Reclaiming a Hat Icon: How to Turn a Trilby into a Victorian Lady’s Hat Tutorial

This post is a bit of a weird ride– from Charles Dickens to Trolls to Britney Spears. But you could get a great hat out of the deal!

I should have written this post almost a year ago when I went to Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise back in December of 2018, but I really fell off the blogging wagon and didn’t. So, finally, here’s a blog post about my costumes for Dickens on the Strand 2018– beginning with my thifty hat makeover:

While it’s not the most flattering hat on everyone, the trilby (commonly misidentified as a fedora) comes in a vast array of materials and sizes. In fact, after ballcaps, beanies, and cowboy hats (here in Texas at least), the trilby is the most readily available male hats. You can even buy them at Walmart for less than $10.

via Quora

I have a massive love of hats! I have at least 30 of them, some of them vintage, some new, and many modded for costuming. Some of them are also my husband’s hats, like his tricorn, cowboy hat, and numerous old fedoras/trilbies. However, both fedoras and trilbies have gotten a sour reputation recently because of their association with internet trolls and creepy pick-up “artists.” Due to these bad stereotypes, my husband hasn’t been wearing his old trilbies as much anymore, so they were just gathering dust in my closet.

But did you know that fedoras actually started as a popular unisex, feminist fashion in the 1880s and trilbies are perfect for transforming into Victorian lady’s hats? Yes, indeed! So when I needed a last minute hat to go with my flannel 1880s bustle dress, I decided to take the trilby back from the trolls and give one of those old hats a new life.

During the 1870s, bonnets began to be replaced by hats as the fashionable form of daytime headgear for ladies. The ancestor of the modern fedora was actually created in the 1880s as a hat worn by all-around badass Sarah Bernhardt, who wore the first fedora during a play called, well, Fedora!

I couldn’t find a photo of Sarah Bernhardt in her original Fedora, but here she is in a different cool hat. You can see how you could easily make a similar hat by modifying a modern fedora.

In 1894, The Trilby hat was invented and also got its name from the hat style worn in the theatrical production, but the trilby was worn by a male actor and has thus been a man’s hat from the start. However, the shape shows up in women’s hats of the previous decade, making all our currently-much-maligned trilbies the perfect base for last-minute-panic Victorian bustle hats!

Natural Form Era hats. The Vintage Dancer has an excellent article on 19th century ladies’ hats! Click the fashion plate above to visit.

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

I took trimming inspiration for my last-minute trilby transformation from 1880s hats like the lady’s on the left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any in-progess pics of my Dickens on the Strand hat because– in my usual fashion– I made it literally the night before Megan and I left for Galveston! However, I did absolutely nothing to the base hat, just trimmed it (haphazardly).

I used 1 roll of cream-colored ribbon from Walmart, a netting remnant, and pinned an antique silver dime brooch to the front.

Now, there is a secret to every successful hat…and I’m going to spill the beans just for you.

As I have stated before, this is just a plain old man’s store-bought trilby. Even under all the trimmings, it’s still very visibly a modern trilby…probably because it’s a good two sizes too big! It’s my husband’s, so it’s an XL hat made to fit a 6′ 2″ dude. If I just plop it down on my head, it’s so huge it engulfs half my noggin!

Yet, most modern hats– even ones sized correctly for your head– sit far too low on the face. If you’ve ever gotten photos back from an event only to discover your face is all shadowed over and hidden by your hat, it’s because modern hats have very wide, deep crowns to sit far enough down on your head to keep them in place at the expense of your forehead.

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

Historical women’s hats, however, were designed to perch on top of elaborate hairstyles, particularly buns. Often, they hardly touched you head at all, sitting entirely atop a nest of fluffy hair instead.

 

And instead of relying on a deep crown to stay in place, women used hat pins.

Call the Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

Even if a hat had a deep crown, it often had an interior fabric “cap” or drawstring ring that kept the crown from swallowing your head.

Some well-designed modern hats still use this feature. This is the inside of my favorite modern “church lady” hat that I wear for Edwardian costumes. You can see the drawstring ring inside that adjusts to fit your head so the enormously tall crown doesn’t eat your face.

Any of these things can be done to modify a modern hat to fit in a historical manner. In the case of my trilby-turned-Victorian hat, I didn’t have time to put in a fitting ring, but I did have plenty of hair to stuff into it. This kept it aloft.

In fact, the true secret to historical hat success isn’t just the hat itself: it’s the hair under it!

Properly styled hair– even if it’s the most simplistic version of a period style– instantly takes you from hat rookie to hat champion!

To demonstrate this better, here is a series of hasty, terrible bathroom selfies I took.

Let’s start with a modern trilby I have that actual fits me correctly:

If you want to use a trilby to make a Victorian hat, I recommend starting with one that actually fits, or one slightly too small.

As you can see, it fits much better than my big brown one! But with the deep hat crown and modern hairstyle, the farthest back in time this hat takes me is high school in the early 2000s. No thanks!

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

This is my go-to basic hairstyle. It’s my collarbone length hair pulled up in a simple bun and then my beloved “curl loaf” slapped on the front. Nothing fancy.

