Friday, June 28, 2019

. . . And an Edwardian Outfit

I've blogged a few times about my sewing of mid-Victorian-style dresses (try this post, or this post, or this one, or even this one and this one). The reason I chose that era is that I am interested in and write fiction about the antebellum and Civil War era (i.e., the mid-Victorian era). I am also, however, interested in the Edwardian and Great War era, and have written in that time frame, too. So, I decided, what the hell, let me give it a go.

There are a good number of Great War and Edwardian sewing patterns out there to try, and I settled on a blouse and a skirt pattern from Wearing History (specifically the Elsie blouse and the Evelyn skirt). I also made the chemisette but didn't end up using it for this outfit (it would've been an underthing).

The first step was to print out the patterns, because I went for the e-patterns. They were cheaper, there was no shipping charge, and I could get started right away. With the many pages of printed-out pattern laid out, I set to work taping them together. Pro tip: more tape is better than less. I did the e-pattern for both the blouse and skirt, and I think it was a great option.

Let me start with the blouse. The blouse included elbow-length sleeves, cuffs, a collar, lapels, and a waist stay (which you attach the gathering to at the waist). The first step was, of course, to cut the pieces out of my cloth. Not exciting work, or very interesting, so let's just skip ahead to the part where I had all of my pieces cut out of the fabric.

(Note: the fabric I used is the white Swiss-dot fabric I used for my very first dress! I had quite a bit left over from that.)

I was now staring at all these bits of fabric and feeling slightly out of my depth. I had never sewn anything like the blouse, with buttons up the front and a lapel and integrated collar and cuffs! By comparison, the 1860's dresses were much simpler. Unfortunately, the directions included with the pattern were only slightly helpful. They used terms I wasn't familiar with, referred to the various pattern pieces with inconsistent terms, and left out what I felt were important steps and failed to answer what I felt were crucial questions. By playing around with a mock-up and thinking about it hard, I was able to figure some things out, but what really helped was watching the video tutorials provided by Wearing History. They were immensely helpful in teaching me techniques for this pattern, the skirt pattern I tackled next, and sewing in general.

Anyway, the next step was facing everything, that is, adding the necessary pieces so that you don't have raw edges. Take the collar and cuffs below for example. I cut out two pieces for each (that is, I cut two identical collar pieces and four identical cuff pieces--two for each cuff). I put the rights sides together and stitched around the edges, then turned it inside out. Voila! The seam is now encased and you have a neat edge and no raw edges. 

For a little bit of style, I decided to top-stitch around the edges with black thread. This just means I ran a line of stitching all the way around.

I also had to sew the facing to the edges of the front opening. When completed, those facings fold over to become the lapel. I also top-stitched these pieces with black thread.

I sewed the shoulder seams, which involved a bit of gathering, and sewed the sleeves together and attached them to the torso (again, a bit of gathering).

Perhaps the hardest part was setting the collar in. This took a little bit of concentration and pinning and re-pinning. The seam between the collar and lapel would be visible when the lapel was folded over, so it had to be neat and crisp. Though the recommendation was to encase the underside of the collar in a bias strip, I left it alone because it wasn't visible and I was afraid that I would bumblingly mess up what was (currently) a tidy job. Since this isn't something I'll be wearing and machine-washing on a daily basis, this is fine.

If I'm remembering the order of things, I attached the cuffs next. This was simple enough, though I had to jerry-rig it a bit since I'd narrowed the sleeves and forgotten to make the cuffs shorter. Attaching the cuffs was just a matter of putting the *wrong* sides together (while everything was turned inside-out) and sewing around the opening, then turning it right-side-out. Voila, the right side of the cuff AND sleeve are visible.

Last was the waist. As a note, I did add length to the bottom of the blouse because it ended far too high for me. Yes, the waists are meant to be high, with the skirt reaching above the natural waist, but I felt more comfortable having a little extra leeway in the form of extra shirt length. In any case, completing the waist meant taking the waist stay (which was a bit less than my waist measurement) and pinning it in place at either end. Here the pattern and directions were a little sketchy, so I winged it. I did a patch of gathering at the center back and at the center of each front panel. I used two parallel lines of gathering stitches and gathered until it fit the waist stay, which stopped at the edge of the lapels, which was where the closure (buttons) would be. Then I sewed the waist stay in place.

