Adora Belle Dearheart Part 2

With ten days to go until the North American Discworld Convention, my Adora Belle Dearheart costume is finished!

If you missed the first part of this blog, which talks about design, patterning, and building the main body of the dress, you can read it here:

Adora Belle Dearheart Part 1

When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.

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Stitching the lining, with attached interfacing, into the collar.
The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.

They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.

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I attached the false cuffs with a row of decorative herringbone stitching in grey buttonhole silk,

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The under and upper sleeves with false cuffs attached.

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The upper sleeve has a slight gather at the elbow when it attaches to the under sleeve–this helps give it a bit  of flexibility when moving.
The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.

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I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!

With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.

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The darts also each got a row of herringbone stitching, which both looks nice and holds down the extra fabric on the inside. I got this detail from one of the original dresses I referenced in Part 1.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!

The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.

Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.

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I also stitched a piece of re-enforcing twill tape up the center back skirt seam to help keep it from stretching, since it is both cut on the bias, and the only part of the dress that isn’t lined.

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Adding a final row of herringbone stitch just below the collar.
I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.

The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.

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I used a pair of calipers to mark the buttonholes evenly down the side of the dress.

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I was sewing buttonholes for days… I could get about six done on a week day after work, more on a weekend day.

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There are four buttons on the shoulder, and 43 down the side.

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I absolutely adore the vintage buttons I found on Etsy store The Vintage Pillbox! And there are still more available!
It was so satisfying to get the last few on!

I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)

Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.

If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!

You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.

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Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.

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Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?

 

 

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Adora Belle Dearheart Part 1

If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.

Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.

Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.

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But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.

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Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.

Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.

Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”

Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890.  I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.

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This dress from the Musée de la Mode is what first made the light go off in my brain. It isn’t exactly what I wanted, but it started me onto the 1890 silhouette as the one for Adora Belle.

Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:

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Godey’s Ladies Book, 1890
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Day Dress, 1891, Gemeente Museum
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Harper’s Bazaar, 1892

But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:

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Afternoon dress ca. 1892. Met Museum

It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.

I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.

It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.

The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.

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I started by tracing out the original pattern, as is, in orange.
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Then I made some initial adjustments based on my own measurements in blue.

I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.

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I massively overestimated how much volume I would need in the front of the skirt, so all of the skirt pieces got a slim-down except for the center back.

After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.

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The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.

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Testing out the drape on the back.

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The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.

There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.

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This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.

Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.

Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.

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A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.

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And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.

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I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 2: Underskirt

I finally have some real progress to share on the Ravenclaw gown! Things have been going slower than I had planned, but we are moving forwards (though things will slow down even more with Jane Austen Festival this weekend)!

The gown is actually three parts: underskirt, overskirt, and bodice, and I have now finished the underskirt.

You can read more about the dress design here.

The upper part of the skirt is very plain, since it will be almost completely covered by the overskirt, while the hem is heavily embellished.

I used the Truly Victorian 1870s Underskirt pattern (TV 201). The skirt is a great basic shape, and fits perfectly on top of Truly Victorian’s early bustles and petticoats.

The construction is quite basic: one front panel, one back panel, two each side back and side front panels, and a waistband (and a pocket, which is very exciting!). I flat-lined the entire thing with cotton organdy to help it hold its shape and volume.

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Since taffeta is prone to fraying, I overcast each seam allowance down to the lining, which took FOREVER!
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I think we can all agree that dresses with pockets are the best dresses.
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I pinned the skirt to my dressform before putting on the waistband because I couldn’t wait to see what the volume would look like!
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Setting the hem.

Instead of shortening the skirt when I cut the pieces originally, I added a bit of functional decoration with three tucks around knee level.

The waistband is the last bit before the fun of embellishing begins!

The first component of the hem embellishment is a deep, knife-pleated ruffle in bronze-colored taffeta.

Instead of a hem, the ruffle is bound at the bottom with bias strips of the blue taffeta.

I used ye olde stitch-in-the-ditch technique to finish the binding, because there was no way I was going to hand finish the binding on ten yards of ruffle that’s going to be on the ground anyway!

