Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Day At The Races

This past weekend Kat held her annual Victorian party. This year the theme within the theme was Day At The Races. I love having a theme to work with (Victorian being pretty wide open on it's own) and I settled on making an "inspired by" version of this dress from the 1997 Anna Karenina:

I knew I wasn't going to be able to make an exact copy. My skills just aren't there and I needed something a little more practical skirt wise (skirt train culture is extinct; either that or they were always getting stepped on and people just dealt with it). It was difficult finding photos of the back of this dress. The few I did find weren't at the best angles nor with the best lighting. Those challenges aside I decided to jump in and give it a go. Here's my version:
A little large for my new dress form. I haven't added the extra cushioning to it yet.

I used three patterns for this look with various modifications. The bodice is a lightly modified Truly Victorian 1877 Two Tone Bodice. The skirt is a combination of 1878 Long Draped Overskirt and the 1878 Fantail Skirt. I also made 1879 Petticoat with Detachable Train minus the train (I ran out of time but will be making the train up later).

The bodice modifications were simple enough. I changed it to look like a vest front and totally skipped the collar. I couldn't find the black/white lace like on the original but I quite liked how my neckline looked while wearing it. It was a bit of a trial to add the lace stripes. I had to trim the lace down and mark out on the pieces where they went. And of course a few would move while I was sewing. I have a few I need to go back and line up better (but that will have to wait for another day as I ran out of time for adjustments)

The skirt itself was a beast to do. I started with a complete version of the fantail skirt as the base. I did not sew up the side seams, but rather keep the front and back pieces separate while I did the other stages of the dress.

My first step was to add the kick pleats at the front of the skirt. I made them as high as my knee (my reasoning was I wanted them high enough to fill out from under the triangle layer). They are taller than the pleats that went around the tail in the back of the skirt. The red dotted line in the photo is where those pleats were attached to front of the base skirt

After that came the triangle layer. I wanted to make sure the triangle were of equal proportions across the front. I wish I could explain my math for this step but... I'll do my best. First I figured cut out a piece of fabric in the same shape as that portion of the skirt on the base (leaving a few extra inches at the top where I knew I would be sewing it down). I then determined the center front and measured from there to the seam allowance. Using the width of black border, I figured out how wide the base of each triangle would be, how many I could fit on each side of layer, and that's how I determined how many points there would be. Probably NOT clear at all. I promise my math was not exact. The dotted line in the next photo is where I attached this layer to the base skirt:

The top portion of the front of the skirt is the long draped overskirt front and side front pieces only and shortened considerably. I shaped out one small triangle in the front and trimmed with a bow. I ended up not doing the cording as seen in the original. My overskirt was much shorter than the original appears to be (the proportions of my skirt layers clearly different from the original at this point), and I thought it wouldn't look right.

The back of the skirt was only two layers attached to the base. First attached was a shorted version of the front kick pleats. The ended right where the triangles opened up. I had a bit of trouble attaching them. The back of the skirt is rounded and my pleats weren't so I ended up putting darts in my pleats at certain locations to make them lay as they should. If anyone has a better trick on how to add straight pleats to a curve please teach me! The red dotted line is where I sewed down the bottom row of pleats.

Finally I made the top layer of the back of the skirt. It's just another full back of the fantail, trimmed down to the triangles and shortened so it didn't totally cover the pleats at the bottom. The black bow in the back is tacked in place to help the skirt hold it's place.

Once all the layers front and back were done I sewed up the side seams and added the waistband. The skirt is heavy, but it's full and it was super fun to wear. It definitely need the detachable train that I did not have time to make. I'm really looking forward to wearing this again!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Totes of Shame

While giving my sewing room a long overdue and much needed cleaning I rounded up all my unfinished items and put them in totes. The Totes of Same.

It's so close to the end of the year it's very unlikely I'm going to be able to do anything about the UFOs I've accumulated. To be fair to me, these projects aren't all from this year.  Some have been waiting patiently for a few years to be finished.

I won't lie to myself and say I'll have them all finished by the end of 2018. I'm not sure what my goal should be. Cut the number of items in the totes by half? No new UFOs can be placed into the totes until another is finished (ha!!!)? Quite a few of these projects are great basics to have. Not the most exciting to sew which is probably why they're in the totes.

