my back.

And then I realized I hadn't added the lacing panels, which would add another inch-and-a-half or so on either side.

Mock-up. Sewed in the busk with contrasting thread to make it 
easier to take it out again.

Messy mock-up.

Well, damn. My solution to the corset being too big around was to kill two proverbial birds with one stone: I lopped an inch off the side of the front panels, which took 2" total out of the circumference of the corset and moved the side seam forward. To take even more out of the circumference, I tightened up the seam allowances in the lacing panels. By taking these bits away, I compensated for the addition of the lacing panels, and it ended up fitting well, like it did when it had no lacing panels.

Honestly, it still is probably a little too big all the way around. When I lace it shut, the gap at the back is barely 2", which is basically the minimum. On the upside, the lacing gap is even all the way down. On the downside, I can't tight lace, but I wasn't going to do that anyway.



Anyway, those changes were really pretty simple to make. and I was really happy with this pattern and how it went together. I started in on the final product, that is with the twill. I did only a single layer because it's easier and it's cooler to wear, and I'm quite happy with a white corset. Fancy colors are fancy, but . . . fancy isn't totally necessary. I inserted the busk, sewed together the panels and gores, constructed the lacing panels, sewed in the boning channels, and added the bones. Then I bound it around the top and bottom and added the lacing. And it was done.

I was pleased with the final product. It's a bit big in the hips, so the proportions look odd. It could/should be padded to create the proper silhouette, but then again, it will be under a hoop skirt and not visible, so why? The bust is a bit gappy along the top edge, but apparently it's a Thing to have a little drawstring at the top of the bust, which I might actually do. That or sew in tiny darts. Or add padding. Oh, and I had trouble with the grommets. A few popped out. So I need to sew those. Okay, so a bit of work still needs to take place here, but not much, and it's really fine as-is.


The back of the corset. The bunny ear loops
help with lacing and look like a villain's mustache.

Corset's inside, upside down. The tan is a waist stay.

Making the chemise:

For this piece, I started with a Truly Victorian pattern which was, in fact, the very first thing I ever sewed (aside from a really, really simple dress for the Ren Faire in middle school lo these many years ago). That chemise has served me well, but the fabric is a bit stiff, and the shape is . . . not what I was looking for. I was looking for a wider, scoop-ier neckline. I also wanted to finish everything off nicely.

So I got to work. I wish I could describe what I did. It involved measuring the width of my shoulders and the depth I wanted the neckline to scoop, and doing some math and guessing and head-scratching. I penciled something I hoped was correct onto the original pattern. I could've done a mock-up, but I frankly didn't want to use up the fabric and time. So I traced my new pattern directly onto my cotton lawn and cut it out with a whole lot of seam allowance all around.

I then draped the result onto my dress form, and, whoo boy, it's good I left lots of seam allowance. The outer edges of the front and back shoulder seams just barely met. I did a bit more adjusting, but I was basically happy with the result. All of this fiddling and cutting took most of a day.

The next day I started sewing, and I didn't stop until I was done. I decided the neckline was right where I wanted it, so I bound it with double-folded strips of bias-cut fabric. I had never actually tried this technique, and it turned out beautifully. I did the same thing with the arm holes. The side seams I folded and then machine-stitched down (no hand felling for me; I'm not Bernadette Banner, ffs). In addition to binding, I wanted to try pin tucks. It was getting a little late in the day, but I was determined to finish this thing, so I added three pin tucks along the bottom, which really go a long way in making it look VICTORIAN.

I might add a bit of lace around the neckline to soften it and make it, well, lacier. Otherwise, this thing is LEGIT and it is DONE.

I considered trying insertion lace for the first 
time but decided against it.
The finished product, with American Duchess shoes.

CAT.
ALSO CAT.
Corset with chemise. Even though my hands
are there, you can still kind of tell my hips should
be padded out a bit.


Making the petticoat:

This, like the chemise, was somewhat ad hoc. I started with the late Edwardian petticoat pattern from Truly Victorian. What I needed was a fairly plain skirt that didn't add much volume or shape. 

However, quite fortuitously, I found this image of a petticoat from about the time period I needed my petticoat for (1919--and yes, I'm aware that that is *not* Victorian; I'm stretching it a bit/a lot, but the resulting petticoat can, I think, work for a variety of styles). 



