Making an Early Edwardian ensemble: the blouse

I got it into my head that I wanted to squeeze in one last project before the end of the year. I moved houses just after October Comic Con, so there was a whole month where I couldn’t sew because I was either packing everything or unpacking everything. Originally I had planned for this to be a new Robe à L’Anglaise. I have had this planned for a few months already, inspired by binge watching Poldark and some lovely linen I found. However I was struggling with the patterning and decided to wait for my American Duchess Guide to 18th century to arrive before pursuing it.

So instead I got curious about the early 20th century. I’d done a half scale late 1890s costume before and I had really loved the changing style lines of these decades. I didn’t want to go full Edwardian though, I personally find the pidgeon breast style unflattering. So instead I tried to keep my marks between 1898 and 1903. Small window but I was researching for references within this time limit. I settled on a skirt, blouse and hat ensemble.

For fabric, I wanted to get something cream in colour and light in touch for the blouse, that I could then trim with some lace. The skirt I decided on a lightweight wool in preferably a wine colour. I’m actually really happy with the fabric I found to match my initial desire! I went to Goldhawk Road and managed to find some really nice wool, of which I bought 5 meters for I think it was £9 p/m. Then I found this lovely silk which I already dreamed I couldn’t afford. It was perfect: light, crisp, cream and had some duopioni texture to it which I loved. This was a great find. The silk was stained throughout the roll and discounted, and after talking to the really nice shopkeeper, I took 6 meters for £12. I really hoped I could piece around the stains for this, but since I only originally needed three meters, I hoped the surplus would be enough. I also bought some plain polycotton for the petticoat. I ended up pairing the silk with some lovely cream lace I’d bought ages ago in Spain (that fabric haul is here).

As always, I started from the inside out, as I had no appropriate foundations for this. I already wrote a post about making the corset. The pattern is from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines and is dated 1903. It was the closest pattern that I had at hand in terms of time period. The petticoat was much simpler. I acquired a copy of The Voice of Fashion by Francis Grimble, and it was very useful for the construction of this costume. I used the instructions on page and somewhat adapted them to fit the amount of fabric and trim I had.

I bought some cheap polycotton for this (one day I’ll invest better on my foundations, I promise) and tea stained it to match some vintage eyelet trim I got off Etsy. It was my first time tea-staining so here is a quick run down for absolute beginners:

(disclaimer: I am not, in anyway, saying this is the right way to do it! Like I mentioned, it was my first time. I read a few instructions from searches on Google and thought I’d give it a try.)

I used a plastic basin for this. First I rinsed my fabric in cold water. For tea, I picked English Breakfast because I know nothing about tea and this was at hand (I actally really hate tea so brewing a few litres was weird). This actually gave the fabric a more reddish tone, so be careful of which tea you pick! I had to boil the kettle three or four times but filled the container with boiling water. Then I put in about six tea bags and let it sit for approximately ten minutes. I removed the tea bags and carefully added the fabric, using wooden spoons to fully submerge it and try to get rid of the bubbles of air. I would turn it every five minutes to try and make sure all the folds in the fabric would be exposed. I think I left it a total of twenty minutes until I thought the colour was good. Since this is a poly mix, it doesn’t take the colour was well as other fabrics and it would be lighter when dry. Then I rinsed out the fabric in warm water, and then let it sit in cold water with some vinegar for an hour or so. This helps the colour sink into the fabric. In the end, I thought it looked better with the vintage trim!

I ended up using around three meters for the petticoat and around 16 meters of trim (!!). I hadn’t realised how much trim petticoats eat up. In the end, it looked like this:

Funny story: after wearing, I accidentally put it in the washing machine with the wool skirt and so it turned out a marshmallow pink. Then I bleached it which removed the cream/tea stained colour, so at the moment it’s bright white! I want to tea stain it again soon though.

After, I moved onto the blouse. This really intimidated me as I had no idea how to draft it, so I actually purchased a pattern and then altered it. I chose Black Snail’s Edwardian Blouse Sewing Pattern. My alterations consisted on entirely different sleeves, shortening and narrowing the blouse. In the mock up, the blouse was quite loose and the collar too big, so I changed both (the collar ended up being too small after!).

First I sewed up the shoulder seams.

Then I got the collar ready so that I could attach it.

I actually cut the collar on the fold so that it added some structure without interfacing or interlining. The collar was one placket with eyes, but I ended up also adding a placket for the hooks as the collar was too small for my neck. This gave me an extra inch without messing up the collar too much. I also basted down the edges of the collar together to it would be easier to sew on.

