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

From Bed to Bodice: What to Look for When Using Sheets for Fabric

Goin’ Bat-Sheet Crazy!
I use second-hand sheets all the time for my costumes. They are perfect for mockups, linings, or even fashion fabric! Sheets are cheap and plentiful at second-hand shops, outlet stores, and garage sales. They are a great source of fabric for folks who live far from craft shops, need a costume to be inexpensive, or are just learning to sew. Ruining a $4 sheet is much less painful than ruining a $4-a-yard fabric!
Over the years, I have developed a few guidelines to help me wade through bins of sheets to choose the best ones for the task at hand.

sheets

General Sheet-Shopping Guidelines

  • Pick Queen or King size sheets.
  • 100% cotton is great for a more accurate costume.
  • You can never have too many white and solid colored sheets.
  • Test sheets like you would test any fabric at the store for drape, weight, and weave.
  • Buy a variety!
  • Wash all sheets before sewing with them, especially if they are purchased used.

__________

Choosing Sheets for Mockups

mockups

Mockup sheets are very basic: nearly any sheet will do! However, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Size: A King sized sheet has more yardage than a Twin or Full, meaning you can get more pattern pieces/larger pieces out of it. If you are testing a pattern with large pieces, a larger sheet will come in handy. Twin sheets, however, are perfect for mocking up smaller pieces, like bodices.

Fabric content: Since a mockup is usually just used to see the way a pattern fits together, the content of the sheet’s fabric isn’t usually an issue. However, keep in mind that different types of fabrics have different amounts of stretch and draping, so it is wise to consider what type of fabric you will be using in the final garment and choose a sheet with similar properties. A polyester fabric, for example, may have less give than a cotton one, for instance. This will affect how the garment fits later, so a sheet mockup may fit perfectly, but the final garment might be too tight if the final fabrics have a tighter weave. (PRO TIP: If your final garment is made of woven fabric, don’t use a jersey knit sheet for you mockup!)

Pattern: A mockup will likely be messy and won’t end up in the final garment (unless you choose to use your mockup as a lining or finish it, then see below), so the pattern and color do not matter that much. Bright purple with lime green flowers? Pink elephants? Sexy animal print? DO IT!

Choosing Sheets for Linings

IMG_0185

Sheets can be good linings. Since the lining goes into the final garment, however, it pays to be more judicious.

Fabric Content: Consider what you want your lining to do for your garment. Poly-cotton blends are readily available in a wide variety of textures and colors and are very easy to wash, but they can pill something fierce, become ragged-looking, and scratchy. 100% cotton is breathable, easy to sew and launder, and an excellent all-purpose lining fabric, but there are a few exceptions. For example, does the lining need to be smooth to glide over another garment, like for a coat? Cotton and cotton-blend sheets will cling to other cottons, velvets, and many other soft fabrics, so look for sheets that are slinky, silky, and slippery instead. Many will be polyester, so bear in mind that they might trap heat– a boon for a coat, but a possible curse in the summer!

Weight: Weight can mean two things– the thickness of the fabric and the actual physical weight of the fabric itself– and they aren’t necessarily related! A flannel sheet might be thick, but it may be lighter in physical weight than a densely-woven cotton sheet. I have made the mistake of choosing a thin cotton sheet that turned out to be much too heavy en masse, overwhelming the the light, silky fashion fabric, dragging the whole silhouette down with it. Sheets can be very heavy, so be prepared! Test the weight and drape of a sheet like you would test any fabric at the store!

Size: Check your pattern for the recommended amount of lining yardage to get an idea of what size sheet and how many you will need for your project. This is a handy chart of yardage equivalencies for all sizes of sheets to help you calculate:

Chart by Sew Much Ado

Color/Pattern: Linings and fashion fabrics work together. If there is a chance the lining may show, trying to match or compliment your fashion fabric is a must! If the fashion fabric is sheer or loosely woven, the lining may show trough it, especially in certain lighting. Choose a sheet of a similar shade for the lining or one near your flesh tone so the color of the fashion fabric is not affected, though you can get some interesting color effects if you choose alternate linings. For example, a white fashion fabric may look slightly warmer with an orange cotton lining or a loosely woven black fabric can be laid over a bright magenta lining to produce a changeable silk effect. You aren’t limited to plain colored sheets, either! Printed sheets can make excellent period-correct linings. Some Victorian bodices and skirts were lined with patterned cottons. If the lining won’t be seen at all, color or pattern may not even matter! Made a mock-up in that crazy animal print and want to use it as a lining for your Victorian bodice? DO IT!

