CoCo 2015 or Bust – and a Regency dress begins.

Each year I see the photos and read the blogs and Facebook posts. Each year I think maybe I’ll make it this year. (Unfortunately, that thought usually occurs about 2 months before the whole thing starts which is more than a bit too late.) So I’ve made a decision.

I am going to Costume College next year if I have to walk there. (Although I’ll probably drive.)

It just so happens that I know the theme for next years College, so I have almost a full year to get the garments done. And I already know accomplishing that, for me, is pushing it. But if I’m going to go, I’m going to go in costume. Period.

The overall theme for CoCo 2015 is: Plucked from the Pages – Costuming Your Favorite Literary Character.

  • Gala: Handsome Heroes and Legendary Ladies
  • Ice Cream Social: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Tea: Nancy Drew Mystery Tea (I’d go just for this!)
  • Sunday Breakfast: Breakfast with the Bennets

Wait a minute…does that say Breakfast with the Bennets? Yes! The new set of Regency undies have somewhere to go and something to do – and with me in them, no less.

I am tickled pink, but I need to change my project for this. Breakfast means making a morning dress. I did a lot of research and reading about morning dresses yesterday. Every source said basically the same thing: morning dresses are a bit looser (for comfort), made of slightly heavier fabric (ditto), have a higher neckline, and are worn indoors unless, or until, it is necessary to leave the house.

They also mention that morning dresses were almost always white. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how I feel about all white. I crave color. Rich colors. Deep colors. White is going to be a challenge. But that’s what CoCo is all about, so I guess it’s fitting.

My image search for white morning dresses yielded…a lot of dresses. I’ve narrowed the choices to two:

Morning dress, Ladies Monthly Museum, October 1810

Of the fashion plate above, I really like the spotted dress. I like the bodice, although It needs a chemisette for more coverage. Pleats over the shoulder and around the back, and on the sleeves. Interesting fichu (I think that’s what it is) with points that hang below the tie at the waist. And a sleeve length that I much prefer over long sleeves. But that cap’s gotta go.

Ackermann’s Repository of Arts 1813 Morning or Domestic Costume

Ackermann’s Repository of Arts 1813 Morning or Domestic Costume

Having said that, I’m leaning heavily toward this one, mostly because of the Van Dyke trim (which I love, love, love) that runs all around edge and at the sleeve below the gathered wrist. The under dress can have a relatively high neckline and be extremely plain (aka relatively easy to make). The ribbon at the waist gives it a pop of color. And I can use a bit of that ribbon on the cap.

The next step is to find appropriate white fabric that I like, which is no easy task but I’m up for it. I think.

Just wait until you see what I’ve got planned for the Nancy Drew Mystery Tea. (Did someone say 1930’s tea dress?)


The Regency Long Stays are Done!

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

My oh my, what an adventure this has been! Here’s a shot of the little darling(s).

Don't the straps look like exclamation points? I think they're as surprised as I am that it's finally finished.

Don’t the straps look like exclamation points? I think they’re as surprised as I am that it’s finally finished.

I made some changes along the way to better suit my figure: added an inch to the circumference (1/4 inch to each side seam), used extra boning, added extra stitching on the gussets, and lengthened the hip gussets. I also spaced the upper three grommets close together to help with bust support – it’s an experiment, so I’ll see if it makes a difference in the long run.

2014-08-31 11.06.32

And the stays ended up with the right amount of curves in all the right places. (Please excuse the piece of fluff on the floor, last night was doggy haircut night.)

2014-08-31 11.07.09

I still have trouble with the shoulder straps falling off. After mulling it over I decided that, since the stays aren’t what you’d call 100% historically accurate, I’ll ditch the ties and see what else would work. And the answer is…..3/8-inch non-roll elastic. It keeps the straps snugly on my shoulders and lets blood circulate freely to my arms and back. Very  important, that.

I was going to put it all on today and take a photo with the magic elastic in place and the petticoat on, but I’ve strained my shoulder a bit and don’t want to do the wriggling it takes to put it on. So look for more photos in a couple of days.

All in all, I achieved my goal – a functional set of stays that fit. They’re far from being a disaster, however there is room for improvement, both technically and esthetically.

