When I left you last, the pelisse was in one piece, though sans collar and many other little details. After Christmas, I finally had the time to put this to rights. (If you haven’t read the first part of this post about the Burnley and Trowbridge pelisse workshop, you can read about it here.)
It took me several test runs to get the collar just right, and when I finally got the flare and height just the way I wanted them, I sewed it all in place. Since the fabric is stiff and a bit unruly, I basted the outside of the collar to the body of the pelisse before folding the other side of the collar over and prick-stitching everything in place.
Once the collar was on, I got to do the really fun part–trimming! I started by making a pile of fabric flowers for ornamenting the cuffs and belt. The flowers are quite simple–here’s a quick tutorial on how to make them:
Next came the belt. I made this using another fancy trick from the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop. That is, I think I did. I may have. It was something Janea showed us really quick at the end of the day, and I was very tired, and didn’t completely understand what she was showing us at the time. So what I really did was something that made sense to me, picked up on the bits of Janea’s instructions that I did remember. Whether or not it’s exactly what we learned in the workshop, it worked very well, so here it is:
Basically, it’s a way of making something look as though it has piping around the edge, while only having to sew around the perimeter of the piece once.
When the belt was finished, I ornamented each cuff with four more of the fabric flowers and a smaller band made in the same way as the belt.
The pelisse is buttoned all the way down the front, so buttonholes were a huge ordeal that involved cocktails with my friend Amy and many, many episodes of Gilmore Girls.
The next step was to put a row of trim all the way down one side of the front, around the hem, and up the other side (there will be two rows, but I miscalculated how much I was going to need, and have to order some more). The trim comes from one of my favorite sources for fabric and trim, Farmhouse Fabrics. They have a wonderful selection of lace; I get nearly all of mine from them.
As you can see from the extant pelisse at the beginning of the post, there is a double row of trim around the collar as well. In the picture, you can just see the inner rows begin to slope towards each other before they disappear around to the back, out of sight. The trim pattern I did is my best guess from looking at the angle of the original trim.
There’s a row of trim around the edges of the belt as well, just inside of the false piping.
And that’s it! I’ll have to put that second row of trim on when it gets here, but then this three-month-long project is finally finished! (I didn’t do the sleeve caps, because I think I like it better without them–what do you think?)
I have to say, I’m incredibly proud of this project. I learned so much doing it, and I can’t thank Burnley and Trowbridge and Janea Whitacre enough for the pelisse workshop. It was an amazing experience, and I don’t think I could put a price on the knowledge and experience I got out of it. I hope I can make it to another workshop soon!
I’m planning a bonnet to go with this pelisse soon, and when it’s finished, I’ll try to do a nice, outdoor photo shoot with it. I think all that work deserves some really pretty pictures!
If you’re like me, you’ve read a lot of historical fiction, or possibly historically-inspired fantasy books. Inevitably, somewhere in these books, a woman gets a new dress. The dressmaker comes, takes measurements, shows her swatches and sketches, goes away, and a day or two later, the dress arrives, lovely, and perfect, and above all, finished. Now in my case, when I was young, I dreamed of reaching a skill level where I could work that fast (yes, yes, I know, the dressmaker would have had apprentices to help as well, but twelve-year-old me does not care). The older I got, and the more I sewed, the more I was baffled. I could sew fast. I could sew neatly. I didn’t actually start using a machine until I was 18, so I had years of hand-sewing experience. But there was still no possible way I could complete a garment, let along a ballgown, (even with help) in 48 hours. If you’re someone who knows anything about the differences between period and modern construction, you’re already laughing at me.
Over the years, especially since I started interpreting, I have added to my repertoire of hand-sewing skills, but nothing has shone light on the mysterious speed of historical seamstresses and tailors like the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop I attended in October. I signed up with two of my dearest friends, Amy and Melissa, almost as soon as the workshop was announced last winter, and the three of us planned for months and then trekked across the Appalachians to Williamsburg, VA. There were several times over the months between signing up and going when I considered dropping out for purely financial reasons. Even minus the hotel, gas, and price of admission, this was going to be an expensive project. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I stuck with it.
The workshop was led by Janea Whitacre, who is the Mistress Milliner and Mantua Maker at Colonial Williamsburg. Over the course of the three day workshop, she taught each of the (approximately) dozen women in the workshop how to make a Regency pelisse from the ground up. We started by ‘cutting on the person’ (draping on a body, rather than a dress-form), and stitched everything using period techniques that have fallen out of modern dressmaking, but suddenly explain how it was possible for a skilled dressmaker to produce garments so quickly. Everything about period construction is centered around a single goal: sew the smallest number of seams possible, mostly by not sewing the same seam twice unless absolutely necessary.