This style is perfect for the 1880s and 1890s, but it can carry you from the late 1870s to the 1910s if you really need to. Plus, it works especially well with hats! The bun gives you something to perch your hat on so it stays off your face, and it give you something to safely stab hat pins into to keep everything in place. The curls up front also help lift the crown of the hat away from your face and, if you’ve got strong features or a large face like me, the curls peek out from under the hat a bit to soften your face. Plus, the hairstyle looks good on its own, in case you have to remove your hat.

Now that you’ve got your hair in place, you can play with how you wear your hat! To instantly take a trilby from modern to old-fashioned, wear it on the back of your head for a more bonnet-like appearance:

A fashion plate from the late 1870s showing bonnet-like hats worn on the back of the head to take trimming inspiration from.

You can also wear the trilby backwards so that the curled part of the brim is at the top of your head to help disguise the modernness even more. Covered in trimmings like puffy bows and feathers or covered in fabric to match your dress will further transform it!

Covered in lace and fabric, a modern trilby could be used as a base for these 1870s bonnets! Notice how these bonnets/hats are sitting way up high on a giant mound of hair, as was fashionable in the 1870s. The hats aren’t even touching their faces or necks. Worried you don’t have enough hair? Don’t worry! Most Victorians used plenty of hairpieces to make such fab hairstyles.

Another way to wear it is perched up on your hair completely, tilted forward a tad. Rather than disguising the shape of the trilby, this angle shows off the full shape and works well for the more tailored looks of the 1880s:

Of course, wearing it this way also puts your hair on display more, so make sure the back is nice and neat (unlike mine, ha!).

So many trim options! From the 1870s to the 1880s.

No matter how you choose to wear it, however, you will want to trim it. Depending on your trilby’s material. you might be able to get away with a few ribbons or spray of flowers, but the Victorians loved trims and, as you can see in the fashion plate examples, the base hat is often buried under a mound of bows, lace, feathers, flowers, and other crazy-fun whatnots! So get creative and go wild with the trims!

For my 1880s dress, I wore my/my husband’s giant trilby perched on top of my head. It was so huge it still kind of ate my head, but it worked perfectly for a last-minute hat with not a lick of hat blocking required! Plus, it was inexpensive. Since I recycled an old hat, I only had to spend money on the ribbon, which was, like $3. I guess if you wanted to count it, the $10 brooch was the biggest expense, though I had that on-hand, too, or it could easily have been replaced with a big button. Is this method perfectly HA and the pinnacle of design? Ha, no! But all-in-all, it worked just as I needed it to!

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)

The Procrastinator’s Purse: A Free Printable Reticule Pattern

So I am the queen of procrastination and when I made my Renaissance Fair dress last month, I realized the night before that I had nowhere to put my “modern necessities,” i.e. my cellphone, chapstick, safetypins, and the like.

Drawstring purses are pretty easy to make and there are tons of variations ranging from a simple square folded over to more complex bags with flat bottoms, and fancy linings. I have made simple drawstring purses mere minutes before I had to be out the door, but this time I had a few hours. Plenty of time for a slightly gussied-up version! All I knew is that I wanted something shield-shaped that could fit my book-shaped cellphone case and other sundries. This is the final result, which I’ve dubbed THE PROCRASTINATOR’S PURSE:

I was originally going to do an exhaustive walk-through of how to draft your own pattern for one from a piece of US Letter (A4) paper…

…but then I decided to save y’all the trouble and just make a PDF version you can download and print from home!

The Procrastinator’s Purse Pattern PDF

To maximize the size, it does go all the way to the edges of the paper, so your printer at home may cut off the top and bottom a bit. Just draw it back in. I am no professional pattern or instruction drafter myself, so don’t worry about getting it just right. This is the Procrastinator’s Purse, not the Perfectionist’s Purse!

I put two shapes on the pattern for you to choose from: a sharp triangle bottom (solid line) and the curved shield-shaped bottom (dotted line). Seam allowance is already accounted for. This pattern can be sewn with a 1/2″ or regular 5/8″ seam allowance. It’s just up to your personal preference and how much room you want.

The first time I made this purse, it took two and a half hours because I was just making it up as I went along and I added trim. Now that I know what I’m doing, the plain striped version I whipped up for this post took only an hour to make!

Step 1: Cut 2 of your fashion fabric and 2 of your lining fabric. The lining will show, so keep that in mind when picking out your fabrics!

I picked two scraps for this demonstration: striped faux-silk from the Regency waistcoat I made for my friend Wix and swiss dot cotton from my Butterick 6093 project.

If you want to add any trim across the front of your purse–like I did for the yellow and black version of this bag–sew it to the right side of your fashion fabric first before proceeding with the next steps.

Step 2: Pair each fashion fabric piece with a lining piece. Put the right sides together. Use a pin to mark where the top line of the drawstring stitching goes on each side.

Step 3: With right sides together, sew each fabric/lining pair around the squared top edge starting above the pins marking your drawstring. I recommend backstitching at the beginning and end of your stitch line for strength.

Clip the corners before turning the pieces right-side-out. Iron the pieces flat, turning under the seam allowances about 2 inches down the sides. This will make sewing the drawstring channel easier. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of this step, but if you scroll down to the picture in step 5, you can see the leftover fold marks.

Step 4: Sew the drawstring channel. The channel I put in the pattern is 1/2 inch wide. This is top-stitched, so your stitching will show on the outside of the bag. Pick a color of thread that blends into your bag (at least for the most part).

