Monday, November 11, 2019

Construction Notes:I

If you're just tuning in, I recently completed a new 1860s ballgown, made out of silk tartan I recovered by disassembling my 2012 silk tartan ballgown. The new version is a lot better! And not just because it has trim and closures.

look ma, no pins!

When I originally decided to embark on this project, I spent a long time looking for inspiration. My original plan was based on this extant dress, worn to a ball at Balmoral by the Princess of Wales in 1863:

Dress worn by the Princess of Wales to a ball at Balmoral, 1863
Note that at some point in the 1930s it was re-fashioned for wear at a different ball at Balmoral (worn that time by Queen Alexandra) so I am unsure how much of the skirt situation is original vs. from the re-make.
But I've always hated that underskirt...tiny ruffles on 1860s dresses are just not my taste. So I set out to look for something more to my liking. This actually turned out to be tricky, because it turns out tiny ruffles/fussy details under overskirts were pretty popular (at least, on the fashion plates I could find). But then I found this teal and white dress and I loved it:
1862 civil war fashion
looking at it now, I realize I reversed the bodice sections...ooops. oh well, too late now!
So that was my new target. As I was short on silk, I spent a lot of time fiddling before I actually cut anything out. The underskirt was a good place to start: I used a historical trick and made the bottom half silk, and the top half (hidden by the overskirt) cotton. I had to piece a small portion of the silk, but now it's in the back and not noticeable when I wear it.

And then came the bodice. As I mentioned, this was the most complex 1860s bodice I had ever attempted, as it required a careful assembly order to ensue that the right things overlapped with each other. My original plan was to construct the entire bodice out of a medium-weight cotton (that petticoat fabric I mentioned) and then apply all of the silk onto the cotton base. This...did not work. Like, not at all, it was a huge disaster. Luckily, plan B went a bit better!

Plan B was that I assembled the bodice in stages. Stage 1: I cut out the top third of my usual 1860s bodice pattern in red silk, and flat lined that to the cotton lining that I had taken apart from plan A. (All of the red silk was pinked, as I knew a lot of edges would be raw.) 
Stage 2: I cut the bottom two-thirds of my usual 1860s bodice pattern in tartan silk, and then created a zig-zag edge by scaling down the triangle I used to cut the zig-zag edge on the tartan overskirt (which I had done first--I used the zags I cut out for the sleeves and shoulder points). I then bound the zig-zag top edge of the tartan bodice pieces with cotton. 
Stage 3: I flat lined the tartan bodice pieces to the cotton bodice pieces over the silk, leaving the zig-zag edge loose.

I pull my basting stitches after assembly, so I like to baste in crazy neon colors. This project got lime green!
Stage 4: I assembled the bodice as usual.
Stage 5: I cut (and pieced where needed) wide bias strips of red silk, which I folded in half to create mock pleats. I pinned these in place on my dress form, then took them off and replaced and stitched down each level 1 at a time so that the edges are all hidden in the overlaps. The final row of pleating mostly ends inside the tartan layer, which hides the ends (and is why I left the zig-zags loose earlier on).

That was the majority of the weird bodice construction. The little points around the armscye and the larger ones on the sleeve are just bag lined with cotton to create finished edges, since you can't see much under the ribbon (well, you can't now. I hadn't gotten sleeve trim on by the ball). The bodice is boned along the back, seams, and darts, and closes in back with hooks and bars.

The one true moment of panic came when I realized that 6 days before the ball I had not begun to attach trim. There are about 15 yards of pleated velvet ribbon on this time I try to finish planning a wedding and sew a new ballgown at the same time, someone hit me upside the head so I can't. But minus the sleeve trim, which went on afterwards, I got it pretty much done!

There are a couple of bodice things I'd like to fix, and I really need a bigger hoop, but really--I'm so happy with this project. Which is good, because that metre of tartan silk I bought to boost my scraps? It was the end of the factory's supply. There's just not much demand for it anymore, which is sad...and also means next time I'd need to have it custom woven, and that is way outside my budget. So this will have to be my one, well-loved tartan dress.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

In which an old dress returns, much improved

My deep love of tartan fashion history began in college, when I spent a year at the University of Edinburgh (purportedly to do science, but in the end there was a lot of dancing, baking, tea, and tartan in there too). While I was there I picked up shifts as a nursery temp, and at the end of the year I was able to use some of my pence on a few metres of dress Stuart, the white-backed Stuart tartan colorway that I had fallen in love with while learning about Queen Victoria's own highland adventures.