Then I carefully pinned the collar and sewed it on the neckline.

At this point I was thinking about the stylist side of things and how I’d want to add lace, and then remembered the lace I’d bought in Spain. It was actually the perfect width for the collar so I thought it was fate. I handsewed it on.

Looking back I just wish I’d centred the motif instead of not even thinking about it.

I thought it would be easier to handsewn the lace to the blouse before doing up the side seams, so I started playing with placement and settled upon a V-shape.

The lace was sewn on by hand and tapers off into a larger, wider V at the back.

Handsewing it.
I really love this lace.

Then I did up the side seams and turned the bottom hem inwards by two inches. It was then sewed down by hand.

For the sleeves, I used this pattern from The Voice of Fashion as a base:

I cut it out of the silk and sewed on two gathering rows of stitches both at the top and bottom of the sleeve. Also, I thought I’d just show you some of the staining I was working around for this:

I do think it was worth the bargain in the end.
The pattern!

These were gathered down to match the arm opening and my wrist measurement respectively. I only gathered the top of the sleeve at the top, as I didn’t want them sleeves to be too full at the top. Then I sewed the inside seam with a french seam (though, guys, remember to leave some inches open at the bottom to get your hand through it because… I didn’t. And then I had to back and cut into the seam).

For cuffs, I cut two rectangles out of the silk and interfaced them. The two rectangles are the measurement of my wrist in the length, and then double the width of the cuff (1”) and seam allowances.

Seam allowances ironed inwards and cuff ironed in half.

Then I handsewed these onto the bottom edge of the sleeve, as it was quite hard to get them under my machine. I think in a previous post I already mentioned this but if you can, sew on the cuffs before the side seams. It’s just so much easier. And I forgot. Again.

Super fiddly to avoid top-stitching.

Then I set in the sleeves by pinning them into the armhole and sewing them by machine! However I think they skewered a bit while sewing, so that the fabric on the sleeves sometimes appears twisted. Definitely recommend basting beforehand and I’ve learned my lesson.

The last step was to add the buttonholes and buttons to the back of the blouse. Since the silk was quite light, I interfaced the back edges on both sides to better support the buttons and buttonholes.

It was my first time using the buttonhole function on my machine (or any machine for that matter), so I made sure to test it out a few times, first on scrap fabric and then on scraps from the silk. I marked the positioning of all the buttons and buttonholes to make sure they matched up. I was amazed at how quickly my machine got through the buttonholes! Then I sewed on the buttons on the other side by hand.

And that was it! What do you think?

It fits on me, I promise!

 

Making an 1860s ballgown: the photos

It was such a pleasure to finally get all of the layers of this dress on and take some photos of it! It was absolutely freezing outside, but I think it was worth in the end. Although this project has been complete for some months, there are some slight improvements I’d like to make, mainly in terms of petticoat support. The current petticoat, I think, is ideal for a round cage scenario, rather than an elliptical shape. So the back side of the skirt has very little support and the train is very sad by itself. However that should be easily fixed by a better petticoat so keep an eye out for that!

Making an 1860s ballgown: plans and foundations

Making an 1860s ballgown: the bodice

Making an 1860s ballgown: the sleeves and skirt


 

Making an Edwardian Corset

Hello everyone!

It has been a little while since my last post. Productivity has not been very high. I started a full time job and had to abruptly move house. But once all that was somewhat settled, I was eager to start on a new project. Ever since watching Downton Abbey and other shows such as Howard’s End, I have rethought my feelings towards Edwardian fashion. I also dipped into the 1890s on a half scale project and was excited to look more into this sort of period.

So I decided to go for a turn of the century look. I’m no expert in this time period and I also struggled with finding good sources. There seemed to be a wide variety of outfits around this time. However I decided to go for a simple skirt and blouse early Edwardian look. But of course, as with every costume, I had to start from the inside out!

I searched everywhere for Edwardian corsets and such looks. I finally settled on a pattern in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. It’s a pattern for a straight front corset from 1901. It was the closest in date to what I wanted.

I scaled that up and made a mock up.

This pattern was a pain. As you can guess from looking at the seams, it’s not beginner friendly. I think I bit off more than I could chew.

While the corset construction was fairly straightforwards, which I managed, I wasn’t too sure about the fit. I only realized how far off it was when I remembered that the diamond shape is BAD. What I mean is when the center back lacing leaves a diamond shaped gap. This is something someone with experience knows how to fix.

