There were many ways of sewing and finishing seams in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, and there are probably as many variations as there are people who have ever sewn a garment, but these are some that are relatively common, and which I have found useful.
Three of these seam types (Mantua Maker’s, English stitch, and the Stacked seam) exist to save time by allowing the stitcher to sew a seam and finish the raw edges all in one go. Before the sewing machine, techniques like these saved a ton of time over modern techniques like bag lining, because they allow the dressmaker to sew each seam only once, rather than twice (once for the fabric and once for the lining).
Flat Felled Seams
Best for seams with no linings
A flat felled seam is sewn along the seamline with running stitch or backstitch. One side of the seam allowance is then trimmed down; then the longer seam allowance is wrapped around the shorter seam allowance and hemmed to the fabric. This encases all the raw edges within the seam allowance, and keeps the allowances flat against the fabric. It gives the seam a nice, crisp appearance, but does leave a visible line of tiny stitches along the seamline on the outside. Flat-fells are particularly useful for trousers, breeches, shirts, and shifts, as they are strong and hard-wearing.
Mantua Maker’s Seams
Best for seams with no linings
In a mantua-maker’s seam, the two fabric edges are folded over together twice, and the seam is sewn along the inner edge of the fold. It comes out looking like a hem on the inside, and an ordinary seam on the outside. Best for long skirt seams. It is best done by hand, but can be done on a machine in a pinch.
Hem and Whip
Could be used with or without lining
This is a method by which the pieces are finished individually, and then joined together afterwards. I would recommend this method most for lightweight, lined pieces, but you could also use it in unlined areas, though the hemming would show as a very small row of stitching on the outside of the garment if you use it without a lining. It is especially good for dealing with fabrics that fray easily, as it allows you to eliminate the raw edges before assembling the garment.
Repeat the mitering process for all corners of your pattern piece, and fold in all of the long edges to match.
Best for flat-lined areas
This technique is by far the most common to be seen in Victorian era bodices, which are generally flatlined, with the seams pressed open and overcast to the lining. It is not the most beautiful finish, as the raw edges are left visible, though protected. It’s best not to let this bother you–our ancestors were not nearly so bothered about raw edges as we seem to be, and folding the seam allowances over in order to encase the raw edges would create unnecessary bulk in a tightly fitted bodice. This finish also makes it very easy to go in and make small fit adjustments if necessary.
Sews and finishes fabric and lining concurrently
I use quotes here because this stitch does not have a name that we know from the period as far as I have seen. It has come to be known as the English stitch in much of the historical costuming community. It is best known from this description in the Workwoman’s Guide from 1840:
The mode of sewing these four thicknesses so as to make them lie flatly when opened, is rather peculiar. Take up with your needle, three of the thicknesses, leaving the fourth unsewed. The next stitch, take again three folds, leaving the other outside one unsewed: continue alternately taking up one side and omitting the other, letting the stitches lie close together: when completed, open the seam, and flatten it with the finger and thumb.”
The Workwoman’s Guide, by a Lady, 1840
The edges of each piece (fabrics and linings) are turned under, and stitched in a way that sews all four together with raw edges between the layers. It is a very efficient way to sew fabric and lining, and is very useful for 18th and early 19th century gowns.
Sews and finishes fabric and lining concurrently
This one is in quotes because I have no idea whether this technique has a name. It is another one that is useful for lined 18th and early 19th century garments. I also use it for a lot of my cosplays and modern sewing. It again sews the seam at the same time as encasing the raw edges, with the extra advantage that (unlike the English stitch) it can be done by machine as well as by hand. It does leave all four seam allowances running in the same direction, rather than opened out, so consider that when choosing between it and the English stitch. All four fabric thicknesses are stacked in such a way that the seam can be sewn all in one, and the lining and fabric will open out, covering the raw edges and leaving a nice, finished seam. It’s amazing how fast a lined bodice or dress can go together when using this technique.
I have been part of a Victorian court interpreting group since the beginning of the year, helping to support my amazing friend Amy as Queen Victoria by portraying one of her Maids of Honour. Since we were just getting started, I was stuck wearing my 1840s gear until I could get an 1850s outfit pulled together. We did several gigs this spring, and I had no time, as other projects were more pressing, but as a September gig approached, I was determined to make my newest decade happen!
Of course, no historical ensemble is complete without the full range of appropriate shapewear. For the 1850s, you’re looking to create the nipped-in waist and bell shaped skirt that is iconic for the decade.
This won’t be the most in-depth post I’ve ever done, because I was seriously racing against the clock to make this, but here is what I have:
To start with, I had some corseteering to do. I’ve never been very happy with my old corset. The fabric I used just wasn’t strong enough, and it was basically pulling itself apart from day one. It was also a later Victorian shape, so I decided I would pull it apart, reuse the bones and busk, and replace it with two new corsets, one later Victorian and one mid-Victorian. This is the mid-Victorian, and the later one will come some time in the next 2 years depending on what I end up needing it for!
The first step of any Victorian corset (or at least all the ones that I’ve made) is inserting the busk. For me, this meant first ripping said busk out of my old corset.
I must have marked all my lines on the wrong side of my fabric, because I ended up putting the busk with the hooks and loops on the wrong sides. This doesn’t actually matter functionally except that it still feels a bit weird to do up the busk.