Step 5: Once you’ve got both drawstring channel stitch lines done, make small snips in the seam allowances so you can iron it flat. Do this to the seam allowances on both the fashion fabric and lining.

Once you’ve snipped the seam allowances and ironed the two halves of the purse flat, put the two halves together with the fashion fabric sides together.

Step 6: Stitch the two purse halves together starting below the bottom of the drawstring channel. Backstitch at the start and end of your stitch line for extra strength. Be careful not to sew the ends of your drawstring channel shut!

This purse is not bag-lined, so it will have “raw-ish” edges on the inside (remember: this is the Procrastinator’s Bag, not the Perfectionist’s Bag!). To minimize fraying and add strength to the seam, I zig-zag stitched close to my original stitch line and trimmed away the excess fabric for a neater finish (especially if your fabric wants to fray like my faux-silk did).

Turn your Procrastinator’s Purse right-side out and iron.

Step 7: Cut two long pieces of ribbon and thread them through the drawstring channels on each side of the bag.

28 inches is a good length for your ribbon, though if you like longer, more luxurious tails, you can cut yours 32 inches long. You will loose about 2 inches of length trimming the ends later, so keep that in mind.

For this demonstration purse, I used 1.5 inch wide poly satin ribbon from Walmart, which is about the widest you can fit into a 1/2 inch boning channel. For my first yellow purse, I used 3/4 inch wide ribbon elastic (the type used to make headbands and hair ties). I like the elastic  because it holds the “scrunch” at the top of the bag better than the smooth ribbon, but it does make your bag bob around when you walk and it will stretch the more stuff you carry.

To get the ribbon through the channel, I folded it over a few times and put a safety pin through as a makeshift bodkin.

The following steps are optional ones I did to achieve the look I wanted. You can do all sorts of things to personalize your Procrastinator’s Purse depending on how much you procrastinated. Have a few hours left? Add some beading. Have a few minutes left? Just tie your ribbons together and get in the car, girl!

Since I had an hour left, here’s what I did to my purse:

Trim the edges of the ribbon diagonally. This removes the pinhole left by the safety pin and will help keep the ends from fraying. To weigh them down, especially if you used a lightweight synthetic ribbon like my Walmart poly one, tie a simple knot an inch or two back from the end. You could even add beads (like the large-holed ones used for add-a-bead jewelry) if you wanted to gussy it up for evening-wear!

Tie the ends of the other ribbon together to form a carrying loop.

This purse is very deep, which is great if you have a large phone or plan to really stuff it full of souvenirs. However, all that stuff puffs out the point, distorting the nice shape and leading to a lot of inelegant and frustrating digging around for tiny things at the bottom of the purse.

To alleviate both these problems, I squared off the bottom with a line of stitching 1.5 inches up from the point. I marked a optional stitching line for it on the PDF pattern. This stitch line can be moved father down, too, if you want a squared bottom, but your phone/fan/etc. needs a bit more room.

The joy of horizontal fabric stripes: my fabric happened to have a handy-dandy line right where I needed it!

And for a last bit of pizzazz, I added a dangle to the point of the purse. For both purses, I used an Indian wedding earring from a pair that I found at a flea market.

AND IT’S DONE!

This purse is big enough that everything in the above picture– cellphone+case, chapstick, 40″ strand of glass pearls, vintage cigarette-turned-business-card case, safety pins, hairpins, and fan– fits inside:

Shazam! Magical disappearing act!

Huzzah! Now I have one version that matches my Renaissance dress and another that will work with my Regency and Edwardian dresses!

It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty, practical project for the ambitious Procrastinator!

If you make your own Procrastinator’s Purse (or any drawstring purse), pop over to my Facebook Page and send me a picture so I can see it!

Fluffy Sleeves and Fleurs de Lis: Simplicity 5294 at Scarborough Renaissance Fair 2019

I wasn’t feeling too keen on celebrating my birthday this year, but my sister decided to pay me a visit! She’d never been to a Renaissance Fair and Scarborough Fair in Waxahachi, Texas is only an hour and a half from where I live. So to Fair we decided to go!

Last year I wore my Game of Thrones inspired dress:

However, we would be going the last day of the final season and it just seemed odd to be wearing it out and about when most Thrones fans would be at home celebrating/mourning the end of an era. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like getting caught up in a discussion about the show…I just wanted to wander and enjoy hanging out with my sis and my husband. Plus, it’s a cool dress looks-wise, but it’s not a cool dress temp-wise!

I owe my life to that hand fan!
This was taken before I added the neckline trim and got the belt I originally wanted.

After tackling one of my childhood dream-dress patterns, Simplicity 4244, a few years ago, I had gotten all nostalgic for the other patterns that had set my heart aflutter waaaaaaaaay back when.

Many of them happen to be Andrea Schewe’s Renaissance patterns from the late 1990s and early 2000s:

I remember coveting all the patterns in this catalog. My sister and I played the “Wishbook” game with it: “That one’s mine!” “Well, this one’s mine, then!”

The star of the Renaissance collection was the “Ever After Dress,” which, for those of you that have been missing out on a slice of fairytale wonderland, is based on the dresses from the movie “Ever After:”

The original trailer in all it’s 1990s cinematic glory! This was my favorite movie to watch at my Nana’s house when I was a kid.