If you and the people around you are interested in sewing, you may have seen a video a few months back of someone very cleverly using a fork to form pleats by sliding one tine under the fabric, twisting the fork so that the fabric wrapped around all the tines, removing the fork, and sewing over the newly-formed pleat. I got to go one better. When my husband saw me heading to my sewing machine with a piece of cutlery, he understandably asked what on earth I was doing. Once I explained the technique, he promptly took the fork away and headed out to the garage, where he fabricated these nifty little devices so that I can now make even pleats in multiple sizes without the need to waste time on measuring or pinning! They made pleating a breeze!

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Brandon also helped me pin the pleated ruffle in place, so that we could make sure it hung at exactly the right point when the skirt was being worn.

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Basting, basting, basting…

Next came the velveteen appliqué shapes that go above the ruffle. I made a quick template out of paper, and cut out 18 shapes to fit around the entire skirt.

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There’s basically no such thing as too much contrast bias binding.

Placing and stitching the shapes:

I watched a lot of Bleak House while working on these appliqués!

You can see in the pictures above that the raw edges of both the ruffle and the appliqués are showing in the center, so I needed something to cover them up. I used a bias band of the blue taffeta with a row of brown piping along the top edge, where it will contrast with the blue velveteen.

If you’re interested, you can read more about making your own piping in my blog about making Luna Lovegood’s iconic pink coat, here.

I was able to machine stitch one side of this band to the skirt by sewing right in between the blue fabric and the brown piping so that the stitches disappeared into the seam between the two colors.

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The other side had to be hand finished (more Bleak House!).

Voilà! I’m very excited about how the embellishments turned out! They really look like my sketch, which is so satisfying! But in full color, it’s even better!

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The next step on this project will be the overskirt, and I’m salivating to see how it turns out, but it’s going to have to wait.

The North American Discworld Convention is happening at the top of September, and Brandon and I need costumes in which to celebrate both our first anniversary, and our favorite fictional universe. I’ll be taking a break from the Ravenclaw gown in order to work on our Adora Belle Dearheart and Moist Von Lipwig costumes, which will be inspired both by the book descriptions and by the fashions of the early 1890s. Can’t wait to show you progress on those! I both dread only having only 6 weeks to work on them (though both of us will be sewing), and think September can’t come soon enough!  (If you don’t know Discworld, go find some now! Your life can only be improved by Terry Pratchett’s hilarious satirical look at life, the universe, and everything.)

 

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 1: Research and Design

When anyone asks “what is your dream project?” I can’t answer because of all the bustle dresses battling in my mind. There is something about the more-is-absolutely-more level of detail, and the unique silhouettes that gets my creative juices flowing. This dress started as an idea that we were batting around at work several years ago: Hogwarts themed bustle dresses! Hogwarts houses are a fun bit of inspiration because they are associated with three different things: a color scheme, an animal, and a personality type. Now, if you’re going to design a Hogwarts house themed dress, you obviously have to start with your own house. In my case: Ravenclaw, hands-down. So for Ravenclaw, that means:

Color scheme: Blue and Bronze (yes it was blue and silver in the movies, don’t get me started)

Animal: Eagle

Personality type: studious, bookish, intelligent, witty, driven by knowledge above all

It was fun to imagine a muggle-born Ravenclaw witch paying calls to her muggle family while sporting her house colors. I’d imagine Victorian witches pioneered the idea of hiding wands inside of umbrellas.

I started by digging through photographs of extant dresses from the early 1870s for ideas of ways to use color, and for bird and feather-like details.

Those tiny knife pleats around the neck are wonderfully feathery, but the real kicker here are the wing-like foldbacks of the overskirt front. I knew I wanted an overskirt, but there was something about the apron-y look of many of them that just didn’t stand out to me for this dress. The overskirt here was a breakthrough for me.

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Dress, early 1870s, from the Irma Bowen Textile Collection at the University of New Hampshire

This dress gave me the perfect swallow-tail back to go with my winged overskirt!

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Walking Dress, 1870-1875, The Met

I love the amount of contrast bias edging on these ruffles! This photo also shows just the silhouette I’m going for.