Next, boning channels! These are done using bone casing (this and the grommets came from Corsetmaking.com) on the inside of the corset, with contrast stitching showing on the outside. I think with my next one, I’ll try doing them in self-fabric on the outside.
Most of the boning channels do not intersect the corset’s waist seam, so those are all put in before attaching the hip gusset. This is a wide piece that allows the corset to flare dramatically at the hips. After all, while you might want a tiny waist, there’s no point in constricting your hips when you’re just going to put a big hoop over them!
There are two bones on each side that cross the waist seam and keep the sides under control. Otherwise, the hip gusset would be likely to crumple towards the waist when worn.
Next up: grommets! Always a satisfying pursuit, as it involves hitting things with a hammer.
Once all the bones were inside, I bound the edges with a strip of the same sateen.
Because the seam allowances at the point of the gusset are nearly non-existent, and it’s a point that’s likely to take strain, I reinforced that area with satin stitch in a cotton embroidery floss that matched my thread. You see this detail often on corsets from the 1850s, including the one in the photo at the beginning of this post.
Just one final step: flossing! This is decorative stitching, usually done in a contrasting color, which holds the ends of the bones in place and helps prevent them from tearing through the fabric.
And that’s done!
I love it. It’s amazing how much you learn just by making and wearing one of something. This is leaps and bounds above my old corset in terms of quality and comfort. I definitely highly recommend the RedThreaded pattern!
A fabric ‘bag’ encloses the bottom three hoops to prevent you from stepping though them by accident.
Oddly, the most stressful part of this project was keeping track of the different ribbons. Since the hoop is slightly shorter in front and longer in back, it was imperative to make sure I didn’t get the ribbons mixed up after they were cut! I did pinned a note to the top of each ribbon. The horizontal pins you can see are marking where the ribbons will attach at the top and bottom, and where the tops of each hoop will sit.
Attach the bottoms of the ribbons to the bag with nice, sturdy stitching!
The tops of the ribbons are sandwiched between two layers of a little corselet that goes around the waist. This has several bones in it to keep it from bunching up, and is bound at the top edge.
The bones and bone casings were also all very carefully labelled so as not to mix them up!
As I was attaching the bone casings to the ribbons, I made sure that the join in each bone casing is covered by the center back ribbon.
It is impossible not to swing back and forth like a bell while wearing this:
I also made a petticoat to go over the hoop, smooth the silhouette, and bulk up the skirts even more. I didn’t bother to photograph this process, since it’s just four rectangles sewn together. Truly Victorian has the instructions and diagram for this petticoat available for free!
I do want to add a corset cover to this set of underpinnings, but overall, I’m very pleased. The 1850s were a decade I probably never would have ventured into on my own, but now that I’m here, I’m loving them, and have so many more plans! It’s a crazy month for me, but as soon as I have a chance, I’ll write up a post about the first dress I’ve made to go over these underthings!
After taking forever over the Part 2 of my Dragonstone Landing post, it’s nice to be able to write about a construction that was both very simple and very satisfying. This is a gown with no embellishment: no embroidery, no ruffles, no lace, no anything! But, it was constructed entirely by hand using historical techniques that I’ve learned over the several Burnley & Trowbridge workshops I’ve been to (these workshops are so worth the money and the drive to Williamsburg! If you’re interested in jumping into full-on period garment construction, there’s nothing I would recommend more highly!). I loved every stitch of making this gown, and I didn’t want to take it off the day I wore it! After a long day in the booth in the KY heat, that’s saying something.
Chemises à la Reine are frothy confections of fine, usually (but not always!) white fabric, which came into fashion in the 1780s and began the slide from 18th century fashion to Empire/Regency fashion. They are lightweight and heavily gathered. Many have poofy, gathered sleeves unusual earlier in the 18th century. There is a lot of variety in the sleeves–some have a single row of gathering, some two, some three, some are gathered in at the bottom, some end in a ruffle. Some gowns have straight sleeves or shaped sleeves–some full length, some shorter. There are a huge variety of ruffles on the necklines and hems of these gowns as well. So, while the base of the gown: gathered, white cotton, can seem very repetitive, there is actually a huge variety of designs within the category of Chemise à la Reine.
For the Jane Austen Festival this year, we at Custom Wig Company wanted to have coordinating outfits to wear in the booth. We all loved the idea of showing off some fabulous hedgehog hair, so our uniforms became chemises à la Reine with colored sashes. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t all wearing exactly the same dress, though, so we played with different variations of the look.
I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go with my chemise gown until I saw this one from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy. It was featured in episode 6 of A Stitch in Time with Amber Butchart.
Rather than being gathered all the way around, it has a pleated back, and flat sides, with an enormous gathered skirt and front, and plain straight sleeves. I liked the way that it took the airy, frothy chemise gown, and gave it a slightly sleeker look.
I really wanted to have my new 1780s stays done before I started the gown, but finally I had to accept that that wasn’t going to happen, and I started this with less than two weeks to go until Jane Austen Festival!
I started with the bodice pieces, which Brandon helped me drape. I used a technique wherein the pieces are hemmed around the lining before assembly, so all the seams get finished before they actually get sewn. The gorgeous sheer, checked cotton is from William Booth, Draper.
