Overdressed at the Nudes Exhibit: My 1880s Flannel Bustle Dress goes to the Museum

Waaaaaay back in December of 2018, I went to Dickens on the Strand with my friend Megan (aka Mistress of Disguise / Clusterfrock). Since it had been frightfully chilly the week before, I made a flannel bustle dress using the “duct-tape dummy” method (mummify yourself in duct tape and cut the form into pattern pieces) in anticipation of promenading in the cold streets of Galveston (plus, there were many tales of the previous year being rained out). It was my first time ever using the duct tape method and even though it was very time consuming, I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome! I have since made multiple dresses using the original duct tape pattern and each time I have achieved a good fit much more quickly than my previous slopers.

This is the only in-progress shot of have of this dress because I was just trying to buzz through it like a bee in a windstorm in order to make the deadline! You can see the raw duct tape pattern at the top and the absolute wild shape of it to fit my body. It looks insane (3 darts?! Whatever works…), but the resulting fit is unbeatable.

However, in grand Texas style, the weather shifted from being partly cloudy in the 30s to being sunny, 80 degrees, and soppingly humid. Despite being ill-suited for the heat, I wore my flannel dress to a marvelous tea party and had a good time anyway.

Unlike the Victorians who wore their grand, heavy dresses in the midst of a mini ice age, current Texas weather patterns are far from ideal for 5 pounds of fluffy cotton flannel! I meant to write a blog post about my trip right after the event, but never got around to it. So the poor flannel dress hung in my closet, entombed in a plastic dust cover.

Most of 2019 was much the same: far too warm to wear anything long sleeved, much less made of flannel. I made costumes out of cool fabrics instead, like my linen-blend 1878 mourning dress with 3/4 sleeves to beat the heat (also made using the duct tape dummy pattern as the base). Even when December rolled around, we pretty consistently hit temps in the 70s and 80s. If the heat wasn’t going to wane in winter, I decided I was just going to make fresh accessories for my black dress, like I did for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tours:

When 2020 arrived, a new DFW Costumers Guild event was on the horizon: Renoir, the Body the Senses, at the Kimbell Art Museum. Again, I pulled some fabrics from my stash in anticipation of just making a new overskirt, cuffs, and collars for my black dress. But as the day drew near, time ran out!

Life got incredibly hectic: we had planned a nice long visit to my parents’ house, but on the 8 hour drive over, our car died in the desert! We spent vacation wrestling with the dead car and the rest of the week tying to find a new one. By the time the Saturday of the event rolled around, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to sew. I considered skipping it entirely. But Becky really wanted to go and the weather had chilled…the flannel dress called to me from the dark recesses of the closet: IT IS TIME!

I pulled out out and prayed it would still fit. And it did! Huzzah! I always thought the front was too plain, so I had just enough gumption and time to add some navy ribbon to it. Much better!

I have discovered that ribbon—LOTS of ribbon– is invaluable to costuming. Rosettes, belts, hat bands, ties, hairbows, jabots, edging, waist-tapes, binding, accents, purse strings…ribbon is infinitely useful. However, don’t be like me and underestimate how much ribbon you’ll need: I used about 3 yards of antique ribbon just to make these few accents and I didn’t have a scrap left!

So I donned my chemise, undies, corset, corset liner, under petticoat, bustle, over petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice, and hat, tickled the entire time that I’m wearing all these extra layers to go see nudes!

You see, this particular museum exhibit was exclusively Renoir’s nude paintings through the years (with a smattering of nude portraits by other artists that inspired him).

Ooo, lala!

vs. Our Extra-Fully-Clothed Group

Photo courtesy of Christy

Honestly, I think our costumed group provided excellent historical context and contrast to the exhibit. There we were, dressed as the women in the portraits and patrons of the museums viewing the paintings would have dressed in their day-to-day lives– highlighting just how intimate and revealing Renoir’s realistic nudes are and how brave and daring his models were to pose nude in an era where women generally wore very modest clothing and while idealistic, “classically” painted nudes were widely revered, the models/actresses posing for them were still given the disapproving societal side-eye.

I wish I’d gotten some photos of us in costume next to the paintings to show the contrast, but there were lots of people and I always feel a bit rude taking photos in a full gallery when folks are there trying to appreciate the art. I did grab one of Becky and I outside in the lovely, pleasant, absolutely refreshing 50 degree Texas morning air:

10000000% more pleasant than the 80 degree days of December 2018 and 2019!

Afterwards, we went to La Madeline for lunch where I stuffed myself silly with strawberries and cream!

It was a good day, something I sorely needed to lift my mood after the stressful week scraping and scrambling after suddenly losing the car. I am very grateful to my family and friends for helping get us through it all!