The costumes in the movie aren’t Historically Accurate, but they are based on late 15th and early 16th century dresses, mostly Italian despite being set in France, but once again, they were aiming for Historical, not Historical™, so don’t stress over it too much. Frock Flicks has a nice overview of the film costumes if you’re curious.

Portrait d'Isabelle d'Aragon (Isabella of Naples raphael

“Thou art welcome to direct your gaze hither, Sire.”
Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, wife of Gian Galeazzo, by Raphael, 1480-90

1486-90 'Portia_and_Brutus',_painting_on_panel_by_Ercole_de’_Roberti

“Verily, sir, I am here for naught but the food.”
Portia and Brutus, circa 1486-90

The movie had fantastic costumes–most famously the “Just Breathe” masquerade dress (and my favorite, Rodmilla’s green gown):

Simplicity, already high on the peak of the Renaissance Fair pattern boom, leapt at the opportunity. Andrea Schewe was commissioned to recreate the look for a pattern which soon became one of the most famous costume patterns from the Big 3:

Oh, how I pined for this perfect princess dress!

The Simplicity Ever After dress pattern was really popular for wedding and fair gowns through the early 2000s and it turns out this pattern has not one, not two, but SIX versions that have been printed over the years…each with a totally different pattern number! The design itself, however, remained unchanged.

In the Misses’ sizes, the first release was Simplicity 0657 then 8735. It sold so well that Simplicity asked Andrea Schewe to sew new samples for the re-release’s envelope front, Simplicity 3812:

The re-release cover. I like Views B and C much more here. I never cared for either in the original samples, but in the new fabrics, the details really show up and I love the gold version of View B especially!

These patterns only went up to the largest standard Misses’ size, either 18 or 20 depending on the release. But this pattern was so immensely popular that Simplicity did something so rare and wonderful that it’s basically a unicorn and I think it deserves a sparkle effect: EXTENDED SIZED PATTERNS UP TO SIZE 32W!

This is an accurate pictorial representation of my brain when I discovered 9228 and 5294 on eBay.
(Made with Gify)

Besides the regular Misses’ sized patterns, Simplicity released 9228 and later 5294, both of which were available in sizes 18W to 32W. That’s up to a 54″ bust measurement! One of the constant troubles with costume patterns from the Big 3 is that they do not offer larger sizes. I was so excited to find not only did this pattern get offered in larger sizes, the samples they made were styled to look like the Misses’ size envelope as well (so often “Plus Sized” versions of things are styled completely different from the regular sized things instead of adapting the design to be proportional to the increased size while maintaining the original look).

Sadly, all these patterns are Out of Print, so the envelops are only available second hand. However, Simplicity has recently added the Misses/Regular size version to their Print-On-Demand service as EA381201…but not in the extended sizes.

So, if you want one of the extended sizing patterns, you must scour the ‘net if you weren’t lucky enough to pick up a copy when it originally was in stores. Because they’re out of print, they can be kind of spendy, but I found a copy of 5294 in the 18W to 24W range for a reasonable price. I immediately snapped it up! It was worth the investment 100 fold!

This is the back so you can see the glorious measurement chart! Also the yardage….holy cow, the yardage! The few older online reviews I found mention this dress is a fabric and trim hog and they were all 110% correct! The dress is worth it, though, IMHO.

Pattern in hand, I set out trying to find a suitable fabric.

Now when I say suitable, I’m not talking suitable for a Screen Accurate Reproduction® or Historically Accurate dress. While lovely, I didn’t want to make it out of taffeta or velvet. When I say suitable, I mean suitable to survive the blazing Texas heat! Bonus points if I could also combat the heinous humidity that’s been plaguing us during an abnormally wet spring.

Linen would have been the HA-ish solution. While not exactly court gown material, it’s wicking and the most breezy of all the fabrics which is why it has been favored in hot climes for centuries. But, I had neither the cash to buy the stuff nor the patience to deal with its tendency to wrinkle more than a raisin at the slightest provocation.

After squishing my skirts into a hot, humid car for an hour and a half (which would set the wrinkles like a nice, steamy iron), I would certainly emerge looking not unlike these grapes or a crumpled paper ball…

Instead, I decided to make the dress out of cotton because it’s breathable, but also cheap, comes in a wider variety of prints, and wrinkles waaaaaaaay less. I wanted to find a brocade or embroidery-esque print to mimic the wild silk fabrics I saw in paintings. I was especially keen to find a nice mustard yellow. Yellow’s not “my color” (being a pale dishwater blond), but I love it! And the patterns I found were just fabulous!

Visitation (Detail, from Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1485-90

Portrait Of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1488

Found another History Sister and she’s wearing a bangin’ brocade! I decided to copy her look a bit, minus the spaniel-ears. I save that look for my early 19th century dresses.
Ritratto di Gentildonna (Portrait of a Gentlewoman) by Leonardo Boldrini, circa 1490s

However, most of the colors we associate with the Renaissance period are rich jewel tones like wine and navy. I found tons of beautifully patterned fabrics, but only in darker colors like emerald or black. I had just about caved to a black and gold design until science gently placed its practical hands on my shoulders and shook me back to sanity: I needed something light colored and less likely to absorb heat and cook me alive.

Then, I found this nifty fabric online:

It doesn’t show well in photos, but the dots and outlines are metallic gold.

Minka giving my new fabric the Cat Butt Blessing.