To make the pleated back, I cut the lining according to the pattern we draped, then cut a larger rectangle of my fashion fabric. I pleated the fashion fabric onto the lining and cut away the excess fashion fabric to leave just a hem allowance around the edges.
I made front pieces for the bodice out of two layers of plain linen. These will be pinned together at the front, underneath the gathered portion, which will give the gown structure that the gathered fabric alone couldn’t give.
The bodice pieces are then stitched together. This could be done with a whip stitch, but I went with something like an English stitch, except that I was only dealing with one edge on each piece, rather than a lining and a fabric edge for each. I found that this fishbone-like stitch allowed the pieces to open out flatter than a whip stitch would.
The shoulder straps on this gown are unusual. Rather than simply going from shoulder front to shoulder back, with a gap between, these ones come around the neck in the back and meet in the middle. I though it was an interesting element on the original dress, and decided to replicate it.
A lot of the work on the skirt was done during the Independence Day event at Locust Grove. The skirt is made in three panels: two back/side panels, and one front panel that includes the gathered portion of the bodice. On the 4th of July, I finished the side edges of the back skirt panels, hemmed them, and put the gathering stitches in half of the top.
I pulled up the gathers and stroked them to get them to line up nicely, then put the finished bottom edge of the bodice over the seamline. Then I stitched the skirt to the bodice, being careful to put a stitch through each gather. The two back skirt panels go from the front/side front seam on one side to the same seam on the other side.
Next, it was time to deal with the large panel that forms the front of the skirt and bodice. This is just a large rectangle with a slight dip in the top to make the shape of the neckline.
The sides are both selvedges, so they just got turned and stitched down. There is a slit cut in the center from neck to about hip level. This slit is what allows me to get in and out of the dress. It is finished with a narrow hem. The bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitches and a bar tack to prevent it from tearing.
The top edge of the front piece is hemmed to make a drawstring casing, with a piece of narrow cotton tape from Burnley & Trowbridge tacked to the shoulder strap seam for the drawstring. The bottom of the piece also got a hem, though apparently not a picture.
The front piece is then whip stitched to the skirt back, and blind stitched along the front/side front bodice seam so that it will cover the plain linen, fitted portion of the bodice.
The back sleeve seams are open at the wrist to leave room for the hand to get through. These adorable flower-shaped mother-of-pearl buttons were left over from another project.
I was attaching the sleeves on Friday night at the Jane Austen Festival! Down to the wire for a dress I planned to wear on Saturday!
The final step when I got home Friday night was to stitch the fabric shoulder straps over the top–blind stitched along the seams, and prick stitched at the neckline edge.
I’m head over heels with this dress; I really am. It really reminded me why I love hand sewing, and why I try to do it on any garment from before sewing machines were widely available. I just enjoy hand construction so much more than machine. Machine sewing is all about the end goal for me, but when hand sewing I love the process as well. Loving the outcome is just the cherry on the cake! The jewelry in these photos is from Dames à la Mode, the wig from Custom Wig Company, and the makeup from LBCC Historical.
Here are some comparisons of the original dress from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy and mine. I didn’t have enough fabric (or enough time!) to do the skirt ruffle, and Wm. Booth is sold out of this fabric now! But, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it anyway, so that’s okay.
And here are a couple of photos by Fox & Rose Photography, which show me at work netting the cap for an 18th century men’s wig.
This is the second part of my blog about recreating Daenerys’ Dragonstone Landing dress from Season 7 of Game of Thrones. Click here to read Part 1.
Where we left off, I had just reached the part of this build that I was most looking forward to: the embroidery. There are two major sections of embroidery one this costume: the shoulders of the dress, and the shoulders of the cape. Both form vague, stylized dragon-shapes that wrap from front to back, and there are a lot of elements that evoke dragon skin, scales, wings, or tails.
My first step was to get the basic shape I would need for the dress embroidery piece. The major embroidery isn’t done directly on the garment, but embroidered on organza in a hoop, then appliquéd on with a bit more embroidery done around the edges to mask the join.
I used a piece of scrap linen to trace out were the embroidery needed to go. The dragon head sits on the bodice front, while the rest of the design falls on the sleeve-capes. The line of pins below marks where an area of smocking will sit below the embroidery.
This gave me a pattern that I could transfer onto the charcoal grey silk organza that forms the base of the embroidery.
I used a silver sharpie to sketch in a rough idea of where the major design elements needed to go, and started layering the bottom portion with crumpled and pleated fabrics. Almost none of this shows in the final design, it’s just there to add some texture behind the sequined dragon wings that will come later.
I added another element of texture to this portion with a bit of wool roving, and a few rows of black, grey, and silver backstitching.
After deciding that the grey lockstitch would look very dull against the plain organza, I added a layer of linen and wool over that portion as well before doing the lockstitch.
The large chunk of lockstitch got broken up with sinuous lines of long stitches in light and dark grey wool.
A dragon head rests on the front of each shoulder, outlined in couched silver cord and filled with a web of the same.
I gradually layered more of the grey yarns, the silver cord, and sequins. The sequins are the same ones that were used in the show. They were purchased from Top Fabrics of Soho.
Layers of sequins fill the top portion, where they will stick up along the shoulder of the gown like the spikes on a dragon’s neck and back.
