A Need to Re-Think My 2015 Plans. Or Not.

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

DELUSION n. A belief that is unsupported by the facts. SYN. illusion, mirage, self-deception, misconception, fantasy, “pipe dream”, figment of the imagination.

Now that I know there are twice as many HSM challenges as I thought there would be, I need to take a step back and look at that project list again. Or find a better pharmacy. Or both.

Although it would be tons of fun and I’d learn a lot, the single most expensive item, by far, is Costume College 2015. Airfare. Dog sitter/ boarding kennel. Hotel room, even if I share with someone else. Food and beverages. Four complete costumes. And I won’t kid myself, I know I’ll come home with additional goodies from those fabulous vendors…they’re right there – at my fingertips.

I started the 18th century outfit and I want to finish it…there’s not much left to do and it’s all easy.

I’m going to finish a Regency/Georgian outfit, as I’ve already said, if it kills me.

I’m also doing the HSM, at least as many challenges as I can.

I also want to finish the Victorian dress. It needs a finished overskirt, which is half done, and it needs a bodice, which is a lot like the first Victorian bodice I made.

And for reasons I can’t explain, other than a mild moderate complete break from reality, I am drawn to the 17th century challenge. Totally new territory for me, which is part of the appeal (and, I can bet on it, the source of many a difficulty). But we are given an entire year to complete one costume and I’m going with a servant’s outfit, so no over-the-top mountains of silk, Cavalier sleeves, neck ruffs, heavy jewelry, exposed cleavage, metallic embroidery and eternal miles of lace.

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for this. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it anyway.

Leaving out Coco and the Victorian bustle dress, here’s how the math looks:

18th century:

  • need overskirt, bedgown, apron, fichu and cap
  • only need fabric for overskirt or apron, depending on which ends up where
  • total number of items to make = 5


  • need gown, cap, fichu and spencer (or cloak)
  • already have the fabric and patterns
  • total number of items to make = 4

HSM 2015:

  • I only know what the first challenge is
  • already have the pattern and fabric for it
  • total number of items to make = 12

17th century:

  • still deciding on which painting to use for the reproduction, but going servant
  • need the lot – cap, fichu/kerchief, chemise, jacket/top, apron and 2-3 petticoats
  • have pattern and fabric for the cap, fichu/kerchief and under-petticoat
  • total number of items to make = 6 (can re-use the fichu and 2 petticoats

That’s 27 pieces of clothing, not counting Victorian (2) and CoCo (a lot). Impossible, at least for me. Fortunately, the 17th and 18th century items are neither fussy nor difficult. (Rationalization? You bet!)

Prioritizing the projects:

  • Let go of CoCo for next year. As much as I want to go, it’s just not practical financially, even if I got a college scholarship.
  • The Regency/Georgian (whatever I end up with) can wait until later in the year, but want to be done in time for Jane Austen’s birthday celebration on December 16th. (The year was 1775.)
  • Do the hand sewing (the caps, fichus and all the hemming) at night, while watching the tube.
  • Get going on HSM #1 (due January 31st).
  • Make 18th century top petticoat, bedgown and apron. Not at all difficult, so get them done NOW.
  • Work on the 17th century things throughout the year (and yes, that does mean I can expect a mad scramble at the end).
  • Keep an eye on HSM – pick my battles.
  • March is Victorian Heritage Festival time. Can I finish the dress in time? We’ll see how it shakes out.
  • Stay open-minded and flexible – change whatever as needed.

As you can see, the only thing I’ve actually removed from the list is CoCo 2015 and all of those costumes. (If I’m going, I’m going with costumes.) That still leaves way too many.

My decision: I’m going to head into this adventure expecting the obvious inability to get everything done. Then whatever I do manage to complete will be its own little celebration. So I’m just going to start and work my way through as much as I can. Piece by piece, costume by costume, era by era.




2015 – Looking Ahead


Since it’s nearly time to start closing out 2014, sewing-wise at least, it seems right to look ahead to 2015 and see just how much trouble I can get myself into make some plans.

