It has been a year of starting new periods for me! I began venturing in the the 1870s with my Ravenclaw bustle dress, I dipped a toe in 1890 with my Adora Belle Dearheart costume, and now I’m diving headfirst into the 18th century. This particular new period goes along with a passion project for me at work: Custom Wig Company will soon by launching a line of historically-constructed period wigs, researched and developed by Yours Truly! The line won’t be released quite yet, but I’ll be demonstrating several wig-making techniques at the 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove this coming weekend.
It has been rather slow going. I actually started mocking up my stays shortly after we returned from the North American Discworld Convention in September, but with the ever-busy Santa season in full swing at work, and a few small projects and adjustments that needed to get done, I was going pretty slowly. Everything would have been back on track, but of course then I got sick in early October, and ended up (most unusually for me), too lethargic and cranky to work on much of anything. You know I’m feeling bad if I’m not even knitting! Being knocked out of commission for 10 days seems to have jump-started me, though, since I’ve been extra productive since I started feeling better!
But things are certainly moving now! With only 5 days to go until Market Fair, my stays and false rump are finished, and my dress is well underway. For the moment I’ll just be using my Regency chemise, and under petticoats from a couple of different outfits in order to be dressed in time for the event!
My boning is 1/4″ reed, which you can purchase in enormous quantities from William Booth, Draper. There are two pieces, flat sides together, in each boning channel. The reed was very easy to work with, and so far is comfortable to wear (definitely my most comfortable period shapewear! I’m reserving total judgement until I’ve worn them out for a full day or two, though.
At this point, it’s time for binding! I used chamois leather–just the basic piece you can get for detailing from any auto supply store. One piece was big enough to bind two pairs of stays. It’s cut into 1 1/4″ strips, then sewn to the front side of the stays with a 1/4″ seam, just like ordinary bias tape, then wrapped around and secured at the back with a whip stitch–no need for any folding under the raw edge like you would with fabric. It was so soft and easy to sew! I did all the binding by hand in order to have more control going around corners and curves. I used a thimble, but that was much more for the canvas than the leather. Chamois is broken down so much in order to make it soft that it’s more like sewing through craft foam than leather.
My computer is being a putz about the completed photos for some reason, but luckily it’s ok with this composite I did for Instagram! Like I said earlier, these are definitely the most comfortable shapewear of any era I do! I will put a linen lining in them as well, but I’m skipping that for now due to the need to make a petticoat and jacket before next Saturday! Better get back to that now!
If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.
Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.
Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.
But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.
Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.
Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.
Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”
Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890. I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.
Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:
But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:
It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.
I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.
It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.
The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.
I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.
After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.
The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.
Testing out the drape on the back.
The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.
There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.
This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.
Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.
Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.
A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.
And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.
I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!
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.
I was very excited to finally finish up this piece on Sunday!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
The first step is the decorative tucks at the bottom:
Then you sew the legs into tubes–I used French seams.
Add a hem, and some lace if you want!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
As you may have realized by now, I really enjoy adapting clothing from fashion plates. Sometimes I follow them very strictly, sometimes I use them as more of a jumping-off point for my ideas. One of my favorite online resources for Regency costuming is the magazine Ackermann’s Repository, which is available in its entirety on Internet Archive. Ackermann’s is more properly called The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures and Politics, and was published by Rudolph Ackermann between 1809 and 1829. As you can see from the title, it is a very generalized magazine, which makes it a great resource for many aspects of Regency culture. Each issue includes serialized stories, news articles, meteorological reports, manufacturing news, reviews of new music, book recommendations, images of interesting places around the world, information about fashionable architecture and furnishings, and two women’s fashion plates, in addition to many other interesting things. There are also occasional embroidery patterns, especially in later issues.
I often use the 1814, 1815 and early 1816 issues of Ackermann’s as research for my interpretation at Locust Grove. Though it was published in London, women of the time were extremely diligent about communicating new fashions with their far-flung friends and acquaintances, and a new issue of a periodical could reach Kentucky within three months of publication.
Now, let’s be honest, I have very little experience in millinery, and had no idea how to make that amazing cornucopia shape. After a few minutes of pointless poking around on the internet, I decided to just go for it. I made a narrow base for the hat crown from buckram, then built the rest out of millinery wire and hope.
Before putting on the main fabric–silk satin in this case–I mulled the bonnet with cotton flannel. Mulling helps smooth the lines of the buckram form, and protects the delicate fashion fabric from the scratchy buckram and wire. It wasn’t until after I started mulling the crown that I realized what shape I should have cut the flannel into for it to fit smoothly, but I decided to keep the original shape because the darts gave extra padding, and I figured the all-wire form could use as much padding as it could get. I sort of wish I’d put another layer of flannel on over the first one, but Kentucky gets extremely hot in the summer, and I didn’t want my head to cook.