The raw edges at the bottom edge are ok, because they will get covered by a lay of chainmail-like Italian Mesh Ribbon. Mine came from Specialty Beads on Etsy. They seemed to have the best selection I could find on the internet. Italian mesh is used as embellishment on quite a few Game of Thrones costumes.
Believe it or not, this is only the base stage of these embroidered shoulders! The next step is a 3-d element. Each side has three pieces evocative of dragon wings that flare out along the upper arm. I made these from buckram covered first in a layer of the grey organza, then a layer of Italian mesh, and finally with rows of sequins. I did not actually attach the wing pieces at this point, because I wanted to be able to see them placed on the curve of the sleeve before I sewed them in place.
It’s funny going through the pictures again, when I can’t remember why I did things in a certain order. Clearly, at this point, I started working on the cape, but I’m not sure why I didn’t attach the embroideries first! Anyway, that’s what I did!
In order to get the desired fullness in the cape, while keeping it flat along the back of the shoulders, there are two pleats at the back of each shoulder. I think that the original costume only had one (though it’s hard to tell in the one blurry back view available), but I liked the fullness I got from two, and the way it evoked an 18th century robe à la Française.
The structure of the shoulders comes from Pellon Flex-Foam interfacing. I had to play around quite a bit before I got a scale of shoulders that I was happy with–the original pattern I draped turned out comically large once it was made in foam!
The cape is constructed over them the same way as the dress–corduroy outer and linen lining prick-stitched together at the edges with metallic thread.
The large embroideries on the shoulders of the dress and cape are not the only pieces that need to be made! There are also smaller embroidered scales–one at the closure of the cape, and one on each sleeve.
I sketched a little pattern on a scrap of buckram, and used that to test the size and shape, then transferred the pattern to some more organza. The shapes are outlined with couched silver cord, filled in with herringbone stitch in cotton floss and augmented with silver bugle beads and red seed beads.
I braided together several lengths of grey crochet cotton to make the ties that hold the back of the dress. This is one of those little steps I had been putting off for no particular reason, but at this point I wanted the dress to be supporting itself a little more accurately on the dress form.
Before attaching the dress embroideries, I added some red accents to them. This was done between the dress’s first wearing in season 6 and its second appearance in season 7.
Here, the embroideries have been attached, with a section of smocking pinned below. It looks like a bit of a mess around the edges here, but you’ll soon see how that gets blended in!
The edges of the smocking are masked and blended in with lockstitch in black silk and metallic thread.
The dragon wings are placed along the center of the embellishment. I stitched them on only at the corners, so that they maintain their dimension.
Here you can see that the back corner is blended in with rows of long stitches in silver cord, additional sequins, and grey lockstitch.
Finally, the tops of the sequins around the shoulders are strung together and wrapped with more silk thread.
Here is the finished dress embroidery.
I made the sleeves as separate pieces that were attached to the finished dress, because they were only added to this costume for the second wearing on the show. They are quite a simple straight sleeve, but with an added seam at the front of the arm, which is embellished with feather stitch, which spread out to become a triangle of fly and feather stitch at the wrist.
The base of each of these embellished seams gets one of the embroidered scales I made earlier, which is incorporated into the design with grey herringbone stitch and a line of alternating silver bugle and red seed beads.
Instead of being left raw, the sleeves are finished at the top, and whipstitched into the armscye.
At this point the dress is finished! Now, back to the cape.
I marked out the embroidery design on the cape with pins, then sketched it out on organza once again and put it in the hoop.
This one starts with some of the Italian mesh ribbon along the shoulder.
Like on the dress, there is a dragon head sitting at the front of each shoulder, done in silver cord and metal thread.
The base of this design is made from braided and twisted wool yarn, picked out with silver cord, which defines areas of the design that will be filled with other textures, and fans out at the back to become three dragon tails.
I used a kind of modified fly stitch in grey crochet cotton to create the shapes of scales along the ends of the dragon tails, then filled them in with wool yarn and created a spine to connect parts of the tail with yarn and silver cord.
I accented the bottom two tails with red–heavier on the bottom and lighter on the middle tail.
The ‘body’ of the stylized dragon is filled in with lockstitch. I did this portion in grey silk thread.
Layers of sequins form a ridge from the back of the dragon’s head all the way down its back. The sequins divide into two lines and break up the large lockstitch section, and they also form a fringe along some of the braids.
The base of the sequins are stitched over with thread and silver cord, and surrounded by a sea of red beads like smoldering embers. I used a combination of size 9/0 and 11/0 3-cut seed beads in two different shades of red. The 3-cut beads have a gem-like appearance compared to standard round seed beads.
Following the advice on Michele Carragher’s (the GoT embroiderer) website, I painted the backs of the embroideries with glue to help hold the stitches fast. I did this on the dress embroideries as well, but must not have taken photos at that point. I used watered down fabric glue.
Before attaching the cape embroideries, I built up a little area of fly stitch for them to sit in, and attached an embroidered scale over the cape closure.
Here are the cape embroideries pinned in place:
I clipped and turned the edges of the organza under as I stitched the pieces in place.
The backs of the pieces are left as-is, but the front gets a bit of additional blending in the form of beads. There is also a row of red yarn and beads that masks the shoulder edge.