I don’t.

I know there must be some seam fiddling to fix it, but the pattern pieces were already terrified so I just left it as it was. Obviously it doesn’t give me the ideal shape, but I think it’ll serve the purpose. Plus it’s not a corset I’ll be wearing often.

So let’s get into the construction! Perhaps this might be helpful to someone.

After scaling up this pattern, I cut each piece out of the outer fabric (some leftover blue duchess satin), cotton twill and then plain cotton for lining.

The pattern pieces and the cut twill.

I flatlined the satin to the twill, by hand, to make sure they were as flat as possible. I find smaller pieces like this often shift when I try to flatline them by machine, as my machine has a small surface.  I didn’t, however, flatline the top of center front edges and the edges themselves. This was to allow me to use the twill as a seam to set in the busk.

The twill and satin pinned together.
And hand basted together!

The second step was to set in the busk. I ordered mine from Sew Curvy and also used her tutorial for setting in the busk (tutorial here). It was fairly straightforwards to follow. Instead of using the seam allowance, I used the twill. I sewed the twill to the satin with the busk gaps, and sandwiched the busk sides inbetween them.

I didn’t take photos of the busk process, but you can see one side up close here.

Then for the seams, I moved from the center front backwards, leaving the hip gores until last. I basted all the seams before sewing them by machine, I found this helped a lot with these aggressive curves. I also ironed all the seams as I went, clipped and trimmed the seams allowances. I wasn’t going to use them as boning channels.

The first few seams.
All the seams. I found some of them particularly tricky and had to re-do them. Particularly piece 2 to the centre front and piece 3. The hip pads are only pinned on in this photo.
The inner cuts with ironed and clipped seams.

In Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh only draws on the boning pattern in the back pieces of the corset, but draws the boning on the picture of the finished corset (refer back to the photo of it up top). These don’t quite follow the seams. Working closely with the image, I positioned strips of bias binding to acts as channels, making sure they mirrored each other on either side of the corset. I hand-sewed these channels down to avoid top-stitching.

Positioning the boning channels.
A LOT of pins.
Sewed down by hand.

Then I cut synthetic whalebone to the appropriate lengths and filed the edges, then inserted them into the boning channels. I made sure that they were half an inch short on both the top and bottom edge.

My roll of boning. I love synthetic whalebone, it’s definitely my favourite.
The filed edges of the boning.

To insert the lining, I sewed the top of the corset with the right sides together. Then I flipped them the right way, ironed and top stitched so that the lining wouldn’t show.

The lining was sewed to the top with 1/2” seam allowance.
I first hand basted and then top stitched the top.

Then I pulled and pinned the lining into place, matching the inside seams of the corset to those of the lining. Then I turned the raw edges inwards of the satin and then the lining overtop. I pinned them in place and hand sewed it down.

The rest of the lining in place.

To finish, I added eyelets to the back. Because I wanted to finish this quite quickly, I used metal eyelets, but I fully intend to replace them with hand-sewn ones soon. I used an awl to make a hole and then scissors to enlarge them.

Then I hand-sewed lace trim to the top edge and it was done!

Accidentally cropped this image weirdly.
Couldn’t get any proper photos of the back, and it isn’t laced properly! It laces more lower on the hips, which shows the diamond shape more.

Making 1776 stays

So one of the things I really enjoy about period costume is the undergarments. They were where I started with period costume, and it’s the first stop when thinking about a new project. When I first got into sewing, the first two things I made were stays using Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. The first was 1630s stays, and the second were 1776 stays. Although I had a pair that I could wear, it was really just practice – I didn’t have the correct materials, I didn’t even bother to sew straps.

Here’s an old photo of them from my Instagram.

I’ve also made some 18th century stays using the Outlander inspired Simplicity pattern by American Duchess. I really like them, but they have a different shape which I think resembles more the first half of the 18th century, while I need the conical shape of later on for the project I’m planning.

My other 18th century stays.

So with new things in mind, I drafted my own pattern for the 1776 stays using this book:

The pattern only has two pieces (and a strap) and it looked like this:

After the pattern was done, I did one mock-up just to make sure that the fit was about right. The mock-up seemed to fit fine, so I went ahead and cut it out of a heavy cotton drill.

The strap.