It’ll be our little secret…

Choosing Sheets for Fashion Fabric

20151121_144130resize

This 1710s outfit is made from a sateen sheet, curtains, and a hacked-off pair of men’s slacks.

While cheap sheets aren’t as luxurious as duchess silk satin, they can make excellent fashion fabrics, especially for 19th and 20th century day dresses. They are also fabulous for undergarments, like petticoats and drawers. Many of the guidelines for choosing a good lining sheet also apply to choosing on for fashion purposes, but with a few more specifics:

Size: Size matters! If you are wanting one fabric for your whole dress, you may have to get creative with your pattern piece placement to maximize your fabric. King or even California King are ideal. For most dresses, a Queen sheet is the absolute minimum size I will buy. I was able to squeeze a Size 12 Regency dress out of a Twin sheet and an XL 18th century men’s coat out out of a Queen sheet, but both cases required some pretty creative pattern piece placement! Using a sheet set (flat sheet, fitted sheet, and pillowcases) are ideal for dresses that need more than 5-6 yards of fabric.

Color/Pattern: Sheets had a bad reputation in the costuming world because the print can make or break a costume, but now that many of us have access to the internet, it’s easier than ever to study original garments and fabrics. The best way to tell if a particular sheet will work? RESEARCH! Solid colored sheets are the simplest choice, since solid colors have always been in style. Stripes and plaids (woven or printed) are also great options if you find them! Just keep in mind that stripes and plaids are directional and will take extra fabric to pattern match (if that’s your thing). Sheets with printed patterns can make amazing dresses if you are discerning.  It can be a fine line between Laura Ingalls and Laura Ashley (though sometimes it’s the other way around…)! Browse museum collections, like the V&A, to see examples of original fabrics.

Texture/Shine: Basic cotton sheets are plainly woven and matte. They are great for day dresses! My striped Regency dress is made of a plainly woven polyester sheet with printed stripes:
dressSateen sheets are also fairly easy to find and, thanks to their weave, they have a warm luster to them that can be dressed up a little more than a plain woven sheet. They are also very soft and somewhat heavy. I admit I hoard sateen sheets! I’ve made costumes from sateen sheets in 3 different centuries: Chris’s 1710s coat, another 1810s day dress, Amelia’s 1910s dress!
IMG_0246
Regency Dress made of a Cotton Sateen Sheet

Edge Finish: This a small thing, but it really does make a huge difference! Sheets have one edge that is deeply hemmed, creating the top of the sheet, and a narrower hem at the bottom (where the tag is usually attached).  The sides of sheets can be finished in two ways: hemmed or plain selvedge. I frequently cheat and use the wide finished edge of the sheet for the bottom hem or sleeve openings of a dress (like on the blue regency dress above) to save time, but in order to use every inch of fabric, you must unpick or cut the hems which takes a lot of time! If you choose a sheet that has plain selvedge edges instead of hemmed, you save a lot of time. Plus, the selvedge edges don’t fray, so if you use it as your seam allowance, it will be hidden inside your garment and won’t need any finishing to keep it from fraying: WIN-WIN!

sheet types

Left: Sheet with plain selvedge sides
Right: Sheet with hemmed sides

____________

Dang! “Seams” like buying sheets is a real chore, huh? Well, when I write it all out like this, it certainly makes it sound tedious, but like anything, the more you practice, the faster it goes. Soon you’ll be judging all your sheets by how good they’d look as a 1770s petticoat or 1930s skirt. Heck, just the other day I found myself eyeballing my actual-factual bed sheets, noting that I should probably get some new ones because I wouldn’t even save them to sew something with! That’s how you know it’s time for new sheets….and that you’ve got too many sheets at the same time!