November 17, 2014

getting dressed

First off, let's just take a moment to admire this lovely sight... sigh. I love fabric. OK, moving on. 


I'm now onto making all the other accoutrements that go with a typical 18th century gown and the paniers are one item I've been avoiding for quite some time. It's a look that is distinct for that time period and while I personally feel I have enough natural shape to suffice I started to think that I should go ahead and go all in.


They were actually quite easy to make once I just jumped in and started going. I haunted consulted the usual places online for help and visuals. For my own inclination, I made a pair that were pretty toned-down and focused on giving me a more oblong shape (if you viewed me from above).


I had a great time parading around the house in them and only wish I had had them finished before my five year-old had gone to bed. She would have had a really good laugh just as my dearest husband did, I am amazed at the silliness of them, and yet how well they stayed put while I walked around and allowed me enough liberty of movement. I think for fun, one day I will make a pair that gives me an 8-foot span... or something equally ridiculous.


The red silk was a great choice! I finally overcame my squeamishness of cutting into so much fabric and gathered and hemmed the petticoat today. I have become, over the last few days, pretty impatient to get these things done so I will confess to machine-hemming the 5 yards of fabric. Oh, dear.


I love the vibrant color of it next to my third iteration of stays. Of course, I stupidly used a second pattern for these and now the fit has to be reworked... again. I didn't even photograph my second pair as I rushed through them and they looked wretched. I was more than happy to rip those apart and reclaim the boning materials inside. This third pair, as with the JP Ryan ones I first did, are again too short. I seem to have a freakishly long torso as even my dressform won't extend the length of it. I have worn them at work, though, and they will be tolerable for the evening of British Night Watch.


On a happier note, I LOVE how the fabric drapes over the paniers! I didn't make any seams for pockets inside the dress. I might regret this decision later but I'll have DH there to be the packhorse of my usual female detritus.


 Here we are! I am very pleased with how this is turning out. My chemise is on loan to my friend for design ideas, so rest assured I won't be wearing a t-shirt underneath. ;)


I have left enough length on the robe if I choose to pull up the skirt as usually seen in the polonaise style, but I'm also a fan of trains so I might do as my friend suggested and take a cheaper fabric and line the bottom 3 inches or so with a sort of dust ruffle on the inside hem.


I couldn't resist one more picture of the pleats close up! This chintz print, I believe, is still my favorite part of this whole project.

Until next time...

November 15, 2014

petite robe a l'anglaise and a tutorial (of a sorts)

It's now less than a month away from British Night Watch down in St. Augustine that I'll be attending with my friend from work and we're both hard at work coming up with something we can wear that will be absolutely fabulous. She's let me in on her plans and I cannot wait to see the final product come December 6th! 

I finally got off the fence about what silk I wanted as my petticoat and ordered a beautiful scarlet silk to pick all of the great reds in the chintz pattern. 


I think the two will make an awesome combination. I ordered enough yardage that I'll be able to take some to possibly do trim pieces around the bodice and sleeves but I also don't want to go too crazy! Of course, we've been talking about how the 18th century was an age of overwhelming conspicuous consumption and so maybe all of the trim wouldn't have been out of place... 


And here is Miss C's wonderful robe with chintz petticoat. She wouldn't stand still long enough for me to take pictures with it actually on her but one gets the idea. All I have left for her is a chemise and some silk-covered buttons that will hold the front together. Luckily, my talented sister-in-law made C a beautiful red wool cape with a navy blue lining that she can wear as it should be at least chilly... nowhere near as cold as I'd really like it to be! If I have time, I might try to sew her a pair of mitts that I can line. 

I also added the lace trim directly to the dress, but I'm thinking about picking it out and attaching the lace to the chemise as it would have usually been done in the good ol' days. 

The tutorial I'd like to share with you is how I covered a pair of her shoes with some of the scrap silk for her to also wear that night. It's certainly not a perfect job but if any of you ever have such an idea, here are some of the things I did to spiffy up these busted slippers. 


I figured if this idea didn't work I wasn't really losing any ground. I'm pretty sure these shoes looked like this after one afternoon of C wearing them so...yeah. 