Things I will do differently next time, in no particular order:

  1. Buy grommets from a vendor that specializes in corset supplies. I somehow managed to order commercial grommets and getting the inside edge smooth was a bit tricky.
  2. Use a fashion fabric that doesn’t fray the moment you even think about touching it.
  3. Add another layer by using garment-weight cotton for the innermost lining. The heavy cotton twill I used is not as immediately absorbent – a factor that is important to me.
  4. Sew the bias binding on the top edge before putting in the bones and the busk. It was about as hard as I thought it would be and made getting a smooth line in the bias edging really tricky. So much for that experiment. Top bias, bones and busk, then bottom bias – that is definitely the way to go.
  5. Hand sew the bias edging down on the inside my hand, instead of on the outside by machine.
  6. Get 6-foot corset lacing, instead of 5-ft.
  7. Use colored thread and decorative stitching on solid white fashion fabric.
  8. Have more fun!

And now it’s time to address the dress. More on that in a bit.

Your Weekend Wow!

This 1904 silk beauty must have been something before it yellowed with age…it’s pretty darned impressive still.

However, as nice as the full-length photos are, the close-ups show the remarkable amount of detail in the lace and the embroidery. I’d seen a few of the detail images of the skirt before, but never noticed the olive velvet trim or the rhinestones cascading at the neck.

I absolutely love it, but it definitely falls squarely in the “don’t try this at home” category for me.

Beads of Sweat – hand-beading and sequin work

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

I love the way heavily-beaded gowns look. The texture, the way the weight changes the way a garment moves, the sheen, the sparkle.

Every time I post an example or run across another one I always ask myself the same questions: How was it done and how many hours of labor went into it? So I decided to investigate.

Beaded net has been around for a long time…a long time. Here are some examples, from Regency to the 1930’s, although beading started much earlier and continues today.

So, how is/was it done? There’s hand-sewing with a standard needle and thread, one bead/sequin at a time. I’ve done that and can attest to the hours it took me to complete a small area.

Then there’s tambour work, where a specialized needle with a hook is used to draw the thread around a bead and through the net, which is faster.

I was able to find some photos of couture bead work in process and give me a perspective on the labor intensity of the process when applied to complete garments.

The image above of a craftsman/woman/person working with gold beads on a stretched, sheer fabric is using the tambour technique. Here’s a video showing how tambour beading is done, including sequin work.

Naturally, how long it takes to bead and/or sequin any single garment depends of a number of factors – size of area to be covered, density of the design, three-dimensional elements, etc.

I found an example of a knee-length, sleeveless shift that was covered in sequins front and back in a straightforward diamond pattern. How many hours to finish the sequins on a relatively small and not complex dress? 800! And that’s work done by an experienced, professional who’s tambour needle can fly.

Tambour lace is created with the same tool, but I think this is enough for now.

And now the critical question – would I like to learn this technique? Of course! (Oh, dear.)

Stayin’ Alive

A portrait of the Comtesse de Provence. If she could get a fit this good, so can I. Theoretically speaking.

The Comtesse de Provence. If she could get a fit like this, so can I. Theoretically speaking.

Today I tried on the Regency long stays for the first time. I got the rest of the center back grommets in and laced it up. Popped on the chemise, took a deep breath and wriggled my way into it – over my head and shoulders, then into place. No helping hands, so had to do it myself and worked up a bit of a sweat in the process. But it fits and it’s comfortable and I am happy.

Throughout the whole thing I’ve been a bit concerned that I’d end up with:

Really hoping to avoid this.

Really hoping to avoid this.

I was aiming for something close to this, but not as severely straight out front (although, as I understand it, it’s the goal):



Happily, I got:



Not so bad, I’d say, for a first go at it. The wooden busk truly does work wonders at preventing cleavage. (By the way, those two reddish-pink spots are “strawberry marks” and not a snake bite, although I do call it my “Cleopatra mark.”)

Look ma, no cleavage!

Look ma, no cleavage!

I ran into trouble when the chemise lacing ended up in a square knot and was too snug. Hence the bust gussets look too big. But I tried it on over a snug knit camisole and the girls were where they’re supposed to be. Now I just have to pick the knot out and loosen the neckline.

Pulling in the lacing by myself was not easy and I couldn’t get the tension even – the center back edges were not parallel. There are areas of puckering, but I don’t know if that is an issue with fit or if I just laced it too tightly – I had it pretty snug – and didn’t distribute the pressure evenly around the circumference.

2014-08-24 15.51.10

There is some concern about the straps. I have the right side done and tied it when I put the stays on, but it kept falling my shoulder. Not only are my shoulders are a bit sloped, I have a bit of scoliosis (curved spine) that makes the right shoulder lower than the left.

I’ve thought about placing a grommet more towards the center in the front so the shoulder strap is at more of an angle, but I don’t want it to interfere with the open neckline.