In the Totes of Shame:

  • Regency pelisse - this I HAD finished in a rush and was unhappy with the trim. I started taking to apart to redo that and left it languishing
  • Riding habit petticoat that needs the waist taken in
  • Victorian skirt that needs a hook & eye closure 
  • 18th century waistcoat that needs buttonholes
  • 18th century market hat (started at the first Dress U
  • Flannel Regency shift
  • 18th century riding habit shirt
  • Late Victorian coat 
  • Late Victorian bustle cage
  • 1920s foxtrot handbag
  • Victorian seaside dress
  • 18th century cap

This doesn't even include items wearable but I want to go back and adjust. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Russian Court Gown

There is A LOT of weight to this dress

Up first: the patterns

TV 420 1879 Cuirass Bodice (evening option for back and side back only)
TV 416 Ball Gown Basque (front and side front only)
TV 292 1893 Bell Skirt
Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion Vol. 3 (pattern for the sleeves page 123)

I went with the Bell Skirt instead of a much larger train because I needed something practical to move around in. I get the irony of combining practical and court gown, but when you're throwing a party you need to be able to handle things. Things like stairs. A lot.

As always Truly Victorian patterns are great. Nothing was altered besides combining the front pieces from one pattern to the back pieces of another. It was easy to do (they lined up on their own with no adjustment from me. I will not question this). It might seem odd to mix and match the patterns like this, but it worked to give me the shapes I needed.

For the sleeves, I scaled it up so that each square in the book was one inch on paper. It just worked out to be about the size I needed (I will also not question this). This was my first time scaling up a pattern from a book. With grid paper it was easier than I expected, but I didn't change anything which helped with that.

Next step: fabric (this was actually easy)

Black velvet for most of the gown.

Duchess satin in an oyster shade (otherwise known as off white, which describes numerous shades of white. I call it oyster because that was the shade of my wedding dress and this is pretty close to that).
Pre-embroidered net for the silverwork. This is the exact fabric I used for my embroidery. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, I know I could have purchased a lot of appliques created a pattern that way. I saw this. I wanted this. In my mind, nothing else would do. It's wide and it has a lot of embroidery to work with within a yardage. It has beads and sequins to really catch candle light. To determine how much I would need, I measured the length of my hem on the velvet portion of my skirt. I wanted a repeating symmetric pattern on my skirt. I needed a lot. My measurement was pretty close. I only had to fudge one portion of the embroidery with a design I put together. I'm chalking that up to the fabric being cut in a spot that didn't work out in my favor.

I don't think anyone noticed

The long haul: assemble and embroidery

Sewing together the outfit was quick. If you've made up a Truly Victorian pattern before the time to do this step of the project will pretty much be the same as the last time you did. What took me forever was the embroidery.

Embroidery for the velvet section of the skirt: First I figured out which portion of the pattern on the embroidery I wanted at my hem. I then carefully pinned and trimmed and moved and cursed and moved again until I had it laid out just so. I took a picture incase all the pins fell out. They liked to do that as I wrestled with all the fabric. Then, in sections, I carefully unpinned the embroidery, and used fabric glue to attach it to the velvet. I folded it over a heavy book, applied the glue, and then very very VERY slowly used the book to roll it back on to the fabric. The book acted as a weight while the glue dried. I always had a cup of water and a towel on hand to remove any glue mistakes. You have to get to them quickly before they dry on the velvet and annoy you forever. I would let the glue dry overnight on a section before moving to the next. Something that I hadn't thought about until I started the process is that the glue helped hold down all the threading that attached the beads and sequins. I still lost some, but the vast majority didn't go anywhere once a section was glued in place.

Embroidery on the satin section of the skirt:  Russian court gowns have a ribbon with buttons that runs the full length of the front. I chalked lines on the satin panel where that would sit, and figured out my embroidery design around those lines. I trimmed and pinned. And then stitched it down by hand. This took a lot more patience and even more pins and even more time than I thought it would. I had tried a test with glue and it bleed through. I tried using a paintbrush to put less glue on to prevent that, and it wasn't enough to get it to stick to the fabric. So I stitched.

Flat back buttons sewn into place. Pinned from behind for the dinner.

Embroidery on the bodice: the section on my back was glued. The vines everywhere else were stitched down because they were tiny pieces.