Amy draping my bodice.
Sewing my bodice.
Melissa and I were very excited about our finished bodices!
Thanks Angela Burnley, for letting me use these photos!
With machines to help us, sewers today are rarely troubled by the idea of bag lining, where the same garment if made first of lining fabric, then of fashion fabric, and put together afterwards. But think how silly that would be if every seam had to be sewn by hand! You’d have to make the same garment twice! The period techniques we learned for lining are like magic tricks. You put your fabric together in a way that boggles the modern sewer’s mind, sew a single seam, and it all comes out stitched and lined! For example: did you know it’s possible to sew a lined sleeve with a single seam? You just fold the sleeve with the right sides together, fold the lining with the right sides together, stack the two pieces on top of each other, sew down the length of it once (though 4 thicknesses of fabric), turn the fabric right side out and, voilà! the lining is inside. The seam allowances are all going in one direction, but here’s the thing: who cares? When did it become more important to have seam allowances open than to sew efficiently?! The old finished product looks just as good, keeps the lining from twisting around inside the sleeve, and halves the sewing time. And it could be done on a machine, if you want. There’s literally no downside.
My Completed Sleeve
No need to worry about putting things in backwards when Melissa sets your sleeves right on you!
If you want to learn how to line a bodice in half the time, you’ll have to attend a workshop yourself, since Janea is a thousand times better at explaining in person with the real pieces in front of her than I could ever be trying to put everything in a single blog. I’m telling you: take one of these workshops, they are more than worth the price of admission and the travel time. The first couple of hours were worth the $165 I paid. B & T only have a couple of their workshops for this year up, but keep checking back.
But I suppose you want to see the concrete item I got out of this, and not just hear me geek out about all the tricks. So here you go:
Each of us brought our own inspiration images to the workshop, and I was working to reproduce this extant piece:
I’ve been wanting to try reproducing it for a while, and I’m so glad I didn’t get around to it until now.
When I was originally planning this project, I wanted to make it out of this silk from Renaissance Fabrics, but sadly, in the two intervening years, they ran out (shocking, I know). It’s incredibly difficult to find really interesting striped fabrics like this, and finding one that had stripes and florals was pretty much a pipe dream, but luckily, Renaissance also had a lovely cream, fawn and sky blue striped silk faille that worked very nicely. It even picks up the colors of the original piece.
Most of my process shots are from after I returned from the workshop. As you can imagine, everything there was happening way too fast to get many pictures in. By the time I left, I had a completed bodice and the sleeves and skirt were set and pinned in place, ready to be attached. The bodice seams are all sewn by top-or-prick-stitching (I chose prick) through two layers of fabric and one of lining, then covering the seam on the inside with the other lining piece and quickly slip-stitching it into place. Since I wasn’t lining my skirt, I got to learn about a fun little thing called a mantua maker’s seam, which allows you to sew a fully finished seam like a french seam with just one row of stitching. The Fashionable Past has a quick tutorial here.
The first thing I did when I got home was to sew the sleeves in place. Since the material is very thick and pulls hard against the pins, I basted it before doing the final prick-stitching. As you can see, the fullness is controlled by pleats, rather than gathering, since these are much easier to set on a person.
The skirt was attached the same way:
After that, I had to take a break for a while in order to finish the company dresses for the Jane Austen society AGM. You can read about Heather’s here, and Meredith’s here. When I got back to the pelisse, it was time to finish the front edges and hem.
At this point, life got in the way again as I rushed to complete holiday gifts. But once the holidays were over, I could finally buckle down and finish this project, which was now spread out over three months.
Not unlike the project itself, this post is not getting away from me, so I’ll wrap it up here, and there will be a special 2nd edition of this post on Wednesday, where you’ll get to see collar, trimming, buttonholes and the finished product! Here’s a sneak peek:
This holiday season has been just full of bustle, and the weeks leading up to it were also full of something else…great subterfuge and trickery. You see, it’s quite tricky to sew a present for the person you live with while still keeping it a secret.
In this case, the project was a linen Regency banyan, which is a casual men’s over-garment meant for wearing around the house. Basically, it’s a way of staying very comfortable while still not being embarrassed if guests come by. Attire’s Mind has a great rundown on the history of the banyan here.
