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.)
Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.
You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!
What you’ll need:
Heavy linen thread
A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter
Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing guide
Step 2-Wrap your thread
Step 3-Cut your thread
Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle
Step 5-Pull thread through
Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring
Step 6-Create the shank
Step 7-Wrap the shank
You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.
Leading up to Christmastide 1816 at Locust Grove in December, Brandon finally got something he’s been needing for a while: a new shirt. Yes indeed, he has only had one shirt in the entire four+ years that we’ve been reenacting. Yikes. That sounds really bad when I actually think about it.
So, his old shirt, which was made in a rush out of cheap cotton, was in bad shape. Like, really bad shape. It was literally disintegrating.
It was definitely time for a new one. I had fabric ready and everything, I’d just been putting it off for a loooong time.
The new shirt is made with a lovely 4.7 oz. 100% linen from Dharma Trading Co. The Locust Grove ladies went in on a big order so that we could get a bulk discount. The lovely thing about square-cut shirts is that they are exactly that. Square cut. Every piece is a square, a rectangle, or a square cut in half corner-to-corner to make two triangles. This was done for several reasons.
It makes fabric usage very efficient. A good housekeeper could cut several shirts out at once by filling in all the gaps like a game of tetris, with yardage wasted in the square inches. (This is trickier today with our wider fabric widths.)
The large, gathered, square bodies make for a garment that fits even if the wearer gains or loses weight.
Shirts were generally made at home, rather than by professionals, and the formulaic process was much easier to learn and perfect than a more demanding fitted garment.
Shirts for men functioned much like shifts for women–they were an undergarment that was less valuable and more easily laundered than a person’s outer garments. They helped protect those expensive outer garments from sweat and wear. The only parts of a man’s shirt that would generally show were the crisp white collar and cuffs.
There are period cutting guides available so that you can make a shirt as accurately as possible, but since I was in a rush (as per usual) I used the Kannik’s Korner pattern, which comes with excellent documentation and instructions. I highly recommend it if you are in the market for a shirt pattern.
Traditionally, a square cut shirt is cut by measuring out pieces, then pulling out threads of the fabric to mark where to cut. This ensures that each piece is perfectly square. I attempted it, but the threads must have been a bit too flimsy, because they would break after a couple of inches, and I eventually gave it up as a bad job. Hopefully next time I try, the fabric will be a bit more obliging.
The first step in sewing is to finish the edges of the big slit in the shirt front that allows the man enough room to get his head through (and then some). The slit edges are hemmed as narrowly as possible, and then the bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitch, and a bar tack. You’re going to see the word re-enforced a lot in this post. A lot of work goes into making sure it’s as difficult as possible for the wearer to destroy his shirt quickly.
Before the shirt can be put together, the side slits and bottom edge also need hemming. This happens before the side seams are sewn.
The front and back of the shirt are all one enormous rectangle, with a T-shaped slit in the center for the head. You already saw me finishing the stick part of of the T (the chest slit). Now it’s time to deal with the crossbar. The shoulders and neck slit will take the most strain when the shirt is put on, worn, and taken off, so these areas get a lot of re-enforcement.
First, each end of the neck slit gets a gusset to prevent the fabric from ripping farther.
The gussets are only the beginning. The entire shoulder line is re-enforced with shoulder straps–long rectangles of fabric that cover the gusset and go from the neck edge to should edge.
The shoulder preparation is complete at this point, and it’s time to get the collar ready.
The collar is one large rectangle. Each of the short ends is folded in, then the whole thing is folded in half and the edges are whip-stitched together, leaving the seam allowance free at the bottom.
The collar is ready to be attached! This is pretty basic–the neckline is gathered up and stitched between the layers of collar.
The collar buttons shut with clever little shirt buttons made of linen thread. I will be putting up a tutorial on how to make these next week. They quick, and simple, and make a great little demonstration!
The sleeves of the shirt are–you guessed it–rectangles! The cuffs are prepared and go on just like the collar. There is also a square gusset in the armpits, which gives the wearer plenty of extra room to move his arms. Above the gussets, the sleeves are gathered onto the shoulder of the shirt. At this point, the sides of the shirt are still open.
Each of the gusset sides is stitched and flat-felled. The gusset is oriented like a diamond, with the top point opening up the sleeve seam, and the bottom point opening up the side seam. This gives the extra room in the armpit, so that the sleeve and side of the shirt don’t just create a corner under the arm, which could be binding and lead to the shirt getting torn when the wearer strains the seam.