Embroidery on the sleeves: Glued.

Important note: I'm sure a lot of you know that the embroidery comes on a netting that is the same color as the threading. Mine was silver. The fabric it was going on is black and off white. Which means I either would have super visible netting or I needed to cut it away. I cut it away. Using my super tiny Martha Stewart scissors I carefully cut away all the netting so only the embroidery remained. It was a lot of work. Boring, mind numbing work. But it gave me the look I wanted.

Ribbon button thing: I made a long tube out of the satin, flipped it inside out and added buttons! Mine was just shy of an inch in width.

Final step: ADD BLING

I doubt anyone needs help with this step. There was no holding back when it came to the jewelry for this event. A lot of the "royal orders" can be found in the jewelry section of your craft store. Add some ribbon bows and done (I had help with the ribbons because I am terrible at them).

Found at Michael's Crafts

A modified pendant from Hobby Lobby


Lots of fun fake medals on Aliexpress.
You didn't know I was the best fisherman did you?

There's no such thing as too much bling!

Don't forget your tiara and bracelets

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Preface: Russian Court Gown

A short preface to my official dress post:

It's very important to note I wasn't going for an exacting reproduction (I consider myself a costumer and not a re-enactor). I wanted a dress that looked good for the event and something I enjoyed wearing. I picked the color scheme based off of what I liked, not what a particular person of a certain station would wear. I purchased supplies based off my budget.

I do this hobby for my version of fun. Everyone has a different idea of what fun is. No one version is better than the other (in my opinion). But I don't limit myself to another's definition of what fun is. I do not feel the need to create something based off another's standards of what is acceptable for a costume. If I claimed to be a re-enactor then sure, crucify me for my machine sewing, safety pins, and synthetic materials.

Please don't think you're telling me anything new by informing me of how it was "actually done." I have access to the internet, and books, and can find out these things on my own if I wished to. Often I DO find those things out because they are interesting. However, I work 40 hours a week, have a toddler to keep alive/happy, a house that usually needs cleaning, a husband who also needs to be alive/happy and a mighty need to sleep on occasion.

I don't expect everyone to share the same priorities in this hobby. I put on themed parties where I hope anyone of any skill level would feel welcome at. Where faux silk taffeta isn't frowned upon, where invisible zippers aren't a mark of dishonor, where we can compliment one another for a job well done even if it's not how we might do it, where EVERY guest leaves feeling like their effort and presence was appreciated at a party I throw. I would much rather machine sew an inside seam if it means finishing a gown in time for an event and saving me stress.

If that last sentence is unacceptable to your personal standards I promise that it's OK. I think you should do what makes you happy in this hobby. Just please understand I am going to do what makes me happy. If that is unacceptable to you, or worthy of ridicule, then we are clearly not going to enjoy this hobby together. There's no rule saying we have to, and that's OK too.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Last Tsar Dinner

Over the weekend a few friends and I got together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the fall of the Romanov Dynasty. I have always been in love with Russian court gowns, and this anniversary was just the excuse I needed to make one (not that one really NEEDS an excuse, but with the amount of work it certainly makes one feel like it's more necessary).

I had so much fun putting this event together! I always do my best to make an event memorable for my guests because I know how much effort they put in to attending. I wish I could put in to words how moved I was to have them there looking as absolutely fabulous as they did.

I'll just share a few photos now. A post specifically about the dress will be made later when I'm a bit more recovered!

Trying to look regal!
Husband and I really trying to hold it together after a lot of drinking.

The group! So fabulous! I love them all so much for humoring me with this theme!!!

These two made sure I had on all the bling. I tend to mortify them with a usual lack of it. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Burton Dress: Take 2

This past weekend a friend hosted a big bustle birthday party, and I was excited to put my most seasonal of bustle gowns back on. Except when I tried on the bodice and discovered it was a wee bit too small.

Luckily (several years after making the original) I still had some orange and black striped fabric in stash. It was *just* enough to put a new bodice together as long as the collar and cuffs were a different fabric. I guess never getting around to adding more ruffles on the skirt paid off (although this fabric seems to be a staple Halloween fabric at Joann Fabrics, so I could still add).

The whole outfit is made from Truly Victorian patterns. The bodice is the 1872 vest basque (TV405), the over skirt is the bustled apron overskirt (TV305) and the underskirt is the 1870 train skirt (TV208). Plus the appropriate undies.

