Making a Linen Robe à l’Anglaise: the skirt, sleeves and the fichu

So after the body was done (praise the lord), I got to move on to the other elements. I always struggle with bodice fit a lot more than with anything else, so it was pretty smooth sailing.

For the sleeves, I wanted simple elbow sleeves. I already had a pattern drafted using Elizabeth Friendship’s Creating Historical Costumes from my last Anglaise (photos of this costume are here).

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The sleeves were pretty straightfowards: they had a small dart on the bottom edge and one at the elbow. The excess fabric at the top was pleated into three tiny little pleats.

I cut out the pattern from the linen and from plain white cotton to line them with. I sewed the darts on each sleeve individual, then flatlined the pieces together.

I finished the bottom edge by turning the outer fabric and the lining inwards, and sewing them together with small running stitches, effectively finishing the edge with one stitch.

You can see the bottom here with the raw edges turned under.

Then I did up the side seams with french seams.

I pinned and basted the sleeves into the armhole, taking the excess into the small pleats. Then I sewed the sleeves in by machine.

For the skirt, I just used all of my remaining fabric, which was around 4 meters, divided into two panels. I sewed the panels together with french seams, leaving a gap of about 10” on the top edge of one of the seams. This would be the closure on the skirt. I measured out the centre front. I left a ten inch gap at the front, and then started pleating outwards until I reached the back. I had to fiddle with the pleats a little until it fit my waist measurement, but I really wanted the pleats to be small. I ran over the pleats on my machine.

Then I sewed on some herringbone tape to help stabilize and secure the pleats, sort of a sham waistband.

The gap in one of the side seams.
The tape on the centre front.

Figuring out how to attach the skirt to the bodice was… fun. It was mind-boggling, trying to attach a side closure skirt to a centre front closure bodice. But! Thanks to Angela Clayton’s recent post about a similar 18th century dress, I was able to figure it out! Her post is here. Basically, I only sewed the skirt to the bodice from the end of the gap on the right hand side, to the side closure on the skirt on the left side. This left the front flat bit loose (however as the skirt closes taut, it doesn’t sag). I added a snap just where the pleats start on the left side, to help keep the loose edge in place.

I tried it on my dress form first, as I was confused by how to sew on the tip.

It looked okay, so I sewed them together by machine, leaving the back tip free and sewing it down by hand, with a backstitch.

I attached a hook and eye and some snaps to the closure. I tried the skirt on, over my bum pad and petticoats, and marked the hem. I wanted it to be just a little bit off the ground at the front and a little longer in the back, a bit like this (I know most 18th century are actually ankle length, but because I don’t have appropriate shoes at the moment I preferred this. I can always rehem it in the future).

And that was it for the dress! Or so I thought. When I tried the dress on to mark the hem, I realised the sleeves were quite tight. So I undid the French seams and shabbily added a sleeve gusset.

I finally started giving accessories a little more thought. As my American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Sewing had just recently arrived, I tried using their tutorial for the fichu. It was originally paired with an 1840s look in the book (but hopefully it also works for later decades).

The fichu is basically a huge triangle of fabric. I used a mix of white silk and cotton (WHICH IS BEAUTIFUL AND IT FEELS SO GOOD, literally my new favourite fabric and I wish I could afford to make everything out of it).

I love this fabric.

I cut out the big triangle. Then, you fold it in half and iron the long edge a few inches in. There, you cut a small slit. This helps accommodate the fichu around the neck.

I did a small rolled hem by hand on the slit and all the way around.

To finish the clipped point on the slit, I sewed over it (kinda like a button hole kind of thing!).

