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!

1870s Unmentionables: Layer 1- Chemise and Drawers

It’s here! I’m finally starting on a project that I’ve been planning for close to two years!

At work, since we work with out hands, we end up talking about a lot of random things: food, Star Wars theories, the relative merits of various names, cats, genetics, and Harry Potter to name just a few. Not just about Harry Potter, of course, but about the whole Wizarding World: its history, its issues, its everything. We love to speculate about things, and with this kind of talk come all sorts of fun costuming ideas. We’ve all seen what wonderful things can happen when you put wizards in the 1920s in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But before that even came out, I was planning this outfit: an 1870s bustle gown inspired by Ravenclaw House. It will be a historically-accurate (as much as anything is) gown, fit to wear to reenacting events, but the colors and the design are inspired by the personality and the symbols of Ravenclaw.

There will be more about that as I get to work on the actual gown, but before you can have an 1870s gown, you must have an 1870s under-structure, so that is where I am beginning.

For the chemise, drawers, and corset, I am using Laughing Moon #100.

https://i1.wp.com/www.voguefabricsstore.com/images/P/LM100.jpgI started with the innermost layer: the drawers.

Victorian drawers are very strange to our modern sensibilities because for the most part, the are left open in the center to allow for ease of doing-one’s-business in large, complicated skirts. It would also be almost impossible to pull down a pair of drawers once a corset was tightened over the top of them, and certainly impossible to pull them back up again. Many modern reenactors choose to close them up, but I agree with the Victorian ladies–I’d rather get used to open drawers than fight with them in order to use the facilities.

An extant pair of drawers at The Met, dated to the 1850s.
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A drawing from an 1869 pattern, available to the modern costumer through Ageless Patterns.

Both of these examples are similar to the ones that I made. The drawers are very simple to put together–only three pieces total, but the leg pieces are some of the strangest pattern pieeces I’ve worked with. They are wider than anything I’ve ever used that wasn’t an enormous skirt panel. I had to open up the piece of lawn and cut each leg individually, because they didn’t fit on the folded fabric!

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The first step is the decorative tucks at the bottom:

Then you sew the legs into tubes–I used French seams.

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Add a hem, and some lace if you want!

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I cut out one inch self-bias strips to bind the open center edges.

The pattern comes with two waistband options: straight, and pointed, but, like most waistbands, they both go on the same way. The tops of the legs are gathered onto the right side of the waistband, and the back of the waistband gets pressed under and slip-stitched to cover the raw edges.

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I had to pin them to the front of the dressform, so they look a little sloppy, but there’s no way I was taking a picture of myself in just these!

The chemise is a bit more complicated. By this point, chemises were no longer a bunch of squares, rectangles, and triangles, constructed in a way that allowed for the most efficient possible use of fabric. This chemise is gathered into a yoke that is shaped around the top of the bust.

I wanted lace around the neck and arm openings, so my first step after sewing the front and back of the yoke together at the shoulders was to baste some lace along the seam lines.

Once the lace was in place, I sewed the yoke and the yoke lining together, turned the whole thing right-side-out, and pressed. I ended up writing “right side” on the side I wanted to show, since the sides are basically identical.

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The front body is gathered into the front yoke, and the back into the back yoke. Nothing is attached at the sides yet, just at the shoulders. The front yoke overlaps itself in the center, but that bit of the seam doesn’t get sewn yet.

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Then, you sew the side seams–body, yoke, and yoke lining all in one fell swoop. I used French seams here as well. Now that everything’s all in one piece, you can finish the yoke lining.

At this point, you pin the center front yoke so that everything is nice and square and even, and then sew it in place at the bottom.

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Buttons and buttonholes at the top:

And tucks and hem at the bottom:

And you have a Victorian chemise! I may add lace at the bottom later on to match the drawers, but right now, I don’t have anything in my stash that will work.

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I am on to a much more fun part of the process now–the corset! There are so many steps before I finally get to the big, beautiful dress, but once I have this, I’ll have a good foundation for many other Victorian dresses to come! So many plans! If I can make half of them happen, I’ll be a happy costumer.

Spectra Spec-tacular: Part 2

With the biggest part of my new Luna Lovegood cosplay out of the way (the coat–which you can read about here), the rest of the pieces came together very quickly.

I bought the tights, a pair of pink Converse shoes, and the official Spectra Spec replicas. The tights and the specs got to stay as they were, but the shoes, not so much.

The Converse that Evanna Lynch wore as Luna in HP and the Half Blood Prince were a pair of special editions called Autumn Flowers, and since the movie came out in 2009, they have obviously long been out of production. I have an eBay search for them saved, but so far I haven’t seen a single pair, let alone one in my size. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I wasn’t about to let that stop me!

Using a few pictures of the shoes, I drew out the design on my light pink shoes in pencil.

I painted the shoes with acrylic paint, which I water down slightly so that it soaks into the fabric and spreads really nicely. I painted the background color first. It’s an extremely dark brown, almost black.

I also gave the white soles a coat. It’s not a permanent solution, since it chips off of the rubber quickly, but it got me through Lexington Comic and Toy Con and bought me time to find a better solution.

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Then I started filling in the base colors of the flowers, refining their shapes a bit as I went. I knew I was going to go back with a second coat of the background color at the end, so it was fine to leave a few pink spots here and there.

I painted things in one color at a time, so that once I had mixed a color, I wouldn’t have to re-mix it later in order to match what I’d done before.

Then there were the details. Each flower has a contrasting center, and some other details–smaller petal shapes or little dots around the center.

Once I went back and touched up the base color, I went around and outlined the details in black sharpie to make them pop.

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After a couple coats of Scotch Guard, the shoes are ready for action!

Now, for that wonderful skirt. The original was from H&M. Once again, it has obviously been out of stores for many years. I’ll keep searching for an original on eBay, but since H&M clothes aren’t exactly built to last, I won’t hold out too much hope.

Luckily, I had a pretty good solution. My brother is studying to be an animator, and thus, is fantastic at digital art. He made me a design similar to that out-of-this-world horse, bird, star, and heart print, which I got printed at Spoonflower. The design looks great, but it’s definitely not a perfect solution. I ordered it on cotton poplin, but the printing process stiffens the fabric so much that it might as well be quilting cotton. It did soften up a bit after a wash, but it’s still pretty stiff.

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The skirt is super simple: just a couple of rectangles stitched together and gathered onto an elastic waistband. I flatfelled the seams to finish them.

The entire thing is done by machine (a rarity for me), so it only took an hour or so!

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Luna also has a bag, which any con-going cosplayer will tell you is a lifesaver! I could actually carry all must stuff around with me!

The bag is made of a fun blue woven with lots of other colors in it, and I lined it with some heart-printed calico from my stash.

It’s about the simplest bag in the world. The bag portion is two rectangles, the strap is attached on each side, and the join is then covered with another square of the blue fabric. I attached the lining with a zigzag stitch in purple for a bit of extra detail.

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I didn’t quite get the final item of Luna’s outfit done in time for Lexington Comic and Toy Con, but it did give me something to do with my hands!

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I even used an on-theme stitch marker!

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I really need to get better about remembering to take pictures at cons–I’m lucky I remembered to have someone take the one of me knitting! Here’s one that was taken by another awesome cosplayer at the event (check out @queenaslaug on Instagram!).

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This is definitely my comfiest cosplay so far, and it’s really fun to hang around as Luna!

Watch out for Nargles!