Wednesday, March 13, 2019

...And a Green Dress

"...but not a real green dress, that's cruel..."

Bonus points to anyone who knows that reference.

Back in December, I regaled you all with the long and sordid tale of my 1860s sheer dress. And I ended by noting that while I liked my dress and was proud of myself, I thought I could do better. So I set out to do better. And I think I did (do better, that is).

I decided to make a relatively simple day dress, of cotton. Not sheer cotton, just regular cotton. So I ordered the sewing pattern (Truly Victorian's darted bodice) and went to Jo Ann's Fabric to pick out some fabric. I hemmed and I hawed and eventually picked out a nice, bright green with a small-scale, light-green floral print. It was not necessarily, I knew, 100% period correct, but it felt roughly appropriate. (I did feel kind of meh about it at several points during construction, and it still isn't really a perfect period pattern, but I still love the color, so I'm overall pleased with my choice.)

The first step was to mock up the bodice, which I did in white muslin:



It's a little hard to tell here, but the sleeves are far too long and bulky. I'm a very petite lady (4'11"), so things tend to swamp me unless scaled way down. What's a girl to do? Well, redraw the pattern, that's what. I kept the lines for the arm hole (armscye) the same, because otherwise I'd have had to alter the torso, but I took off about 3 inches in length and 2 inch in width (from each piece of the two-piece sleeve).
This was attempt one; I actually had to take a little more off the width.
Ta-da!



As I worked, I got a little help from a friend:


This is Penny, and she likes to hide under the pattern paper when I lay it out. She pretty much just likes hanging around and "helping", and she'll be our companion for the rest of this post. Oh, just for s's and g's, here's my sweet Penny-pie when not hiding underneath a pattern:


Anyway, once I was pleased with the fit of the sleeves and the bodice, it was time to cut into that fashion fabric and start sewing.


This is just pinned closed, and the collar is just draped around my neck. The collar I bought separately because I didn't want to fiddle with making one myself and because the one I bought has a nice lacey edge.

Now that the torso of the bodice was done, it was time to turn to the sleeves again. Now, the sleeves are a two-piece coat sleeve, curved at the elbow with just a bit of fullness until they end in an open circle with no cuff. The bodice is, as you see above, likewise undecorated (the collar notwithstanding). And so, feeling that this just wouldn't do, I decided that the dress needed some embellishment in the form of ribbon. So I did some googling of CDVs (cartes de visite--photographs) and Pinterest-ing, and found THIS:


This was a perfect reference for my sleeves. So I bought myself some white ribbon to contrast with my green fabric (though honestly it appears from photos that the trim was always darker than the fabric). I cut the sleeves out of my green fabric and used string to lay out exactly how I wanted the pattern to look. Then I sewed on the ribbon and sewed together each piece of the sleeve:


The next step, of course, was to attach the sleeves to the torso:


A note about the sleeves and the bodice. This is a lined bodice. In the sheer dress, the outer shell and the lining are separate for a reason. Here, the lining and fashion fabric work as one. In this pattern, you cut the same shape out of both the fashion fabric and the lining fabric, then you sew them together along the edges and continue, treating them as one piece. So I did that, and it worked perfectly for the torso, which needs structure. The sleeves, however, ended up very stiff. The fabric I chose (the green) is a fairly sturdy cotton. It's a little heavier weight than average t-shirt cotton. Add another layer of lining, and it's pretty sturdy. That's fine for the fitted torso, but it made the sleeves stand out on their own, and it looked pretty bad. The picture above minimizes the effect (I was trying to show off the decoration). I'd already sewn on all my ribbon, though. I wasn't about to redo all that. So I just went in and very carefully cut away the lining from between the ribbon decoration, and it worked WONDERS. The sleeves looked much better.

I still had a few refinements to the bodice. I added the closure (hook-and-eye tape) and then covered the white bit of the hook and eye tape that peeked out from underneath. That made a surprisingly large difference, not to see that bit of white. I also had to adjust the neckline because, even though I followed the directions for the pattern, it closed unevenly at the neck. I also needed to actually attach the collar, which I did loosely.