Oh! I nearly forgot on of my favorite little details about this dress: the tiny Victorian pin that’s on the collar. I don’t know who it’s commemorating or what significance 1850 has, but I love the tiny mystery!

Addams Family Outing: Natural Form 1878 Mourning Dress

I’ve been neglecting to fully blog my outfits lately for which I humbly apologize. Since I’ve gotten out of the swing of things, this post is going to be pretty perfunctory. I need to work on getting back into the groove!

My friend Megan (you may know her as Mistress of Disguise) found out early in the summer that the Granbury Opera house would be putting on the Addams Family Musical. Of course, we had to go and we invited the whole DFW Costumers Guild to go with us! Nothing would suit attending such a production better than a mourning gown, so I immediately began sewing….in my imagination, of course!

Mourning Ensemble, circa 1870 via the Met

A late 1870s mourning dress illustration

Victorian mourning clothes have some intricate rules depending on the decade, but for the average person, it boiled down to two things: Black and Not Shiny. Silk and wool bombazine or crepe are the hallmark fabrics of mourning, but I didn’t have the budget for those. I needed something affordable, matte, black, natural, and most importantly, cool and breathable to combat Texas’s infamous swelter (yes, even in October it reaches 100). Cotton, of course, first comes to mind. But I own a black and white feline that sheds like a hay wagon in a hurricane, and having experimented with black cotton before, I didn’t look forward to wearing a hair magnet. Instead, I had linen dreams and a polyester budget!

The Hair-icane and Great Destroyer of Tissue Patterns

But, lo! What’s this?! A sale at Fabrics.com? And look: Linen/rayon washer linen in black (it’s a bit more expensive now that the sale is over, but still worth it, I think)! I loathe to buy fabric online, especially in a case like this where weight and drape matter immensely. Yet the siren call of a superbly rated linen-rayon blend was just to tempting to pass up! So at 1:45am on the morning of July the 10th (as the email receipt so kindly reminds me), I grit my teeth and dropped $50 on 7 yards of fabric.

It hurt, fam. Not gonna lie. Oof! But when it arrived….holy bananas, was this stuff the REAL DEAL. Wow! It’s gorgeous. It does that smooth “fwump” thing that linen does with a touch of rayon slinkiness. It’s not matte matte, but has a subtle sheer similar to worn polished cotton. Plus, it’s pretty opaque. I was GIDDY….and terrified to cut it.

So I did that thing I do: set it on the ironing board and pet it occasionally for a few months.

To distract myself from the thought of ruining my precious fabric, I turned my attention to buttons. I knew I wanted black glass buttons, preferably antique. I spent 3 WHOLE DAYS in antiques stores looking for them and I found lots and lots of beautiful Victorian black glass buttons. I wasn’t even looking for a set—just something that spoke to me. But you know what? Victorian buttons are tiny and I’m not. I kept getting flashbacks to the giant 1970s Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing that had a section about proportion in choosing designs. As a stout-by-Victorian-standards gal, I decided 30 tiny buttons up my front was not only too much work, but also not entirely flattering/suitable for the very plain design I had in mind. I needed buttons with heft, yet a subtle demure quality and a sophisticated goth-girl edge for less than $20 for a set of 15. Tall order? Yes. But the Czech Republic doth provide!

I found these buttons in a few places, but this shop was the most inexpensive and had great service.

I highly recommend these buttons. Absolutely fantastic quality, scale, and design, plus extremely quick international shipping.

Buttons in hand, I continued to procrastinate–in my usual fashion– until the week before the event. So I grit my teeth once more, rolled out my fabric, laid down the ducktape dummy pattern I used for my Dickens on the Strand dress nearly a year before, and prayed that my corset could handle the extra ten pounds I’d shored up between then and now.

I picked up my shears.

I took a deep breath.

I cut the fabric.

I had no design in mind other than “Natural Form/Long and Smooth over the Hips.” I was going in blind. I just cut, sewed, and prayed it would fit. And at first, it didn’t.

It is not perfect, but it was wearable. I didn’t plan for a V neck, but the original high collar design did not work and a jewel neckline was unflattering, so I folded back the edges and tacked them down. I miscalculated with my new buttonhole foot and placed my buttons too far back, so they are off center and a tight squeeze.  I wasted a whole day trying trim ideas that were all for naught and the trim I did choose I ran out of halfway through.
But I made it work!

I wailed. I gnashed. I threw it on the floor in a fit of rage. But I had no time for a pity party, so, I pinned and hacked it into submission.