I only mulled the top of the brim, and wrapped the excess flannel around the edge to protect it. I didn’t use glue anywhere on the bonnet, because I hate working with it, so I used a sort-of pad stitch to secure the flannel smoothly to the buckram. Yes. I was watching some extremely period appropriate Dylan Moran stand up while doing this.
All of the fashion fabric was ruched, which makes covering the bonnet nice and easy, since you don’t have to worry about getting the fabric to lie perfectly flat. Although you could probably argue that getting nice, attractive gathers is just as tricky. The brim cover was a single piece of fabric, gathered into the crown on both sides. The first piece I cut was a bit too short in a few places, so I was forced to cut a new one.
Now, I had originally planned to cover the crown by cutting out a full circle of the satin and gathering it down, but remember how I had to cut a second brim piece because of being silly? So the full circle was not to be. Instead, I had to cut two quarter-circles and sew them together, so I was covering the crown in a cone of fabric. Although the bonnet is finished now, and I do like it, I am considering getting another piece of satin at some point and taking it apart so I can “make it up better” as Lydia Bennet would say. It definitely doesn’t have the amount of ruching I was hoping for at the moment.
I would normally have wrapped the edge of the satin around the buckram base, but since everything was gathered, I wanted to reduce bulk inside the hat as much as possible, so I just folded it under itself and whip-stitched it to the wired edge of the buckram.
I made the bands by cutting wide strips of the batiste, and folding them in half. Instead of sewing them into a tube before attaching them, I sewed both edges together as I was sewing them to the bonnet. Then it was just a matter of arranging the band into a pleasing pattern of apparently-random gathers and subtly stitching them in place. I ran a gathering stitch under where the other two bands were going to go in order to get as much ruching as I could out of not enough fabric.
Here’s the finished bonnet from all angles:
And here it is on my head:
I’ll freely admit that my plumes are not nearly as out-of-this-world as the ones in the fashion plate, but baby steps, huh? There should also be a strip of lace along the edge of the upper brim, and I swear I had that piece of lace. But somewhere in the months since I got it, that single yard of lace seems to have wandered away into the ether. I am hoping to find it eventually, but if not, I’ll get around go getting a new piece. Because this bonnet obviously needs more floof. Maybe I’ll do that whenever I finally cover the crown the way I’d originally intended. If that’s the case you can expect a post about that sometime in the next ten years…
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These next two posts might be pretty short. I was in such a rush to finish things by AGM (the big annual Jane Austen Society conference), that I didn’t take as many pictures as normal.
I’ve been doing a lot of sewing for the past month, but you may have noticed, not as much writing. Not only did I have two complete Regency outfits to finish, I also attended the Burnley & Trowbridge Company’s pelisse workshop. More on that when I’ve finished the project, but I learned so much there may be brain leaking out my ears.
My big projects have been dresses for my boss and one of my coworkers to wear to the AGM, where we sell hairpieces, take orders for wigs, and help people with their Regency styling. Both of their gowns were styles I’ve never tried before, starting with my coworker Meredith’s green pinstripe crossover.
Meredith was a bit leery of Regency style, and wanted something very simple and sleek. Like me, she’s only about 5 feet tall, and was drawn to the elongating v-necked crossover styles she found in her research. She requested plain long sleeves and no extra frills whatsoever–which I realized is a new challenge for me. I do love my ruffles.
My first picture, though, is of the one and only extra frill I did add:
I just adore the fabric she chose–the stripes are so tiny that from a distance, the dress appears a lovely shade of seafoam, but the pattern becomes apparent as you get closer. Everybody at the company wants pinstriped dresses now–including me!
Here’s the bodice, ready to go, with the trim in place all along the neckline to the waist seam. I made the neckline nice and high for modesty and day-time appropriateness sans chemisette. I suppose she could wear one, but there wouldn’t be much room for it.
Since the skirt crosses over and is open in front, it needed to be hemmed on the sides as well as the bottom. The dress is made of very fine lawn, so I used french seams on the skirt in order to finish them. I pressed the first seam allowance open so that it would fold more neatly when I made the next seam.
The skirt extends a few inches beyond the edge of the bodice so that the two front panels overlap as much as possible–we don’t want any peeking petticoats when she walks! (Especially since I haven’t made her any petticoats!) The top edge of the skirt has a very narrow hem until it disappears under the lining.
The waist is closed with a narrow sash made of a bias strip of the same material. (Fun Fact: Always seam together bias strips at a 45 degree angle–with the grain of the fabric–it breaks up the bulk of the seam and helps it disappear so that the join is almost invisible.) The sash is tacked around the waistline to keep it in place. There are also hooks on the upper neckline corner and on the inner skirt corners.