The result was this:

And yes, Penny was hanging around again to help! I mean, generally she's actually snoozing while I sew, but she seems to pop out when I'm taking pictures....

Here is a picture of what the cuff looks like with that black top-stitching.

The final touch was to add buttons. I finally figured out how to do button holes on the machine, which was a godsend, lemme tell you. I used wooden buttons that I already had. I sewed them on with black thread, then realized the black thread would show on the underside of the lapel when it was turned over, so I redid the top few in white thread.

And here it is, on me. It looks pretty good with jeans, I think!

And here it is with a necktie, which I LOVE SO MUCH.

With the blouse done I turned to the skirt. After dillydallying and ho-humming at the fabric store for a long while, I had bought some brown cotton to use for mocking up the skirt. I planned to buy some black wool for the finished thing. But then I started looking at my brown cotton and at price of the black wool I could buy, and I said to myself, "Self, you do not need the wool; this cotton will do just fine."

And so it did. I didn't mock up the skirt, I just sewed it, and you know what? It turned out fine. I was wise enough to take six inches off the length of the skirt before even beginning to cut my pieces (I drew it onto the pattern). And from there, off I went. I cut the large panels for the front and the back, the belt, the facings, and the tabs. The pattern called for some faux pockets that each appeared to dangle from two long strips that folded over the belt and ended in a pointed tab. I didn't want the faux pockets (which were optional), but I wanted the tabs. So I cut out the shape of the tabs only, no pockets. Another instance of me going rogue.

Like with the blouse, I decided to top-stitch in black. I cut out eight pieces for the tabs (because there were four tabs total), stitched them together, turned them out, and top-stitched them in black. I did the same thing with the belt.

One of the difficult parts of this skirt was the closure. With my earlier dresses, my technique wasn't very advanced, and I did no facings for the openings. But here, I figured out how to do it properly, with the help of another of Wearing History's video tutorials. It's really hard to describe in words, but essentially you add an extra strip to one side that keeps going beyond the edge of the skirt panel, and on the other side you sew a piece that lays against the underside of the opposite skirt panel. The flap sticking out has one side of the snaps that close the skirt, and the bit that lays against the underside of the opposing skirt panel has the other side of the snaps. Snap the two sides together and you have a neat closure.

Well, I mean, you'll have a neat closure as soon as you sew on a ridiculous number of snaps by hand. Holy crud, the amount of hand-sewing of snaps! It drove me mad, especially since I started putting them on the wrong way and had to redo a bunch of them. I also added a hook-and-bar closure at the top of the opening, so more hand sewing!

By the way, this is a side opening; I think it's supposed to open on the left side, but I ended up with the opening on the right, and it really doesn't matter.

The other hard part was the waist. The instructions here were again rather sketchy. There was a 2" internal waistband (I used 2" ribbon; you actually add darts to make it lay flat against your body, narrower at the top and a bit wider at the bottom, because curves!). The instructions explained how to make the seam around the top of the skirt work. Essentially, you sew the top of the internal waistband to the right side of the skirt, then fold it under. Fine, cool, got it. The trick was figuring out how to make the tabs work, and then what to do with this waistband, which seemed to kind of be floating now that it was turned under. Do I stitch it along the bottom to the skirt? That didn't seem right. Did I leave it unattached, only folded under thanks to ironing it into place and the grace of God? And what to do with the belt and the tabs?

As far as the waistband, I secured it with a few hand-sewn stitches on each side of the opening, i.e. where the waistband begins and ends, and then stitched it halfway between.

The tabs I ended up slipping between the waistband and the skirt panels. This required picking out a bit of the seam I'd already sewn so that I could slip in the top of the tabs. Once I'd done that, I re-sewed that seam, folded the tabs down, and pressed (ironed) them into place. These pics give a good idea of that. You'll notice that in the back of the skirt, there's a bit of gathering between the tabs. I also did some gathering on the front, hidden underneath the tabs. I had to redo the gathering to take the skirt in a bit. I am, in fact, going to have to do so again because when I wore it the other day, it kept slipping down a little too far. (This is probably because I was thinking I'd be wearing this sans corset, but in fact it looks much better avec corset, which means my waist is just a tad smaller.)