And realized it looked like a 1940s suit jacket in the process…

The little skelecorn is not HA…in this universe at least. ;)

The final trim design is a three/four layer design. I had a tiny length of antique moire ribbon with a white picot edge that was my inspiration. I had just enough for the collar. To fake the look for the cuffs and skirt panels, I cut strips from the cream-colored sari scraps leftover from making my Ren Faire dress and laid a plain black ribbon over it. The fluffy, pinked black sheer is leftover scrap from my Moonflower bustle dress. The fluffiness is both trendy for the 1870s and perfect for hiding my mile-a-minute machine sewing. The collar and cuffs are designed to be removable so I can just snip the giant basting stitches holding them to the dress and swap them out for other designs.

The skirt is my Midnight Madness Standard Skirt: two panels of the 54″ fabric pleated down to fit the waistband. The very modest “bustle” back is made by cutting the back panel extra long and pleating up the excess into the side seams (similarly to how I pleated the sides of the Croissant Dress). The waistband itself is merely a length of grosgrain ribbon. I ran out of time to finish trimming it. Hopefully I will find the motivation to make a row of pleats for the hem. I ran out of time to make a full overskirt. Instead, I slapped together the little side “petals” last-minute since I felt the skirt needed some white to tie it into the trim on the bodice.

I was still sewing things together when I went to Megan’s house to get ready and we barely made it into our seats at the theater as the curtain rose, but we did it! A few other DFWCG folks joined us as well. We had a good time watching the play, a pleasant walk around the unexpected bonus fall art fest outside, and tasty German food at the Schnitzel Haus! I would definitely go back again.

Plus there is an old hotel called the Nutt House!

And just a week later, I got to re-wear it for Halloween!

Now I have a “little black dress” that I can jazz up with fresh cuff and overskirts as the occasion demands. Super excited for the mix’n’match possibilities! With a few bustle-era events on the horizon, I’m hoping to wear it again quite soon, which should prove much more gentle on my wallet and sanity that scrambling to sew something from scratch each time an event pops up.

 

 

Another Edwardian Day Out: Steam, Teens, and Tours

After the success of Edwardian Day Out in May, the DFWCG scheduled another Edwardian Day Out for October 15th since the house tour tickets for Thistle Hill were also good for visiting another local Victorian home: the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House (what a mouthful!).

The house is tucked up at the end of Penn Street and isn’t visible from the busier thoroughfares of downtown, so many people don’t know about it. Chris and I had actually discovered it by accident when we first moved back to Fort Worth years ago. We did a creeping drive-by of the property, but it’s not obvious at all that the property is open for tours (Indeed, even the historical marker, like so many Texas Historical Markers, is planted pretty deep into the front yard, so you have to park and tromp through the grass to read it. This is super awkward when you can’t tell if the property is public or private. Why, Texas? WHY?). We gaped, then drove away.

You don’t forget an epic porch like that, though, so when I saw the picture on the Thistle Hill ticket for the McFarland House, I was excited! We finally could tour the mysterious house on the hill!

Becky, Marcella, and I got dressed and drove out a little early to meet the group and get some pictures on the porch.

The house is owned by and used as offices for Historic Fort Worth, the area preservation society. However, they have a sign by the front door that says to ring the bell for tours at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. The event had been scheduled for the 2pm tour, but alas, as 2 o’clock inched closer, no other cars pulled up the quiet street and we wandered the wide, empty front porch alone, debating what to do. Well, we were already there, tickets in hand, so we rang the bell!

Mrs. Jackson, the docent on duty, met us at the door. I’m sure we made quite a presentation in our garb on a quiet Sunday afternoon! She guided us around the lavish first floor that was just covered in gorgeous woodwork from floor to ceiling surrounding luminous stained glass, and had stunning Edwardian light fixtures and 1940s wallpaper in every room. The brightest, most iconic room in the house is the lavish peachy formal parlor covered in flocked pink wallpaper and lit by 30+ individual lights in brass tulips, like an opera house! (I wish I’d gotten a better picture of them, but I was too busy looking around. There is this lovely photo by Peter Calvin, though, if you can’t tour the place yourself.)

The house had been owned by a succession of very wealthy families and each woman that owned the house had added her own touches to the property. It was interesting to see what each subsequent mistress added and removed. The exciting wallpapers throughout the house were added mid-century, but they suited the house so well that you might never guess!

We couldn’t tour the upstairs because Historic Fort Worth had converted all the rooms into offices, but we were assured it had been done so that the house could be returned to its original state should they change locations. It was a little disappointing to only get to tour the downstairs of the house. If you stopped by to tour the McFarland House before Thistle Hill and found out your $20 tour only covered a few rooms, you might be very disappointed at how little your money seems to afford you. However, since the tickets are good at both houses, the McFarland house is like dessert after a Thistle Hill dinner.