After I had all the pieces cut out, I went about transferring the boning channels to the drill. I used several different methods, but mostly measuring and positioning the pattern over it and marking it. I also used tailor’s tacking. It’s important that they’re symmetric, so I really took my time with this.

I then stared at the front panels and realised I hadn’t added horizontal bones. Horizontal bones held with the shape and also add support to the bust. My bust didn’t really need extra support but I did want a challenge, so I decided to add the two horizontal bones that are also in the Norah Waugh pattern. This would provide sewing headaches further on.

After all the bones were transferred onto the panels, I cut out the panels from the outter fabric. I bought a meter of this lovely old Liberty cotton.

The outer panels.

I’ve had trouble before with flatlining bodices by machine as my machine doesn’t have one of those extended tables so the fabric shifts a lot. Since I loved this fabric and wanted everything to go as right as possible, I decided to hand baste the layers together. So I positioned the cotton drill onto the flower cotton, right sides out (the cotton drill right side is actually the one with the boning markings so you know where to sew).

The effort was worth it in the end I think.

Then it was time to sew the boning channels! This is really tricky and tedious, so my only recommendation is to take your time. I went so slow with these and I still made some mistakes, especially at the little crossroads with the horizontal bones.

I backstitched as I reached an intersection, lifted the needle and shifted down over the channel. Then I backstitched again and continued sewing that channel. This leaves little bundles of thread like this:

Which I then clipped away. If you have enough thread, the best way it to pull both tails to the back and neatly knot them.

For the back panels, I had added a 1” seam allowance at the back, so that I could turn it inwards. This would help support the eyelets. So I turned it inwards and basted it down, and only then I remarked the edge boning channels and sewed them.

This concluded all the boning channels! I went around and knotted all the threads I could and trimmed the rest. Then it was time to do up the seams. Super easy, since there were only three seams.

Then I measured and cut the pieces of synthetic whalebone. I’ve used flat steel boning, plastic boning, and cable ties before. For this, I decided to try synthetic whalebone. I think it’s my favourite so far! It’s light and flexible like the cable ties, but it’s stiffer and provides more support. I also find it more comfortable and cheaper than flat steel boning.

I filed down the sharp edges until they were nice and round and slotted them into position. I used my clips to keep some of them in place, and then went around to the binding.

For the binding, I got it into my head that I really wanted to use leather. I know it’s historically appropriate, there are many extant stays with this sort of binding, plus it would be something new and different. My initial plan was to find soft leather, like suede, that matched the colour of the contrasting thread I’d sewn the boning channels with. THIS PROVED IMPOSSIBLE (unless I was willing to sell my soul for a huge piece of leather).

I took to Goldhawk Road and thankfully found a really nice scrap of soft, brown leather that cost me £10. I was hoping it would be enough, but as it turned out, I didn’t even use up half of it, so it was an excellent buy!

To make the binding, I took my trusty ruler and marked 1” wide strips across the widest direction of the leather. This was my first time working with leather, so forgive any mistakes!

After that, I cut the strips. Because leather doesn’t fray, I didn’t have to sew the strips together. I only needed to overlap the ends when I ran out, which was great. I got a sturdy needle (which bent halfway through binding the stays!) and my thimble. I’m usually terrible at using a thimble just because I haven’t bothered to adapt to use one, but for this, it was my best friend.

Another tip, pinning this was impossible, but little clips worked wonderfully. I use them to secure the binding to the stays. I started on the bottom first, because I wanted to get it over with. I used SO MANY clips that I could only pin small sections at a time because I ran out of clips, but it really help to speed up the sewing (less fidgeting). Also, before pinning the binding, I also cut around the shapes of the tabs. I’d left them uncut because this prevented fraying. I cut them at this point and immediately wrapped the binding around them.

The cut tabs.

Now, tabs are horrendous. Everyone hates them. The only way I could get around them was to settle that I couldn’t make them look pretty. The excess around the corners is just… it’s just gonna stay there. I tried my best to fold it in to try and make it look half decent. But oh well! I think they turned out better, and they’re easier to handle as you go on.

Ugly little tabs.

After the first side was done, I went to the wrong side and whip stitched that down too.

Now, compared to the tabs, the top edge of the corset was a piece of cake! And it also took only a quarter of the time the tabs did.

An example of overlapping the strips of leather.
The top edge included the shoulder straps.

At this point, I did the eyelets. These were handsewn with embroidery thread that matched the boning channels thread. They would’ve been easier to do when the corset wasn’t assembled, but I was afraid it might need some seam adjustments or taken in at the CB, so I left them from last when I was positive they would fit fine.