Redoing the bodice took about 8 hours total, including cutting out and serging the pieces (I know using a serger is not historically accurate, but I never claim to be). I did not bag line the bodice because I like having easy access to the seams in the event I need to take in or let out a bodice. This was the first time I successfully did the cuffs, but discovered they were a bit floppy. If I ever do them again I would use a stiffer fabric as my interfacing. I ended up safety pinning them to the sleeves for this event. 

I know the dress would never pass as an authentic Victorian gown, but I can't help but love wearing it. If I put a bustle on in October, this is the one my heart is drawn to.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Ode To Pattern Makers

Normally my finished outfit posts are about which pattern I used, and how long it took, and what (if anything) gave me issues. This is not a normal post. This is a post, and a project, that made me appreciate the pattern makers of the world all the more.

I've always preferred having a pattern to drafting. A good pattern is always worth the $20+ I'm usually charged. I have no real sewing training. I've never attended school for it. I was taught how to sew a straight line on a machine. Everything after that has been trial and error, youtube videos and glorious instructions written by those who know there are people like me in the world.

My latest project really reminded me of all of that.

I decided to attempt making an "inspired by" outfit based off a dress Miss Fisher wears in Season 1 Episode 1. It's not one of her more famous looks, but there's something about it I just really liked. Plus, it looked ideal for outside in July.

Finding any straight on shots of this dress was impossible.
I had to compile photos to see the whole look.

I knew I wouldn't find a pattern for it. It has a lot of design elements that I wager would drive a pattern maker insane if they tried to do a multi size pattern with directions to please the masses. I thought to myself "I've done some 1920s. I'm confident I've got a good grasp of it. I've got a dress form. I've got muslin." What else did I need?

Sanity. I needed sanity to step in and say "this dress has way more going on that it first looks. Step away, have a strong drink and talk to more experienced people about this."

Did I do that? Eventually. I also repeated some of the steps (mostly the strong drink one). I tried draping and drafting on my own. I walk in to my sewing room thinking I had some idea of how a flat piece of paper is transferred to fabric and suddenly made to be worn on a 3D person. I left questioning what dark sorcery had ever possessed the human soul who invented clothing that was more than a rectangle with a hole cut out for a head to pop through.

Before time became critical, before it became an all night sewing spree right before the event, I stopped. I confessed to the project, my cat, my liquor cabinet, myself and the world that I just did not have a damn clue as to what I was doing. NOT A DAMN CLUE. I was pretty sure I had never touched fabric before this. I had obviously purchased fabric solely for Spud to sit on because after what I had experienced, I certainly wasn't someone who knew how to sew with it.

The only proper use for fabric.
I still really wanted to make this dress, but I knew I could not figure it out. Not in the time I had. Maybe not ever on my own. I meekly made it to the internet and asked for help. I knew I needed it.

Luckily a friend was able to step in and help. Lara of Lara Corsets was kind enough to invite me over to show me a thing or two or a billion. Making the journey to her house, she patiently showed me how to lay the fabric on a dress form, where to snip, how the fabric wants to move, and a lot of the other basics of draping a pattern. We gabbed for a bit, but eventually got down to serious work. Due to time restrictions, we were only able to work together long enough to get the top potion of the dress done.
They look simple, but left to my own machinations I would not have developed these shapes.
Figuring out most everything from the waist up took us around 4 hours. 4 HOURS. Minimum wage varies, but it's between $8-10 an hour. Just a portion of the dress and I've already went well beyond my normal price point for a pattern.

With the top portion figured out I was able to work the rest out on my own. I'm not entirely thrilled with the skirt that I did and I plan to go back and redo it (although I'm not sure how yet). I'm most likely going to find a pattern for a skirt I like and attach it.

So I say to the pattern makers: THANK YOU. I cannot express how much I appreciate your hard work. I hope my purchasing allows you to stay in business and continue to make my sewing life easy. I love that you give me the basics I need to put together something personalized. I love that you've worked out the bust darts, the waist seams, and the shoulders and everything else that goes into a pattern. I know every body is different, and you've somehow found a way to make a product that any human can take and tweak to make it fit themselves. You are worth that $20+ and more.