Despite the series of shortcomings, we made a good day out of it. The weather was just stunning: the right temperature for both layered corseted outfits and lighter fabrics alike, that happy medium between warm and chilly. Divine! Becky wore her new striped Victorian skirt, Marcella wore her 1912 outfit, and I wore my super-comfy 1990s-does-1910s polka-dot dress. The staff at Lucille’s restaurant was totally unperturbed when we walked in for lunch! Ah, the glory of October when costuming becomes more widely accepted in the everyday!

All-in-all, a good day out with the family! It would have been nice to have more of a crowd, but life is a constantly moving target. Sometimes everyone else’s arrow ends up going a different direction and an event doesn’t pan out. That’s why I am so grateful to have costuming buddies to take to events, so if something like this happens, we can still have a good time together!

—More Edwardian and 1910s Costume Adventures—

An Edwardian Day Out #1: Thistle Hill
Easy (Post) Edwardian / WWI Costume
Easy Edwardian for under $10 (1900-1910)

More Easy Edwardian (1913-1914)

 

 

 

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!

 

 

My Last Minute Habit: Simplicity 4923 for DFWCG’s Georgian Picnic 2015

Save a Horse; Ride a Time Machine!

I have a habit of doing everything last-minute. No matter how well I think I am planning ahead, I seem to be sewing wildly right up until the very last moment. This year’s Georgian Picnic was no different– though, to be fair, it wasn’t because I was lazy (for once). In fact, I managed to hammer out 3 full outfits in the space of 2 weeks!

It went about as well as you think.

It all started in October when I invited one of the ladies from work to go with me. She had no experience sewing or costuming, but she was willing to attend. I was thrilled! Costuming is fun and slowly gaining mainstream appeal, but it’s still a rather odd, nerdy hobby that takes a lot of self-confidence for the average person to experiment with outside of Halloween. Having someone say “Yes!” to wearing a historical costume with me was a huge, exciting prospect!

The pressure of sewing for someone else, meeting my and their expectations, is way to much pressure for me to deal with in most cases. But I liked having a friend take an honest interest in my odd hobby, so I offered to make her a Regency dress. I figured it would be a good introduction to the historical costuming world: simple in silhouette, romantic, fairly flattering, and, while stays make everything look perkier, no special undergarments are needed besides a good, firm bra. She declined to let me fully measure her which complicated matters somewhat, but I guessed that we would wear a similar size if I dropped the underbust to accommodate a natural-level bustline.
Since I made a Regency dress last year from Simplicity 4055, I knew the pattern fairly well and felt confident that I could make a dress that I would feel proud enough of to let someone else wear. Bonus points for the fact that we are both librarians and what better costume for a librarian than a “Jane Austen Blue” dress?

The Infamous “Wedding Ring Portrait
Modeled after Cassandra Austen’s watercolor sketch, but with Victorian flair. This image, however, is iconic and the blue is lovely!

Watercolor Portrait of a Woman by Cassandra Austen, circa 1804
Another painting purported to be of Jane. The blue dress may have inspired the color choice for the Victorian portrait above.

I went to Thrift Town to procure a nice blue cotton sateen sheet to make her a dress from. While there, Chris found some absolutely fabulous curtains that he immediately declared would make the perfect waistcoat. Here they are performing their intended function (I “borrowed” them for pictures of my bustle gown):

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But they wouldn’t remain curtains for long! Soon they would be transformed into something like this:

Portrait of an Unknown Man by Alexis-Simon Belle, painted 1712

When my husband not only volunteers to wear a costume, but gets excited to do so, I can’t say no! So into the cart went the curtains and onto my to-sew list went a waistcoat. Naturally, a new waistcoat would need a coat to go with it and breeches as well, so many shopping trips later (about 2 weeks of looking to be precise), I finally found a silvery sateen sheet and some grey slacks of a close enough color match.

Chris Coat 2015

The Plan.

So now I had two projects on my list: a Regency dress for my coworker and a whole outfit for my husband!

Since Chris was now going as an early Georgian gentleman rather than his cold-weather Regency look from last year, I fell into the inevitable trap: I needed something to match! (I have also gained about 15 pounds, so I’ve outgrown my purple 1780s dress). I had such wonderful luck using a sari for my ballet-night bustle dress, I decided I wanted to use another one with a gold border to make an earlier style of gown, specifically a riding habit like Countess Henrietta’s!