Long story short, I wasn't a very good seamstress in college...and sewing in a dorm room didn't improve matters very much. It was a high-pressure project, what with it being a barely-enough-to-make-the-thing amount of very expensive silk. I was happy enough with it at the time, but it's always had issues and was never really a dress I loved the way I had wanted to when I was imagining it in my Edinburgh student flat. (If you're curious, I wore it in 2012 a few times that I blogged about.) So when my dance company started discussing the possibility of a Victoria and Albert 1860s dance weekend, I knew I wanted to re-make the dress into what I had originally hoped it would be.

While there is more trim to add (and some skirt trim to re-apply...a chair bit me at the ball!), I am finally in love with my tartan ballgown. This was the most complex bodice I have ever put together, but I'm really proud of where I've gotten in the last few years.

I am also immensely pleased with the re-make, re-use spirit of this dress. I would say in the end about 75% of the material I used was taken apart from a previous project: the silk tartan was of course my 2012 ballgown, and all of the cotton bits (lining, the top section and waistband of the underskirt) were once a petticoat I made, mis-pleated, and then never wore because it sat in a pile to someday be fixed. I did add 1 metre of new silk tartan (added as a panel to the skirt and also became the new bodice-the old bodice was cut up to make piping) and 2 yards (I think? I don't remember because I bought it several years ago...) of red silk for the underskirt and under-bodice.

To celebrate, here are some photos!

evidence that I do in fact dance in my ballgowns! this is from our performance of the Prince Imperial quadrille.

This ended up getting quite long, so...a whole lot of construction notes are coming up next. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Dress in Motion: Paine's First Set, Figure 5

I reference dancing a lot on this blog, both because I love it and because moving in period patterns in period clothes really changes your understanding of what it means to wear these ensembles. I really enjoy getting to do that! It informs my clothing scholarship and my dance scholarship, as they are so informed by one another.

When I first made my 1817 ball dress, I wrote a post sharing lots of dance history details based on the ball I attended in Scotland. In that post I referenced quadrilles, a style of dance popular in the period (and one that remains popular in various forms throughout the 19th century), and Paine's First Set, a quadrille written by dancing master James Paine. Recently we performed Figure 5 of this quadrille at our Jane Austen Ball, and I wore the 1817 ball dress. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share a little bit of clothing in motion, as it was meant to be worn!

Quadrilles are particularly tricky dances, because they consist of several parts, called figures, that are each set to their own short piece of music. Regency quadrilles are a special kind of endurance test, because you do them with energetic steps, as we do in the video above. Can you see how out of breath I am? And this was only one figure!

The author of Paine's First Set was James Paine, an orchestra leader at Almack's Assembly Rooms from sometime before 1816 through about 1821. As a band leader and dance publisher, he was an influential part of the London social landscape through his quadrilles and musical accompaniment at Almack's and aristocratic parties. In London Society, an Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature vol 4 (published 1863), an article called "Recollections of Almack's by a Chaperon" (sic) recalls the introduction of Paine's quadrilles to the ballroom:

"Quadrilles came —— Paine’s first set, I remember they were called. It was ages before country gentle men could learn them..It was necessary, when the balls at Almack’s began, to go through the whole set, and learn a code of steps consistent with each. And there was a long preparatory training, with great loss of temper, and loss of fiddle-strings on the part of the teacher."

I love the description of quadrilles as "a code of steps"! It does feel like we're speaking in code sometimes, when we shout (or more often, gesture wildly) at each other to recall what is coming next.

If you're interested, the whole piece is available for free on Google Books. The Almack's article begins on page 150.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Twice Sewn, Once Worn; or, A Spangled Regency Ballgown

There is a local fabric store that gets leftover bolts from warehouses of designers, upholsterers, and quilters, and thus sells everything at pretty good prices...but you never know what they'll have. This past winter I popped into their larger location on my way home from sewing with a friend to pick up a bit of fleece, and walked out with materials for a new Regency ballgown. It happens.

The lovely purple silk and embellished gold net burned a hole in my sewing stash for weeks while I worked on other things. I'm trying really hard to finish projects before starting the next thing (because I am notoriously bad at going back to the UFO pile), and I wanted to be good. And then I also had another Regency project on the list, and I waffled about which to do first. With some help from my Instagram followers (thank you for responding to my poll and ending the waffles!), I settled on starting the ballgown...and then realized I had just about a month until the ball.