And it reminded me a bit of Eleanora di Toledo mixed with medieval heraldry:

16th century…a bit late for my dress’s style.

Early 15th century, a bit too soon for my dress’s style.
(PS, I found this image on a great Hungarian blog about hennin)

Mash ’em together, average ’em out, and you get roughly the correct era for my dress (1490s), right? Right?!

Cheap it wasn’t after shipping, but not any worse than a quilting cotton from a certain chain fabric store beginning with J–about $7 a yard. It’s a great cotton, though, lighter than a standard quilting cotton, but thick enough not to be sheer.

The envelope recommended 5 1/4 to 5 3/8 yards of 52″ wide fabric. I had 6 yards of 45″ wide fabric…with a one-way design…

It was a very, VERY tight fit.

I had to reduce the skirt width a bit to get the enormous gored skirt pieces to fit on the fabric. I thought about ignoring the gores and just using the full rectangle yardage, but I didn’t know how that would work with the pattern’s peaked front. In the end, I made it work. THANK HEAVENS. The slight reduction didn’t seem to affect the drape of the dress too much.

If you want to make this dress out of 45″ fabric, you will have to reduce the width of the skirt pattern or piece your fabric because the pattern pieces are wider than 45”.

This dress in general takes a lot of fabric and trim. Each skirt is 4+ yards and the huge sleeves are over a yard each on their own:

Giving my 1890s sleeves a run for their money in the poof department!
Shoutout to Mistress of Disguise for graciously offering her help selecting a complimentary fabric. I thought about using the cream organdy sari for the underskirt as well as the sleeves, but after cutting the sleeves out, I didn’t have enough left. Fortunately, the original mustard color doesn’t look too bad on me despite my pastiness.

I was so proud of myself: I got the dress to a wearable state well over two days in advance of the event! So much better than my usual method of “Wait until the day-before to do everything and let the panic inspire you!

Yes, those are my DnD Barbie dolls in the background. Yes, I have weirder nerd hobbies than rage-sewing Historical costumes. Yes, I do own a vacuum and wastebaskets, I swear!

At that point, it was mostly untrimmed. Kinda boring. The basic dress shape of this pattern is nice, but it is really the trimmings that elevate it from nice to WOWZA. Trimming took quite a bit of time getting everything placed just so– almost two days. Altogether, it took a week of four-hour sewing sessions to get the dress to its current state. I admit I was still sewing when my sister got here, but I got it done enough for Sunday’s Scarborough trip!

Still need to make the tie-on sleeves at some point.

The previous day was rainy and we were sure the ground would be soaked and sloppy, especially the parking area which is just an open field. I wore my not-so-pretty boots in anticipation but to our amazement, the sun had dried out most of the muck. The sunshine also meant that my choice of a light-colored cotton fabric paid off! I was warm, but not uncomfortably so. It was the perfect blending of science and fairytale with a Happy Ever After ending!

To keep cool, I took a fan and, most helpful of all, picked up an $8 paper umbrella from Hobby Lobby’s party section. 100% would recommend! Between the parasol and marinating myself in sunscreen, I didn’t even get sunburned!
To hide my modern necessities, I got a cheap little faux-leather book case for my phone and made a simple drawstring purse from scraps. A few other little accessories like my favorite braided gold necklace, antique brooch, and a decorative bun-roll (made last minute by wrapping trim scraps over one of those tubular mesh hair rollers) rounded everything out:

My sister wore the teal version of Amazon’s “Renaissance Dress” which is a good option for anyone looking for a fast, inexpensive costume that’s easy to wear, plus it’s flattering on a variety of body types. It has ties in front and back for an adjustable fit and comes in a huge selection of colors. It costs about $50. She was quite pleased with the quality. I made her a flower crown to go with it as a belated birthday gift.

Flower crowns are beautiful, easy to make, and fun to wear. You just need some flowers of your choice, a hot glue gun, and a wide fabric-covered headband!

Chris even got in the festival spirit of his own accord! He wore his punk-rock kilt, grabbed a cap and belt, and even joined the dulcimer lady for an impromptu public duet!

We took in the hilarious shows, the magical musicians, ate overpriced-but-tasty food, and cheered for the jousters (I’m kicking myself a bit for not getting a picture with the slightly villainous knight Sir Joseph, whose colors I happened to serendipitous be wearing). The fair was fab and there were lots of fairies and tieflings and elves running around for Fantasy weekend.

Great sewing pattern, great fun, great family–it was a good way to spend a belated birthday!

For a more technical (ish) review of Simplcity 5294, click here to read my write-up about it on PatternReview.com

My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

So besides not keeping up with my blog, I have not been keeping up properly with my projects! Oops!

Even Brittany’s like “Really? You did it again? Dang, girl! Get it together!”

Many many moons ago (2015), I offered to make my sister a dress from Butterick 5832.

Butterick 5832 is based on dress style from about 1838-1841. It has the rounded waistline of the 1830s paired with the pleated-down sleeves of the early 1840s. It is based on a gown in the British Nation Trust Museum, which, unfortunately, doesn’t have a good large picture of the gown available anymore…only this small image of it:

Printed Dress, circa 1835-40 (National Trust Collections)

Here are some other examples of dresses from the same period:

Print Dress, circa 1840 (John Bright Collection)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (Les Arts Décoratifs, via Tumblr, unfortunately)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (National Gallery of Victoria)

Dresses were worn off the shoulder or nearly-off-the-shoulder with wide “portrait/boat” necklines decorated with fan pleats. The 1830s are famous for enormous balloon sleeves, but during the last half of the 1830s, sleeves began to deflate and by 1840, puffs had been replaced by fancy pleated and ruched sleeves like Butterick 5832’s.

