A Bit of This and That: updates on HSM #6 and HSM #4

HSM #6 – The Pink Stripe Edwardian Dress

Thanks to feedback I received, I’ve decided to change the dress. Isabella (extantgowns.com) sent me this image. One look and I was a goner.

1912 (Augusta Auctions)

1912 (Augusta Auctions)

Sleeve detail

Sleeve detail

I love the treatment on the skirt – not really hobbled, although I’d be loath to attempt running (as if) – but softer looking, and a lot more interesting, than a circle of pleats. Not to mention less time-consuming. However, instead of cutting the bands with the stripes running parallel with the vertical stripes of the skirt, I’m planning to cut them so the stripes run horizontal. Or I might do them in solid pink. We’ll have to see.

It also has sleeves that are very close to what I’d imagined for my dress. I like the solid band of color, which I think I’ll also borrow, plus the fabric rosettes on the sleeves and the skirt. The gridded lace looks a bit harsh, though, so I think I’ll play around with some antique lace from my stash and see if one of them grabs my fancy.

So the stars aligned and – bingo! – I have a final plan for the dress (which will still go through a number of iterations before it’s done because that’s how I work).

A+B=C, right? Using visual math done (I love visual math) I end up with the bodice of the red dress and the sleeves and skirt of the blue dress…

…which will end up looking something like this:

Scan0003 (2)

However, considering we’re talking Edwardian here, the bodice is woefully lacking in decoration. The extant blue dress has a fabric rosette on the left shoulder. I could do that. Or I could put a rosette on the center of the bodice at the bottom of the V. Or…

A long time ago I found an antique Edwardian, hand painted, ceramic brooch in pristine condition and snapped it up on the spot. It’s a pretty good size and it features roses, which fits the theme perfectly. It looks good on the fabric. Fingers crossed, it will work with the dress and I’ll finally be able to wear it.

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

Now it’s time to start playing with pattern pieces-parts. Good thing I buy muslin by the bolt!


HSM #4 – The 1856 Cage Crinoline, or WT&%#*@!

As you may recall, in my previous post about the HSM #6 Pink Striped dress, I’d causally mentioned that my dress form was too short. Apparently, sometime after the move, the tightening nut loosened and it slipped down the support rod. Quite a lot, as it turns out. One would think I’d have noticed a six- or seven-inch drop. Sadly, one would be wrong.

As I was working on the crinoline, while it was on the dress form, I was concerned that it seemed a bit short, as in too far from the ground. But I’d measured carefully, marked everything, checked the markings when I made them, and checked again before I started putting it together. (Engineer’s daughter – it’s genetic.) And still it looked short. But I this is new territory for me, fashion era-wise, so I kept plugging away and ignored the unsettled whispering in the back of my mind (faulty genetics, that is).

Enter the draping for the pink striped dress and the noticing of the too short dress form.

(3 seconds pass, during which the unsettled whispering is laughing maniacally.)

Wait a minute! If the crinoline looked too short on the too-short dress form…NOOOOOO!!!

(5 seconds of hyperventilation. Maybe more. Can’t recall.)

For the first time, I put the crinoline on and *brain freeze* – the last hoop rides just a few inches below my stupid knee. (Sorry, knee – it’s not your fault.)

Don’t ask, just don’t ask. Because the answer is so far away from “I don’t know” that I can’t tell where to start.**

I want to speak with Heather at Truly Victorian patterns. The materials are kinda pricey and I want to understand what happened before I attempt to fix it. Hundreds of these have been successfully made, so I’m pretty sure it’s me and not the pattern. Needless to say, HSM #4 is in limbo and may be so for some time.

**Note to self – breathe deeply and repeat: Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing, I love to sew. Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing, I love to sew. Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing…


Eureka! (Maybe) + Hooray! (Definitely)

The Eureka

The comments about the previous post got my mental juices flowing again…must the sleeve cap be a single piece or were there alternate styles? So I went back to Google and Pinterest, searched for images of 1795 round gowns, again, and I think I may have found a solution. (Note to the befuddled,  like me – never give up, the answer’s out there somewhere.)

1795 round gowns.

1795 round gowns.