And that’s the cape and dress finished! But, there was still more to do…
I made the boots by dying down a pair of my own boots, and making covers to go over the tops and make them taller. The covers are made of faux suede backed with heavy interfacing to give them structure.
I made two of Dany’s pieces of jewelry as well: her iron ring, and her three-headed dragon hair-stick. Sculpting does not normally form a part of my costuming, so this was an adventure! They are made out of Sculpey, and pained with acrylic paint. I know there are lots of other, probably better options, but I was in a hurry and wanted to work with things I was familiar with and could acquire easily. This was the part of this costume I was most nervous about, and I’m actually really happy with how they turned out!
I pictured the iron ring next to my actual wrought-iron dress clasp because I was pleased with how similar the color I painted turned out! The clasp was made by a blacksmith I know–I thought about making it, but I was not confident of being able to make something strong enough to bear the amount of weight it needs to. It’s not perfectly screen accurate, but for something he threw together after I ran up to him at a re-enactment with nothing but a sketch, I’m really happy with it. It makes me feel pretty bad-ass.
I did watch a tutorial about making this piece on YouTube, and then I used some of the things they did, and went in my own direction for some parts.
And there we have it! I only have some behind-the-scenes images from a photoshoot so far, but keep an eye out for the finished photos coming soon! I will put them in a separate post and link them here.
As all of us who study historical fashion know, our foremothers had all sorts of ways of changing the shapes of their bodies in keeping with the current trends. Of course, we all know about stays and corsets, and hoopskirts are all but notorious, but we can’t forget about all the ways that women have shaped their backsides over time! Bum rolls, false rumps, bustle pads and other forms of hip and rear padding have been coming in and out of fashion for centuries. Sometimes we forget that, if you’re looking for a small waist, padding out your hips goes a long way towards achieving that goal. The contrast of large hips makes the waist look even smaller.
There are many kinds of stuffing you can use in your padding, but I have a definite preference.
Fiberfill is always available, but it’s hot, gets lumpy and flat easily, and it’s basically a million pieces of microplastic, which I try to avoid putting into the environment whenever possible, especially for my hobby.
Wool roving is also a choice but has the same problem of eventual flattening. You’ll also have to buy either Fiberfill or roving (unless you have sheep), while my other options are free!
Fabric scraps are always around in any costumer’s studio. My first rump was stuffed with these, but it was very heavy, because you have to pack A LOT of fabric scraps in to get enough volume. It also, inevitably, will eventually deflate.
That leaves my favorite option: cork! Cork is lightweight for the amount of volume you get, and is much less prone to being slowly crushed by the weight of gowns and petticoats. Cork is also a very historically accurate material for this kind of padding. In the 18th and 19th century, the cork was generally carved into blocks of the right shape and size before being covered in fabric and attached to a waistband. Today, though this may still be possible, it’s a lot easier to repurpose the corks that many of us already have lying around!
Of course, whole wine corks would make for a very lumpy and uneven stuffing, so it’s necessary to process them down into something a bit more effective. You will need:
Lots of corks
A large pot
A serrated knife
A cutting board
Before you start, you’ll want to go through your corks and make sure that none of them are synthetic. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference. The synthetic ones are generally very smooth around the outside, and spongy on the ends. In these images, the two top corks are both real, the bottom one is fake. You can also see that the two real corks have cracks where the corkscrew went in, while the synthetic one has a clean, round hole.
Your cork should be larger than an un-boiled cork, and be squishy and pliable. In these photos, the cork on the left has been boiled. The one on the right has not.
Cut your cork in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. I found it was easier to cut it part way and then just tear it the rest of the way. You want to work pretty quickly, as the cork will become harder quickly once out of the hot water and steam. Don’t try to work so fast that you cut yourself!
I have read about people grinding whole corks in the food processor, but that didn’t work for me at all. There was always one cork that got caught on the blade, effectively capping it and rendering the whole thing useless. Go ahead and try that if you want, and I wish you better luck than I had!
Cut each half in half lengthwise again.
At this point, if you need smaller pieces, you might try the food processor again. For my purposes, these 16ths were just fine. (Remember, the smaller your pieces, the more cork you will need to stuff something, and therefore the heavier it will get. I would only go smaller than this to stuff quite a small pad.)
It’s been a wild five months, y’all. In January, I embarked on what I thought would be a 2-3 month project, and here at the beginning of June, I’m still putting the finishing touches in place. It’s been a long, inspiring, frustrating, and all-consuming project. It has pushed two months worth of other projects back, and has been the reason you haven’t heard from me here in more than three months.
But, the other day I put on the completed pieces. I’m still working out the details: jewelry, and wig, but the main part of the costume is done. I’ll be honest with you all, I was terrified when I put this costume on. I hadn’t actually tried it on for several months, not since I started working on the major embroidery. I had never tried it with the sleeves, I wasn’t sure how much things would weigh, and how that weight might affect the way the dress hung. I was afraid the whole thing might fall off my shoulders and be a disaster that I had to waste another several months fixing. Honestly, if that had been the case, I might have just thrown out the last five months and tried to forget that I ever attempted Daenerys Targaryen’s Dragonstone Landing dress from the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 7.
Luckily for my sanity, it wasn’t a disaster. Much to my delight (and somewhat to my surprise), I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so proud looking at myself in a costume. Even with no wig on (not to mention no pants, since I was just testing the fit of the dress and cape) I felt so. utterly. badass.