Henrietta Cavendish Holles (1694–1755), Countess of Oxford by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1714

Lady Henrietta Cavendish, Viscountess Huntingtower by Godfrey Kneller, painted 1715
Henrietta isn’t particularly famous, but she was a highly sporting lady. Her riding habits aren’t just for pretty: she one letter tells of her riding 40 miles on horseback during one outing!

Metallic trim! Fabulously fluffy hair! Cravats! And–most importantly–those stunning coats that look just like a gentleman’s coat! Indeed, unlike later incarnations which were more tailored to feminine fashion, early riding habits like these were pretty much exactly like men’s coats worn over a long skirt. Also: no panniers! Just a simple, rounded bell shape easily achieved with a petticoat. SIGN ME UP! I began hunting for a sari, but kept coming up empty-handed.

I wasn’t worried, though. It was still October. Plenty of time to put things together!

At that point, Georgian Picnic was a full month away and the weather forecast was still up in the air. Trying to predict Texas weather is like reaching into a bowl of M&Ms someone’s mixed Skittles into. You take one day at a time and even then you often don’t know what you’ve got ’til you actually bite into it!

And since it’s Fall, Texas likes to mix in some Reese’s Pieces just because it can!

Predictions flip-flopped between a balmy 65 and a chilly 50 degrees. 15 degrees makes a lot of difference, so I planned for both. Cotton sateen would be breathable and cool enough if it was warmer, but since it’s a thicker fabric, with long sleeves and some proper under/outer garments, it could work well for chillier weather, too.

By the beginning of November, I had almost all of my materials gathered and got to work on the blue regency dress. Then, like terrible terrible clockwork, life snuck up behind me with a surprise.

My friend got a new job across town! Her new job will hopefully be a much better fit for her, but it meant that I would no longer get to see on a regular basis. Our schedules just would not mesh. We were both too busy! So I finished her dress and just crossed my fingers it would fit. It took a bit longer than expected to finish thanks to a a minor panic attack, lack of freetime, and a few mistakes, but it looked good enough I felt confident that if it didn’t fit perfectly, it would at least fit well enough! Sadly, I haven’t gotten to find out how well of a job I did guesstimating: she could not make it to the picnic this year thanks to weather and scheduling conflicts. But, now I have a blue Regency dress on hand, should I (or anyone else) ever need one!

IMG_0246

Minka approved!

Christopher’s outfit still loomed large on my list. Though he was initially interested solely in a waistcoat, I knew that he had been uncomfortably warm in his red velvet coat. I decided to make the same coat pattern again, Simplicity 4923, but this time in a single layer of cotton sateen, so it would be more comfortable for him.

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It took exactly 1 queen-sized sheet to make Simplicity 4923 in size XL (minus one set of cuffs since the outer layer is made of the curtain fabric). I had no room for mistakes!

Of course, being one layer, it wouldn’t have a neat bag lining to hide all my rag-tag seams, so I ran every raw edge through my Singer set to a zig-zag stitch since I don’t own a serger. That took FOREVER. Seriously. It was basically like triple-stitching every seam. I will not be doing that again! Next time I’ll just cut extra seam allowance and try french seams so I only need to straight stitch each seam twice.

I decided to use some of the curtain fabric on the cuffs and buttons to gussy up the plain grey sateen and tie the look together. Of course, by the time I finished the coat (triple stitching every seam, sewing things on backwards, ripping more seams than I finished, etc.), I had only two days left to sew everything else. The weather was predicted to take a turn for the worst and I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I needed to get started on a coat for myself! I ended up setting aside the rest of Chritopher’s outfit until after my outfit was wearable. I started his waistcoat at 11am the morning of the picnic, hemmed the pants fifteen minutes before we left, and finished sewing the buttons on in the car! He was an excellent sport about it, helping me iron the pieces, saving me a lot of time.

Despite its rushed state, I felt very proud seeing him wear it confidently. Sometimes men shy away from fancy stuff, but Chris has begun to actively embrace his inner Earl!

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He also actively embraced the sparkling cider!

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Christopher’s Outfit Breakdown:

Queen-sized grey cotton sateen sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
Curtain panels – $12.99, Thrift Town
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs and pockets) – $4, Walmart
4 large button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 medium button cover kits – $5.76, Walmart
3 packs of medium brass buttons – $4.32, Walmart
1 spool grey thread – $2.49, Walmart
Metallic trim – $8.79, Joann Fabrics
Grey trousers (for breeches) – $1.99, Thrift Town

Total: $50.97
(Hat, cravat, shirt, stocks, and shoes are all from previous years)

My riding habit uses the exact same coat pattern as Christopher’s, just in a different size. I had already made an XS version of Simplicity 4923 out of cotton duck, so I knew that with my corset, it would fit.