I was going to use this type of glue that is made for fabrics hoping that it wouldn't discolor the silk too much but it actually didn't provide the immediate tackiness I needed to manipulate the fabric around the shoe. And to be honest, the glue did discolor the silk pretty badly so I decided to try my glue gun, which worked like a dream. The glue dried quickly and firmly, as well as not leaving any discoloration behind. How I went so many years without a glue gun, I have no idea! 


This was actually much easier than I thought it would be. It was very much a case of being patient (I generally have none... or less than none) and working with the fabric here and there. In a few key areas I had to snip the fabric so it wouldn't bunch too badly and I could smooth it over the outside.


I found it easiest to glue in place the bottom edge of the fabric and wait to pull the remaining fabric tight towards the inside of the shoe.


These two little shoes took me a little over an hour to complete which I felt was a great use of time and scraps. I'm debating about snipping off the black bows and getting some jewels to mimic shoe buckles of the period, as well as adding a pretty ribbon where the elastic is, but as these will hardly be seen I guess I won't go overboard.


They're certainly not perfect but they are functional and I was able to add another trick to the mental toolbox. I'm so excited to have her wear them for British Night Watch. 

Until next time!

October 29, 2014

Williamsburg, Virginia Chintz Dress

I mentioned a while back that I have plans to attend an annual event in St. Augustine that features historians and reenactors of the British colonial period in the 18th century. Some groups have strict regulations on dress, but as we are going as 'loners', of a sorts, we have both decided to go a little beyond the norm and choose fabrics and dresses that would have been more representative of the upper echelons of society.



With that in mind, I decided to pick a fairly flamboyant print that was representative of those seen during the 18th century, both in Europe and in the colonies - though perhaps fewer would have been able to have access to these fabulous prints.



The fabric can be found at Renaissance Fabrics and is a lovely, soft cotton that drapes so well. I think the $11/yard is incredibly reasonable, considering some quilter's cottons have reached the $13/yd mark! What is so nice about the people at Renaissance Fabrics, is that they have produced a few other prints that are in the historical record.


And being that the print is bold enough, I decided to go with the robe a l'anglaise with the 'regular' back. I've been considering pulling up the skirt in what is technically termed a retroussee, but is most often associated with the la polonaise gowns of a contemporary period. I've yet to pick out a coordinating silk for the petticoat and trimmings. With the multitude of colors on the dress, however, I certainly have no shortage of options.

So far I'm leaning to a dark, sapphire blue silk. I think it will be so lovely! For now, though, it sits on my dress form and has to wait for me to make up my mind...

Until next time...

October 19, 2014

Robe a l'anglaise I and II

While anxiously awaiting for some feedback on my thesis proposal I spent quite a lot of time this week working on another robe a l'anglaise, except this time I was moving towards one with the en fourreau back which I think I love even more than the first gown I did in linen. Which, incidentally, is now in two parts again as the skirt has decided to separate from the bodice. Oops. 


While haunting one of the great fabric stores here in Jacksonville I stumbled upon this piece of what is supposed to be drapery fabric. It is 100% cotton with this printed vine design that works well for the 18th century, and the heavier weight is very nice for the overall structure of the dress. 


As I had mentioned in the last post, I had earmarked these sheets to be used in my draping practice. The particular pattern left a lot to be desired, if I'm honest, but I wanted to get comfortable with fiddling with the fabric and where I needed to cut before I cut into something that was going to cost quite a bit more. 


Once I was feeling a bit more confident I started cutting into the fabric to work on the en fourreau back... with my face almost permanently glued to this tutorial. As she says on her own tutorial, this part takes a bit of fiddling and reworking, but it was a great chance to practice with fit and manipulation. 


My dress, naturally, looks a bit different from the tutorial - but I'm very happy with the final look. I'm also working on my patience and learning some restraint when it comes to using my sewing machine. In an effort to be more accurate, I sewed about 80% of the dress by hand, which I actually think looks rather nice running down the pleats.


And here is the front with my first stomacher. I kept wanting to do something a bit more adventurous with my first one, but I think as there will probably be one or two more, I'll save it for another day!


This is the finished navy linen robe I completed a while ago. I've worn this to work quite a few times and I have to say, even in Florida it's not totally unbearable. I don't really notice the stays until I'm taking them off and realize how icky my chemise has become ... too much information? Anyhow, wearing layers made of all-natural fibers is a great benefit, I think. 


