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!