With the gussets in place, the sides are ready to come together. They get stitched together, then flat-felled to finish the raw edges.
There are still some raw edges left on the shoulder seam, plus the whole thing could use some extra re-enforcement, so a sleeve binder (another long rectangle like the shoulder strap) gets whipstitched all around the armscye seam and gusset, and carefully hemstitched to the shirt body. The stitches barely show on the outside, and it gives extra strength to the seam.
We’re nearly there! The side slits get their own bit of extra oomph with small gussets. These are little triangles like the neckline gussets, but only the smallest part of their point is sewn onto the top of the slit, then the rest of the triangle is folded up inside the shirt and stitched down.
There’s one last adorable step before the shirt is officially finished. Each shirt gets marked with the wearers initials and an inventory number, so that the household can keep track of a bunch of shirts that look basically identical. Since this is the first shirt I’ve properly handsewn for Brandon, it is marked with ‘BV’ and a number ‘1’. I’m excited to do another one just so I can number it ‘2’!
This kind of plain sewing may look a bit dull, but it’s incredibly satisfying. Linen is a joy to handsew in the first place, and add to that all the little details like the finish on the neck slit, the flat-fells, the gussets, and the initials, and there’s just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Here’s Brandon looking much better (and happier) in his new shirt! Good riddance to the old rag!
When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.
The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.
They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.
The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.
I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!
With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!
The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.
Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.
I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.
The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.
It was so satisfying to get the last few on!
I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)
Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.
If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!
You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.
Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.
Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?
Edit to add a few photos from outside our hotel in New Orleans! (Including Brandon in his Moist Von Lipwig suit!)
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!
Despite my long time love of late-Victorian silhouette and detail, it has taken me a long time to jump in to an outfit. This is partly because I didn’t have any immediate upcoming event at which to wear a bustle gown, but mostly because all of those underlayers are intimidating! You have to dig through a lot of non-visible structure before you get to the pretty dress, and once you’re there, the gown is no picnic.
Chief among these complicated structures is the corset. I have made multiple sets of Regency stays before, but as far as I’m concerned, those are nothing compared to the Victorian corset. So I dragged my feet for a long time, but after the dullness that is making chemise and drawers, the corset looked much more interesting.
And you know what? It was! I was shocked how much I enjoyed making this thing. Two rounds of test corsets were boring, and took me a while, but once I got to the real thing the process was surprisingly fun, and even more surprisingly fast. The only part of making the corset that took as long as I expected was binding the edges. Oh, and flossing, which took much longer than I expected.
I used Laughing Moon 100–the same pattern I used for the chemise and drawers. It has two corset options the Dore, which has no bust gussets, and the Silverado, which does, I chose the Silverado.
I started with a test corset. I didn’t take pictures of the first one because it was frankly embarrassing. I am very short, so I went ahead and shorted the pattern by two inches, which in my defense, I often have to do. Turns out, not this particular pattern. I made a second test corset, shortened by one inch, which came out much better.
I ended up shrinking the gussets by one size, trying that out, and then cutting the real fabric!
I used a subtly-striped cotton twill as my outer fabric. When it came it was slightly lighter-weight than I would have preferred, but since I had a very strong backing material, I went ahead with it anyway. I anticipate needing to replace this corset in the next few years, but since I enjoyed making it, that’s fine with me. It will give me a chance to make one covered in pretty taffeta!
The first step in the actual corset build is inserting the front-closing busk, which is a little fiddly, but not nearly as involved as you might think from looking at them. For the hook side, you simply line up the busk with the seam-line on the correct front piece and trace around it, skipping over the hooks.
Then you can simply sew the front and the front lining together at the center front as normal, but leaving gaps in the seam for the hooks to poke through. Then turn it right side out, put the busk in place, and stitch around it to keep it secure.
And now: the knob side. You stitch together the other front and front lining as per usual, then line it up with the hook side on the table, as if it were closed in front, and mark a dot in the center of each hook.
Then one by one, you open a hole at each dot with an awl, and put the knob side of the busk through and stitch it in place, just as you did with the hook side.
Ta-da! One finished busk!
The back pieces come next–the fabric is sewn to the lining along the center back seam so that the grommets can go in now, when you won’t have to wrestle with an entire corset.
And with the hardware in, the real sewing starts.
First: the gussets. Bust gussets are just extra pieces of fabric that help the corset fit around your bust. They can be a bit tricky, since they are inserted into just part of a seam between two other full-length pieces, but I find them very satisfying when put in correctly. One side of the gusset gets sewn to one of the two corset pieces from top to the point at the bottom where the seam allowances on either side of the gusset piece would intersect. Then the other side of the gusset is sewn to the other corset piece from the top to the same point. The, with the extra gusset seam allowance pinned out of the way, the two corset pieces are sewn together below the gusset.