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Dress, 1870, Kent State University Museum

I love the skirt trim on this–knife pleats on the bottom, scallop-y shapes on top, with what seems to be a velvet ribbon in-between.

Day dress, American, ca. 1870-75. Silk faille and velvet.
Day dress, American, ca. 1870-75. Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington

I’m having trouble finding the exact documentation on this dress, but the shapes look right for the time period, and that feather-y trim everywhere was too good to resist looking at!

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I also looked at lots of fashion plates in books like this one:

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You can find it here.

And I’ve been absolutely loving the book Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, which not only has wonderful detail shots of extant gowns, but also teaches you how to create some of the most common yourself! Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print, but you can find used copies around. Edit–the author has since let me know that a few more copies of the book will be available when they come back from an exhibition at the end of August! Keep an eye out for them here.

https://i2.wp.com/www.schaefferarts.com/dev/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/EmbellishmentsCov72-tilted.pngAfter putting all of this information into my brain, and stirring it around, this is the design I came up with:

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I wanted to keep the bodice plain–a bit uptight and schoolmarm-y, and then make the skirt magical and bird-like.

It will be made in Midnight Blue and Cocoa Brown Silk Taffetas with Navy Cotton Velveteen details. All of the fabrics come from Renaissance Fabrics.

I’m currently working on bringing the underskirt into being, and in the meantime you can read all about the making of my Victorian understructure:

Chemise and Drawers

Corset

Bustle and Petticoat

1870s Unmentionables: Layer 3-Bustle and Petticoat

And here we are! The third and final segment of 1870s undergarments! If you missed the last two, check out:

1870s Unmentionables: Layer 1-Chemise and Drawers

and

1870s Unmentionables: Layer 2: Corset

The final additions to the silhouette are all about skirt volume. Skirts in the early 1870s were just beginning to deflate from the full elliptical hoops of the 1860s. But instead of going completely away, the volume moved up, settled just below the back waist and became the bustle. So this:

Victorian fashion plate with children 1867.

Victorian fashion plate with children 1867.
Fashion Plate from The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, May 1867

Became this:

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Fashion Plate from Victoria, March 1870

I was going for a silhouette from the very beginning of the Bustle Era, so my base layer is Truly Victorian’s voluminous Grand Bustle, which gives support both to the bustle shape in the back, and also around the hem, so that the entire skirt maintains some volume. The pattern is very simple and easy to follow, and you can even buy pre-cut boning for your size right from Truly Victorian‘s website, which was both cheaper and easier than buying a 10 yard roll.

My fabric is a gorgeous purple cotton sateen from Renaissance Fabrics. I can’t say enough good things about this fabric, is beautifully soft, has a stunning sheen, and I love the color!

It begins with stitching the two front pieces together, leaving the top of the seam open, and stitching down the seam allowances to make a placket where the bustle will close.

Then you put the boning channels, which are pieces of bias tape, in the back. I used tracing paper and wheel to mark where the channels needed to go.

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There are four horizontal channels, which are very straightforward:

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And then one more, which is made of two diagonal pieces and one small “tab”, for a fifth bone to go through. This bone helps the bustle keep a nice dome shape without drooping.

 

Ruffles all down the back help give the shape extra floof, while also softening any awkward lines created by the boning. The final ruffle at the bottom won’t go on until everything else is put together.

My ruffles are made of cotton organdy because it’s lightweight and easy to gather, but stiff enough not have the volume completely crushed out of it by heavy skirts. I bought white organdy and dyed it purple to (sort-of) match the sateen. It’s not perfect, but close enough for under-garments, right?

The back also has a brace that pulls in the edges of the piece to make sure all the volume goes straight back, rather than expanding too much to the sides.

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It was pretty nuts to crush base fabric, brace, ruffles, and bias tape into the side seams, but it did happen.

Once the fronts and backs are put together, one more bias tape boning channel goes around the entire bottom of the skirt, about four inches up from the hem. The hem itself is also used as a boning channel.

The final ruffle can either stay on the back with the rest of them, or go all the way around the hem. I chose the latter option because why say no to MORE FLOOF?!

