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!

2019 Costuming Year in Review

A quick compilation of all the costuming projects I have worked on this year

“Ever After” Renaissance Fair Dress

One of my favorite dresses I’ve made so far! You can check out the details by clicking here and visiting the full blog post about it.

The Procrastinator’s Purse/Reticule

I designed a quick, easy purse pattern so I could have some purses to match my dresses. I even made a free pattern for it!

1878 Mourning Dress

I finally have a historical “little black dress!” You can read the blog post about it by clicking here.

Christmas Bustle Accessories

I don’t have a blog post for this dress yet, but I sewed a new collar, cuffs, and bustle to transform my 1878 mourning dress into a festive Christmas outfit for the Waxahachie Christmas House Tour.
You can see a few event photos from the Tour on Flickr.
I hope to have a pattern for the bustle written up soon, since it was a very quick, simple, off-the-cuff design that worked surprisingly well. The hat is a cheap trilby transformed by trim– one of my favorite shortcuts for making bustle-era hats!

And that’s all I’ve sewn this year! It’s not a heck-ton, but not too shabby! I’m hoping to stash bust a bit more this coming year as I have quite a few fabrics hoarded away that I want to finally do something with. There’s a full list of upcoming events I need new clothes for:

January: Renoir Museum Exhibit Visit
The Plan: Make another set of accessories (collar/cuffs/overskirt) for the black dress to refine the pattern.

February: Napoleon and Josephine Tea
The Plan: I have my ketchup-and-mustard Regency dress from a few years ago that still fits, but I should probably make something more refined for a tea based on royalty, lol! Maybe I can fudge it a bit and squeeze in my 1820 dress ideas here, or perhaps this is the universe telling me to get my rear in gear and use some of that cotton voile I’ve been hoarding…or maybe it’s both…

March: First Annual Romantic Picnic
The Plan:  already have my 24-hour orange plaid dress from last year, but I have at least 3 cute cotton prints I have earmarked for 1830s, so maybe I should dust them off and make ’em work! My family is visiting long-distance just to attend, too, and we’ve been working on gathering accessories and making outfits for everyone, too.

…and that’s as far  as I’ve planned for now. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself or I get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Anyone else do that?

Plus, it’s the start of a new decade, so I foresee at least one funky 1820s and one elegant 1920s dress on the docket.

Fashion Plate, 1823
The 1820s are when the Romantic Era’s BIG SLEEVE obsession started. The 1830s get all the credit, but if you want wild sleeves and equally wild hem decor, the 1820s are for you!

August 1922 Fashions
Artsy and classy!

I think instead of doing the slim, tailored 1920s dresses everyone always thinks of, I’m going to try something earlier in the decade, perhaps an evening dress. Dresses from 1920-1922 were still fairly long-hemmed and not so drop-waisted, so I think they’ll be much more forgiving on my fuller figure. Plus, I like 1920s sportswear–like a simple sweater and pleated skirt with a cute monogrammed pocket! That I might be able to thrift shop for.

Oh, I also hope to see some of you folks at future DFW Costumers Guild events!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

9 Inexpensive Christmas Stocking Stuffers for the Historical Costumer

The holidays are here and it can be a bit challenging to find gifts to give a hobbyist if you don’t share that hobby.

For a costumer, a good pair of sewing shears is always a welcome gift or a fresh set of sharp pins or a giftcard to the local hobby shop, but here are a few smaller, less obvious gifts that make great stocking stuffers for the historical costumer in your life.

These are general inexpensive common items that can be found in big box stores or online– stuff that might not pop immediately into your mind as a “costuming” gift, but that are infinitely handy for historical costuming!

1. Tinted Lip Balm (Average Price: $1-10)

Blistex’s Lip Vibrance is my absolute favorite (Walmart, $2.50). It has the perfect rosy pink color and is SPF 15. Plus, it has a tiny mirror on the tube! I also have Vaseline’s Rosy Lips (Dollar Tree, $1). It is more slick and glossy with barely any color, but it does a good job of keeping lips soft.

Lip balm is incredibly handy to have at outdoor events, especially in dry climates (or cold ones, as I discovered during a particularly chilly DFWCG Georgian Picnic). In addition, a little sheer tint gives your lips a healthy rosy glow without looking too made-up. A lip balm with a bit of color to it is an indispensable item I take to every costuming event!

There are a variety of historically accurate options available as well, like LBCC Historical’s 1772 tinted rose lip balm (Etsy, $10). Or, if you are feeling crafty, make your own from a historical recipe, like this one! Bonus points for making a homemade gift as well.

2. Black Safety Pins – (Average price: $2-4)

I buy my black safety pins at Walmart for about $2, but you can find them in almost any big craft store or online. I love them because they are much less visible on darker and matte fabrics! In the above picture, you can see the difference between the black safety pin and the regular silver safety pin on the very matte black linen I used for my 1878 mourning dress.