I’m not going to show you the finished product on me just yet–hopefully it will be photographed soon in all it’s glory by someone with more skill and a much better camera than my iPhone 7. But, here is the beginning of my saga of making a replica of this incredible costume, originally designed by Michele Clapton, and embroidered by Michele Carragher.
I have been wanting to make another Daenerys dress for quite a while now (you can see my first one here), and as soon as the promo images from Season 7 started to appear, I knew that this was the one. I loved, the structure, the cape (those shoulders! This was the first of Dany’s costumes to feature this silhouette, which she rocked through the final two seasons), and I especially loved the idea of attempting to replicate some of Michele Carragher’s embroidery.
But, before I could think about that, I had to think about understructure. Looking at the above photos, you can see that her torso is very smooth and stiff looking–the fabric fits closely with no bunching at the waist. You just don’t get lines like that without a corseted body and boned bodice. In this case, we also know from interviews that Emilia Clarke did wear a corset under her costumes. Because the waist is smoothed out, but the bust still has a natural roundness, I went with an underbust corset. I used Laughing Moon #113 to get the silhouette I wanted. (Now that I have this Late 19th century underbust corset lying around, I’m feeling the urge to add an 1890s riding habit or bicycling outfit to my wardrobe!) I’ll just go over the corset quickly before I get to the good stuff.
I made a very quick mockup of the corset out of heavy linen. This was mostly to check the length, since I have a very short torso, and have to shorten most commercial patterns. I wasn’t looking for a ton of waist reduction with this corset–I’m wearing it more for structure than anything else.
This corset is made with a single layer of coutil, no lining. The first step of the actual construction is to put a facing at each center back, which gives a nice double-layer to put the eyelets through.
The center fronts also get a facing, both for strength, and to give you somewhere to put the busk. In the left hand photo, the breaks in the seam that holds the facing to the front are where the loops of the busk will stick out. The posts of the busk come out through holes in the front made with an awl. Once the busk is in place, with the posts and loops through their holes, you stitch along the edge of the busk to hold it in place.
Pieces of bone casing get placed, first covering each of the seam allowances.
The top and bottom are bound with bias tape.
Well, that’s the understructure out of the way, now on to the main event. With my dressform padded out, I was able to start draping my pattern.
Working on the front.
I am am always way too focused to remember to take photos during fittings, but rest assured that I did sew this up into a mockup, try it on, and make lots of adjustments (I think that’s the third iteration of the bodice front you see there, and I actually ended up altering it to have a princess seam instead of darts after this photo was taken) before I went ahead and did this:
I did the first round of bodice embellishment while the front was still in two halves. This started with making a section of smocking to look like dragon scales. Mine is done in silk habotai. Michele Carragher (the embroiderer from the show), has a useful tutorial on how to do this.
Here is a little video of the smocking process:
When the pieces were finished and pressed, I stitched them to the sides of the bodice.
The rest of the fronts are filled in with variations on fly stitch and feather stitch in grey and black silk thread.
This costume is particularly interesting in that it was actually used twice in the show. The dress was originally created for the finale of Season 6, and the cape, long undersleeves, and some details of the embroidery were added for the first episode of Season 7.
The red fly and feather stitch along the neckline and center front was one of the additions for the later appearance.
At this point, I decided that my grey thread was too light, so markers to the rescue!
The next stitch was an interesting one to undertake. There is hardly any information about lock stitch online at all. I had to base my entire process on observing the finished stitch, and seeing what other cosplayers had done. The key to the lock stitch in this costume is to make it irregular and organic, so that it gives the effect of reptilian skin.
The stitch is formed by wrapping thread in alternating directions around long stitches. In this case I worked the stitch in two different threads: black silk, and a silver and black metallic.
With that preliminary embellishment done, I went ahead and put the dress together. It is grey corduroy lined with grey linen. The construction itself is not the most exciting, but the edge finishing is a nice little detail. The edges of the fabric and lining are turned under, and finished with prick stitching in metallic thread. There is also a row of metallic prick stitching where the skirt front attaches to the bodice. I love it when costumes incorporate period handsewing techniques that are rarely used in modern sewing!
Adding the side backs:
Constructing the back:
I made the sleeve drapes separately, and stitched them to the dress afterwards. They will tie at the center back.
At this point, it was time to finish the remaining edges. They are all prick stitched together with metallic thread.
The sleeve drapes are stitched to the dress along the top of the shoulder, and left to hang free in the back, where they will be tied together. These ties are what will bear a lot of the weight of the major embroidery later.
And with that, the dress is made and ready for the major embroidery!
I’m going to stop here, because this next bit definitely deserves its very own post, but here’s a sneak peek of what will be happening in the next installment! You can now read Part 2 here!
I’ve been a bit slow about publishing recently, and there’s a good reason for that! This project has been taking up my whole life! I think it was worth it, though.
This project is the culmination of a couple of things I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. First: I wanted to make a spencer and petticoat set that hooks together at the waist, like this one circa 1815.
In the soggy heat of a Kentucky summer, a little trick like this can save me a layer on my upper body, plus it’s a fun little teaching moment at events, as most people don’t realize that women wore separates like this during this period.
