Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012 sewing review

My sewing in 2012 took me places I've never been. Pockets, zippers and actual button holes were conquered! Costumes were even made for others (who then actually wore them).

I wish I had tracked the time it had taken me to complete my projects. Some, like shifts or hats, I know took me less than a day. Others definitely took longer than that. I plan to create a "to do" list for 2013 so I'm not panicking before each and every event I don't have the proper underwear for.

But in the end, I'm very pleased with myself. I achieved more this year than those in the past. I've tried new fabrics and new techniques and still want to sew.

Onto the photos! They're not in order, and a 18th century petticoat and a Mystery Science Theater 3000 costume aren't pictured.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Simplicity 3635 Chemise

Finally! A finished project to share. Certainly not the most exciting ever made, but one of those pieces that really should be worn.

Simplicity 3635: Chemise
The fabric was ironed, I swear.
TIME: This was a four hour project. This time included ironing, cutting and all sewing. I did not put the neck ruffle on which did change my total time. This time also doesn't include washing and drying.
ALTERATION: I didn't add the neck ruffle. I had previously made this chemise with the ruffle, and it turns out that is visible outside of a dress. Luckily it looked cute with what I was wearing, but sometimes you might not want the ruffle. Also, the cording I cut was no where near as long as what the directions said.  
EASE OF INSTRUCTIONS: I found the directions pretty easy to follow. Some of the steps seem like they should have been broken down into two separate directions. This is the second time I have made this chemise, and I still didn't quite get what a few steps were telling me to do. However, I think anyone with basic sewing skills can complete this project.
Remember this fabric? My swatch arrived, and it was no good. The fabric was way too thick.
A friend suggested I test sew a pleat to see how well it folded.
It didn't fold well. At all. This would not look all nice a drape-y down my back. Again I poked some friends brains for advice.
Here's what they said that made sense to me:
  • If you can puff it out like a bed sheet, it's good. Most velvets would be too heavy as well as most woven designs (rather than printed or embroidered).   If the fabric won't "ripple" when you pop it in the air like a bed sheet, it's most likely too thick.
  • A good modern fabric is a silk taffeta. Its also good gauge to work from. Other good silks are shantung or dupioni (if you can find one without slubs
So, back on the hunt. I'm sad the gold and red didn't work out. But I would be even more sad if I made a dress that ended up looking terrible.

Monday, November 5, 2012


it's the American Duchess shoe giveway!

quite frankly, these shoes are stylish and comfortable for regular wear in addition to dress. I absolutely love my Devonshires (and long for the day when I MAKE something to wear with them).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

busy adult responsibilities ruin my fun time

I feel like I have accomplished very little since my last post. I know I've barely gotten anything directly sewing related done. I do feel guilty about that. But there's only so much time in the day, and I am only one person. One lazy, lazy sewing person.

However, I have used some of my time to contribute to the costuming universe. Last year began what I hope is to become an annual event, the Francaise Dinner Party. The event was put together by a friend, and while I had hoped to sew something in time, I didn't, and ended up wearing a robe a l'anglaise made by Fan Plus Friend. As far as a pre-made item goes, that dress was ideal. The price was more than budget friendly, it was far better than any Halloween shop item, and with the right hairstyle and accessories it worked (well enough). It was a passable attempt, but I feel like this year I need to do better.  Not only because all the ladies there are insanely talented and I don't want to insult them with my lackluster outfit, but because this year I am co-hosting the event.

The friend who had organized the dinner is rather busy this year with non-costuming related priorities, and these things take up huge chunks of time. I, along with another friend, stepped up to take over the dinner. Joining forces, we are putting together an event so incredible it may very well change how all who attend perceive the universe. Right now we're in the planning stage, so as things are finalized I'll be able to share more.  At this point there was a tour of our new dinner location, and lots of emails back and forth with the Inne to work out the details of the evening. Time spent not sewing for the event.

It didn't stop me completely from "working" on my gown for the evening. I went on the hunt for fabric. Which really means I ran around in circles, constantly change my mind about what color I wanted, grew frustrated and made several pouty faces in Jomar's, leaving empty handed. Finally I poked the brains of some of the bested dressed costumers I know.

Here's some of the advice I found most useful:
(1) walk around and feel stuff (difficult when ordering online, but a lot of sites offer swatches)
(2) avoid satin: it looks fake (thank the gods someone told me, because I am drawn to shiny like a bee to flowers. Also, somewhere in my mind I think of satin as a guaranteed evening fabric. Maybe because most evening dress now are made of it?)
(3) think about what you're wearing the outfit to - INVALUABLE advice which completely blew my mind.
(4) pick colors that you wear normally and look good on you - this is tricky for me, because I wear mostly black. I have a fear of color in my every day wardrobe, and I don't want it to spill over into my costumes. Which is has.

Armed with this advice, I went searching. And I found this:

I don't have the fabric in my hands, yet. It was described as "medium weight" cotton, and I have no idea what that means. It might mean something the weight of broadcloth, and if so I can probably use it. I have to be careful not be get anything too heavy, or it won't fold/drape properly, bunch and look plain terrible. SO! A swatch was ordered. But then a hurricane hit, I lost power for several days, and no mail service for a bit.

I have worn red in the past and have been assured it looks very good on me, but I would feel better about seeing it in person before I order oodles of yardage.

In the meantime, Halloween happened. I went to an event in NYC, which I have been wanting to attend for some time. All I can say is I'm glad I check it out, but I probably won't go back. AND I SEWED. It was a very quick costume for my niece, who was born in September. Her newborn costume was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too big, so I quickly whipped up a pumpkin bunting(?) for her. I could not suffer the shame of allowing my only niece to go uncostumed for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

necessary evil: 18th century undergarments

I had almost made several horrible beginner mistakes the other day. I had my fabric out, I ironed it (and the lining!), and I was all ready to cut into that fabric. I could TASTE success and the project had barely begun. Then I pulled the pattern pieces out. I read the directions. And I said to myself "I should make a mock up."