The vintage term for black lacquered metal pins is “Japanned.” In the Victorian era, they were used for mourning clothes, but black pins are incredibly handy for wearing with any dark costume were the glint of a silver pin would be glaringly obvious. Plus, you can never had too many safety pins!

3. Knee Socks and Stockings ($1-35)

It’s an age-old trope: socks for Christmas? Bleck! But to a historical costumer, stockings are the perfect stocking stuffer! You can’t go wrong with a fine pair of creamy white or black above the knee stockings, but you can go for funkier designs, too, depending on your gift recipient’s personality. I have another post about historical stockings here.

I have a wide variety of stockings from basic knee socks (Walmart, $3) to baseball socks (Academy Sports, $8) to trouser stockings (Dollar Tree, $1) to fancy clocked stockings (Fashions Revisited, $15).

I will say that I prefer a finer, even knit stocking, not necessarily sheer, just a smaller thread/stick size, like a modern dress sock. Chunky, textured, or coarse knits can cause rub spots in shoes…a not-so-nice situation if you’re having to walk around uneven ground outside all day.

You can find a huge variety of fantastic knee and over-the-knee socks online at places like Sock Dreams or Ozone Socks! For luxurious historical repros, there’s the  American Duchess stocking line or Fashions Revisited.

4. Hair Donuts, Hairpins, and Hair Ties ($1-6)

Historical hair can be hard. A hair donut makes it easier! What on earth is a hair donut? A hair donut is just a puffy circle of fine mesh that helps make perfectly smooth buns easily. They are readily available from Dollar Tree, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Sally’s Beauty Supply–or just about anywhere you can find hair accessories– and usually cost just a few dollars.. They come in a variety of sizes and colors like blonde, brunette, black, and red to help blend better into the hair. You can find hair donuts in singles or in kits.

A packs of hairpins/bobby pins and hair ties in the right color to blend into the hair are also wonderful. Hairpins and hair ties always seem to vanish after a while, so getting extras are usually a very welcome surprise. I like Goody’s Ouchless hair ties, myself (Target/Walmart, $5). They come in a variety of natural hair colors.

5. Shoe Laces ($1-12)

This may be a bit out of left field, but shoe laces are very handy to have around the sewing room. They can become a drawstring in a skirt or purse and lace up a corset. Shoelaces with metal ends are especially nice and more historically accurate (The technical term for the tips is “aglets” and they have been around for centuries). Look for solid-color flat ones in the kid’s section which work great for purses or extra-long (84″+) round ones by the men’s workboots that are ideal for corsets.

6. Cute Paper-Cutting Scissors ($3-10)

Every seamstress has a preferred type of sewing shear, so if you’re planning to get them a new pair, ask them what type they prefer. However, for just a quick gift, it’s equally handy to get a pair of scissors for cutting pattern tissue, too. Find a fun pair! An all-purpose pair of scissors with a cute handle makes it easy to tell the paper-cutting scissors from the fabric scissors. You can never have too many pairs of scissors of all types!

7. Faux Pearl Jewelry ($3+)

Pearls are classic and have been treasured since ancient times. The great thing about a strand of pearls or a pair of pearl drop earrings is that they are timeless: they can be worn with any era of costume from Roman to Renaissance to Victorian to Retro. If you’ve got the budget for real pearls, kudos to you! But quality faux pearls are affordable and widely available anywhere that sells jewelry like Target, Kohls, Claires, etc. One of my favorite costuming necklaces is a $10 strand of glass pearls from Walmart.

If you have a few extra dollars to invest in a gift, there are several historical costume jewelry sellers as well, like Dames a La Mode or K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse.

8. Long Evening Gloves ($8-25)

In the past, folks generally wore gloves when they went outside no matter the season. Gloves have mostly fallen out of fashion in our modern world and finding vintage examples can be difficult. That’s why stretchy costume gloves are so great! Places like Party City and bridal shops generally have them year round in a variety of colors. Plain black, white, and ivory are the easiest to find and the most versatile, though if your giftee has a fave color, you can certainly find it online. They come in lots of colors!

9. Book Phone Case ($10+)

Lots of costumers like to use a cell phone cover designed to look like a little leather-bound book to hide this indispensable bit of modernity. I love my book phone case! Book phone cases are not one-size-fits-all, so if you plan to get one as a gift, make sure you know the model of your giftee’s phone. Unlike the other items on this list which you can find easily in stores, this one you’ll probably have to buy online. You can find genuine leather ones ($25-50) or  faux-leather ones ($10-25).