If you notice, this shows quite a bit of gathering at the waistband. The TV pattern calls for a bit of gathering at the back but is otherwise quite fitted. The TV pattern also shows a slightly different configuration of front, back, and side panels. My first step was to ignore the back panel; I would just cut two of the front panel. Then I went up several sizes. For the front panel, I drew a straight line from the "attach dust ruffle here" line to the very top corner of the waist line. This was now my fold line, thereby doubling the width of the panel after going up several sizes. For the front panel (which would be the pattern for both the front and the back), I just went up several sizes. All of this fiddling preserved the lines where the pattern pieces met, so I wouldn't have to worry about making curves meet neatly and so forth.

Anyway, with all that figured out and a lot of volume added to this petticoat, I went ahead and cut it out of my cotton lawn, then sewed together the four panels. I was pretty pleased with the volume. I ran some gathering stitches. It was again getting late in the day, and I might have forged on, but partway through running a line of gathering stitches, my bobbin ran out of thread, which was a sign from the sewing gods to give it up for the night. I came back to it, finished the gathering stitches, cut out a waistband, turned in the edges, gathered the skirt to the waistband, turned it out, folded the waistband over the top of the skirt panels, and stitched it down using a machine top stitch because I was too lazy to do it by hand when it really would never be seen.

I tried a drawstring as a closure but it didn't quite work, so I sewed on a hook-and-bar closure, and it worked perfectly. I hemmed the bottom, and it was magically almost the exact right length to go under the dress I made it for. For pizazz, I added some lace that I bought as part of a lot on Ebay. It was a perfect addition. Finally, I ran some light pink ribbon through the holes in the top of the lace.

Petticoat: check







Monday, August 17, 2020

...And George Llewelyn Davies at Cambridge

At the end of last year (oh Lord, that seems like a bloody age ago, doesn't it?), I went on a trip (fancy getting on a train and going somewhere!) to New Haven, CT (God, I miss traveling).

Why might I have gone to New Haven? Well, because New Haven is the home of Yale University, and Yale is home to the papers of J.M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family. To catch up anyone who might not be aware, I became deeply fascinated with the story of the Llewelyn Davies brothers, who inspired Peter Pan, about two and a half years ago now. I wrote a novel about them. And then I decided to go to New Haven to see the papers. That seems backwards, but I had access to most the info in those papers via a fabulous book by Andrew Birkin: J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Much of the photos and letters are also available via jmbarrie.co.uk, and a lot of it is digitized by Yale (e.g.: The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island). Besides, I didn't realize the papers were there at Yale until after I finished the ms.

In any case, in going to Yale to actually see the collection (at the Beinecke Rare Manuscripts Library), I was able to hold in my hands the actual letters that I had read copies of, including George's and Peter's letters home from the trenches of WWI. I was also thoroughly delighted when I came across this spectacular photo of George:


Does dear George not look fabulous? It's clearly a costume (this is not standard 1910s men's garb, obviously). It's part of a group of photos of him in costume, sometimes with fellow actors posing as if taking part in a scene. George was in the Amateur Dramatic Club at Cambridge, which is where these photos come from. Being the unofficially-adopted son of a famous playright and the real inspiration behind one of the stage's most beloved characters (that is, Peter Pan), acting was surely in his DNA.

The costume is from a time that was bygone even in 1914, when this was taken. I have an iota of knowledge about historical dress, and I pinned this to the 1790s or early 1800s. I was only about 80% sure of my guess, but this costume is pretty amazing in its detail and, frankly, accuracy. It seems quite extravagant, too. One wonders--well, wonder--whether Barrie provided financial backing to the ADC. In any case, a friend on Facebook confirmed that it looked very 1790s.

Today, I was browsing through jmbarrie.co.uk (for funsies) and realized that this photo was online there (I don't think it was previously) and that it was labelled as being from 1914 and from a production of A Tale of Two Cities (which takes place partly during the 1790s).

It's delightful to be validated in my placing of the costume's time period. It's also fantastic to know exactly what play it was from. It also hurts more than a little to know that this was taken just a few months before war broke out--a war that killed George the following year. But mostly I was just pleased to have a little more knowledge about this story.