And fifteen pounds ago, it fit without a corset!

The brown cotton duck of the original, however, wasn’t the best fabric for cold-weather wear (it is surprisingly breezy) and would be too heavy to make into a skirt. There was no time to order a sari and I couldn’t for the life of me find a light blue and white striped fabric like I wanted. I did, however, have a silky poly/rayon blend I had bought a while back to (eventually) make an 1870s gown. Chris actually picked it out. The man has a knack for fabric!

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There was only 5.5 yards of the green fabric (the coat pattern alone called for 5), but I managed to eke both the coat and skirt out of it by 4 am the morning of the picnic. I used the classic skirt trick beloved of Renaissance, Rococo, and Victorian costumers alike: whatever part of the underskirt will be hidden, make out of a cheaper material! So the back panels of my skirt I supplemented with some plain brown cotton panels. It has a simple and poorly-executed drawstring waist. I lined my coat with some white cotton flannel I had intended to make into a renaissance petticoat, but, hey, necessity overrules maybes! It was very warm and the flannel adds wonderful body. I may line all my winter bodices in flannel from now on!

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My shoes are American Duchess Pompadours. They’re from the old run of the design, so they are slightly different from the newer version. This is only the second time I’ve gotten to wear them, though, so they are still fairly new to me! They are great tromping shoes so far.

My shirt and attached cravat are 100% polyester courtesy of the 1980s. For a bit of fullness, I wore one of my many broomstick skirt petticoats, also courtesy of the 1980s. Together, they make a pretty classy western school marm outfit:

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This series of photos were all taken in a local park. Thanks to the cold weather, Chris and I had the park to ourselves for about an hour, but then more people showed up. I’m sure they were initially entertained as I wandered around in my “pirate” getup, only to be suddenly scandalized when I started taking off layers for “underwear” pictures!

My hair I kept simple. Henrietta’s hair in real life was actually the same color as mine, but in many of her portraits, she has fashionably curled and powdered hair/wigs. I planned to curl and powder mine as well, but with the wind blowing mercilessly the day of the picnic, I opted for a simple low pony tail.

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To add some character, I added some fullness to the sides by pushing two haircombs forward into my hair, creating subtle bumps that (in my mind at least) imitated the fashionable double-peaked hairstyles while allowing me to still wear my hat:

Portrait of Rich Ingram, 5th Viscount Irwin, and his Wife Anne, c.1715-20 by Jonathan Richardson
Both men and women wore their hair with a strong center part with their hair mounded up on either side. Men generally didn’t have facial hair, but there is no way Christopher will ever willingly shave his beard, historically accurate or not!

I also wore the portrait miniature I painted of Christopher in his first 18th century coat and a cheap Halloween tricorn with the worst coppery braid on it that I was too tuckered out to change.

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My Costume Breakdown:

5.5 yards of green poly/rayon – $29.16, Hancock Fabrics
2 yards white cotton flannel – $6.98, Walmart
2 yards brown cotton – $4.88, Walmart
1/2 yard black cotton twill (interfacing for cuffs) – $2.00, Walmart
5 packs of large brass buttons – $7.20
Spool of green thread – $2.49, Walmart
1980s cravat-embellished blouse – $4.19, Goodwill
1980s broomstick skirt/petticoat – $5.49, Goodwill
Fleece-lined tights (to keep out the chill!) – $8, Walmart
Gaudy Halloween tricorn – $15

Total: $65.39
(Not including shoes, corset, tank top, and portrait miniature which I already had from other costumes. Oh, and $40 worth of gold braid to trim the whole thing with. Trims always cost more than most of the outfit! I need a rich patron to buy trims for me so I don’t have to. *wink*)

You’ll notice my riding habit is a bit plainer than Henrietta’s. It isn’t anywhere near complete in its current state! I still have pockets to apply and yards of gold trim wadded up in a Joann’s bag just waiting to be sewn around every edge. But that’s a project for later. For now, I am taking a hard-earned break!

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The picnic itself was much more pleasant than anticipated! While the wind was blustery, we had some shelter in the park pavilion and in the grassy area below it. The sun was out, the trees were turning lovely shades of gold, and there was a whole crowd of us wearing 100 years worth of fashion! Christopher and I were the very “oldest” of the group, barely squeaking into the Georgian era with our 1715 costumes. We were like the great-grandparents at a strange Highlander family reunion!

Then we all did battle!
(photo courtesy of Jen of Festive Attyre)

We drank cider, ate cookies, chatted, and played Pall-Mall with the “grandkids:”

(photos courtesy of Kaycee Cheramie)

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Jen got a great shot of Christopher looking just like the Wikipedia illustration for Pall-Mall!