Of course, each costumer is different, so not all of these gifts are 100% perfect for each person, but they might give you some ideas.There are plenty of other little gifts you can use as stocking stuffers (measuring tapes, pins, etc.) for your favorite historical costumer. If in doubt, though, just ask them what they want! They’ll be able to tell you more specific items.

HAVE A SAFE AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Print Dress, circa 1840 (John Bright Collection)

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

Print Dress, circa 1840 (National Gallery of Victoria)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

2018 has not been a good year for sewing. In fact, I’ve only sewn one new dress this year and it’s not historical at all!

Pictured above: Me during 2018 so far.

Perhaps I was feeling a bit burned out from the pressure of the historical costuming community or maybe it was my love of fantasy making a roaring appearance, but the only new costume I have made this whole year so far was, of all things, inspired by the Game of Thrones.

I don’t even really keep up with the show, but the costumes…they are fab! Check out the unbelievably beautiful embroidery! They have kindled a huge movement in the costume community, a kind of fantasy renaissance that hadn’t really happened since the Lord of Rings (over a decade ago…OMG! Where has time flown?!). As it turns out, a lot of historical costumers also fell in love with the wonderful GoT costumes. I think Katherine of The Fashionable Past really summed up why the world of Westeros was so appealing to many historical costumers:

“…They’ve truly created fashion on the show–clothes for different climates, different levels of society, different everything, yet they remain consistent in fashionable details. It was almost like discovering a new historical period.”

Kathrine has made a few GoT themed dresses with her own personal twists and designs. She noticed how similar the construction of her GoT dress was to 18th century dresses. In the course of my adventure, I discovered the skills I learned sewing the Plaid Croissant Natural Form Bustle Dress really helped make the McCalls pattern much easier to understand and sew!

I was inspired to give one a try! As it so happened, all the pieces just seems to fall into place like destiny.

A year ago, I had found my first piece of thrift-store silk. I want to be clear: I NEVER find yardage at my local Goodwill, much less silk yardage! Most of the silk I use is cut from silk shirts. I had enviously seen other costumers post on Facebook about finding silk yardage at the thrift shops. Finally, I found some–a real piece of silk–three yards of it! I was so proud and giddy that I horded it for a whole year. 3 yards isn’t enough for most historical dresses, so I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Like I am wont to do, I simply squirreled it away in the deepest recesses of the fabric horde where it waited, breath baited, to someday be recreated.

Fast forward to April and my friends invited me to Renaissance Faire!

Ren Faire is one of the “holy grail” events for costumers and though it was 100 degrees outside, I could NOT go to Ren Faire without a costume! I’d been struggling with a job switch and a general lack of creative energy, but I REFUSE to go all the way to ren faire to only look around. I want to be part of the costumed merriment!

At first, I desperately wanted to make a traditional 16th Century dress– the kirtle, the coif, the whole nine yards (of skirt fabric). But the only fabric I found that I liked was $50 a yard! Yikes! No thanks! So I thought about doing another version of my Second-Hand 17th Century Get-Up.

I’ve gained quite a bit of weight since 2013 (5 years ago?!). Alas, I don’t fit in that little jacket or skirt any longer! In light of this revelation, I began voraciously scrolling through pages and pages and pages of eBay auctions to find something that might work. I ended up in my favorite sari shop, “Antique Art of India” by sanskriti.india. I was looking for a lehenga (skirt), but instead, I found a glorious green silk organza sari. Inspiration hit me!

A sari is about 5 yards long, which, at my size, isn’t quite enough for a full dress on its own…but add 3 yards of silk dupioni to the mix…

As fate would have it, the Scarbie Faire theme for the weekend we were going was Fantasy, so a Game of Thrones dress would be perfect! And I already had several patterns to choose from in my stash.

The pieces were finally falling into place!

There are TONS of medieval and Game of Thrones style patterns to choose from. I waffled between Simplicity and McCalls because they seemed to be the top two choices in the GoT costuming community forums. Simplicity 1487/1009 was designed by Andrea Schewe, a pattern designer I admire for both her design sense and how easily I can adjust her patterns to fit my body. I know if her name is on a pattern, it will probably be fantastic!

However, the Simplicity pattern had a back zipper and a waist seam. I wanted a real wrap dress like Kathrine’s and the ones on the show. McCalls 6940 is a honest-to-goodness real wrap front dress.

All the reviews on the Game of Thrones costuming groups mentioned that the skirt on the McCalls pattern was too tight, but it’s easier to add fullness than to try to turn a zipper back into a wrap front. For this last-minute dress, I decided to use the McCalls pattern, View A. I cut a size 16 based on my full upper bust measurement. As I discovered, this was too large in the back. I should have cut a 14 or even 12 for the back.