One day I’ll be able to make even eyelets.

After the eyelets were done, I tried the stays on so that I could arrange the placement of the straps. I pinned them in place and then sewed them together with extra strong thread.

I also hand fell the seams so that they were neater.

And they were done!

Making an 1860s ballgown: the sleeves and skirt

So this dress is now finished! It’s been a wild, long ride. I saw the original inspiration last summer, bought the fabric last Christmas and drafted the mock-ups in February. I usually only work on one project at a time (simply because I always take a while to decide what to make), so it’s great to see this completed. All in all, I’ve learned a lot! (Again) I can see all of my mistakes very vividly, like in other projects, but every time I do feel like I am learning, and unfortunately I seem to learn best through mistakes! I think it looks okay and I’m quite happy with some aspects (I love swishing around in a crinoline and the fabric). Hopefully I’ll have some proper photos soon!

Making an 1860s ballgown: plans and foundations

Making an 1860s ballgown: the bodice


The sleeves were pretty straightforwards, as they looked pretty much the same as the ones on my 1871 Evening Dress, they are little puffed sleeves. Because the bodice is slightly off shoulder, the sleeves just had to fit my upper arm rather than other ~mystical~ sleeve magic (that I still don’t really understand). I drafted them out based on my measurements and the sleeves on the original extant piece PDF pattern. Now the pattern looked different to my evening dress sleeves in the sense that these looked more like rectangles rather than oblong shapes. In retrospective, I regret this, I think it would look better if it thinned towards the underarm like they usually do. However, since I’d followed the pattern for the bodice, I wanted to keep the same shape. I made a small mock-up to make sure my arm measurements were right (my previous sleeves have been a little tight). This worked out pretty well

So the sleeve has two components: the upper gathered puffy sleeve and the cuff. I measured the largest part of my upper arm, and multiplied by 2 and a bit. Then I figured out how long it should be. I cut this out of the fabric. I marked where the gathers would start at the top and the bottom, just a few inches from the edges (so it’s not gathered under the arm). I sewed two rows of machine stitches at the largest stitch setting and then gathered the bobbin thread into the correct measurement (the armhole measurement from the bodice).

The cuffs are my upper arm measurement plus half an inch seam allowance. The cuffs are made like a waistband: I cut a long rectangle of fabric, turned half an inch inwards at the top and bottom and ironed it. Then I folded the rectangle in half and ironed it again. I sewed it like bias tape to the bottom portion of the sleeve and then whip stitched it by hand on the inside, so that there was no visible topstitching (this sandwiches the gathered bottom edge of the sleeve in between the cuff).

The top is the cut sleeve and the bottom is after gathering.
Sewing the cuffs on.

I then played around with lace until I was happy. I trimmed off the excess width from the top of the lace and then layered it for some texture on top of the lace again (guess I could’ve just folded it… but why make things easy?). I basted this down and then gathered it lightly.

The two layers pinned together.
And gathered.

Then I handstitched it to the inside of the cuff, making sure my stitches didn’t show through to the outside.

However, at this point it was obvious that the satin wasn’t stiff enough to be really poufy so I did the same trick I used for my Jane Porter cosplay.

Limp sleeves pinned on the dressform.

I added some tulle for stiffness. However, I ran into some issues here because unlined my Jane Porter sleeves, these were not going to be lined (I decided not to line anything out of a mix of laziness and contact with some historical garments with messy inner guts). So I cut two strips of tulle and bound the edges with bias tape, except for the top edge (this was a mistake, I should’ve finished this edge too – I had planned that the armhole seam binding would be enough for it as well but it wasn’t). I then gathered down the top edge of the tulle, inserted it into the sleeve and sewed it down to the gathered top edge of the sleeve.

The little sleeve support.
And how it fit into the sleeve.

It was now time to set in the sleeves and I backstitched them to the armhole. Then I covered the seam and raw edges with some lace tape. However, I may still have to cover this with bias tape instead – the tulle is so rough that it still feels a bit uncomfortable through the lace tape.

And onto the skirts!

The skirt was super daunting just because of its sheer size. I started by looking at the PDF pattern and scaling up the dimensions to get an idea of how big the panels would be. Now this is the true reason why this dress took me so long to finish. I spent about two months after running math on the pattern dallying because I thought I wouldn’t have enough fabric. I bought the fabric before I’d even seen the pattern or really understood how much fabric these dresses take and so I only bought 6 meters (I would’ve bought plenty more as it was only 5$ p/yard I miss the NYC garment district so much).