Nothing seems to kill my drive faster than realizing there's a whole lot more work involved in my project that I want to believe. I have, in the past, cut fashion fabric and sewn pieces together only to realize (in some cases a few days before an event) that I made something too big, or worse, too small.

Not making a mock up, which would cause me to (most likely) cut out the incorrect size, would result in a lot of wasted fabric, time and money. 

Mistake number two: I realized I was basing my size off of my measurements. My natural measurements. Not the measurements I become when in stays. There isn't a huge difference between my pre- and post- stay size, but in such well fitted garments it's pretty important to get that part right.

And so begins the unexciting adventure into undergarments.

There's a lot more involved in costuming than just throwing on a dress. To get the look I want, I have to build from the inside out.

It's the difference between "Marie Antoinette" vs "Marie Antoinette"
Colonial Williamsburg has a very useful/interactive feature that allows you to see all the layers that go into 18th century outfits. American Duchess also has a very useful post about the many layers that go under late 18th century skirts.   
So while making the undergarments isn't going to be as exciting as wearing the finished dress, it's an important first step to get the correct look.
I already have a chemise, stays (that I bought), and one petticoat. I plan to remake my chemise without the fancy neck trim so I'll get to document that here. And from what I can tell, one petticoat just isn't going to cut it. Plus I'll need a bum pad ('cause bigger bum is better!).
Here's the first (and only) chemise I made, using Simplicity's pattern (Simplicity 3635... which doesn't seem to be offered on their site anymore). It's not the best photo, but it is evidence I have sewn something.
Not the greatest amount of progress made, I'll admit. But I haven't set myself back.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lately I've been on a kick to clear the clutter from my house. It's really a one bedroom apartment that I share with my husband, who is a model maker. Which is awesome when I need something built from scratch and lack the know how, but sucks in the sense his shop takes up at least 1/3 of the living space. So piles of unused or unneeded stuff really isn't an option.

Which leads me to another indicator that I was into this costuming thing a little deep. The appearance of a fabric stash. I sort of do recall buying the fabrics, but kind of don't. I mean, I can go through it, and know what I had in mind with each purchase (mostly, anyway). But somehow it seems to have expanded on it's own. 

Granted, with my lack of experience, I tend to over estimate how much fabric I will need for every project. So I sort of toss the left overs into a pile. But there are project specific fabrics that haven't been touched at all, because I'm afraid to start.

I can't justify clogging up our living space with wishes and dreams of what might be. But I can justify taking over closets with pretty pretty dresses.

Say hello to fabric I know I purchased fairly recently:

The story behind this fabric is simple. I was invited to go the Germantown Reenactment with some ladies, but I had nothing to wear. While a friend and I shopped for fabric for a 1920's event, we stumbled on this cotton print. Is it historically accurate? I have no idea, but it said 18th century polonaise to me. So I bought it.

How cute would a light blue petticoat or a red quilted petticoat look with this print? I have not a clue, because I haven't made it yet. The Germantown plan fell apart for a couple of reasons, mostly because everyone seemed to already have plans.

I was lucky in the sense that I didn't miss a dress up event because I had nothing to wear, but because people were busy. But I could have missed a wonderful day out with friends because I am lazy.

Today the fabric has been washed, will be ironed, and I have Period Impressions 1770 Polonaise & Petticoat pattern at my disposal.

I've never made anything 18th century before, so I may be in over my head. But I won't know unless I try.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

into the breach

Hello! I suppose the best place to start is to say what this blog is all about. Simply put, I am learning to costume.

On average, I attend one costume required event per month. Halloween stores (and those types of offerings) have long become obsolete. I can't say exactly when I crossed that line, but it had to be when I wanted to dress as something that wouldn't get me confused as a prostitute on any day but Halloween.

About three Halloweens ago I had suffered a major costumed let down when I had gone to a party, and someone was wearing the same (sort of) costume as I was. It was the type of costume that was put together by everyday pieces, and I was insanely proud of my hunting for just the right items and getting screen accurate accessories. Only to have my thunder taken from someone whose rain slicker was duct taped up to make it the correct length. Maybe it was then I had realized I cared more about dress up than the average person.

So why not just buy something someone else has made? My salary and student loans simply don't allow it. That's not to say making things I want to wear comes cheaply. It doesn't. However, my time is my own, and I can afford to pay myself in finished products vs. the twenty something a hour someone would charge.

Not long after the mortification, a friend was having an any period in history party, and I had really wanted to make something. I don't know what took hold of me. Maybe I just didn't want the trauma of having my photo taken next to a person because "we were wearing the same thing!" I bought a pattern and set to work. 

My first start to finish from a pattern project was Simplicity's Regency dress. I almost didn't finish. I had no idea what the instructions were saying. My friend sent me a link to a site with step by step instructions (with photos) and it still confused me. There was no lining. I didn't place the one pattern piece on the fold, and so the chest piece had to sewn together in the front. I've made far more complicated items since, and I'm still afraid to retouch that pattern.

But I made it. I wore it. I was hooked.

My sewing experience is limited. I grew up knowing how to reattach a button and sew a basic pillow. There's a lot to learn between that and a robe a l'anglaise. A LOT. I still consider myself a beginner. My supplies are basic. I don't know a lot about fabrics, historically accuracy, types of sticthes or pleats.

My plan is to use this blog to track my progress and encourage anyone in the same boat as me (it seems like all costumers I know are insanely advanced at everything they do).

I hope this is my last non-picture update!