Fashion plate, circa 1841 (Iowa State University Library via Tumblr)

This fashion plate shows the transition styles perfectly and is a good representation of how fashion doesn’t have “hard-stops” in style. A mix of old and new could be found together. For example, the lady on the left still has the puffy sleeves of the late 1830s, the lady in the middle has the extreme version pleated/ruffled/ruched sleeves that were currently in vogue, and the lady on the right has a more plain, modest version of the ruched sleeve.

My sister didn’t want busy, puffy, or ruffled sleeves at all because she felt her shoulders already looked plenty wide, so I used the sleeve lining pattern pieces to make plain sleeves. Instead, she decided to add pizzazz to her dress with exciting fabric. She picked this bright floral cotton from Walmart.

Bright cotton prints were super popular in the 1830s and 1840s. The fabric isn’t exactly HA, but still perfectly lovely, especially with the slight 18th century vibes which were super popular in the 1840s (many rococo era gowns were taken apart and refashioned during this period).

I made the bodice in 2015 while my sister was in grad school in Colorado and I was in Texas, so we almost never got to see each other. I was incredibly nervous about getting things fitted properly. I got to try the bodice on her once, and the nice, flattering fit surprised me since she has exceptional shoulders (19″ wide) and the bodice needed no alterations at all to fit there (so if you are making this pattern and you have smaller shoulders, you may have to adjust the pattern considerably to fit you. Most women have 15″ shoulders, which means that pattern is probably really loose there for many folks). In fact, the basic bodice pattern’s fit is very flattering and nice all around.

However, she went back to school and I went back to Texas, so the unfinished bodice and excess fabric got tossed in the UFO bin.

I finally picked it up again the day after Thanksgiving this year. My sister was visiting and I was curious if the dress would still work for her. The bodice was complete except for closures, so all I had to do was add a skirt to it. The skirt is gathered really tightly which added some bulk to the waistline, making me even more apprehensive about the fit. However, it looked pretty good on the dummy… 

My sister is almost 6 feet tall, though, so when I made the skirt, I had to lengthen it considerably. My dummy is set for my 5′ 6″ self, so the skirt is puddling on the floor in this picture.

Turns out that I freaked out over the fit for nothing. I made the bodice straight from the size 14 pattern pieces in 2015 and even with the bulky skirt gathering, it still fit my sister perfectly 3 years later! I am so jealous! Usually it takes 5 or 6 mockups just to get my fit right, but with my sister? It fit right out of the envelope! No fair!

Ta-da! Pardon the wild hair and bad phone photos. She stopped by my house to pick up the dress and we had just enough time to put it on her and snap a few pictures before she had to be on her way. She was such a good sport and wore it outside in public so I could get some pics of her in it! While snapping photos, we noticed how well the print blended in with the fall foliage– hence the “camo” dress title!

Feeling inspired by success, I even whipped up a 1-hour bonnet for her using one of those modern half-brimmed sun hats, some scrap fabric, and spare floral sprays I had around (oh, and 3 sticks of hot glue, lol!).

A matching bonnet makes every outfit feel more complete (plus it’s great for hiding modern hairdos!

FINALLY– after over 3 years!– she was able to take the completed dress home with her!

It was a great way to wrap up Thanksgiving and a great surprise success to a project that was long overdue. Plus, now she HAS to go to events with me since she no longer has the “I have nothing to wear!” excuse anymore! *wink! wink! nudge nudge!*

 

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Hairstyling is not my strong point, but over the years, I have slowly figured out a few tricks to make historical hairstyles work for me. When I made my Game of Thrones dress, I knew I would need a hairstyle to go with it. McCalls 6940 is based on Kings Landing fashions from the earlier seasons of the show. The hairstyles varied depending on the character wearing it (personality, prestige, all that jazz), but there were some basic features that seemed fairly universal: half-up, braided, and loose waves.

Cersei

Cersei

Margaery

Margaery

Sansa

Sansa

As luck would have it, the styles aren’t too far off from an era I’ve already tackled hair for: the 1870s!

My basic 1870s hairstyle. You can click here for the tutorial.

In fact, here’s an original 1870s hairstyle “how to” that, if you stopped before the last step and just left the hair loose in back, would make a perfect Westeros style:

As you can see in the original 1870s tutorial above, hairpieces are almost always necessary to get the right look, even if you have fairly long hair. The secret to costume-perfect hair is the magical “curl loaf.”

Behold! The Curl Loaf!

For my Game of Thrones hairstyle, I wanted a very full look, a mix of Margaery’s overabundant curls with Cersei’s and Sansa’s braided buns. Even though I have hair past my shoulders and my fab-o curl loaf, for a properly fantastic noblewoman’s hair-do I needed MORE HAIR. My curl loaf is from from “Hair World by Jamie.”  I usually buy from their eBay store because it’s usually a few dollars cheaper, but they have a regular website, too. I was so pleased with the color and service that I ordered a matching clip-on ponytail from their eBay store. The clip is HUGE and secure, so it’s easy to wear. I am pretty pleased with it!