2014 has been a year of learning – a LOT of learning. One of the most often repeated lessons was that my eyes are bigger than my cutting table, so to speak. I want to try just about everything, but the reality is there’s only so much I can accomplish in a single year. (Funny how that one keeps coming up year after year…almost as if it’s a pattern…) This blog’s tag line has “over enthusiastic” in it for a reason. My interests and appreciations are wide-spread and far-flung through time: I can’t pick just one or two.

Which is why I have a lot of unfinished projects and as-of-yet-unused fabric and patterns lying about.

So. What would I like to accomplish in 2015?


  • Make all the costumes for CoCo 2015: a Georgian/Regency morning dress, a 1930’s dress (have pattern and fabric), my blue early bustle era dress (partially done), and a Legendary Lady dress (finally decided which way to go),
  • Participate in the Historical Sew Not-Going-To-Be-Fortnightly-Anymore Challenge for 2015: now one project will be due every two months for a total of six for the year – first one is “Foundations” due January 31st (have pattern and fabric),
  • Participate in the Isis’ Wardrobe 17th Century Challenge (one year to reproduce an entire outfit from a painting or colored drawing),
  • Manage to finally make a Georgian/Regency dress that fits (don’t get me started),
  • Finish up the 18th Century costume,
  • Participate in the town’s Victorian Heritage celebrations in a dress that I’ve made (not a purchased outfit), and
  • Participate in each of SITU-Seattle’s four seasonal events, each of which “occurs” in a different era and the first one is mid-February.

I’m sure you can see my problem. The list not ambitious…it’s insane. One year, 15+ projects (potentially) – that’s more than one every month. And that is so not going to happen.

On one hand, I don’t know what all of the projects are. I only know the first of the six HS(not)F challenges. I only know the era of dress for the first of the four SITU-Seattle events. And I’m still not sure I can afford to go to CoCo 2015 – but I’m gonna try (fingers crossed).

On the other hand, fortunately, I already know there is some overlap. The blue bustle dress can double for the Victorian Heritage Festival. The Regency dress can double for the SITU-Seattle February event. The 17th Century Challenge is for just one outfit, I’m allowed an entire year to make it, and I’m choosing something relatively easy (i.e., no fussy gowns). The HS(not)F January challenge will give me the last corset style I need to wear anyone of the list above, since I already have Victorian and Regency done.

But that still leave a huge list. At this time really I want to do the following:

  • CoCo 2015,
  • one danged Georgian/Regency dress,
  • the Historical Sew Not-Going-To-Be-Fortnightly-Anymore Challenge for 2015, and
  • the Isis’ Wardrobe 17th Century Challenge.
  • (Who am I kidding? I still really want to do them all.)

Yes, it’s way too much, so we’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m pretending Theoretically I should have more time to sew in the upcoming year. Theoretically, I had a lot of time this year but life handed out a couple of whoppers that slowed me down and, I can almost guarantee, 2015 will likely offer its fair share of lumps and bumps, as well.

At least there’s one thing I know for sure: by this time next year, I’ll know exactly how much I’ll be able to accomplish in 2015.

All the Fit That’s News to Print: on to Toile #3 and a Brief Excursion to the 18th Century

1822: "A woman, proud of her beauty, says he, may possibly be nothing but a coquet.. one who makes a public display of her bosom, is something worse." – The Mirror of  Graces, by A Lady of Distinction, 1811, p. 120

“A woman, proud of her beauty, says he, may possibly be nothing but a coquet.. one who makes a public display of her bosom, is something worse.” – The Mirror of Graces, by A Lady of Distinction, 1811, p. 120. (I believe the cartoon is by one of our dear Mr. Cruikshanks.)

Sunday’s SITU sewing circle was tons of fun, as usual, and master fitting went very well. Once I donned the chemise, stays, and petticoat the muslin toile #2 fit much better than it did on the dress form. In the midst of all the pinning, re-pinning, discussion and general activity I forgot to take any photos. That’s too bad because the stays do an incredible job in the “up and out” department. Photos next time, for sure…promise

As it turned out, the bodice doesn’t need that much alteration. I can resolve the excess fabric at the front armhole by moving it down to an additional underbust pleat, or distribute the excess between the existing pleats. The bodice back needs to loose a bit more from the center front in order to get rid of the “bubbliness” that pooches out and the length is not an issue after all.