Dress (round gown)c. 1795-Italy. White silk taffeta brocade one-piece dress; green silk and gold embroidery and sequins; pin-tucks at top of front; fly fringe and tassel ornamentation.

Dress (round gown)c. 1795-Italy. White silk taffeta brocade one-piece dress; green silk and gold embroidery and sequins; pin-tucks at top of front; fly fringe and tassel ornamentation.

Looking at these extant garments, it appears that I can put a cap over the cap (don’t you love it when I get all technical?). Which means I could add some volume back onto the sleeve cap and hide it with the extra piece on top, so it would essentially end up looking like a removable sleeve without actually being one. And that would be a heck of a lot simpler than going through any more gyrations (she says now). So I’m gonna give it a go and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be desperately exasperating fun and instructive.

Thank you Val (#1) for taking a swing with your idea…I don’t know if I would have stumbled upon this without your help.

The Hooray

(photo copyright American Duchess)

(photo copyright American Duchess)

This morning, whilst lurking around  in blog-land, I discovered that American Duchess is having a sale. I’ve been hankering for a pair of her buff-colored Regency Nankeen boots since she introduced them and they’re on sale!!! So HoHoHo and Happy Holidays to me…I have a pair on Easy Pay layaway. Even better, they are dye-able. I have my eye on a lovely, soft lilac or perhaps a yummy rosy-coral. Or I  may like the buff and leave them be.

In any case, they’re mine as of the first of February and the SITU-Seattle Winter event (“Victory over the British”, 1815 attire – celebrating the end of the War of 1812) isn’t until February 22, 2015, so they’ll get here in plenty of time to be dyed and waxed. WooHoo!

Curses, Foiled Again!

Labyrinth - 19th Century Board game 'The Mansion of Bliss' . Created by Thomas Newton.

Labyrinth – 19th Century Board game ‘The Mansion of Bliss’ . Created by Thomas Newton.

It is now quite clear to me that I cannot fix my bodice issue without help from someone who knows how to “see” what needs to be done. If the sleeve cap was too big for the bodice, all I’d have to do would be pleat it at the back bodice armscye and call it done. No such luck.

The problem is that the bodice is too big for the sleeve. In a ridiculously overemphasized 3-D view it would look like a mixing bowl set upside down over marble. The curve of the sleeve being the marble, and the mixing bowl being the way-too-big bodice armscye…and I can’t gather or pleat the bodice to bring to down to the match the sleeve cap.

I’ve put this bodice through all manner of tortured origami with no luck. When I used my original approach it distorted the bodice armscye to the point where I would have needed to go back to the original sleeve (before trimming down the cap) to even come close.

Yesterday, I spent nearly four hours fiddling with this problem and getting nowhere. One obvious solution is to just cut another bodice and/or another set of sleeves, but there’s no more fabric left. I bought it years ago and that fabric run is long gone: I had just enough to cut this one garment. (Which serves to reinforce the value of making a muslin for everything first, which there wasn’t enough class time to do.)

So, it’s time to call in the pros. Fortunately, the next SITU sewing circle is in a couple of weeks and I know Bobbie Kalben will spot the problem in an instant.

2014-01-28 12.42.15 (1)

As I see it, the worst case scenario is that I end up ditching the bodice and the sleeves and turning the skirt into a “petticoat” with shoulder straps. Then I could make a spencer to go with it and not lose this beautiful fabric altogether.

(Lemons…lemonade…you know.)

Achoo! (sniff, sniff)

(source unknown)

Let me be frank: what ever this demonic bug is, I hate it. I feel crummy, then I feel like it’s going away then – wham! – it’s back. On any given day I’m congested or not, coughing or not, sneezing or not, headache-y or not, feverish or not, feeling like a drained battery or not – or any/all symptoms appearing in random combinations.

For example: I went to bed early last night with a low-grade fever and feeling exhausted. At 2 a.m. I woke up with a massively congested head. Hot, steamy water didn’t help much so I took a decongestant and went back to sleep. Eventually. Then at 5 a.m. I awoke again, this time with a pounding quasi-migraine headache. Popped two Tylenol Migraine tabs and fell asleep fairly quickly (thank goodness) and slept until 10:30. Woke up with neither headache nor congestion. But now I’m sneezing. *rolls eyes*

To quote Her Majesty: We are not amused.

Project Update: I did manage to get the third skirt panel cut and the back bodice adjusted on the Regency gown. Still fiddling with adjusting the sleeve caps, which is a bit tricky without help (translation – I stabbed my shoulder twice, but it did take my mind off the cold for a few minutes). I think it will end up with a comfortable fit, which would be great.

I will be devoting more time to the gown this weekend so it’s a good thing it’s washable. Don’t know if I’ll get it done, but am shooting for at least finishing up the machine work. If I can stay awake for more than 5 hours a day, that is.

Don’t be surprised if this weekend’s Wow! features antique bathrobes and house slippers.

(Photograph - R. Smith)

(Photograph – R. Smith)

Armscye versus Sleeve. Fiddlesticks!

It should have been obvious to me that a public display of enthusiasm would come back to bite me. And it wasted no time doing so.

Sleeve edge is at the top, armscye is at the bottom.

Sleeve edge is at the top, armscye is at the bottom. Not good.

I pinned the right side sleeve into the right side armscye and…uh oh. The armscye is larger than the sleeve, which is not supposed to happen. And it’s weird because I never have problems with setting in sleeves and never have had. Even matching plaids. (It’s as close as I come to having a super-power.) Anyway, I was stumped.

I double-checked that I did indeed sew the right sleeve to the right armscye and not the left sleeve to the right armscye. I didn’t know why this was happening but I basted it into place, went to the left side and the same thing happened. They say one sign of success is being able to reproduce your results, but this ain’t it.

Lookin' good from the front.

Lookin’ good from the front. Sleeves will be trimmed to elbow length.

Since I’m a visual learner I put the bodice back onto the dress form. Sure enough, it was evenly “air-conditioned” on both sides. No matter how I wiggled it around on the dress form, it wasn’t going to make a difference in the gaps.

I racked my brain trying to figure out how this happened and the light bulb finally flickered. Back at the workshop, when Nora was helping me with fitting the sleeves, there was too much fabric at the top (because of my sloping shoulders) so she re-drew the cutting line and it ended up below the original cutting line. She said, “Here you go.” I went merrily on my way.

Now I know that when you’re changing a curve the adjoining curve also need altering so the two curves will still meet at the seam. I know that. And today I forgot all about it. Since we made the sleeve cap smaller the bodice armscyes need to be adjusted. I didn’t do that. Hence the mismatch.

A pinch here...

A pinch here…

Luckily, a minor adjustment at the back strap seam takes care of the problem nicely, makes a good match with my sloping shoulders and leaves just enough sleeve for a bit of minor gathering/pleating. So now I’m figuring a way to make the adjustment without taking the whole thing apart. Fingers crossed.

...and a tuck there...

…and a tuck there…

A Quick Round Gown Update

close-up of Round Gown fabric

close-up of Round Gown fabric

Kleenex Expressions Oval CollectionThis cold is beginning to release it’s grip a bit, so I’m planning on sewing and seam ripping today. Amongst doing the laundry and whatnot, that is. The house I’m renting is up for sale. A potential buyer is coming for a walk-through on Thursday afternoon and there’s a lot of “whatnot” that still needs doing. This cold is not helping. (Do they ever?)

I discovered why my skirt looks so wimpy when I read the directions this morning – it was supposed to be a 3- to 4-yd length with a single back seam so that the selvage edges of the fabric are at the top and bottom edges of the skirt. I’d missed that part because I got there late.

I don’t feel so bad about it, though, because that won’t work for my decidedly one-way print fabric. So I’m doing it in panels and that’s just the way it is. Fortunately, I have enough to make a third panel, which will give me more than three yards of circumference to work with. There may be seams, but at least the volume will be correct. Thank goodness for that.

2014-11-11 11.21.02

The cold has me pretty well sapped of energy but I want the bodice finished tonight – all I need to do is stitch down the casing for the drawstring – unless I collapse first, and pick open the skirt’s side French seam. Happily, it’s all sit-on-the-sofa work which pits me in close proximity to the trifecta of relief for the common cold: tissues, TV and hot tea.

All in all, not so bad.

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.