RAWR!
To make the crescent bun shape, I use the clip sideways. I gathered it into a ponytail with ribbon and made two braids: only large, one small.

I have difficult hair to match because the roots are naturally much darker than my ends which are more reddish to boot. You can see what I mean in the pics below where my natural ends peek out from under the hairpiece. When I do a regular bun out of my natural hair, it looks almost fake because my ends are such a different color! I  match hairpieces to my roots for that very reason. It looks more natural that way. These two hairpieces are both #10s on the  HWBJ color chart and are a perfect match for my roots. My ends are closer to a #15.

Together with my curl loaf and just four bobby pins, I was able to create this hairstyle:

It looks complex, but it’s deceptively simple! First, I put my hair half up. Then I clip the ponytail on sideways, bobby pin the braids how I like them, clip on the curl loaf to hide the ribbon in back, and I’m done! I made a little illustration chart to explain it visually:

I color coded it for enhanced clarity: Yellow is your natural hair, red is the clip-in ponytail, blue is the thick braid, green is the little braid, and hot pink is the curl loaf (which I made pink because it totally looks like a tiny brain in my drawing!).
When you make the ponytail on the hairpiece, use ribbon, not a hair-tie. Modern elastic hair-ties add a lot of thickness and spring and are very obvious/hard to hide. Ribbon lies smoothly and if you choose a raw silk one that is similar in color to the hair, it hides so much more easily! I’ve discovered that much of the struggle I have styling historical hair comes from overly-bulky elastic hair-ties. It’s amazing how much difference styling with ribbon or twine can make!

This hairdo looks super complex, but it only takes about 15 minutes to do and is really easy to wear!

The ponytail is a bit heavy, but it doesn’t pull or pinch my scalp, plus the braids can be rearranged in a variety of ways to change the look. If you don’t have curly or wavy hair, curl your natural hair before putting on your hairpieces for extra volume or choose a straight hairpiece instead of a curled one.

Getting Your Ideas on Paper: Using Croquis to Design Your Historical Gowns

Proper measurements and proportions are important not only for sewing, but creating a flattering design. If you are not a pattern size 10 (the base size from which most pattern companies grade up or down), how can you be sure you’ll look as good in the dress as the model on the cover? On top of that, if you want to make changes to the base design of a pattern, how can you be sure it will look okay?

Many costumers are generally creative people. I know so many who like to draw and paint as much as they like to sew! Putting a design to paper first can help refine a design before you choose fabric or start cutting patterns. To help distill the abstract design elements in our heads into a more concrete design, many costumers draw fashion illustrations of their dream gowns– called by their French name “Croquis” (sketch/sketches) like these:

Oscar de la Renta, 2014

Valentino, 2013-14

You’ll notice, though, that the figures in these couture drawings don’t exactly look like anyone you’ve ever met. The average human is approximately 7.5 “heads” tall. A high-fashion croquis on the other hand, is generally drawn 9 or more heads tall, with the extra length added to the legs and neck, elongating the figure:

If you assume the figure on the left with average human proportions is 5 feet tall, each “head” is about 8 inches tall. That gives the left figure an inseam of 32 inches (4 heads), total leg length from the hip of aprox. 36 inches (4.5 heads). The fashion figure on the right is 6 feet tall with a 44 inch inseam (5.5 heads), total leg length from the hip of aprox. 48 inches (6 heads).

This means that skirts seem to flow more, everything looks overall more slim, and the proportions are stretched. They have an air of fairy-like elegance– like willowy goddesses inhabiting some far-off dream. These sketches are works of art as much as the fashions that are eventually created from them. Many are drawn just for the joy of making beautiful drawings of beautiful gowns.

While there are many tall, thin women, ladies with such lengthened proportions are exceedingly rare, though not unheard of: Yekaterina Lisina, a Russian athlete and model, is the Guinness World Record Holder for the world’s longest legs. She has a hip-to- heel leg length of 52.2 inches. She is 6 feet, 9 inches tall! Remember, though: she is the record holder because her size and proportions are so extraordinary. What if you are an ordinary girl with ordinary proportions? Can an fancifully-proportioned croquis work for you? Of course it can! A fashion sketch does not need to be photo-realistic for it to help you create your masterpiece. Maybe you just want to get the basic elements in place: a floral fabric. A midnight blue cape. Spiked red pauldrons. A fashion drawing doesn’t have to be realistic to be beautiful and useful.

But what if you have concerns about how well a design will work on your particular body? An idealized figure won’t do much good if you are concerned  a square neckline might make your shoulders look boxy or mutton sleeves might make your face look like a cherry tomato between two popcorn puffs! If you create a croquis that matches your own proportions, you can experiment with raising the waistline or adding a bow or puffing the sleeves before you start choosing patterns or cutting precious fabric.

But, if you are not the best artist–or if you are like me and struggle to draw your own body realistically (sometimes I draw myself too slim, sometimes too wide, sometimes one boob is way bigger than the other…)– what can you do?

ENTER THE “TRACING REAL BODY MODELS” PROJECT!