The bodice and skirt have quite a few wrinkles from work last week, but as I've worn the linen a bit, I've noticed the places I'll need to readjust the fit somewhat. 


Here is the second robe, not quite finished. Actually... it was all finished, but apparently the settings on my dressform had changed somewhat and I am a bit fuller than it was leading me to believe. So I'm actually holding the front of the dress closed until I tweak that fitting. As I already had on my stays, we were moving forward with the photos. 


It does just give me the opportunity to share the innards of the dress, however. To get an even better fit on the bodice, I made a front-lacing lining that actually came together nicely. I really hope to get the front completely finished as I can wear my new creation to work! 


You can see the lining a bit more here... I am still too impatient to sew each lacing hole individually but I might get there one day. As I figure, very few will be seeing this much of the dress so I thought I could get away with it. 


My trim pieces are a very lovely, lightweight brown linen that I pleated around the collar of the dress and made one bow with long tails to hopefully hide some of the places where I sewed the snaps. I think when I wear it 'out' I'll pin the tails just so. 


While there is room for improvement, I feel like I learned so much making this gown that I can use in future gowns. Up next, a robe a la française, sacque back and all! I also need to start thinking about period hair styles. I'm all sorts of ready to powder and poof my hair into something fantastic!

Until next time... 

October 14, 2014

Moving onto a New Robe a la...

Having finally turned in my thesis proposal after much teeth-gnashing, I have decided to decompress a bit and turn my mind to solving other puzzles that have been buzzing about in my head.

Since I've been immersing myself in the world of (mostly) 18th century fashion for a while now, I have lately decided to go swimming in the deep end ... without my floaties. That is to say, I'm taking a huge leap and working on draping my own constructions and making my own pattern pieces from the essentials I've picked up along the way. I've done some sleuthing around Pinterest and the internet-at-large which has been the reason for all of these things clogging my brainwaves, so it's time to get them out.

I'm certainly not alone in my quest.

If we're using swimming analogies, I'd like to consider the great work of Janet Arnold, as well as the immensely talented professional historical costumers who have taken great pains to share their own work online, particularly Katherine C-G at The Fashionable Past, as my lifeguards. Both are of great help and Arnold's work, as well as the collection of extant gowns online are a great source of inspiration to any historical costumer/reproductionist.


I'm in love with the gowns that have stomachers. I've always been fascinated by the idea of them, particularly since some of the historical examples we have left to us were completely bling bling. They are almost like our own modern accessories as they were their own stand-alone pieces of clothing - almost like really expensive, hand-made, interchangeable watch bands. Only better.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 1750-1775. 

Wikipedia Images. France, mid-18th century. 

Mine will be much, much less bling. In fact, I don't even think I'll embroider my first stomacher as I'll just be happy that it fits in with the dress I'm planning. 

In any event, I'm working on a pattern for a robe that has a stomacher piece, which can really be any one of the robes from the 18th century period. The anglaise, française, polonaise and piemontaise all have examples where the front of the dress did not close together, but featured a stomacher. These are some of my favorite things. (You can sing that, like I did). 


This is simply one of my many muslin mock-ups, of which I'm sure there will be plenty more. I'm currently utilizing the back silhouette from the JP Ryan pattern, but this will be cut down the middle, with some extra inches here, and a few less there so that I can make a laced-up lining that will become the basis for the sacque gown I'm planning. I will also lose a bit of the pointed bottom piece as the long layers will hide that anyhow.


Here is a terrible cell-phone picture of my fifth muslin piece. I'm struggling right now with getting a truly smooth fit over my stays. I think I'll have to ditch those for right now in favor of just getting the garment constructed from start to finish - then finagle the fitting.


And here is a rough representation of the shape of my first stomacher. Later, I hope, I will make one that has a flared bottom similar to the one from France posted above. 


Until the beautiful Williamsburg printed cotton I ordered arrives, I am going to use this top sheet to practice draping and sewing the garment together as I go as instructed in Katherine's sacque tutorial. I figured it's a super cheap way (I already had the sheet set and my daughter doesn't like the tops) to get a hang of something before I go cutting fabric that's $11.00/yd! 

Until next time...