And that actually seemed like enough time! I had a pattern ready to go from my last foray into Regency sewing in 2017. Cutting took no time at all, because the pieces are tiny compared to my recent projects. I was going to make it, no trouble at all. I fantasized about spending a luxurious few weeks appliqueing bits of embellished net onto the dress by hand on the couch. It was going to be glorious.

a closeup of some of the gold net on the bodice, and an appropriately skeptical face because this did not go as planned!
Except it turns out that Regency is still very much my Achilles heel of historical sewing. The geometry just doesn't naturally make sense in my head, and my body is so not shaped like a Roman column that I can't try anything on without stays, which I can't lace up myself...I just struggle with it. But I love Regency dancing so much! I'll never give the period up, so carry on I shall (although keep calm I did not, I will admit).

Not to mention work has been kind of brutal recently, which didn't help. In the end, that's where the name of this post comes from: I am pretty sure there is not a single part of this dress that I did not have to rip out and start again. (Sometimes twice, when I sewed something, looked at it and thought "oh no! that's wrong/upside down/inside out!", ripped it out and did it again...and then realized it had been right the first time. Sigh.)

But there is a happy ending to this! Not only did the dress get finished (with closures!), but it was a lovely reminder that I really have the best friends in the world.

(not everyone is pictured, but I still love this shot!)
Let's rewind a minute. After making out with a wonderful bounty of fabric, I decided I wanted to applique the net onto the silk as faux embroidery rather than using it as an outer layer of dress. I had a few extant dresses in mind as inspiration:
Creeeo que esto será de 1815-1820 bc no tiene mangas anchas pero ya es más corto, vestido de fiesta
beaded and spangled silk evening dress, Italy

Dress worn to the wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie-Louise, 1810 France, Musée d’Eckmühl
court dress worn to the wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie-Louise, 1810

Gold embroidery on a court dress and train | Kent State University Museum
moire silk and gold evening dress, 1815
And then I found this dress:

Dress worn by Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, 1817 England
evening dress belonging to Princess Charlotte, 1817 (via In Royal Fashion by Kay Staniland)

I loved the jumper-y look of it, and the embroidery layout emphasizing the bottom of the skirt. At the time I only had the one image above to go on, and I decided that it was reasonable to make a sheer underdress and a sleeveless silk overdress rather than sewing sheer sleeves, hem ruffle, and neck ruffle directly to the silk. I thought it would be good to have the cotton bits be easy to wash, and it made sense to me historically to layer that way. While more detail images I've found for this dress lead me to think that's not what's going on here, I still stand by the approach as potentially historical, and it's definitely easier for me given how much I sweat in this dress the first time I wore it!

I started with the same darted bodice pattern I used on my 1817 ball dress, but finished the sleeve straps rather than attaching sleeves and bound the underarms with silk to finish them. For the underdress I traced the outline of my chemise onto sheer cotton left over from my mameluke-sleeved day dress. My initial plan was to put a drawstring at the neck and bust, but with the time I had I ended up only putting in the neck drawstring. You couldn't see the rest anyways, so it was ok!

Then, once both dresses were finished but plain, I started carefully cutting up the embellished net and pinning it in place on the silk overdress. I had initially planned to use the border on the hem and the medallions on the bodice and up the front of the skirt...but I discovered I liked the scale of the border much better for the bodice. So I ended up piecing bits of the floral embroidery to form the neckline and top of the back, and using two of the pointy bits from the border as the main back pieces.

I got it all placed the night before I left for our annual Regency Weekend, and planned to sew it down when I could. And that's where the friends come in...because I was exhausted, and stressed, and shouldn't have been trying to pull sewing all-nighters. But while we gossiped after the ball on Saturday night, a friend worked on pinning the hem while I sewed down all the trim on the bodice. And then on Sunday morning before breakfast, I worked on stitching the hem while another friend sewed closures onto the now-trimmed bodice. And then at tea on Sunday another friend and I both worked on stitching the last bit of hem. So I got to wear the dress to the ball, and I still got to sleep!

stitching the hem at tea (photo courtesy of Bonnie Britz)

sewing is always better with friends! (photo courtesy of Bonnie Britz)

And then of course, another friend took photos of the finished article while I wore it :)

evidence that I did in fact dance!

I'm immensely pleased with the overdress. The beaded and spangled embroidery on the net shimmers in the ballroom, and the weight it adds to the hem feels so satisfying when I dance. I'm already looking forward to wearing it next year with a lot more trim (which I'm enjoying sewing on leisurely this week!), and an improved, ruffled underdress.

I also wore new earrings by Dames a la Mode--I was super excited, because often large period-looking earrings are pretty heavy, and I can't dance in them without the weight hurting my ears. But these were so light I did fine! It definitely helped complete the look to bring the bling all the way to my head.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Completed Project: 1870s Winter Ensemble

I could really use a time turner right now.