Second: I wanted to make an outer garment trimmed with rouleaux (thin tubes of fabric). Rouleaux trim was a little journey of discovery for me, and you can read my tutorial on how I did it here.
This is a selection of the inspiration for my spencer. I copied much of the rouleaux pattern from the spencer at bottom right because there are lovely clear pictures of it, and it had a similar feel to the fashion plate at the top left, which I particularly liked. I went with back details from another spencer, combined with the same motifs as the front and my shoulder caps were inspired by the fashion plate on the upper right. My spencer will someday soon have a tasseled belt as in the center fashion plate, but I haven’t had a chance to finish it!
I started the process with the Period Impressions 1809 spencer pattern, which I have long since modified until I have a basic spencer that fits me nicely. It’s a great base pattern for making Regency outerwear.
The pieces are put together using a technique I love, where the lining and fashion fabric are sewn together simultaneously. You put the two lining pieces you want to sew together right side to right side, and the two fabric pieces right side to right side, and then put them all together so that one matching pair of fabric and lining pieces are together, and the other matching pair are on the outsides. Then you sew all four pieces together, and when you open up the fabric and the lining, the seam allowances are sandwiched between.
You can find lots of pictures and information on how the rouleaux were made and applied in my tutorial, so here is a little gallery of the process.
And here are a few of the back rouleaux details.
Just in case there weren’t enough little tubes of fabric involved in this project already, there is also quite a bit of piping: on the edge of the color, on the center front edges, and between the bodice and the waistband.
The shoulder decorations are just petal shapes with piping around the edges, which are appliquéed onto the top of the sleeve. There is a rouleaux bow at the bottom, and I’m planning to add some little tassels hanging from it when I get the chance!
Some of the trickiest bits of decoration were the rouleaux designs on the cuffs. It took a while of staring at a photo to realize that every other loop is made while laying out the pattern in one direction, and then the gaps are filled in as you work your way back up, so that both ends of the piece end up at the top. This also got topped with a rouleaux bow, and like the shoulders will one day have some dangling tassels. I had to lay out the design in kitchen twine first (first photo) so I would know exactly how to proportion it and how long each rouleaux piece needed to be.
The waistband has a row of piping along the seam.
To finish the front edges, I sewed on a piece of piping with an extra long seam allowance, and used that allowance to encase all the other raw edges on the inside.
Finally–closures! The front of the spencer closes with hooks and eyes. There are also 9 hooks inside the waistband for attaching the separate petticoat.
Petticoats are a nice, quick little project–if you’re deperate for an extra outfit for an event, but don’t think you have time for a new dress, try adding hooks to a spencer and whipping up one of these! I plan to make a couple of these, and put waistband hooks in all my spencers, because it’s just such a nice little trick to have a walking outfit without any added heat or bulk.
The petticoat is made the way I make most of my 1816 skirts–the back piece is a rectangle the width of my fabric, and the front piece is narrow at the top to fit my front underbust measurement, and as wide at the hem as I can make it. The front waist edge is slightly shaped to help the skirt stand out in a nice bell shape without too much pulling at the sides or awkward clinging.
The whole thing is gathered onto a matching waistband.
I worked eyelets in the waistband to correspond to the hooks on the spencer. There are two at center front, one in each side front, one at each side, one in each side back, and two at the center back. These two overlap on a single hook at the center back of the spencer, which keeps the petticoat closed without the need for any additional closures.
I wore this outfit during the day at Christmastide, and just about died of happiness. I’ve been working on the spencer since August, and it took so much longer than I anticipated. I gave up on a couple of other things I wanted to do in order to get it done, and I have no regrets! I am totally, completely in love with this outfit!
Sorry I won’t have a separate post about the bonnet–I started it ages ago and didn’t take any photos of that part of the process, and then it languished for a long time because I wasn’t happy with the brim. I finally pulled the brim off and drafted a new one, which I love! All the decorations came out of my stash, too, which made me happy! The veil is a scrap of lace left over from my wedding dress!
Here are a few progress photos of covering the bonnet.
And here are photos of the full ensemble at Christmastide at Locust Grove!
And here’s a little video that Brandon took, which shows everything really nicely! I’ve never felt more like I stepped out of a period movie! (In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m REALLY excited about this outfit!) I can’t wait to wear it again!
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2019 is full of things that bring you as much joy as this project has brought me!
Since I started building 18th century wigs using period techniques at work, I’ve been doing more and more 18th century events. And you know what that means: I need more 18th century clothes!
In preparation for 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove this year, I set other projects aside to give myself time to build a new jacket and petticoat so that I wouldn’t have to wear the same outfit both days. When I bought this jacket fabric, I had hoped to get enough for a gown, but sadly by the time I bought it there were only two yards left, so I could only make a jacket. But I do love a smart 18th century jacket, so no real harm done!
This was a quick project, and I didn’t take as many photos as usual, so this will be a bit of a short post for me, but I love the way my new outfit turned out!
I started with the petticoat while at a cabin getaway with some friends. It is made from a lovely dark red wool from 96 District Fabrics.
And now, the fun bit: my new jacket! This is made from white linen with a woven yellow stripe from Renaissance Fabrics.
I was a dingus, and completely forgot to take photos of cutting and putting the main pieces together. Luckily, the body is basically the same as this jacket, except that I modified the back to a swallowtail, and sewed it all by hand.