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The final task is to get everything gathered onto the waistband. I decided to gather the back volume, and pleat the front/side volume to give myself as much poof in the back as possible, while keeping the front relatively smooth.

I finished off the inside of the waistband with a quick whipstitch.

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Put the boning in:

And voilà!

The petticoat is view one of Truly Victorian’s Victorian Petticoats pattern. It’s a great, straightforward pattern that includes variations to get you from the early 1870s all the way through the turn of the century.

The petticoat starts the same way as the bustle: sew a center seam, leaving the top open for a placket, though this time the closure is at center back.

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The upper portion of the petticoat is very simple: there are darts in the front and side pieces to eliminate bulk, and then a nice large back section to gather up over the bustle. Things start getting exciting with the middle section, the flounce. It is gathered onto the top section, and ornamented with tucks, which help to stiffen it. The tucks take forever, since the piece is about five yards around. I also added an extra two tucks to shorten the petticoat.

And then there are 10 yards of ruffle to contend with. Once again I did this in organdy for extra stiffness. The ruffle gets hemmed first, then gathered onto the middle flounce. When gathering, I normally divide up the piece into quarters in order to distribute the gathers more evenly, but this ruffle was so huge, I had to divide it into eighths!

And one more waistband, this one narrower and closed with a drawstring:

And we’re done!

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And that’s a wrap on the undergarments! Next comes the underskirt! I will probably be working on this project concurrently with my upcoming Adora Belle Dearheart cosplay, since the North American Discworld Convention will be here before I know it, and I have a petticoat, gown, possible jacket, and parts of Brandon’s suit to complete before September!

Idle hands, you know…

Two Weekends of Tambour

I’ve gotten to spend the past two weekends doing one of my favorite things: dressing up and demonstrating needlework at Locust Grove! For these demos I was doing tambour embroidery, which was a very popular form of embellishment from the mid-18th century up into the early Victorian era, when it was eventually supplanted by machine work and fresh, new hobbies. It has never gone away completely, however, and is still used in embellishing couture clothing, and especially for bead and sequin work.

The late 18th century and Regency eras were the heyday of tambour whitework, which produces a beautiful lacy effect on either fine fabrics, or net. It is very fun to do and satisfying, and makes a great demo because it progresses faster than needle and thread embroidery, so guests can see a piece growing even if they only watch me work for a few minutes.

The first piece, which I finished at Gardener’s fair two weekends ago, I’ve been working on for quite some time. It is a fichu embroidered with a design from the August 1814 issue of Ackermann’s Repository.

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I was very excited to finally finish up this piece on Sunday!

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The second design is from March 1814. I am doing two strips of it, about 18″ long, which will make some lovely sleeve cuff ornamentation. I started working on these during our Farm Distillery opening this past weekend.

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It’s been a great two weekends, but it will be very nice to have a quiet weekend at home. I’ll be moving forward once more with the bustle and petticoats for my Ravenclaw-inspired 1870s look!

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1870s Unmentionables: Layer 2-Corset

Despite my long time love of late-Victorian silhouette and detail, it has taken me a long time to jump in to an outfit. This is partly because I didn’t have any immediate upcoming event at which to wear a bustle gown, but mostly because all of those underlayers are intimidating! You have to dig through a lot of non-visible structure before you get to the pretty dress, and once you’re there, the gown is no picnic.

Chief among these complicated structures is the corset. I have made multiple sets of Regency stays before, but as far as I’m concerned, those are nothing compared to the Victorian corset. So I dragged my feet for a long time, but after the dullness that is making chemise and drawers, the corset looked much more interesting.

And you know what? It was! I was shocked how much I enjoyed making this thing. Two rounds of test corsets were boring, and took me a while, but once I got to the real thing the process was surprisingly fun, and even more surprisingly fast. The only part of making the corset that took as long as I expected was binding the edges. Oh, and flossing, which took much longer than I expected.

I used Laughing Moon 100–the same pattern I used for the chemise and drawers. It has two corset options the Dore, which has no bust gussets, and the Silverado, which does, I chose the Silverado.