The belt was still a bit of a mystery. In the directions, it doesn't really say what to do with the belt, which I still hadn't attached. It seemed to indicate that you ought to put the belt in place, then stitch over the tabs, belt, internal waistband, and skirt, securing them all in place. But I didn't want that additional line of stitching on my tabs, and I wasn't sure I wanted the belt to be stationary. So what I ended up doing was using the tabs like belt loops. I used some brown thread to stitch down only the tips of the tabs, and I passed the belt through.

The last thing was hemming the bottom of the skirt, which was easy-peasy. I used black thread again. The end result looked like this:

Here's a close-up of how this poppy closes:

I had thus far completed this project very economically. I'd used some left-over fabric for the blouse and some inexpensive cotton for the skirt, so I'd spent maybe $20 so far on the whole thing (not counting the already-purchased white fabric and counting the ribbon for the waistband).

But with this kind of outfit, shoes would be decisive. The skirt is calf-length, so the shoes would be very visible, and the shoes of the era are fairly distinctive in shape and quite unlike modern shoes.

So what's a girl to do? Buy some shoes from American Duchess, of course! I reasoned that I'd economized on the rest of the outfit, so it was reasonable to allocate money to the shoes. I also reasoned that the shoes were on sale (for $75) and, anyway, I might just be able to get away with wearing them in other contexts (though not every day).

That is how I ended up the (very happy) owner of these lovely shoes (the Amelie black satin pumps):

I tried them on immediately with my skirt, though at that point the skirt hadn't been hemmed:

With everything in place, my outfit was complete! I tried with and without a scarf at the neck and found I definitely preferred the scarf, in brown:

It's definitely a turn-of-the-twentieth-century librarian look, isn't it? I love it!

I'd bought this boater hat as part of my 1860s look, but it actually works better for this look:

And standing:

Looking forward, I might raise the hem just a tad (so much easier on this skirt than an 1860s dress that had 4.5-yard-long hem!) and take in the waist again so it doesn't slip. The look is to have the skirt start quite high, slightly above the natural waist.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

. . . And a Costume Party

This week/weekend, I took part in the 2019 Historical Novel Society Conference at National Harbor in Maryland. It was a fabulous convention, with wonderful panels and much networking. The highlight for me was the costume party/contest on opening night, which was this past Thursday.

I recently wrote about the process of sewing my tan dress, which I actually completed a few months ago. Aside from putting it on and swanning around my apartment (which was fun but limited because my apartment is small and full of furniture), I hadn't worn my dress out anywhere. This was a perfect occasion, and I was both stoked and a little nervous. I mean, what if things started going wrong when I wore it for more than half an hour at a time and started moving around in it for real? What if the hoop started falling down, or buttons starting coming off? And what if someone stepped on my hem or spilled something on my dress? It is the result many, many hours of work, and everything about it is entirely irreplaceable.

You will be happy to know that everything went swimmingly. Once I had the whole costume on (drawers, stockings, shoes, chemise, corset, hoop skirt, dress, snood; I borrowed a friend's hotel room to change), everything felt secure and looked great. I'd spent months thinking about this event and had been really focusing on it for at least a week. I was really well-prepared, though, and I need that kind of preparation for things to go smoothly.

Once I was dressed, I had to get to the event, and I didn't quite know how to get there. I got lost in the hotel/convention-center. In the process, I discovered that I could stride along perfectly well in my hoop skirt. I had no trouble walking, and I didn't get sweaty or uncomfortable (that's right; I was wearing a corset and it was fine). I also discovered that people were fascinated by a lady striding around in a hoop skirt!

I did find the party, and I had a blast. I was "Jo March", and everyone was very complimentary, especially when they discovered that I had sewn the dress myself. I have never in my life been asked by people if they could take a picture of me/with me, and I got that so many times that evening! It was unexpected and a little strange but ultimately a lot of fun. I didn't win the costume contest, but I was fine with that. I was so pleased to *do something* with all my hard work and show it off!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

. . . And A Tan Dress

Oh boy am I way behind on intended blog entries! The last sewing-related blog entry I made was about my green dress. I've sewn another (tan) dress and a full Edwardian outfit (blouse and skirt) since then. And I've done a lot of work on both the green and tan dresses, refining them to the best of my somewhat limited ability.