So there is a bit of engineering yet to be done. I need to finish putting in the left shoulder strap grommets and finish up the bias binding. And I still might put those extra spiral stays down the center bust line for support. Then I’ll put it on again and see how the petticoat looks over it all.

At this rate, I just might be able to start fitting a bodice before the end of the year. (Be still, my beating heart.)

Regency Long Stays – the home stretch.

My internet has been down for nearly 4 days and I’ve been held incommunicado with most of the world. But it’s running again, so time to catch things up.

2014-08-19 18.15.19The left back has all its grommets in place. I started on the right back today and all is going well. I padded the wooden busk and tucked it nicely into its pocket.  Next I sewed on just under half of the bias binding on the upper edge. The first strap went better than I thought it would, so a bonus there. Then I put the grommets in for the right front and right shoulder strap.

So all I need to do is put in the remaining grommets along the right back, the left front and the left shoulder strap. Then I’ll put it on to check the bust support. I have two extra spiral bones in case I need to add one between each pair of bust gussets.

After that the only thing left is to finish up the bias binding and it’s done.

Definitely on the home stretch – WooHoo!

The Low Neckline Regency Chemise is Finished!

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

I’m a member of Somewhere in Time, Unlimited (Seattle) – SITU – which is a costuming group. The members participate in a wide range from historical reproductions to fantasy to steampunk to…just about everything. A very interesting group.

Yesterday I indulged in the sewing circle get together. I say “indulgence” because it takes 2 1/2 hours to get there, 3 hours of sewing/visiting/learning/funfunfun, and 2 1/2 hours to get home. But every minute is well worth it – they’re a great bunch and have a ton of knowledge that they are happy to share.

And I finished my low-neck Regency chemise, to boot. I’m really pleased with the gussets and the fit. And the neckline is definitely low. Here’s my lovely baby:

The hem isn’t perfectly even. I didn’t bother with minute precision because, if nothing goes wrong (or everything goes wrong, depending on your perspective) it will stay under the petticoat and no on will see it.

Now it’s off to make as many grommet holes as my hands can stand. I can probably manage 3 a day, so it’s slow going but I’ll get there.

Your Weekend Wow!

I don’t have much information on this sparkler, only “1900’s.” It’s a bit over the top (that was the idea, after all) but it kinda works. To be honest, it’s not one of my favorites. But I do love being able to access these large format photos that let us see the details. Interesting that the majority of the sequins are three-dimensional “stars” and not flat circles. (How on earth did she keep them from snagging on the lace?) And those coral cabochons!

beautiful. 1900s 1

beautiful. 1900s 2

beautiful. 1900s 3

beautiful. 1900s 4

Toys are 4 Us…and they’re here!

(source and photographer unknown)

(source and photographer unknown)

It’s party time here at Thistlewhite Manor!

The grommet hand press, grommets, bones and cotton organdy have all arrived. Now I’m only waiting on a couple of silk taffeta samples…but those are for another day so no worries.

Love it!!!

Love it!!!

The grommet hand press is a green beast: 15 pounds of solid metal. Assembly took about 10 seconds. It came missing a side screw to hold the lower die in place. I e-mailed the company for a replacement but I can safely use it without it. I set it on a small slab of marble to protect the table top and gave it a go. It took three tries, then I had the hang of how much pressure to use. What do I think?

It. Is. A. Miracle.

One good, steady squish and ta-da! Done. If pounding on the dies with a rubber mallet is not something you particularly enjoy, go for this. It is mercifully simple. The grommets aren’t exactly in a straight line, but I’m not in competition for the prize so it’s fine by me. And the inside is a bit bubbly, but that will get better with practice.

I do need to screw the press into a sturdy wood base for stability, so a trip to the lumberyard for scraps is in the offing.

The bones fit perfectly and I have them all in place. The spiral bones are tailor tacked in their casings. I have the casings for the straight metal bones (the four along the center back) pinned closed at the top so I can remove them to set in the grommets.

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Then I’ll be able to really try it on and check the fit. There’s still time to make adjustments, not that I’m looking forward to it, but it’s looking pretty good as is. In fact, it’s looking like a real set of long stays.

As for the chemise, both of the sleeves are done – gussets, gusset linings and sleeve hems all done by hand and complete. Now it just finishing the side seams and putting in the hem – the last blast of hand work and another item gets checked off the list.

And then, at long last, I can start fitting a muslin for the dress bodice. Maybe by then I’ll have decided which one I want to tackle first. There is an “Austen” event coming up in December, so I think I’ll focus my attention there.