Those are minor and easy to do, but it means the armscye is totally whacked. It needs to come down under the arm, move toward the shoulder in the back and come away from the shoulder in the front.

Those issues will be tackled at the next sewing circle, which is in October (we only meet once a month). Hopefully, November will see the completed toile for the bodice with sleeves. I don’t need this gown until July, so I’m glad I started early.

During this one-month pause in activity, I’m going to see if I can knock out an acceptable 18th century outfit for a SITU event on October 26th, “A Gathering of Rebels,” which is being held in a German-style alehouse. (Beer, potatoes, bratwurst and cheese? Count me in!)

Dress is 18th century American colonial and it needs to be done quickly so don’t think in terms of “Dangerous Liaisons” (yes, it’s French)…

Costume from "Dangerous Liaisons"

Costume from “Dangerous Liaisons”

…think “Colonial Williamsburg.”

Ladies from Colonial  Williamsburg, re-enacting an activity from 1774.

Ladies from Colonial Williamsburg, re-enacting an activity from 1774.

My outfit will be much like the re-enactor in the pink petticoat above: a chemise, short gown, petticoat (which is the skirt), an under-petticoat (because it’ll be pretty cold) and an apron. I don’t have 18th century stays, so I’m looking at making jumps instead. Hopefully I’ll get a cap and a pair of pockets done, too. That’s a lot of sewing, but it’s all plain and simple (she says now) and a good place to start.

So I’m in gear, have the apron in progress and will be hemming it tonight.

Toile #2, Part Two: photo results of the initial fitting

The set of photos taken this morning are a bit better. There are still issues with the lighting and my hands are a bit shaky today, but we’ll make do with what we have.

To make sure I kept the lower edge level, I pinned it to the waist band of the petticoat. Here are the results: the left side of the bodice as it is without intervention, the right side of the bodice is pinned for better fit.

bodice front

bodice front

bodice back

bodice back

The left side – unaltered:

rippling neckline, gap at armscye, folded underarm

Rippling neckline, gap at armscye, fold at underarm,

sagging back, again with deep underarm fold

sagging back, again with deep underarm fold,

but in spite of it all there is a decent shape to the back of the armsye

but in spite of it all there is a decent shape to the back of the armsye.

The right side, pinned:

neckline lays straight and flat,

Neckline lays straight and flat.

the underarm is too high, but now it also lays flat,

the underarm is too high, but now it also lays flat.

The back needs the largest amount of changes - a horizontal fold to take up the excess length, pulling the shoulder strap back a bit further, and taking in some excess just in front of the back armscye.

The back needs the largest amount of changes – a horizontal fold to take up the excess length, pulling the shoulder strap back a bit further on the outer (sleeve) edge, and taking in some excess just in front of the back armscye.

But then the back contour of the armscye is almost completely lost.

However, then the back contour of the armscye is almost completely lost. But it does make the back strap seam line and the back side seam line almost meet in a diamond point which, historically speaking, is OK


When I looked at making an entirely new bodice in the next size down, the measurements were all wrong. I think it’s just the way I’m built and how it differs from the pattern model’s shape.

I do want to put in a left side sleeve to see how it changes the fit, if at all, and see what the overall armscye shape is supposed to be like (although I sincerely doubt it will resolve the problems).

And I may try to cut a pattern based on the pinned side, just to see what happens.

Either way, this coming Sunday is the Somewhere In Time, Unlimited – Seattle sewing circle where Bobbie Kalben, Costume College instructor and our fabulous fitting guru, can help bail me out.

On a different note: I found this video, courtesy of Ms. Daffodil Digresses, from Colonial Williamsburg which shows the making of a satin dress in one day using period techniques. And now I want a pinking iron.

Toile #2, Part Two: Style Confirmation and Fitting

In general, I like surprises and learning new things, which is one of the reasons I like doing research. Another benefit is finding confirmation that a change I want to make has genuine historical precedent.