These gussets got some nice top stitching to keep them sturdy.
The rest of the corset body is very straightforward sewing, which I didn’t bother to take photos of it, but I did take the last chance to check for fit when the outer fabric was all sewn.
And good thing I did too, because it laced completely shut, and I ended up taking 1/4″ out of each seam!
The other important thing to note when trying it on at this stage is where it creases at the waist. Since the waistline takes a lot of strain from the laces, it gets reinforced with a piece of twill tape to prevent it from stretching. I simply marked where the creases were at the waist and pinned the twill tape following that line.
And then stitched along each seam to hold the tape in place.
That is the final thing that needs doing before the rest of the lining goes in!
And now, the fun begins. Boning channels!
Because I wanted to reinforce the structure in every possible way, I first stitched in the ditch to hold the fabric and lining together securely.
There are a total of 24 bones in this corset–one along each seam, two at center back, one down the center of every piece where there was space for them, and three in the middle of each side-front piece.
Before binding the edges, I basted some cute little lace along the seamline, where it would poke fetchingly out from under the binding.
I bound the edges in bias strips of the outer fabric.
And now for the part I was most excited about! Flossing! Flossing is a kind of embroidery around the ends of the bones, which is both decorative and functional. It helps hold the bones still in their channels, and prevent them from tearing through the fabric with wear. It is much easier to replace some worn out flossing than to replace an entire hole-y corset!
I did my flossing using a dark teal cotton embroidery floss.
I did the wing shaped ones on either side of the grommets, then switched to criss-cross ones on the rest of the corset.
I watched North and South on Netflix while I was stitching, and Marionette was very happy to help.
I am so excited about this corset! I really enjoyed making it, and I’m actually excited about making another, fancier one in the future. It’s a pretty basic corset, but the little details make me happy.
I’m on to the bustle and petticoat, and then I finally get to start covering up all that under-structure with beautiful silk! I can’t wait!
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.
There are some very exciting things coming up on the event roster! At the end of the month I will by putting on my foot wigs and spending a weekend in the Shire at ALEP 3.5, and immersive Lord of the Rings themed event at the Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, KY. It is actually a smaller, halfway point event between two larger, triennial ALEPs (which stands for A Long Expected Party). Along with my coworker Hannah W., I will actually be leading a workshop on Saturday about taking a commercial pattern to the next level. We’ll be teaching how to fit a mockup, and discussing seam finishes, trimming options, fabric choices, and other ways to make your costume wow.
Standing at just five feet tall and with an almost obsessive love of food, I will obviously be dressing as a hobbit. I watched the birthday party scene from Fellowship multiple times (and then the rest of the movies for good measure), and dug around through the costuming special features and put together a list of everything a stylish hobbit woman needs:
a peasant blouse with half-length sleeves
a vaguely 18th century sleeveless bodice which closes in back and usually has some embellishment on the center front panel (different fabric, lacing, embroidery, etc…)
(optional) a shawl or other tucker worn loosely around the shoulders with ends tucked into the front of the bodice
a full, gathered skirt which ends about mid-calf
The first item I set out to create is probably the easiest: the skirt. No need for a pattern on this one, you can make it all by yourself! This skirt isn’t just for hobbits either: it’s great for many eras (especially for petticoats), and can be made any length–you could even make yourself a cute shorter skirt to wear this summer!
Start with the fabric: you want something light-to-medium weight, anything extremely heavy won’t gather as well. The hobbit ladies seem to have gone mostly for a medium-weight, so their skirts have a nice drape. Some of them (including Rosie) also have multi-layered skirts, which makes for a fun variation.
For my hobbit, I chose a linen/cotton blend from Renaissance Fabrics. They carry it in lots of colors if you’re interested! I also made myself a petticoat, which is exactly the same thing, but I put a bit of lace on it which will show beneath the skirt.
Amount of Fabric
How much fabric you need will depend on your height, the desired length of your skirt, and the desired fullness.
The easiest way to make a skirt like this is to use panels the entire width of the fabric. This means your seam allowance will be the selvedge edges, and you will not need to finish the seams.