More pictures from Georgian Picnic can be found here and here.

And if you are interested in joining us next year (or sooner, for one of the many Guild events), visit the DFW Costumer’s Guild webpage, including this FAQ about Georgian Picnic!

Saucy Chartreuse: 1890s Walking Suit for Frontier Fort Days with the DFW Costumers Guild

Making Sunday’s Best out of Walmart’s Worst

I mentioned that I’d found a chartreuse shirt at the thrift shop recently. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better because I was invited to go to the DFW Costumers Guild’s Frontier Fort Days train ride. I could have worn my Mrs. Mauve dress, but I didn’t want to deal with the huge sleeves in the wild Texas wind, so a new dress was in order– short order!

I had found some super-cheap cherry blossom print cotton at Walmart in the clearance section for $2 a yard. It was love at first sight, even if the first 4 yards of it had snags all over the place!

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Japonism was hugely popular in the 1890s. These cherry blossoms are perfect! I think I actually squealed when I found it, but I don’t clearly remember. I do remember hiding the bolt so no one would take it while I finished grocery shopping, though….

Since there were only 7 yards of the cotton print and one full dress would take 6.5, I had to use every last bit, even the snagged parts. I cut the lining and enormous back skirt panels from the chewed-up bits. The pleats hide any little nips perfectly! The pristine fabric was saved for the skirt front and bodice.

I used Simplicity 4156 again (my Precious), but I modified it a lot. So much so, in fact, that I really had no idea what the dress was going to look like in the end because I’d deviated not just from the pattern design, but my own design as well!

The original Simplicity 4156 design

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My first draft design: smaller puff sleeves and no lapels, standing collar, or peplum.

Originally, I was going to pair the grey fabric with some buttery yellow velvet, but when I put the two next to each other, it just didn’t work. Then, on a whim, I tried the chartreuse shirt…MAGIC! So I redrafted the design again:

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Design draft #2

I omitted the lapels and stand-up collar, and didn’t have to fuss with a peplum and facing, so the bodice was a breeze! The sleeves, however, were a hot mess:

I took TONS of in-progress shots…all of the finished sleeves. Yeah. Just the sleeves. Mostly because I was so glad to be done with them!

I used Ol’ Trusty, my favorite sleeve pattern again. Usually sleeves fit too tightly on my upper arm, but bag around my wrist because my arm is very muscular up top, but twig-like by the time it reaches my wrist. Perfect for 1890s sleeves, but I used applied balloon sleeves instead of drafting a tapering mutton chop sleeve. I just like the look better, but golly, was it a pain! I had to resize the fitted sleeve about three times and re-sew the puffs twice, once because I sewed one on inside out and another because I caught up some of the pleats. Since I wasn’t using the huge, original sleeve-puff pattern included in the envelope, I drafted my own complex sleeve-puff pattern which involved calculus, cracking the Da Vinci code, and blood sacrifice….

Actually, I just took Ol’ Trusty, figured out how far down I wanted the puff to go, then traced around the entire thing 5 inches out:

sleeveAnother one of my highly-technical illustrative masterpieces displaying my intense pattern drafting (and computer illustration) prowess.

It wasn’t elegant and likely could have been done much better, but it worked! I’m usually not much for cuffs, but the sleeves (even with the puff) were much too plain. I cut some triangular cuffs out of the chartreuse silk and was delighted to discover how Starfleet-eque they looked! Two covered buttons later, I was promoted to Lieutenant:

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Ah, tiny touches of geekery…

I tacked back the collar with some matching covered buttons to tie the look together. Since I had omitted the lapels and collar, the bodice was rather plain on its own. I had some lovely, drapey lace I had bought to make into 18th century engageantes, but the lace was just a tad too limp in my opinion, so I’d stashed it. However, it was just right for a jaunty jabot, so I upped the haughtiness level of the bodice with a swag of smarmy lace:

Smarmy” and “lace” aren’t usually paired together, but jabots always make me feel like one of those pretentious rich ladies or an Edith Wharton character. It’s like a costume’s costume: I’m playing the part of someone playing a part!
…I think my English Major is showing…

So at the end of day (a rather late end to the day, too), I ended up with something that, while slightly reminiscent of my original design, was much fancier than I originally planned on making:

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I used every last bit of the chartreuse shirt! All that’s left are tiny bits and strings scattered everywhere throughout the house thanks to the kitten.