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

The full description is: “An Unusual and Interesting Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800, Indienne printed chintz, probably 1770’s remade in the late 1790’s, skirts gathered to the raised waist with fullness in the back, long sleeves with self-covered button closure and ruffled cuffs.”

It was sold by Christie’s with the following additional lot notes: “An interesting example of the value inherent in fabrics in this period; the chintz so typical of the third quarter of the 18th century here remade into a dress very typical of the very late 18th early 19th centuries.”

[FYI – The winning bid was £6,250 ($11,150) in October, 2008.]

This morning I spent even more time on Pinterest looking only at dresses from 1795-1799 (OCD? Moi?) and have a clearer picture in my head of what I’m after.

Finally, it was time to start measuring the pattern then roll out the muslin and start cutting. Only this time, I thought I’d try out fitting the pieces as I add them and see how that works.

It didn’t take long to realize that starting from scratch wasn’t necessary. I could use #1 to make #2, so I:

  • took the back bodice down a size, which consisted of merely trimming off a strip along each center back edge,
  • picked out and reversed the shoulder straps – they were indeed backwards,
  • changed the front bodice pleats to gathers, didn’t like it, so changed back to pleats…this time going the right direction on each side, and
  • discovered that I’d not turned under enough material along the neckline edge, so picked it out, measured and re-stitched.

The good news is that the front looks and fits so much better. I’m comfortable with the the neckline is now, so no changes planned, at least for now.

Everything else, however, needs work. I took photos, but the light is already fading and they didn’t come out. So the task for tomorrow morning it to re-take the photos so you can see what still needs improvement.

At this point, I think I may have to re-draw the bodice pattern to fit my body shape, at least that’s what the draping seems to imply. I’ve never done that before, but no time like the present to learn, right? I do know how to adjust individual pieces for fit, so some of the basics are there…”just” have to put them all together so they work.

And I haven’t gotten to the sleeves yet, so more adventures ahead.

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my poor little toile doesn't fit...not enough good measurements!

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my toile doesn’t fit…not enough measurements!

Toile #2, Part One: Research

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

After the debacle of Toile #1 one thing was clear. I have no idea of the specifics I’m trying to reproduce. I have a 15-yard bolt of unbleached muslin, so I can cut pieces to my heart’s content. But I’d rather not see Toile #28, if you know what I mean.

Since the best defense against ignorance is education, I headed for my sewing library to find some answers. I have two areas that are hindering my progress: constructions details and fitting.

For details and seam placement I pulled:

  • Costume in Detail, 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield
  • Patterns of Fashion, c. 1660-1860 by Janet Arnold, which had just arrived in the mail. *happy dance*

For instruction on fitting and alterations I went to:

  • The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting by Sarah Veblen
  • Fitting for Every Figure by the Editors of Threads Magazine
  • Pattern Fitting with Confidence by Nancy Zieman.

I read through the relevant parts of each a couple of times and studied the variation between my toile and the illustrations, details and dimensions of historical garments.

There were some construction and style differences, which made me wonder if using a pattern designed from what looks like a laborer’s work dress (the original of which was well-worn, poorly patched and roughly mended) factored into it.

Underbust pleats have never worked for me, but I’d decided to make the pattern as given anyway. I did manage to sew one set backwards (facing toward the center front instead of toward the center back), but no matter – I just don’t like the way they look. So I’ll be changing the pleats to gathers, as well as raising the neckline a bit.

I may have to fiddle with the back shoulder and back side seams, but I’m making the easy changes first before I dive in way over my head.

Good thing I can swim…even though at times it looks a lot like flailing about.

Quick Update on Toile #1

As I was going to bed last night it occurred to me that I’d neglected to put the petticoat on the dress form. I didn’t know what, if any, changes it would make in the fit, so I put it on over the long stays this morning and tried the toile again. I wasn’t expecting a miracle, which is good because there wasn’t one.

Good news – the petticoat fits.

Bad news – the toile is still a mess.