First thing's first. I liked my green dress (still do) because it was sturdy and brightly-colored and fun. The style was largely historically accurate. But I knew the pattern (and color, alas) were not period accurate, and I did feel like it was a bit clunky and frumpy on my petite form. So I decided I was going to do the same pattern (which I generally liked) but in a more appropriate pattern in a lighter-weight cotton.

Which is exactly what I proceeded to do. I already had the pattern, of course, so I went searching for the right fabric. I used the following picture as my inspiration. I really like the windowpane pattern and hoped to find something like it:

Luckily, this type of pattern isn't horribly hard to find. I was able to get 6.5 yards of a tan cotton with this pattern. It was actually listed as green, but it's most definitely a soft fawn color. It's actually a lovely color, so I'm not at all unhappy about it.

The next steps involved quite a lot of cutting out of pieces, lining of the bodice, sewing of seams, hemming of hems and pleating of pleats. I don't want to bore you with the details, since I spent quite a lot of time on the details of the same pattern with the green dress. I did essentially the same things, having learned my lessons.

The difference here was that I attempted a few different types of sleeve. I tried bishop's sleeves, using the pattern for my sheer dress that I made back in December. They were just too full and didn't work. I tried gathering them at the forearm and upper arm, but then it looked like an attempt at a Renaissance sleeve. Those sleeves were okay but not quite right. I attempted a sort of capped sleeve, as well, trying to draft my own pattern. Let's just say it was frustrating and that I'm not skilled enough by far to be trying to make my own sleeve patterns. So I went back to the sleeve pattern than came with the dress, a simple two-piece coat sleeve.

Having used up much more of my fabric on sleeves than I'd meant to, I was left with only about 4.5 yards of fabric for the skirt. It sounds like a lot, and I figured it would be enough, but I was a bit concerned it would look skimpy. Remember, this has to go over a big ol' hoop skirt. The skirt for my green dress was SIX yards of fabric. So I laid it out, and it looked a little like this:

Now, you may wonder what that lump there is. I wondered, too. And then it moved . . .

 So, yeah, Penny was still around to help out with my sewing!

I did alter the neckline slightly on this dress, and I added piping around the waist. That required the use of strips of bias material folded over a length of twine (I actually had to double it up to make it substantial enough). I hand-stitched the bias strip around the twine, then hand-stitched the piping to the bodice, then hand-stitched it all to the waistband of the skirt. So, yeah, plenty of hand-stitching. Not my fav.

Last (for now), I slapped on a collar I bought online, et voila:

You can see my hard-won piping around the waist.

I posted these particular pictures because they show a few issues. The collar doesn't look right, and there's a little bit of white peeking out at my waist (it's the hook-and-eye tape). In the second picture, you can see that the sleeves are just too big and shaped wrong. The dress as a whole is also quite plain. I knew this was going to be a simple day dress, but it needed more.

Because of these issues, I got to work. The first issue was to fix that little bit of white peeking out. I fixed that by (hand)sewing a strip of the fashion fabric over the white strip of hook-and-eye tape. For decoration, I added lace around the cuffs and ribbon in a yoke pattern (stitched by hand, natch), like these ladies:

I needed a different collar, one that was narrower and that came together neatly at my throat with a brooch pin. So, using the collar I had as a start, I drafted my own collar, which is, incidentally, not easy but not as hard as trying to draft a sleeve.

I liked the result of the decorative touches but but still wasn't satisfied with the fit. I slimmed down the sleeves yet again (I've taken inches and inches off the length and width of these sleeves). I also took the arch out of the shoulder seam, because it was too bulky--I simply made a straighter line from the tip of the shoulder to the neck, and it made a difference.

Lastly, I fiddled with my hoop skirt to improve the shape. It still isn't as bell-shaped as I would like, but it is better. This necessitated taking up the skirt another 1.5". If it sounds like a lot of work, it was and more. It was a whole lot of fiddling, but the result was much improved:

Gives a good idea of the overall effect.
Some more of the detail.
Just lounging around in the sun.
This one shows what a difference the sleeve
and shoulder seam made. It looks so much less bulky and frumpy!
Hanging out under my American flag painting (it has 32 stars
and the design is from a Civil War flag hanging
in the Gettysburg museum).