I really, REALLY highly recommend the Simplicity 4156 to intermediate costumers, or even ambitious beginners, in need of an 1890s pattern. The basic pattern goes together well, plus it’s easy to manipulate, fit, and redesign by mixing and matching the pieces. It is currently out of print (a tragedy! Please reprint it, Simplicity!), so it is expensive. It goes for about $35 online, but I was lucky enough to find a copy for $10 from a theater costumer closeout sale, so there are bargains out there!

Construction Notes

The front closes with hooks and eyes and I used 1/2 inch wide cable ties to bone the front, sides, and center back which helped the fit immensely!

For coolness, I didn’t add a full-sleeve interior lining.

My dress form is about 2 inches longer in the waist than I am, so pardon the gap! I am much stockier than Simplicity the Dress Form is, so the bodice actually meets the skirt when I wear them.

I also need to add a waist tape and some hooks and eyes to hold the bodice and skirt together, but I ran out of time. This dress is my new “event” dress, though, so I have lots of time to finish it up for the next go-round. For the train ride, a few strategically placed safety pins in the bodice held everything together nicely!

This braid was in my stash for YEARS because I had no idea what to do with it. It’s really shiny (the picture makes it look less so, but it’s 1980s costume-jewelry gold) and stiff, so it holds the hem out nicely without being too heavy. Plus, it was cheap. I remember paying something like $2.50 for 10 yards of the stuff!

To get the hem to flare out in the 1890s lily shape, I used some gaudy metallic upholstery braid. The green and yellow 1890s dress in my collections used two rows of cording around the bottom to the same effect. Other options include: crinoline (horsehair), cotton duck/canvas, interfacing, and/or lots of fluffy petticoats!

Accessories

No walking outfit is complete without a hat, so I decorated a thrifted straw sunhat with the leftover lace, a black feathered bird ornament, and a pleated fan shape made from the cuffs of the chartreuse shirt:

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I’d originally bought this hat to wear with an 1860s dress, but I decided at the last minute I needed a big sunhat since I didn’t have a parasol. Boy howdy, am I glad I took a sunhat! I would have been (even more) red as a beet by the end of day if I hadn’t. Sun protection is important, folks!

I also made sure to wear a good pair of walking shoes.

AVERT YOUR EYES! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

They started off as metallic pastel 1980s shoes, but I painted them last-minute with some cream acrylic. They flaked a bit in the creases, but overall, they worked well. I plan to remove the acrylic and repaint the shoes with some proper leather paint later.

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Before

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During

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After

I need a good pair of taupe pumps! These are nice because they have a low heel and make my feet look fashionably long and skinny despite them being wide and duck-like. They are almost comfier than a pair of tennis shoes…almost!

A little scuffed and flaky after walking all afternoon on the bricks, but no blisters, no bunions, and no sore arches!

My sister’s elegant ivory purse and an antique silver locket rounded out the ensemble:

This beauty is currently listed in my Etsy shop.

We all had an excellent time at Frontier Fort Days in the Fort Worth Stockyards, surveying the longhorn cattle parade through the streets behind columns of Civil War era troops,  attending a mortar (cannon) loading and firing demonstration, and, in my case, ordering a burger and fries:

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Dressed a decade too early for the hamburger. Just call me food-fashion forward!

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Chris investigating the artillery.

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A lumbering lot of longhorns!

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Some of the lovely ladies of DFWCG representing every decade from 1870 to 1900.

Jen of Festive Attyre took tons of photos of the event and everyone’s handsome costumes. You can find them all on Flickr:

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See more pictures here!

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The Walmart Fabric Trio!
Each of us made our dresses from Walmart fabric finds.
(Photo by Festive Attyre)

It was 90+ degrees outside (32° Celsius), so I was really glad I took a hat and fan! By the end of the train trip, we were all madly fanning ourselves, glad to be back in the air-conditioned coach. Despite the afternoon heat, I was actually quite comfortable until I sat in the “parked-in-the-sun-baking-all-day” car!

Me and my no-fuss frizz both fizzled out!

All in all, a good, old-fashioned day out with the gals (and some handsome cowboys)!

Dress Stats:

7 yards of cotton print – $14, Walmart
Chartreuse silk shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Cream silk knit shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Queen-sized cotton sheet – $1.99, Thrift Town
1/2 inch cover button kit – $4, Joann Fabrics
Hooks and eyes – $1, Hobby Lobby
1 full spool of thread – $2.99, Hobby Lobby
5 yards gold braid – $1.25, personal stash1 yard net lace – $4.99, Etsy

Total: $39.22

If you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (or willing to meet up), the DFW Costumers Guild is an open group that welcomes historical and fantasy costumers alike. You can read more about the group, read the guild blog, and get details about future events on the DFW Costumer’s Guild website or Facebook page!