I am 5 feet tall, with a 28″ waist (remember when measuring your waist, find the place where your torso can bend to the side without moving your hips). I used 2 pieces of 44″ wide fabric, making a total skirt circumference of 86″ after sewing. The total fullness is a little more than three times my waist measurement, and is almost as full as gathering can handle–much more and I would have had to do cartridge pleats to contain all of the volume, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Depending on your size and the width of your fabric, it may take three or four widths of the fabric to get to your desired fullness, but I wouldn’t try to gather any more than 4 times your waist measurement into a waistband. For the hobbit skirt, I would say 3-3.5 times your waist measurement will do it. You don’t have to be exact, as I said it’s easiest to work with multiples of the fabric width.
Example: if your waist measures 40″ I would recommend three widths of 44″ fabric or 2 widths of 54 or 60″ fabric. Any of these options would make a nice silhouette, though they don’t come out to exactly the same circumference.
To figure out the length of your skirt, have someone measure from your waist to your desired length (mid-calf, floor, knee, whatever your like. Hold the top of the measuring tape against your body and the bottom slightly away, since the skirt will stand out from your legs when worn. I would recommend measuring at the side of your body, starting at the waist and bringing the tape straight down from your hips.
My finished skirt needed to be 29″ long in order to hit at the hobbit’s preferred mid-calf length.
To know how much fabric you need, add together:
your finished skirt length x the number of pieces required for your desired fullness
a generous 6 inches for seam allowance and hem
an extra 12 inches to cut a waistband and placket and allow for another if one gets messed up
Divide your answer by 36 to convert to yards.
For me, this added up to 2.11 yards. I bought 2, which meant slightly less wiggle room, but easier ordering.
Make sure you read every step through to the end before beginning!
With fabric in hand, it’s time to move on to cutting. You’ll rarely cut anything as simple as this skirt: it’s just a bunch of rectangles.
To begin, make sure that the cut edge of your fabric is straight and runs perfectly perpendicular to the selvedge (finished) edges of the fabric. Measure down the selvedge edge your desired skirt length plus six inches (for me this was 35″). Cut straight across the fabric. Do this until you have as many pieces as you will need to get your desired fullness (two for me).
From the remaining fabric, you will cut the waistband and the continuous lap placket. (The placket is the piece that will finish the slit where your skirt closes, don’t worry, I’ll explain more about that later!) If you have an odd number of skirt pieces, the placket will be unnecessary.
I wanted a 1.5″ wide waistband, which means my piece had to be twice that wide, plus 1″ for seam allowance–4″ total. Your total may be different depending on how wide you want your band to be. The length of your waistband will be your waist measurement plus 2 inches (1 for seam allowance, 1 to allow for overlap).
Cut the waistband with the short edge parallel to the selvedge edge.
Your continuous lap is slightly trickier, but not by much. It should be 2″ inches wide. To figure out its length, subtract your waist measurement from your hip measurement (make sure you measure at the widest part of your hips). I usually add 5 more inches to make sure I have plenty of room. That made my lap 2″ x 14″. Remember, if you have an odd number of skirt panels, you will not need this piece.
Step 1: Sew your skirt panels together around the selvedge edges.
You can use a 5/8″ or 1/2″ seam allowance if you like, or you can simply follow the line where the selvedge meets the main fabric. Press your seams open. **if you have an odd number of pieces, leave an opening at the top of one of your seams 1/2 the length of your placket piece. This will be your center back
Step 2: Find your center front and center back.
You will now have a large tube of fabric. Lay your tube on a flat surface and arrange so that the seams are directly on top of one another (if you have two seams). Mark each side of the folded tube. These will be your center front and center back.
**if you have three pieces, arrange your tube with the slit you left to one side, then mark the opposite edge
***if you have four pieces, arrange the tube with two seams lined up left of center and two lined up right of center. mark both edges just as you would with two pieces.
Step 3: Sew your continuous lap placket **if you have an odd number of pieces, you can skip this step, but you may want to neatly whip stitch the seam allowance to the skirt on either side of the center back slit to keep it in place.
Decide which mark is your center back. Lay it out on a flat surface like an ironing board and measure straight down from the mark 1/2 the length of your placket. For me this was 7 inches. Draw a line from the CB mark to this point with chalk or a water-soluble marker.
Cut a slit down this line.
Fold your placket in half and mark the center with chalk or a water soluble marker.
Line up the mark on your placket with the bottom of the center back slit.
Open the slit wide and pin the placket along one side, then the other. The skirt fabric will bunch a bit at the center, but don’t worry about it, this is totally normal.