As the winter wore on but the ice skating ponds closed, my desire to abandon my Slytherin-inspired 1870s winter ensemble grew stronger. But I was so close, and I knew if I moved on to something else I wouldn't ever finish, or I'd take a shortcut after being so good and doing all the things (it has closures!).

Friday night I finally put in the finishing stitch...just in time for the weather to warm up everything to turn to freezing slush and there to be no good outings planned until next winter. I really wanted to wear the darn thing at least once though, and so The Boy and I took a stroll through our urban neighborhood while he did his best to get some decent photos.

Real photos will follow next winter, but for now: evidence of a completed project I am quite proud of!

The underskirt is unlined and faced with green upholstery velvet (it's quite stiff and I had it in the stash...I have a limited color range it appears). Most importantly, it has a pocket! The overskirt is partially lined with the same silk I used inside the bodice to keep it from sticking to the other layers. The bodice, which I previously showed in progress, now has closures and a collar in addition to sleeves (which I drafted using the TV402 pattern as a guide--I decided I didn't want giant trumpet sleeves for this particular outfit).

the inside of the overskirt: the front apron is entirely lined in silk, the back is only lined on the sides.
Both the overskirt and bodice are trimmed with faux fur. I had a really hard time finding fur I liked for this project, which ended up eating a week and half in February. I wanted gray, and something that looked and felt like real fur (rather than soft, baby blanket "fur" that doesn't look remotely like a natural thing). Getting that combination turned out to be really tricky, as most furs that had the right feel were brown or black, and pretty much everything I found in gray wasn't what I was looking for.

the three faux furs I ended up with while trying to find the right stuff: my final choice (left), my first online order which reminds me of c.1990s shag rugs (center), and my second online order-which I like in this photo but think looks super fake in person (right).

I tried ordering online, which went terribly as you might expect. In the end I took an early-morning trip to a store near my office and spent a long time waffling in the fur aisle. I ended up with a dense, long-piled option that is white with gray tips. I worried it read as too white, but I liked it so much better than any of the "gray" furs I found that I decided I would rather be fluffy...and in the end I think the mix of colors looks more natural than anything solidly gray anyways. I do want to give a shoutout to the McCall's blog, which had some really handy tips for working with faux fur without causing it to shed everywhere or clog my machine. That was really helpful!

a bit of cut fur from the side, so you can see how ridiculously fluffy it is
In the end it fits well, it is entirely finished, and it was a lot of fun to wear (even if this time that wearing was just a hike through the very modern urban jungle). Now I can say goodbye for the season, knowing that whenever I have the opportunity to bustle it up next year I can pull this out and throw it on, no assembly required.

That might not really be magic, but it feels like it to me!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Witch Winter

Last May when I was preparing for an adventure in Bath, I started exploring the early 1870s in depth to inspire an early bustle gown to wear to the ball. While researching I started to notice a particular color trend--especially in winter ensembles--that spoke to me.

Oh Victoriana on Instagram: “La Mode Illustree - 1871... #1870s #victorian #victorianfashion #antique #art #antiquefashion #fashion #design #artist #beautiful…”
La Mode Illustree, 1871 (via)
La Gazette Rose 1873
La Gazette Rose, 1873 (via)
1874 winter skating outfits, Ice Skating, Fashion plate
Illustrirte Frauen-Zeitung, 1874 (via)
La Toilette de Paris 1870
La Toilette de Paris, 1870 (via)
The green and gray are an elegant combination on their own, but that particular pairing has a special place in my heart as my house colors. And after seeing Emma's amazing Hufflebustle, I knew a Slytherin ensemble needed to happen. 

Image result for slytherin pride
I tried desperately to make this combination work for the Bath ball, but it turns out velvet and fur don't really work for May.

I ended up leaning into Tissot, which did speak to me for May, and for dancing, and put my house dreams on hold. But then in November I saw The Cursed Child (the Potter series sequel, written as two plays, which is currently open in New York City, London, and coming soon to several other cities), and it was back to Slytherinspiration for me!

with my house crest outside the theater

So I've thrown practicality to the wind and am putting my 1870s underpinnings to use again with a velvet and fur winter ensemble--short enough for skating, but dressy enough for future (less sporty) outings. And the timing couldn't have been better, because I've been in a rather witchy mood...and I don't mean that as a euphemism! Between Cursed Child and my other media consumption (I'm currently blazing through the second book in the All Souls Trilogy, and my sewing background show is Siempre Bruja/Always a Witch (English dub)) this winter, I'm having serious witch vibes.