In the end, it was true, I didn’t have enough fabric. So I cut one of the side panels of the skirt, which means it’s not as big and swooshy as it’s true potential but it was a compromise I had to make or ditch the project altogether. So instead I ended up spending way too much time calculating how to best use my fabric (and the fact that I have like two scraps left shows it worked). I ended up with a centre front panel cut on the fold, two side panels, two side back panels and a big back panel as wide as the fabric itself. I kept the dramatic train, though, so the back panel ended up being just short of two meters long (it’s crazy).

After everything was cut out, I pinned and sewed up all the seams, leaving a 7” gap on the side left panel, so I could get it on and off. This would be hidden within the box pleats. I ironed and pinked all the seams. I finished the open slit on the seam with a strip of fabric that I made exactly like I did with the bias tape for the bodice (explanation here) except it was just a scrap and not on the bias. Then I sewed it down by hand.

I then marked out all the double box pleats on the skirt (kinda like on this one pretty much). They ended up being about 4” deep. However I wasn’t sure about box pleating the back so Instead I made some mirroring knife pleats at the back. I basted these down, ironed them and then machine sewed the pleats down, and iron again.

And how it looked up on my dressform.

However at this point, I noticed a problem: the petticoats had an even hem because they are basically rectangles. The elliptical cage and skirt do not, so the back looked pretty terrible.

Bad.

So I decided to add a ruffle to one of the petticoats which should support the hem better. I cut out strips of my scraps of organdie.

Then I sewed everything together into a long strip, turned edges inwards with a rolled hem foot, and ironed it.

I then pinned it and sewed it to one of the petticoats.

Better!

Then it was waistband on! Slapped a waistband on, a hook and bar and a couple of snaps.

The scrap I used to cut the waistband, you can just see it marked to be cut on the fold.
I sewed up the corners and pinned to the skirt. The inside was whip-stitched by hand.
Ironed the edges inwards and in half.
The hook and bar, and snaps on the skirt placket.

And all that was left was hemming! I did this by trying it on and marked where it would fall just off the floor. Then I used maths (badly) and horsehair tape. I lined up the horsehair tape edge with the skirt hem edge, pinning it on the right side of the skirt. I sewed it by machine with an inch seam allowance. Then I turned the tape to the wrong side, pinned and sewed with a herringbone stitch (like on here).

I did a final fitting so here are some photos! I think the main final issues are with the petticoats, they need to support the hem and the train a lot better. I’ve already planned a train support extension and some extra ruffles around the hem, so I’ll have those done before I take proper worn photos of this dress!

It would also help if I had anywhere that I could fit the actual dress! Not even on the porch.

Bonus: twirling because.

Making an 1860s ballgown: the bodice

Things have been going slow! MCM London came and went and it was awesome, and I’ve got photos of both my Jane Porter and Art Nouveau Meg coming soon. Meanwhile, I can’t not sew so I slowly kept working on the ballgown. Bodice construction is still very fiddly so I kept hesitating and putting off working since I was unsure of what the next step might be.

Anyway, back to the beginning! Amazingly, the extant piece I mentioned in my previous post had a PDF pattern based on it! I want to give a huge shoutout to lillea84 on Instagram. She offered her help to translate it, since I can’t speak Danish. It was much easier to understand it translated. You can download the PDF here. I measured and scaled it up.

I made a mock up and made SO MANY ADJUSTMENTS. It was tiny and didn’t quite fit properly by the time that was done, but the final pattern still remained with the same rough shapes. In the end, I think I made three mock ups. I wanted to make sure it fit well.

After I was happy with the pattern, I cut it out of cotton twill for interlining and the mint satin for the outer fabric. I cut the interlining with a 1/4” seam allowance, and the satin with 1/2” seam allowance – I wanted to try this method to see if I would have less bulky seams. I matched up all the pieces and tried machine basting it together, but the satin kept slipping and the end result was baggy so I ended up hand basting it together with large stitches.

Once that was done, I sewed all the seams together.

I have two strips of ribbon with eyelets in that I use for mock-ups and fittings. I basted those onto the edge of the bodice and tried it on. It fit fine! The only small issue was some bagginess by the arms, but that issue is for later on.

Since the bodice fit fine, I went ahead and sewed down all the seam allowances, making boning channels.