My first photo is of the sleeves, all sewn together with their lining, and ready to be set. Since my other striped jacket has vertical stripes on the sleeves, I went with horizontal on these ones just to shake things up.
Setting 18th century sleeves is a fascinating process, in which you sew the bottom of the sleeve to the body, and then sandwich the top of the sleeve between the fabric and lining of the shoulder straps. This lets you really play with the pleats on the shoulder until you get a look you really like.
Brandon helped me drape the shoulder straps for this, and you can see his sense of humor in the notes to tell me which strap is for which side.
The edges are finished by pressing the fabric and lining towards each other and topstitching.
I pleated some lovely blue ribbon from Wm. Booth Draper to trim the neckline and sleeves, accented with bows.
And here’s the finished product in action at Market Fair!
Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.
Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.
Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!
I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.
You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.
Preparing the Bias Strips
Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.
Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).
You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.
From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.
I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.
Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.
In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.
You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.
When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.
Sewing the Rouleaux
If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).
HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.
Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.
Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:
At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.
Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:
Attaching the Rouleaux
Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.
Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.
Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.
From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:
This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!
Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:
Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.
Tip #1: Tight curves
When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.
Tip #2: Sharp corners
When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.
Tip #3: Close parallel lines
When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.
In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:
The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.
Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.
Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!
As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.
There’s nothing like a time crunch to make me productive. This time around, it was the crunch leading up to author Sarah Vowell’s visit to Locust Grove, where the interpreters were appearing in the 1820s to celebrate General Lafayette’s tour of the United States.
I was already well supplied with an elegant 1820s gown, but Brandon was in desperate need of a civilian coat, since his character, Dr. John Croghan, was acting as host for the evening.
By the time we got back from a lovely vacation back home in Northern MI, I only had ten days left to make the jacket.
The first parts of jacket tailoring are my favorites: my love of precise handsewing means padstitching is right up my alley. I find it so satisfying to watch the fold and curve of a collar or lapel becoming more defined the more you stitch.
Padstitching is followed by another favorite of mine–catchstitching, which is an (ideally) invisible way to attach non-padstitched areas of the interfacing to the fabric, while still allowing a bit of flexibility to the piece.
The trick to catchstitching is not to pull things too tight. The purpose of the stitch is not to nail the interfacing in place, only to prevent it from folding up inside the coat. It’s much better to leave things a little loose than to pull your stitches too tight and pucker the outer fabric. I usually try to leave a sliver of daylight between the thread and the interfacing, just so I know for sure that I haven’t messed things up.
The lovely thing about jackets of the early Romantic era, as opposed to the Regency, is the existence of a waist seam. The decorative pocket flaps on this coat just get basted onto the tail piece, and the raw edges are hidden away in the seam. It also allows for some much needed waist shaping that doesn’t exist in earlier cuts. Amusingly, since they are false flaps (i.e. there are no pockets inside of them), you then baste through the tails and the bottom layer of the flap to ensure your decorative flaps stay perfectly placed and never actually, you know, flap.
I also want to take this moment to shout out Renaissance Fabrics–this herringbone striped wool is so gorgeous. That sheen you can see in the light is in no way exaggerated by the photos, it has an almost satiny finish. Extremely elegant!
The pockets themselves have nothing to do with the flaps. Their openings are hidden in the seam between the back and tail pieces, which itself is hidden inside of a decorative pleat.
On the Saturday before the event the next Friday, Brandon helped me out by jumping on his 1898 Wheeler & Wilson treadle machine to construct the sleeves and sleeve linings while I worked on the tails and the front facings.
These photos show the tail overlap in the center back from the inside and outside before I put in the tail facings, which I apparently forgot to photograph. That’s what happens when you’re steaming though a project!
In order to help it keeps it’s shape, a jacket like this gets two layers of front interfacing: one inside the actual front piece, and one in the front facing (the piece of matching fabric that is sewn in the inside of the front so that it can come around and make the outside of the lapel.) In this case the front facing lines most of the front, and comes all the way around to help stabilize the upper back as well.
Although it was not called for in the pattern, I supplemented the chest area facing interfacing with two layers of cotton batting to help facilitate the “pigeon-breast” shape that was fashionable for men in the Romantic era. Basically, the more you can get your torso to be shaped like a cone, the better. Some men even wore corsets to help create the large-chested, small-waisted shape.
Since Brandon made the sleeves, I don’t have a lot of photos of the process, but rest assured that they did go in, and get lined! Due to the fashionable shape, the sleeves also have a good bit of gathering and poof at the top to help add to the wide-chested illusion.
The final hurdle on Thursday night were buttons and buttonholes. Luckily, I only needed to make 3 functioning buttonholes. Since we were using brass shank buttons, I tried out a technique I’ve never actually used before, but definitely like. You poke holes with an awl where the buttons need to go, put the shanks through the holes, and pass something (tape, ribbon, in my case yarn because it was all I had that fit through the tiny shanks) though the shanks on the wrong side of the fabric. Then you stitch your tape down to the fabric, and that holds the buttons in place, and keeps them from flopping around as much as they would if you just sewed them to the front of the coat. It’s a technique I’ll certainly employ in the future.
And that was it! I even got done in time to finish hemming a white cravat that I’ve had in my workbasket forever.
Here’s the finished look, I think he looks pretty sharp!