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!

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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!

The Merchant Gentleman’s Coat

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #1:
The __13 Challenge

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My sexy circa 1713 man’s coat

I know I swore I wouldn’t post the challenges for the HSF here, but this is an exceptional case. The first challenge for this year-long saga of stretching my sewing skills involved celebrating a fashion from a year ending in __13 (e.g. 1913, 1413, etc.). Most folks would have done something pretty and simple, like Edwardian or Regency.

Me? I’m a glutton for punishment and men’s fashion.

So began the 1713 man’s coat.

Before I go on, I have a large confession to make: I have a horrible, irrational fear of the sewing machine. It’s not like I’ve never used one– I own one in fact– but I hate machine sewing and have since I was little. A whole dissertation could probably be written about whatever weird psychological phenomena prompted this distaste, but for now, just remember that I refuse to machine sew anything other than a straight line. This is an important factor in the insanity that follows.

So, I live in Carlsbad, NM, a town out in the middle of the Chihuahua desert. I am fortunate that, even though we are in podunk nowhere, I have access to a fabulous craft emporium chock full of the finest fabrics and patterns at deeply discounted prices.

So, I trooped into Walmart to find 1713 coat patterns and some cheap, suitable fabric. Many Walmarts have done away with their fabric sections, but thanks to a steady crafting community, our smarmy Walmart still dedicates a tiny corner to quilting cotton and the “China Specials” (those fabric bolts marked “contents unknown/variable” with the texture of a felted plastic bag). When I finally found time to get to this Subway-scented wonderland, it was a week into the challenge already, leaving me only a few hours after work each night to sew.  Fortunately, the Fates of Fashion were in a good mood that day, and I emerged from the polyester muddle with the only heavyweight natural fiber available in any sort of feasible color: 6 yards of brown cotton canvas duck ($5.49 cents a yard). Walmart was discerning and refined enough to furnish me with a historically accurate pattern as well:

Aw, yeah! Simplicity 4923.

I’m not joking about the historical accuracy, at least of the actual coat silhouette itself. Jack Sparrow wannabe aside, this pattern is actually good for achieving an early 18th century look as long as you don’t need something perfectly accurate, method-wise. In fact, I’m going to go back and buy the large size version so I can make one for my barrel-chested father. I chose to make an xsmall this time around because I wanted something smaller and therefore quicker to sew. Also, thanks to an excellent sports bra, I happen to fit in the Simplicity man’s xsmall and will provide evidence as soon as I find/make something other than jeans and t-shirt to wear underneath.

The sewing saga began Thursday night with the cutting of the pattern. The envelope back said the coat would take 5 7/8 yards of 45″ fabric to make a coat. My cotton duck was 60 inches wide, but I figured 6 yards wouldn’t hurt (room for mistakes). I ended up using only about 3 yards, so I have enough left over for another, if I choose. The directions and pattern pieces were all straightforward and easy to piece together, minus the darn interfacing which I cheaped out on and just used some more cotton duck, so it’s a little too bulky. However, the directions are mostly common sense, except the sleeves. I had to perform some serious sleeve voodoo on those things just to get them to line up properly!

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An accurate, scientific portrayal of what occurs during sleeve voodoo.

So, did I mention I hate sewing machines? I felt rather accomplished pushing my needle in and out of the cloth over and over and over and over. I sewed 100% or this coat with my own hands and only stabbed myself once (with the back of the needle, of all things). I started out at about 10 stiches per inch on Friday, but by Sunday morning, I was booking it at something a little closer to 5 or 6. My mother walked by on Saturday night with a horribly concerned look on her face and offered to machine sew the monstrously, terribly, god-awfully long 84 inch strip of interfacing. But I was in too deep. I soldiered on. My irrational fear and pride at least keep me industrious to a fault.

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The irony of the hole in my pants does not escape me…

My favorite part of the project was the 27 buttons. Walmart has almost no trims besides wired ribbons and plastic buttons, but I found one hanger of 3/4 inch brass buttons at a frugal 97 cents a pack!

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Plus, they totally say “Le Bouton” which makes them French and fancy. Yeah.

The little brass buttons were inspired by this early 18th century  illustration of a military officer:

“Studies of Two Gentlemen” by Luca Carlevarijs, circa 1700-1710

I’m a sucker for gold and brown, plus buttons are fun, so sewing that long front row was satisfying. I ignored the pattern’s suggestion for paired-button placement and went for a dense, evenly-spaced line. Most civilian English and French coats from 1700-1720 had cloth- or thread-covered buttons all the way down the front, but the major inspiration for this coat in the first place was this illustration by the same artist:

“A Man Wearing a Yellow Coat” by Luca Carlevarijs, circa 1700-1710
In addition, there is a later coat made out of a linen/cotton fabric that helps me rationalize the cotton duck.

The buttons appear to stop just below the waist line at pocket-level, so that’s where I ended my buttons– a fortunate happenstance considering that I used up every single brass button in a 150 mile radius! The pocket flap design on the original Simplicity pattern is way too big, ungainly, and ill-placed (they are way too high and I recommend completely ignoring it and making your own), so I cut the shape to resemble this drawing’s pocket flaps and attached them in a more historically- and aesthetically-pleasing place: where the sleeves end.

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I love late 17th and early 18th century men’s fashion! It’s fussy, but not so fancy that a modern man would feel threatened by it, yet it’s all so over-the-top with gargantuan, heavy wigs, buttons everywhere, and fluffy skirts (yes, gents, you too can enjoy the glory of a full-circle spin in this triple-godet, 134-inch hem coat).

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134 inches of swirly, manly goodness.

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Note: While you can’t see them thanks to me having to wrangle this man’s coat onto a very, very female dress form, this pattern has historically-appropriate angled shoulder seams that fall over the shoulder blades instead of sitting on top of the shoulder.
Also: obligatory cat hair.

Historical Sew Fornightly: Just the Facts!

Italian Man’s Coat, circa 1713
Fabric: Walmart Special Brown Cotton Duck
Pattern: Simplicity 4923 with modified pockets, man’s size xsmall (32″ chest)
Year: 1710-1730
Notions: 27 brass buttons, thread
How historically accurate is it? 65% total, but it’s 100% handstiched because I have a horrible, irrational fear of the sewing machine…
Hours to complete: 38 Hours
Total cost: $25 for fabric, $9 for buttons, $1.26 for thread
For more examples of non-pirate interpretations of Simplicity 4923:
18th Century Men’s Outfit” on Just Blame Jane (uses the breeches pattern that I am saving)
A Pattern is More Like a Guideline, Really…” on Sempstress (uses multiple modifications to create a variety of looks for the fab musical 1776. She makes a good notation about sizing, too!)
For more info on hand stitches, here’s a handy little guide: “Hand Stitching” (also includes tips for sewing with fur!)