And that’s it, really. No ruffles, no frills, just nice, clean lines. I love the way it looks on her (sorry about the wrinkles, we didn’t get around to taking pictures until the last day):
Obligatory plug for my awesome job: Meredith has a blonde bob in real life–this gorgeous ginger Grecian is the same wig she uses to cosplay Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter. Custom, hand-tied, human hair wigs may be expensive, but they sure are versatile! Case-in-point: I’m about to go style mine, which has already served me very well in 1816 and 1822, into a style from the 1790s!
I’ll be back next week with more about Custom Wig Company’s AGM style! In the meantime, like my new Facebook page to see updates about current projects and events, and follow me on Instagram (@fabricnfiction) for event photos, projects, and cats trying to “help”.
Somehow, in the two years since I made my first Regency dress, I have never made another day dress for myself. Now, I wear Regency/Federal clothing pretty often compared to your average citizen, and I have to wear my white dress and maroon spencer every single time. This seems a bit silly (not to mention smelly on a hot summer weekend) to me, so I’ve set out to remedy it.
At the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville last July, I bought a lovely lightweight grey cotton with a marigold and maroon block print at Regency Revisited. I sat on that fabric for a year as project after project passed it in the queue, though I had lots of plans for what I wanted my prospective new dress to look like.
Unfortunately, my ideas went through a lot of evolution before I actually got around to cutting the fabric, and it turned out that I didn’t have enough fabric for all of the ruffles on my planned dress. I had to go back to the drawing board, searching through fashion plates until I came across this one:
I laid out my pieces, measured very carefully, and as luck would have it, I had just enough extra fabric to make those lovely scalloped ruffles for the hem.
The base of the dress is just the Sensibility Regency Gown pattern, altered to fit me a little better, and with the neckline raised at the front and back, but left the same at the shoulders to form a slit-shaped neckline. This is just the mockup, so I pinned the pattern pieces to the muslin and made the alterations right on the fabric. I made several more rounds of minor alterations to get the neckline and fit just right after this one. This week, Pico decided that her new favorite sleeping spot was behind my sewing machine. She glared at me every time I ran it, but didn’t seem interested in moving.
Once again, I’ll skip most of the basic dress construction and get right to the more interesting things.
The sleeves in the fashion plate have a sort of flared not-really-a-cuff on the sleeve that covers the hand from wrist to knuckles. I made this by gathering the sleeve onto a piece of narrow bias tape so that it was the right size at the wrists. The ‘cuff’ is just a rectangle of fabric gathered into the already gathered end of the sleeve. I did all this before sewing the sleeve into a tube.
And now it’s time for the really fun part: scalloped ruffles. I turned ruminated over the best way to do these for a long time, and finally I decided that it was insanity, at least for this dress, to try to put a backing on the whole piece so that it would have a nice finished edge. If the scallops were larger, I probably would have, but these were quite small, only about an inch wide and 3/4 of an inch tall.
So I made myself a template out of part of a box of crackers and set to marking each and every scallop. When they were all marked, I cut them out with clipping scissors, veeeery carefully. For the raw edges to work out, there couldn’t be any rough patches for things to snag on. In the 19th century, ruffles were often pinked on the bottom edge, instead of hemmed (since it takes a lot of hemming to hem several layers of ruffle), but that wouldn’t work for these. Once again, if those scallops were bigger… When the scallops were cut, I starched each strip to help them keep their shape, and (since I’m a modern woman) painted the edges of each with clear nail polish. I wear these dresses a lot, and I’m not willing to put all that work in for ruffles that disintegrate as soon as you look at them. Once the scallops were cut and reinforced, I just gathered and sewed them on like any other ruffle.
The skirt got three rows of ruffles, overlapped as close as I could estimate to the same point as the ones in the fashion plate.
The last major step on this dress was to create the lace details at the waist, cuff and neck. The waist cuff was simple, I just gathered lace slightly and stitched it inside the cuffs. I pinned some lace to the gathered wrist, but decided I didn’t like it there. The neckline was a bit trickier. The trim consists of two rows of lace edging attached to a central band. To make the band, I cut a few bias strips from a scrap of the main fabric, sewed them together, and pressed the edges under. I pinned this around the neckline of the dress before attaching any lace, so that I was sure it would go around the curves neatly. Then I gathered more lace and pinned it just beneath the lower edge of the bias band. I stitched through the band, lace and dress (but not the lining) all along that edge to attach it, then did the same at the top.
And that’s it! Here’s the finished product (note the fashion-plate-mimicking stance):
I got to wear the dress for the first time this weekend for a super-special-exciting event that I can’t actually tell you about yet–but I can’t wait! I’m so completely thrilled with how it turned out–so glad I got diverted from my original plans and made this one instead! Someday, I’ll have to get myself a fabulous straw top hat like the lady in the fashion plate has and recreate it!
Next up: back to yellow stripes for my new pelisse!