I started with a test corset. I didn’t take pictures of the first one because it was frankly embarrassing. I am very short, so I went ahead and shorted the pattern by two inches, which in my defense, I often have to do. Turns out, not this particular pattern. I made a second test corset, shortened by one inch, which came out much better.

I ended up shrinking the gussets by one size, trying that out, and then cutting the real fabric!

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I used a subtly-striped cotton twill as my outer fabric. When it came it was slightly lighter-weight than I would have preferred, but since I had a very strong backing material, I went ahead with it anyway. I anticipate needing to replace this corset in the next few years, but since I enjoyed making it, that’s fine with me. It will give me a chance to make one covered in pretty taffeta!

The first step in the actual corset build is inserting the front-closing busk, which is a little fiddly, but not nearly as involved as you might think from looking at them. For the hook side, you simply line up the busk with the seam-line on the correct front piece and trace around it, skipping over the hooks.

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Then you can simply sew the front and the front lining together at the center front as normal, but leaving gaps in the seam for the hooks to poke through. Then turn it right side out, put the busk in place, and stitch around it to keep it secure.

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And now: the knob side. You stitch together the other front and front lining as per usual, then line it up with the hook side on the table, as if it were closed in front, and mark a dot in the center of each hook.

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Then one by one, you open a hole at each dot with an awl, and put the knob side of the busk through and stitch it in place, just as you did with the hook side.

Ta-da! One finished busk!

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The back pieces come next–the fabric is sewn to the lining along the center back seam so that the grommets can go in now, when you won’t have to wrestle with an entire corset.

And with the hardware in, the real sewing starts.

First: the gussets. Bust gussets are just extra pieces of fabric that help the corset fit around your bust. They can be a bit tricky, since they are inserted into just part of a seam between two other full-length pieces, but I find them very satisfying when put in correctly. One side of the gusset gets sewn to one of the two corset pieces from top to the point at the bottom where the seam allowances on either side of the gusset piece would intersect. Then the other side of the gusset is sewn to the other corset piece from the top to the same point. The, with the extra gusset seam allowance pinned out of the way, the two corset pieces are sewn together below the gusset.

These gussets got some nice top stitching to keep them sturdy.

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The rest of the corset body is very straightforward sewing, which I didn’t bother to take photos of it, but I did take the last chance to check for fit when the outer fabric was all sewn.

And good thing I did too, because it laced completely shut, and I ended up taking 1/4″ out of each seam!

The other important thing to note when trying it on at this stage is where it creases at the waist. Since the waistline takes a lot of strain from the laces, it gets reinforced with a piece of twill tape to prevent it from stretching. I simply marked where the creases were at the waist and pinned the twill tape following that line.

And then stitched along each seam to hold the tape in place.

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That is the final thing that needs doing before the rest of the lining goes in!

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And now, the fun begins. Boning channels!

Because I wanted to reinforce the structure in every possible way, I first stitched in the ditch to hold the fabric and lining together securely.

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There are a total of 24 bones in this corset–one along each seam, two at center back, one down the center of every piece where there was space for them, and three in the middle of each side-front piece.

Before binding the edges, I basted some cute little lace along the seamline, where it would poke fetchingly out from under the binding.

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I bound the edges in bias strips of the outer fabric.

And now for the part I was most excited about! Flossing! Flossing is a kind of embroidery around the ends of the bones, which is both decorative and functional. It helps hold the bones still in their channels, and prevent them from tearing through the fabric with wear. It is much easier to replace some worn out flossing than to replace an entire hole-y corset!

I did my flossing using a dark teal cotton embroidery floss.

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My first attempt (right side) was a bit wobbly…

I did the wing shaped ones on either side of the grommets, then switched to criss-cross ones on the rest of the corset.

I watched North and South on Netflix while I was stitching, and Marionette was very happy to help.

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Flossing finished!

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I am so excited about this corset! I really enjoyed making it, and I’m actually excited about making another, fancier one in the future. It’s a pretty basic corset, but the little details make me happy.

I’m on to the bustle and petticoat, and then I finally get to start covering up all that under-structure with beautiful silk! I can’t wait!