2014-09-13 08.18.34

Looking at it this morning, it appears it’s just too big all the way around. I may need to shorten the shoulder straps, which is nothing new for me. And I want a higher neckline as well.

Let’s see if toile #2 looks a bit better.

Toile #1: Figuring Out the Fit, or Lack Thereof

I’ve hit a few problems that I don’t know how to solve. Yet. I’ve never made this style before. Generally, I know how it’s meant to look, but I’m not familiar with any of the construction details. I need help. Any and all suggestions and/or instructions will be both welcomed and appreciated.

Here’s where we (the muslin toile and I) are at the moment.

First off, I realized that I didn’t have to repeatedly climb into and out of the long stays, I could fit them to my dressmaker’s form. Just shows that using it isn’t quite second nature. Anyway, I laced it up and…what the…why are the shoulder straps so short? They weren’t before.

Long stays positioned too low

Long stays positioned too low

It is embarrassing to admit that it took me about 15 minutes to realize that the stays were too low on the form, but I did and hoiked them up into the right place. By the way, my hips aren’t anyway near this narrow but I’m focusing on the bodice so I’m not bothering to pad them.

To get the best fit on the form, I had to create the right amount of “boobage.” So I padded the bust gussets with one rolled sock and what the Brits call “chicken fillets” on each side. (Chicken fillets – I love that term.)

Finally, time for the first fitting. Oh, dear.

First fitting, bodice

First fitting, bodice

The neckline doesn’t lay flat against the form because of the padding in the bust gussets, so no worries there. At least not at the moment.

2014-09-12 12.43.22

I had to scoot the toile around a while to get the waist at the correct underbust level.

2014-09-12 12.44.12

That’s when all sorts of issues popped up – and out. The back is really quite…ah…full. I don’t think it’s supposed to be this bunched up. The instructions said to use the biggest size and take it down from there. I think I can safely lose a size or two.

Too much fabric?

Too much fabric?

Is this the correct placement for the side seams? They are supposed to be toward the back. However, they look a bit too far back. But maybe they’re OK. I just don’t know.

The bust pulls at the sides and the armscyes are enormous. At least that’s how they look to me, having nothing with which to compare them.

2014-09-12 12.47.35

I think there’s a good chance that many of these issues are related to my having to guess with the shoulder strap. It’s tapered on one side and straight with the grain on the other. Neither the instructions nor the pattern piece tell me which is left and which is right, and it’s not at all obvious. At least, not for me.

After much grumbling and holding the piece in the air, flipping it around while trying to figure it out, I put the straight-of-grain edge on the neck side and the tapered edge on the sleeve side. This could be what’s making the fit all wonky, but the neck-side edge is so straight that I’m not sure. Not at all.

Ah, the joys of learning.

So, there will be a second toile. I’ll use a smaller back bodice and experiment with reversing the shoulder straps. Eventually I’ll get it right, although I shudder knowing this is the easiest of all the dresses I plan to make.

The 1795 Bodice – Fig Leaf Pattern #102

Inbetween researching historical bleaching methods and re-organizing my bedroom (including a healthy closet purging) I’ve started working on the 1795 “Breakfast with the Bennets” dress and want to give a quick comment on the pattern.

Fig Leaf Patterns #102, c. 1795

Fig Leaf Patterns #102, c. 1795

I’ve never used a Fig Leaf pattern before: I like it. It is well-researched and derived directly from an extant garment. The paper is a good weight and will last. The instructions are clear and well-written. There are lots of basic sewing instruction for the newbie.

But the part I like the best, so far, is the use of color to indicate the cutting lines for each size. It is simply brilliant and so easy to use – no squinting or tracing or accidentally skipping up or down a size (or two).

copyright Fig Leaf Patterns

Fig Leaf Patterns #102, copyright Fig Leaf Patterns

And if you need to make some alterations to get the right fit there are instructions to address it. You’re not left wondering.

2014-09-10 09.51.15

Fig Leaf Patterns #102, copyright Fig Leaf Patterns

Now I’m off to cut the last two pieces and stitch the toile together. Next stop – fitting. And worming my way into the long stays again. Sigh.