“ROMMY”

“ZAVA”

“LEILA”

There’s such a wide variety of “average” bodies that a single, standardized “average” croquis just won’t do! The Tracing Real Body Models Project created a selection of croquis from photographs women of different shapes and sizes submitted to the project. Sadly, the blog doesn’t seem to have been active in over a decade, so there aren’t a whole bunch of models to choose from. In spite of that, I found some that are pretty close to my body type! You can print them out to draw your designs over them (or import them into your chosen design software and draw over them digitally, if you’re tech savvy). None of the models in the project are corseted, of course (When you sew historical costumes exclusively, it’s hard to remember that the average modern woman doesn’t wear one when she plans her designs!), but nothing a few pencil strokes can’t approximate.

“Valentina” in two different decades!
Notice the amount of space between her legs/bottom and the outer edge of the skirt: this give you a good idea of how much padding and how many petticoats you will need to fluff out a design properly.

 They are also a great reminder that it’s not really the SIZE of the body under the clothes that makes a dress look historical: it’s the garments themselves that matter. That’s why having a model that looks as much like you is so important. It’ll give you a better idea of how a well-fitted historical garment should look on YOUR body once its complete. The TRBM blog has photography tips for taking a base model photos, so if you don’t see your body type represented, you could follow their photography guide, then print and trace your own photo for a perfect croquis of yourself!

Easy Edwardian Day Out – Thistle Hill House Tour with the DFWCG

Family, Friends, and Fashion!

My birthday was this past week, so when the DFW Costumers Guild scheduled Edwardian Day Out that weekend, of course I had to go! We visited Thistle Hill, a stately old house from 1904. It’s surrounded by hospitals and parking garages. Thank goodness they saved this old house from becoming another concrete car park!

Thistle Hill is a little patch of green in the middle of the medical district.
I’ve always been slightly confounded by urban Texas. On the one hand, Texans are fiercely proud of their history, particularly their 19th century pioneer heritage. On the other hand, they are capitalist to a fault and if a plot of land is worth more as parking lot than a historic house….hello new parking lot! Not many 19th century buildings are left and many that remain are in terrible disrepair. Dallas has lost the vast majority of its pre-1930 historical architecture. Fort Worth still has some of its older neighborhoods and storefronts, but many folks drive a few hours to surrounding towns like Waxahachie just to see Victorian houses! Thank goodness for for places like HFW and Dallas Heritage Village which have helped preserve historical architecture in the Metroplex.

I was going to wear my green version of Butterick 6093 again, but the week before, I found a lavender bridesmaid skirt at Goodwill that was freakishly similar to the one Becky owns!

In addition, I have a giant green tub full of *literal pounds* of Easy Edwardian stuff I’ve hoarded over the years, so I dug it out and settled on a modern cotton blouse with a fussy ruffle down the front and a vintage burgundy leather belt.

LITERAL POUNDS.

Turns out my giant tub of stuff would come in handy again: we invited Becky’s mother, Marcella, to come along for her first costumed outing. She found a lacy maxi skirt and needed a blouse and hat to go with it– and the Tub provided!

Marcella’s fabulous first historical costume. She made her coordinating drawstring purse herself!

Now, I won’t say definitively that I endorse costume hoarding, but by golly does having a variety of costuming pieces in a range of styles and sizes come in handy! It’s great for helping new-to-the-hobby friends or pulling together a last-minute outfit when nothing you’ve made fits or suits your fancy.

Time to check the Green Tub, girl! The Green Tub’s got you covered!

After being wadded up in the tub for months, my blouse needed a good pressing. To turn a modern collared blouse into a more Edwardian-esque shirtwaist, simply iron the collar flat to remove the fold. This will make it stand up like the high-collars of yesteryear! You can wrap the collar wings over each other and hide the wrap with a jabot or brooch, or do as I prefer and just fold the front tips back.

Thanks to the Tub, there was no last minute event sewing needed! It was nice to spend 2 hours planning and pressing an outfit rather than 2 days or 2 weeks frantically sewing. The most time consuming part– aside from doing my hair– was trimming my hat. Okay, so I guess that counts as sewing because I had to tack town the trimming…but it only took about 20 minutes!

This particular hat has been in my collection for years, but this is the first time I’ve had an outfit to wear it with. I originally purchased it from Dilliard’s. Usually their hats are SUPER SPENDY, but if you go at the right time, like a post-Easter sale, they mark down their hats a ton– I got this one at 80% off! However, it is still the most expensive hat I’ve ever purchased for myself. The fluffy puffball is the original decor. It’s not really Edwardian looking by itself, but the vintage brooch from my 1890s hat helped tame the goofy poof somewhat.

My belt and shoes were a purple-tinged maroon, so to *tie* the hat in with the outfit, I decorated it with a sliced-n-diced neck*tie* of a similar shade:

Ha ha! Puns.
Thrift store neckties are great for decorating hats. They’re another one of those costume bits that I hoard…

The tour itself was a bit expensive ($20) and felt rushed. The house is a popular event space for dinners and weddings, so there were tables and chairs out everywhere and the staff was preoccupied with clearing the space after a dinner the previous day. However, the house is lovely and the ticket allows you to tour another local historical home, too. The biggest surprise was that the ticket is also valid for a full year! So we can go back again as many times as we like! I think there are a few more Edwardian events in our future.

Check out the full Flickr Album here: Edwardian Day Out

And check out the DFW Costumers Guild website for more info about the group and future events!