What with the sweltering humidity of Louisville summers, Brandon has been desperately wanting a banyan ever since he learned they existed. Since he plays one of the sons of the Locust Grove family, it would be perfectly appropriate for him to wear during casual daytime events, and in a lightweight linen, it will be perfect to beat the heat.
Banyans were a holdover from the 18th c., and while Regency men generally wore solid colored frock coats, banyans were a different story. As you can see above, they came in stripes, dots, and brocades, and that’s not all: paisleys, florals, and patchwork are all represented in extant examples. Basically the sky’s the limit when it comes to fabric pattern, though Brandon did request when he hinted he wanted one of these, that his not be too over-the-top. He’s not a man at home in head to toe paisley, and certainly not in this:
So I set out on a quest for a tasteful, striped linen with enough visual interest to showcase how different a banyan is from a frock coat, while still being something Brandon would happily wear. I went through many options. The fabric I was originally planning to get was from Burnley & Trowbridge, whom I adore, but sadly they had one yard less than required. I was nervous at this point, since I’d discovered in my first search that an irregular, but not over-the-top stripe is incredibly hard to find. Either the stripes are regular, or it’s white with bright green and yellow stripes, or something equally eye-catching. I was about to give up on my dream of irregular stripes when I found the perfect thing on Fashion Fabrics Club. It’s a very light weight linen in a dusty purple (you may think purple would be too much for Brandon, but in fact it’s his favorite color, so I was home free there) with dark blue stripes alternated with subtly patterned beige stripe.
It was perfect, even better than my first plan. I ran it past our male costume director (our friend Brian) with my fingers crossed and he loved it! I sent the package straight to his house to avoid prying eyes.
So that was the fabric squared away, but I still needed to get this thing made. As you can see from the examples, it’s not a small garment that could be easily worked on in secret.
Cutting it out wasn’t a problem, I “worked late” and zipped over to Brian and Amy’s for a cup of tea, chat, and fabric cutting, then snuck the pieces home at the bottom of my enormous work bag. Once safely at home and out of sight I stacked them in the order in which I would need them and hid the stack at the bottom of a box of pillows waiting to be covered for other Christmas gifts.
The main construction all got done in little chunks while Brandon was in the shower, and when he leaves earlier than me for work on Mondays. Occasionally, he would have to go do something on one of the days when I work from home, and I would go “Jackpot! I’ll do this now and work a little late!”
I used the Mill Farm Banyan and Cap pattern, though I borrowed it from Brian, who had already altered it slightly to fit himself, and his altered pattern was perfect on Brandon. Though the pattern calls for lining, I didn’t do this, since the point was to make the banyan as light and airy as possible. All of the seams are French seams, so that they are nicely finished.
The collar is a very simple narrow band, and all the edges of the front are hemmed, since there is no lining or facing to finish them.
Once it got down to the more time consuming hand stitching, I would “stay late at work” and either sew at the studio, or go over and hang out with Brian and Amy. The closest Brandon got to discovery was when I came home smelling like fried onion because Brian was cooking dinner while I was there. It made Brandon suspicious, but he still didn’t know!
Here are the cuffs: They are prick stitched all long both edges to keep them nice and neat, and stitched to the sleeve itself along part of the top edge to keep them hanging properly:
The pattern doesn’t include any kind of closure, but I added 5 one inch covered buttons (though I didn’t put them on until after Christmas, so I could fit it on him first). I covered simple wooden buttons from Joann by gathering one large circle (about 5/8″ bigger than the button) around the front and tying it off. I covered up the raw edges with a smaller circle (about 1/4″ bigger than the button) that I gathered up, flattened into a disk and whip stitched to the back of the button. I could then use the same thread to sew the buttons to the front of the banyan. I backed each place where a button was sewn on, and each buttonhole, with scraps of canvas to keep from pulling on the thin linen.
The pocket flaps are quite large, and didn’t lay nicely, especially considering how incredibly not-stiff the fabric is, so I added a buttonhole at each corner and fastened them down with 1/2 inch buttons covered in the same way. The gap between them is still large enough that Brandon can slide his hand in without rumpling them.
Here’s the finished product, though I forgot to get a back or side view where you could see the pockets.
I managed to get it wrapped and in the present stack without Brandon knowing where it came from, and his reaction on Christmas was a totally worth all of the subterfuge. He was so excited, and proceeded to wear it for the rest of the day. For next year, I guess I’ll have to come up with some new sneaky tactics…