At this point I decided to add a couple extra bones. It’s easier to sew down extra boning channels before flatlining bodices but oh well. Very carefully, I laid out some bias tape right down the middle of the front and sewed it down, making sure the stitches only picked up the interlining. I added one bone an inch and a half from the center back, so I could sandwich the eyelets inbetween bones.

After all the seams were sewed down, I turned the center back inwards twice, creating another channel.

Before boning all the channels, I went around and machine basted 1/2” from the bottom and top edge, and the armholes. This would act as a guide later on, when I had to turn these edges inwards. This does, however, close the boning channels, so I had to unpick the stitches at the top that went over boning channels.

Then I boned all of the channels. I used a different mix of flat steel boning, zip ties and plastic boning. I quite like zip ties, but they didn’t fit the very curved back seams well so I replaced them with plastic boning, which was more forgiving on the curves. I used flat steel at the centre front and the two centre backs.

I pinned the bottom edge inwards, using the 1/2” sewing line as a guide. Then I sewed it down by hand with small whip stitches.

Bottom edge turned inwards along sewing guide.
Finished edge! I’m in love with this satin, though it’s a pain in the butt.

Usually I would turn this edge inwards twice, so as to hide the raw edge, but I planned on adding piping to these edges, so it would cover it. And then it was time to try making piping!

This was my first time making piping. I used the instructions on a couple of books I had, and also this blog post has super useful information. I had made bias tape before so that wasn’t so scary. I used my ruler, which thankfully has a 45º marking on it, to fold my fabric on the bias. Then I used the same handy ruler (seriously guys, quilting rulers are the best) to draw lines that were roughly 1 1/4” apart. This was tricky because SATIN DOESN’T SIT STILL. Somehow I managed. I measured the top and bottom edges of the bodice (I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish the top with piping too but better have extra than not) so I knew how much bias tape I needed, then I measured the drawn lines to make sure I had enough.

The drawn lines (sorry it’s blurry, late night sewing)

Then I cut out the strips of satin. I set the edges at a right angle with each other, right sides facing each other, and sewed them together with a small seam allowance. I’ve always struggled at this point because my strips never really matched all the pictures, but thinking of it just as making sure there is a point at which they meet at a right angle really helped.

Like this! Even if it doesn’t look like instruction photos, you just need a right angle between them.

After all the little strips were sewn together into one long strip, I ironed all the seams and cut off the extra seam allowance.

A nice pile of bias tape!

Because this isn’t normal bias tape, I simply folded in half lengthwise and ironed it (as opposed to having to turn the edges inwards). I didn’t have proper cording for this (eck) so I just used some random cord I had lying around. It seemed to be roughly the needed size and after a few tests on scraps of fabric, I was happy with the result. So I put the cord in between the bias tape.

Most people recommend pinning but I couldn’t be bothered (eck), so instead I just sewed really slowly. I didn’t have a piping/cording foot so instead I used my zipper foot and it worked really well.

Like this! Please excuse my ugly nails, I’m trying to kick nail biting.

And I ended up with a nice little pile of piping:

I then pinned this over the finished bottom edge. I wasn’t sure how to attach this by hand (I didn’t want to machine stitch this because of all the steel boning in it, I’ve broken a few needles before, but I think next time I’ll just risk it). I ended up backstitching it by hand, making sure my stitches didn’t show through the outer satin.

Sewing the piping down with backstitches.
Pretty though! (it looks better ironed, I swear)

The top edge was slightly different because I wanted to add gathered lace and I thought the piping would look better over the edge.

So instead, I took a little break from piping and sewed on the eyelets. I really wanted to try it on to see how it fit again. So I marked the eyelets about an inch away from each other with pencil. I used my seam ripper (I usually use an awl but I couldn’t find mine) and then my small scissors to make a little hole, then used a whip stitch with embroidery thread to fill around the hole.

So the next step was to gather the lace! I bought this on Etsy ages ago in preparation for this project and I was delighted when it arrived and it looked lovely.

I trimmed away the extra plain net and lightly gathered down the top edge. So I sewed this down with really small stitches, keeping it flush with the top edge (which had previously been turned inwards). Then I turned towards the inside, and sewed the lace down again with whip stitches.

At the back, I made sure that the lace was longer on one side so it would go over the eyelets and overlap the other edge of the lace. Later on, I sewed a snap so they would attach.

Then I pinned (or clipped, I’ve realised I’ve been using my clips more than my pins) the piping to the top edge.