I am immensely pleased with my progress on this so far, and I'm excited to share the finished version soon! In the meantime, I'll leave you with the insides...because really,  it doesn't get witchier than this.

bodice construction: you can see the gray argyll flannel lining on the pinned piece
pinning the facings: the neck and front opening are faced in textured acid green silk. I extended the bottom edge facing into a bag lining (over the cotton flannel that is flat lined with the velvet) to the waist. The flannel and velvet love to stick to each other, so the silk lets the long points of the bodice move over the skirts smoothly.

Pinning the bottom bag lining: an unintentional consequence of this approach is that the back pleats have serious body from the silk!
And with that I suppose I should get back to work so I can wear this before all the snow melts!

Monday, January 28, 2019

"Mystery Blogger" Award

In June of last year Quinn of The Quinntessential Clothes Pen nominated me for the Mystery Blogger award. It is always fun to see these kinds of awards go around, because it is a nice opportunity to get to now other people in the community a little bit. And so I was honored to be chosen! 

The Mystery Blogger Award is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.”
Created by: Okoto Enigma

The reason blog awards are such a nice way to get to know each other is because they typically have rules that involve answering questions. The ‘Mystery Blogger’ award rules are:
  • Thank whoever nominated you and include a link to their blog
  • Tell your readers three things about yourself
  • Answer the questions from the person who nominated you
  • Nominate 10-20 bloggers you feel deserve the award
  • Ask your nominees 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny one
  • Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog

So now, in an effort to catch up a bit on posting, I am finally answering Quinn's questions! 

First some facts:
1. I find making crepes to be weirdly calming, and so I used to make them all the time as a way to cope with stress. I have probably flipped thousands of crepes at this point--while I no longer use them as a stress relief mechanism, I do still make them from time to time! They are my go-to Sunday breakfast food, 2am post-ball food, and I'm-out-of-groceries food.

2. I have a cat named Xena, who is the most unhelpful sewing helper in the world. If I can finish a project without getting claw punctures in it then I call that a doesn't happen often. 

3. I like to have background noise when I sew, and that is usually television or movies I don't mind only half paying attention to. This means that (a) I watch a lot of TV when I'm in the middle of a sewing project, and (b) I tend to measure the length of time a project took me to complete in media consumed. It can end up being a weird seasonal measure--for example, I started my current project in early December, so to date I have watched 2.5 bad Netflix Christmas movies and 2 episodes of Worst Cooks in America while sewing. (And in case you are curious, those 3 movies were: The Christmas Candle (this was the half), The Christmas Prince 2, and A Holiday Engagement.)

And now for Quinn's questions:

If you had a time machine, where would you take it to first and why?
Concord MA, 1863! I have spent so much time researching the residents of that particular town throughout the 1840s-80s that I would really love to experience it. And 1863 happens to be a year from which there are a lot of remaining letters (which I have transcribed!). So it would be particularly interesting to visit then. 

What do you do to combat the blues on a rainy day?
Drink tea, wear a tiara, and do something fun. Sometimes that's reading a book, or sewing, or watching a movie, or baking. But the tea and tiara are important. Another thing I like to do is plan trips. Not trips I will necessarily take any time soon, but someday trips...sometimes it's nice to fantasize about taking adventures from the comfort of the couch in my pajamas.

Where would you like to travel next? Near or far…
Well, my next actually-scheduled trip is to Disney World. Disney is a particularly fun trip to "armchair plan" because there's just so much data on the internet to research! But no limits? Southeast Asia. There's a boat trip I would love to take that goes from Hong Kong to Singapore, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan (not in that order). Someday...

What is your favorite sewing tool?
I thought about this a lot, actually, and I think I have surprised myself by this answer. I think I am going to go with a seam ripper? I hate using a seam ripper because it means I'm tearing something out. grr! But the fact that I have a nice seam ripper and I use it regularly is empowering too, because I think it represents how far I've come as a costumer. I actually bother to rip things out and fix them now! And also it doesn't destroy my confidence when I have to do it the way it used to.
But a less fraught answer would be my spring-loaded scissors. THEY ARE AMAAAAZZZIIIING.

What name would you give to a combination of a zucchini and an asparagus?

A zasparini of course!

Finally, here are the blogs I would like to nominate. Thank you for sharing your stories on the internet, and inspiring me!

My questions for you are:
  • If you could travel in time OR space but not both, which would you choose and why?
  • What is your favorite period of clothing to wear?
  • Do you have a color you tend to gravitate towards? If so, what is it?
  • What is your favorite sewing technique or task?
  • If you could meet any magical creature in the real world, what would it be?

Happy sewing, all!