With all that done, the next step was the skirt. Now, the skirt had been a bit of a struggle for me on the white dress for a few reasons. First of all, that fabric had a lot of give to it. This green cotton had a lot more structure to it, meaning that when I folded and pleated it, it didn't stretch and distort itself. That was greatly appreciated. For the white skirt, I actually cut out three panels, then sewed them together. This fabric was 44" inches wide, and I needed a skirt 38" long, so in this case I just used it as one continuous piece; no piecing together panels.

I'd also figured out a plan for the waistband and for how to pleat. For the pleating: cut a strip of lining fabric as long as my waist, plus 1 inch for closure overlap. Mark off that overlap allowance on each end, then find the center. Mark off an inch to each side of the center, to give space for the last of my pleats to be laid down. You'll then have two halves, to either side of the center. Start folding each of those two sections in half until you have fourths, eighths, sixteenths, et cetera. I reduced each quarter of the waistband into sixteenths. Then I moved over to my fashion fabric. First, I decided to add three parallel, horizontal lines of ribbon around the bottom of the skirt to make it pretty. Then I hemmed the length to 38". I should note that this was SIX YARDS of fabric. SIX YARDS. So I had to run SIX YARDS of fabric through the sewing machine four times, once for the hem, and three times for the ribbon.

Anyway, pleating: I laid out my six yards of skirt and folded it IN HALF, and this is what it looked like:

This is six yards, folded in half.
Then I did what I had done with the waistband I just created: I marked off an inch for the closure overlap and an inch at both side of the center-back. Here, I also marked off an inch on each end for the seam closing the skirt. Then, like with the waistband, I started folding and marking the fourths, eighths, sixteenths, etc, until I had exactly as many marks on my fashion fabric as on my waistband. Then I started matching the two. I started at the center back, pinning together the inch of waistband and the inch of skirt that would be un-pleated. Then I matched up each mark and folded over the excess, laying the first pleat on that flat 1 inch of fabric I'd just pinned in place. Then I worked along, matching up my marks, pinching up the fabric and laying the excess flat as a pleat. I repeated until I had pleated all those six yards of fabric down to 27" of waistband (plus an un-pleated inch on each side for the closure overlap, so 29" total).

It looked like this prior to being ironed down (in future attempts, I figured out how to do this without an enormous amount of tedious ironing of pleats):


And Penny again tried to get underneath the things I was working on. I didn't mind. I mean, look at that furry little butt!


Once I had it all pleated and pinned and ironed, I sewed it in place to my strip of white lining fabric. Next came the actual fashion waistband. I cut a length of the fashion fabric that was as long as my white strip, plus a bit for seam allowance on each end. It was twice as wide as I wanted my eventual waistband to be, plus, again, seam allowance. I folded it over lengthwise (to its intended width) with the right sides together, and sewed both ends. I then turned it out so that I had a long rectangle with the right side showing, a nice-looking seam on both short ends, a fold along the top edge (ironed flat), and an opening all along the bottom with raw edges. It was kind of a long, thin pocket. I then slipped the top of my pleated skirt, attached to my white strip, into that pocket. I folded under the raw edges of the green waistband and sewed it all in place. The only thing left to do was sew together the main seem of the skirt to make it a circle instead of a rectangle of fabric, and add the hook-and-eye closure. And there it was, a pleated skirt of six yards of fabric:



As soon as I was done, I tried it on:


Not a great picture, because it was dark and the lighting in my apartment isn't great, and of course my hair and glasses are modern, as is the window A.C. behind me. But still, I HAD A DRESS.

Now, I still had some work to do. I had to redo the collar. It really is too long for the neckline, so I had to kind of bunch it up a bit at the back, but oh well. I also ended up taking the skirt up an inch and sewing the skirt to the bodice by hand instead of having them as separate pieces. I also added buttons and a brooch and did something with my hair (I parted it in the middle, then put a hairnet over it; I also tried on my nifty boater hat). And of course, Penny was curious and came to check things out, too!









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