Then I sewed the piping down with a backstitch.

Now something I’d noticed in the previous fittings of this (that didn’t happen in the mock ups) was some weird bunching between the bust and the underarm. This had also happened in my 1871’s evening dress, but I couldn’t fix it.

You can sort of see it on my dressform

 

The only thing I could think of was a dart to remove the excess fabric, but I thought that would look UGLY so no. Thankfully this page was pointed out to me:

From this book.

So instead of taking it out, they proposed filling it in. I used the strips I had cut off my lace (since it was too wide) and gathered them into little ruffles. This is supper soft netting and it didn’t fray so it seemed perfect for some soft padding. I sewed the ruffles down by the armhole and it worked!

The only things left to do are insert sleeves, add a modesty panel and reinforce the front dip.

 

Making an 1860s ballgown: plans and foundations

This project has been in my head for a while now. I first ran into a photo of the extant gown that inspired it last summer, so nearly a year ago. I found this photo of this 1860s ballgown held at the National Museum of Denmark:

Søgrøn selskabskjole, 1860'erne

Although the photos are blurry, there was something about it that grabbed me. I love the colour but also the simplicity of the design. There is no trim but the gathered tulle on the neckline. Though I absolutely love detail, I thought it might be interesting as well to make something where I can’t hide mistakes under trim. I really want to work on my fit and construction so I decided to tackle this.

I found the fabric for this dress back in December, when I visited New York and had the best time in the garment district. I don’t think any fabric shopping will ever compare to that. I found this lovely mint/light green satin for $5 a yard. FIVE DOLLARS. I could never find anything so affordable in London. Anyway, I got a bit confused. I was frazzled because there was so much fabric around and I was so excited and a bit overwhelmed by the shopping and the shop owners, so I didn’t buy enough. I originally asked for five yards, and then six when I remembered yards are different from meters but still… as I drafted the plans for this, it was just cutting it close and I still had to reduce the gloriously long skirt.

img_1099
It really didn’t photograph well.

The museum has a whole page on the original dress here. It had some useful information about materials and dimensions. I had found this page before buying the fabric, but when I actually sat down to plan this dress properly, I made the best discovery: on the bottom right corner of the page, tucked away, is a pdf of a pattern drafted from the original dress! SCORE.

My next hurdle was that I don’t speak Danish. Thankfully Instagram is amazing, so a huge shout out to lillea84 on IG, she kindly volunteered to translate it for me. These notes on the pattern were very helpful in understanding its construction.

I sketched out the project and set about making the foundation garments.

Some of them were already made. I used my Victorian corset, which I made quite a while back, using a pattern by Redthreaded. I already have a Victorian chemise, though I think it’s too big for this so I might make a new one with a lower neckline and no sleeves. But the big missing item was the crinoline. Although the dress is dated 1860s, I thought the crinoline definitely looked elliptical so I went for the Truly Victorian 1865 Elliptical cage pattern. I bought a kit from Vena Cava Design which included the pattern and everything I would need for it.

Though it ran a bit pricey, I calculated what the items would’ve cost if I bought them individually and this was a very good deal in the end. The pattern was fairly easy to follow, and the kit was wonderful. My only comments would be that I would’ve used a lighter weight cotton drill or something cheaper, because the twill provided was very good quality but also very heavy and for a cage that was already going to have 30 meters of steel on it, weight was a concern. Secondly, their buckle and waistband didn’t work for me. The cage was too heavy to be secured properly with the buckle they provided. I would’ve needed an extra hand. I ended up stabbing my finger on one of the teeth of the buckle and bleeding all over the cage. I switched out the buckle and used two sets of hooks and bars instead.

Because I followed the pattern, I didn’t actually take any construction photos, I didn’t think they would be very helpful? Feel free to tell me if you think otherwise.

Cage in construction.

Here are some photos of the foundation garments:

Here I was wearing with the tied drawstrings, but I think I’ll loosen them for a fuller shape. I’m also making an extra petticoat in case I want extra pouff (I probably will). And that is it for foundations and plans!

Update! I did make an extra petticoat. It is three tiered, the top layer is plain cotton and the bottom two are organdy. I measured around the crinoline so that I made sure each tier was bigger than the corresponding hoop, gathered the long edges down and sewed it together. Then I did up the back seam, leaving a seven inch gap so I could get into it. I turned the gap edges inwards, attached a waistband and ta-da, extra poufiness!