I used the same fabric to make two small decorate flounces for my sleeves (flounces isn’t really the right word). The sleeves ended up being a tad too short, so this was a nice way to add a little decorative element and also make the sleeves look better. I didn’t want them to be complicated though, I wanted to keep the simple and plain feeling of the dress, so they were only very lightly gathered. For these, I cut two long rectangles, approximately 0.7x larger than the bottom edge of the sleeve. I finished all the edges by hand, with a rolled hem. Then I sewed a gathering stitch at the top and gathered them down to the right length. Then I hand sewed these to the sleeves. Ideally I would’ve done this while I was still making the sleeves, so that it was sandwiched between the lining and outer fabric for a better finish, but this worked out fine too!

I actually really like this dress. I like how simple it is. I’m still upset with the bodice but in the end I like the look of it and love the fabrics. Hope to have some worn photos soon!

Needs some ironing 

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.

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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!

Making a Cream Dress: The Bodice

I didn’t really know what to call this so for now I’m going with the Cream Dress. To be fair, it does look very cream. This is a dress I’d thought up doing a few months ago, after seeing a photo of a dress from Reign that I quite liked. It seemed fairly simple and I wanted something to keep me busy and with which I could practice more. The dress I originally saw on Instagram looks like this:

The inspiration dress is from season 3 episode 5

While I don’t really watch the series any more, I have always appreciated the prettiness of the wardrobe (even if it isn’t historically accurate). And so I was all for it! I bought the fabrics for this over the summer while I was away in Alicante. I bought a meter for the white and gold brocade bodice, a meter for the sleeves and four meters of the light cream with discreet dots for the skirt.

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In much need of ironing

You can’t really see it in these photos but the bodice fabric and the sleeve fabric have wonderful sheen to them. I am especially in love with the white fabric, I can’t really say what it is – it is light like chiffon, but feels more like cotton and muslin. It has a sort of shiny sheen of it, though it is very discreet. As I said, I am in love and sad that I did not buy more.

For the bodice, I got to try out something new. The last bodice I drafted was for my robe à l’Anglaise and I flat drafted that following the instructions from a book. I didn’t really like that method, it took forever and a lot of maths. But in the meantime, my dressform arrived and I could finally dip into draping! So I did. I read up on what I could, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. You put a piece of fabric on it and you draw on it.

I did one mock-up for this, where I realised the back was too big so I took it in by about an inch. Then I turned it into a pattern and cut out the pieces.

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The bodice is made up of one layer of the fashion fabric and one layer of stiff cotton twill. On the cotton twill, I sewed on a couple of boning channels, as I planned on using the seams as bone channels.

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I wish I hadn’t, because I didn’t leave enough seam allowance to make them nice and neat, so the edges are fraying a bit. Oh well! After attaching bias tape as the extra boning channels, I then proceeded to flatline the bodice. I decided to use this method because when I assembled the lining and the outer bodice separately and then joined them on the edges before, it always ended up being baggy and not… great. I was hoping this would look better. To flatline it, I simply pieced all the equivalent pieces together and machine basted around the edges, at a quarter inch in the seam allowance. Then, I assembled the body pieces in one go.

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I sewed down the seams and used spiral and steel boning to fill the boning channels. Then I turned in the top and bottom edges and sewed that down by hand, so that there were no visual stitches. The only bit that gave me grief were the shoulder seams, as I couldn’t get them quite to line up and they were very chunky. I ended up having to try to hide some imperfections further on. Then I worked on the final bit of the bodice which was the closures. Instead of going with eyelets like usual, I decided to go with loops for closures. For this, I cut a long thin strip of the brocade. I ironed half an inch on each side inwards and then folded it in half. It’s the same process for making bias tape, though I’d never bothered with that before. Then I stitched the folded edges together. I cut twenty eight two inch long bits. Then I pinned them onto ribbon, which I folded over to hide the raw edges.

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The process of stitching over these was so painful. I found some of the loops were too short, so if I sewed too far from the edge of the ribbon, the tips of the loops would stick out. After the first few straight stitch rounds, I found that sewing over with a zig zag stitch worked really well in keeping them attached. I’m not sure how sturdy, or practical, they really are – but they are damn cute!

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And that is for this bodice! Up next are the sleeves, frills and skirts.

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