October 8, 2014

la petite robe a l'anglaise

With the success of my own robe a l'anglaise I decided to go ahead and see if I could make one for my daughter. I do have an actual reason for making her one beyond treating her as my own little Barbie doll. There is an annual event in December down in St. Augustine that is celebration of the city's great colonial history where a lot of history buffs and historical reenactors show up. Talking with my 'boss' at work, we decided - among other great things - that we would try and see about having C walk in the parade dressed in an 18th century 'costume'.


This lovely extant gown from around 1770-1780 is held by the Museé de Costume et de la Dentelle in Brussels is one that would have been worn by a young girl from the upper class or, at the very least, a wealthy family with the ability to afford such a sumptuous fabric. In fact, I have been doing some reading about the history of textiles recently and have tripped upon some information that dispels the notion that silk would have been absolutely unattainable to anyone not within the top one percent. That is not to say everyone was running around dressed in silks, but in the eighteenth century, certain legislation and trade embargos made cotton - what we see as an inexpensive and versatile fabric today - an expensive and hard-to-get item. Of course, what was true in European markets was not necessarily the case in the colonial Americas.

But I digress...

Wikipedia

This portrait of a young Georgiana Spencer (later Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire) shows how children (at least of the upper classes) were dressed much as their mothers would have. The costlier fabric of the dress above would certainly not have been for everyday-wear, but children throughout much of history were usually thought of as small adults - they were to dress as their parents did and quickly learn the adult mannerisms and proper behavior. Civilization, don't ya' know? There are even examples of children's stays from this period.


With all this knowledge swimming around in my head I took to my drawing board - literally as I had no pattern for this - and came up with this miniature version of my own robe a l'anglaise (I just like writing that out.. and saying it). I was able to put to use the things I had learned from the JP Ryan pattern to guide my overall structure and final look, but to get the sizing as accurate as I could I mixed and match some pattern pieces from the McCall's dress pattern I used for the Anna/Elsa dresses. After that, I had to tweak it in several key places. This is where making a muslin mock-up (or four) becomes an essential and useful step in the process. My usual response to making a muslin 'dummy' was "pfffffft" ... but now I've learned.


Anyhow... I will share much better pictures when I get this dress on her and hemmed and a final fitting. I already foresee having to sew in a few hiccup darts on the bodice to account for her skinny torso, but that can all be hidden with trim pieces. I love trim pieces!

Until next time...

September 28, 2014

Slower Sewing

The title of the post is a bit misleading. I feel that what I've been working on today was slower because I didn't have to use my powers of concentration so much, when in reality I should be saying 'much faster sewing' because I was able to whip up three dresses for C to model for me today. I also started this at 5:30 a.m., so I definitely had a groggy great early start.



Last year I attempted to jump start a little cottage business making dresses and skirts for little girls. I love making these dresses and love buying fabric, but even more than that, I needed another reason to be spending a lot of my free-time sewing. It assuaged my sewing-guilt a little bit knowing that I wasn't making things JUST for my daughter. So I opened an Etsy shop and attended a craft fair or two where I had some small measure of success.


I'd still like to continue in this direction because, well, let's be honest it provides the necessary funds to feed my fabric addiction.


This dress by the Cottage Mama has become one of my all-time favorites. I love how you can put the 'show piece' on the front or back, depending on the preference of you or your little. I have also found that the skirt looks fabulous gathered or with a series of knife pleats that fan out from the middle front. 


Thanks to Rocco for photo-bombing our shoot today. For an old man, he certainly upped his energy today to frolic with C. He's just as much a ham for the camera as she is. Look at those smiles!


As you can see, this dress is adorable with the bow in the back, or the front. And I just love these two fabrics from Riley Blake and Michael Miller.


Another favorite idea of mine is pillow-case dresses. I saw on Pinterest that people were making them out of strips from left-over cuts or from fat quarters. What a great idea, I thought, because I'm actually getting tired of making fat-quarter quilts but I needed to use all of these great fabrics. They're also fantastic because the fit is so loose she'll be wearing these with leggings in no time as a tunic-shirt!


Right now, I'm at the custom-order stage with friends but if I can get my act together more I hope to eventually build up enough stock to re-open the Etsy shop and start making the craft-fair rounds.

Until next time!