I find it’s best to sew this part with the placket down so that you can see the slit in the skirt while you work. Start with a 1/4″ seam allowance at the top of one side. Stitch towards the bottom of the slit, gradually bringing your seam allowance down so that it is about 1/8″ when you reach the bottom of the slit. Leaving the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot and pivot the fabric so that you can sew up the other side of the slit. Lower the foot again and stitch the other side, gradually widening your seam allowance to 1/4″.
Press the seam allowance towards the placket. Your placket should now look like this:
Turn the skirt so that the wrong side of the placket is facing you. Decide which side of the skirt you would like to overlap the other. On the overlapping side (for me it was the one on the left with wrong sides out) fold the placket edge in so that it touches the seam. Fold it in again to enclose the raw edges. The seam will now be at the edge.
Do this to within an inch of the bottom of the slit.
On the other side, just fold over the edge of the placket, then fold again so that your first fold rests on the seam, encasing all raw edges.
Do this to within about an inch of the slit bottom.
Hold the skirt as it will be when worn, with one side overlapping the other. Now that everything else is in place, you will be able to place the last few pins. You may have to fold, unfold, and adjust a few times before you get everything to lay just right, but don’t get discouraged!
Once everything is pinned, slip stitch the folded edge of the placket down to skirt. At the bottom of the slit, simply pass the needle from one side of the placket to the other between layers so that you can slip stitch the other side. The placket should remain folded at the bottom as you sew.
From the right side of the skirt, your finished placket should look like this:
Pat yourself on the back, the hardest part is over!
Step 4: Sew gathering stitches
Use chalk or a water-soluble marker to mark halfway between the center front and center back on each side (if you have two pieces, this will be your side seams). Starting at the center back, sew two rows of gathering stitches (this can be either a long running stitch by hand or the longest straight stitch on your machine) all the way around the top of the skirt. Begin and end your stitching just outside of the placket. Leave very long tails of thread at each end. If you are using very heavy fabric for this project, use a heavy duty thread to prevent breakages while gathering!
Step 5: Prepare your waistband
Fold your waistband in half lengthwise and sew along each short end, stopping at least 1/2″ from the open edge.
Trim your seam allowance, making it especially small at the corner.
Turn the waistband right side out and press along the entire length.
Mark the center front and the sides with chalk or water soluble marker by folding the waistband in half, then folding each half into the center.
Pin the right side of the waistband to the center front, sides and center back of skirt, matching your marks. Be careful to leave the inside edge of the waistband free. I pinned mine out of the way.
Pull up the gathering stitches by holding the thread ends and carefully sliding the fabric along the threads so that it bunches. Work very slowly so that your thread doesn’t break–believe me, you don’t want to get most of the way through and have to start over again! You may have to un-pin and re-pin as you do this to make gathering easier, but always make sure you line up the marks.
Once you have your skirt gathered to fit the waistband, make sure the gathers are nice and evenly distributed, then pin securely in place.
Sew the skirt to the waistband using a 1/2″ seam allowance. Make sure that you keep the inside of the waistband and the voluminous skirt fabric out of the way of the seam!
Trim your seam allowance to 1/4″.
Press the seam allowance towards the waistband. Unpin the inside of your waistband and fold the edge under. Pin the folded-under edge to the skirt at the waistband-skirt seamline so that it encases the raw edges.
Slip stich the inner waistband in place.
Your skirt is nearly finished!
Step 5: Closures
You have plenty of options–you could put on buttons, skirt hooks, snaps, hooks and eyes, or even tie your skirt closed with ribbon or cord. I had some hook and eyes lying around, so I used them. My skirt overlapped enough that I could put them only on the waistband, but if you find that your skirt is gaping in the back, put another in the center of the slit.
Make sure you try the skirt on before sewing on the fastening so that you know how much it should overlap.
Step 6: Hemming
Hem the skirt to your desired length–this is easiest if you have another person who can pin up the hem while you wear the skirt, or if you can try it on a dress form. If neither of these options is possible, determine how long your skirt needs to be, then lay it on an ironing board and use a tape measure to measure straight down from the waistband and mark where you would like the hem. Do this all around the skirt.
In my case, I had already made a lace-trimmed petticoat, so I put that on my dress form and pinned up the skirt so that the lace showed beneath the hem.
Here’s my finished skirt and petticoat, and a peek at my in-progress hobbit bodice.
You now have the tools you need to make any variation you may desire on the gathered skirt. You could make a sassy short skirt, a period petticoat, or even gather two different colors of lightweight fabric into a single waistband and hem them at different lengths to create a layered look à la Rosie Cotton!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you have any questions please leave them in the comments–I’d love to help!
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: