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.

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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.)

Magical Snow, Cranky Elbow and Not Sewing.

Two Victorian ladies making what has to be the most elegantly lovely snow(wo)man of all time.

Two Victorian ladies making what has to be the most elegant snow(wo)man of all time.

I’ve been trying to sleep for hours now, but slumber won’t come. My head is full of ideas cavorting about and having quite the bash – they refuse to settle down. So here I am at 4:30 in the morning with the hope that writing will help release some of those party animals. That’s what I get for serving my de-caffeinated self a strong cup of “real” tea in the evening.

After diligently babying my elbow for weeks it was about 99% healed. Until two days ago when, feeling cocky, I lifted a relatively heavy bag of groceries and carried it from the car to the house. Mr. E. has been screaming ever since. Stupid thing to do, but there you have it. It already feels better, but its stubborn achyness is another reason I’m doing this instead of sleeping.

Not much sewing got done this week, as you’ve probably suspected given the lack of posts. A particular annoying bit of life popped up and my energies were spent getting it straightened out. At least getting the paperwork together to straighten it out. My Georgian/Regency bodice lays there and pouts every time I pass by, and I don’t blame it one bit.

On the deliriously happy front, it started to snow a few hours ago. It went from icy rain to a bit of sleet to that weird not-sleet-but-not-snow transitional stuff to bona-fide snow – the first snow of the year.

I love snow. Love it. Love to watch it fall. Love to walk in it. Love to catch the flakes on my tongue. Love the absolute silence it creates. I was eight years old the first time I saw it snow and I still believe it’s powerful earth-magic. I get positively giddy over it and behave like a three-year-old when I’m in it.

Sophie, the Wonder Pup, has never seen snow so it will be interesting to see how she reacts. She already has snow boots and good coat (not that she knows it) so we’ll test out the new gear later today.

Well it’s now after 5am and I’m still wide awake. Looks like I’ll be watching the lovely blanket of white reveal itself as the sun comes up. Ooooohhhhh. Pretty. Yawn.


The Round Gown Bodice – Update

Despite rumors to the contrary, I have been working on my hand sewing and yesterday I finished the bulk of work on the bodice for the round gown. Here it is just draped over my dress form (i.e., no foundation garments, wrong chemise).

round gown bodice

round gown bodice

The neckline casing was done with a simple, on-the-grain piece of self fabric. I used my machine to sew it on and understitch to keep it flat. Then I turned the casing and sewed it down by hand. A length of white 1/4-inch grosgrain ribbon works great for gathering the neckline and tucks inside to stay hidden.

One of the things I like about Nora Azevedo’s pattern is its utter simplicity. The 1795 style is genuine. It’s a simple two-drawstring garment, with one at the neck and one at the waist and both gathered from the center front. No buttons or fiddly bits. One piece, over-the-head, pop on and go. This is the one I should have started with. Now that I can see with my own eyes what the fit is supposed to look like my other 1795 pattern makes a lot more sense, fit-wise.

Tomorrow is another sewing circle (yay!) so today I’ll french seam the sleeves and sew them onto the bodice. But I’ll leave the sleeve caps hand basted so we can fiddle with the pleating and get the fit just right.

In addition, I’d like to get that third panel of the skirt seamed and at least basted in place because I think having the full weight of the garment will help with the position of the sleeves as they will be worn. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds reasonable to me.

Hopefully, I’ll remember to take some photos this time so you can see how the Regency long stays look when I’m wearing them.

Let’s just say they do their job quite well (as in I feel like two large appetizers being served on a platter). And that will take some getting used to.

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.

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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.

So…What’s Happening with the Regency Morning Dress?

Ladies in their morning gowns at breakfast. Heideloff, 1794.

Ladies in their morning gowns at breakfast. Heideloff, 1794.

You might be wondering what, in the midst of this 18th century fervor, has been going on with the Regency Morning Dress for CoCo 2015’s Breakfast with the Bennets. The truth is, not much. Altering the muslin was a breeze, but our sewing circle doesn’t meet until later this month. As a result, it’s been sitting in the corner, pouting.

And then…great news! Somewhere in Time, Unlimited – Seattle, my local historical costuming group, is holding an all-day Regency Round Gown workshop on November 8th. I’ve signed up and bought the ticket. So between the further adjustments at this month’s sewing circle and the November workshop, I’ll have lots of fitting help, lots of sewing time and should end up with both a 1795 morning gown and a 1812 round gown.

I love it when thing come together like this.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.