I did have to alter the pattern to fit me which was no small task, but this is par for the course. Patterns are normally designed for B-cups and I’m an DDD/F cup. I’m a curvy gal and this pattern is not curvy at all. In fact, it has almost no waist or bust shaping, relying on the belt to draw in the excess fullness–not my favorite method of fitting, but I think I made it work.

As a busty gall, I’ve struggled to find regular everyday wrap dresses that don’t fit horribly over my bust. This dress is a wrap dress, but it also has princess seams to help make fitting a little easier…in theory. As it turns out, there is a special method for altering a wrap dress with princess seams. Plus, this dress had the special side gores that had to be accounted for!

I discovered a great tutorial by Idle Fancy that I absolutely recommend!

I followed it exactly, had the same “OMG, THIS PATTERN PIECE IS DEFORMED AND WILL NEVER WORK—Oh, it totally works!” moment she did. Mary 100% made this project easier to conquer. Thanks, chica!

MY HEROINE!

Here is a picture showing my adjusted pattern pieces with the originals:

In addition to the FBA, I also reduced the length of the sleeves to half so I could fit them on the narrow sari fabric and increased the skirt width by flaring the skirt pattern pieces at the bottom then tapering back to the original width near the top to make sure the gores still fit properly. The U-shaped gores seem really intimidating, but the way they are assembled makes it surprisingly easy! In fact, I assembled the majority of the dress in a single day, just in time to wear it to Scarborough! It was ROASTING wearing all the layers, insulating silk, and long sleeves, but I had an unforgettable time with my friends. We were too busy exploring to take many pictures, but here is one Chris took at the very end of the day.

I am shiny from sweat, crater-eyed from a lack of sleep, and sore from walking for hours, but the dress held up and people even recognized it as a Game of Thrones dress despite it not being any specific recreation! Huzzah!

Still, the dress wasn’t quite finished. It needed some more trimming and refining, which I finally got around to doing this week. So, months later, here is the finally finished dress!

As you can see, the dress ended up too big in the waist, leading to all sorts of wrinkling. If I make another version of this dress, I will need to tweak the pattern to be more fitted. McCalls 6940 relies on the included belt patterns to delineate the waist, so the dress pattern itself has almost no waist shaping whatsoever, even if you aren’t fitting it over a corset. I chose to wear mine with a corset 1) because on the show, Sansa is shown in one scene wearing stays (an earlier form of the corset), 2) it helps keep the belt in place because otherwise belts tend to ride up over my belly and settle right under my boobs, and 3) I like the regal bearing it gives me.

In addition to the corset, I wore an underskirt and petticoat. These fluff the dress more and since the front of the dress is wrapped over, but open, the underskirt does show when you walk or sit. You will definitely want to wear one that complements your gown! Mine is a prom skirt I bought at Goodwill for $6.

My final thoughts on the McCalls 6940 pattern View A are thus:

-It is a solid, basic dress. It is a good base for embellishments and the real wrap front is ideal. The tie closure works, though it would benefit from another one internally (or I could just add the snap they call for).

-It is too slim through the skirt and not fitted enough in the waist. For screen accuracy and plain ol’ aesthetics, I recommend increasing the fullness of the skirt as much as you can and then use a facing to help the skirt flare out in that lovely sweep we so love. I’d also try to make it more fitted in back, like I did for my Natural Form gown.

-This design really works best with fabric that have good texture and body. It takes quite a bit of fabric, too, especially because of the enormous sleeves. I used all 3 yards of the silk with only a handful of scraps left. The sari was completely used up except for a few damaged areas I had to work around and the pallu (the pallu is the decorated end, about 1 yard worth). This is after shortening the sleeves to accommodate the narrow fabric. I flatlined the dress like I would a Victorian one, but I left the sleeves unlined for airflow. The lining will add to the yardage you need. (I used a king-sized cotton sheet)

-The sleeves want to shift. They are open on the bottom after the elbow and I found that the fabric wants to slip off your arm. You can see it happening a bit here:

This may be due to a number of factors, but I think it’s because the sleeve construction puts the center of the sleeve on the outside of the arm, so the sleeve wants to twist to the side, causing it to gradually fall off your forearm. This might be fixed by weighting the sleeves or making them full-length instead of sorter like mine. I might try lengthening the inner side if I choose to make the shorter sleeves again. That might fix the issue.

-This dress is a solid intermediate pattern. The techniques are all basic and there are no fancy tricks. The hardest part to sew (in my opinion) is the facings at the neck and hem. Just take your time to pin things accurately and you’ll be fine.

-The instructions are very clear. Read them! I thought I knew how it would work, but discovered I was making more work for myself. The instructions actually made the sewing easier for once! The marks on the tissue are important for the ties down the front. Mark them accurately if you want the closure to line up.

-Make or buy a snazzy belt. Since it is key to achieving the look and fit, you’ll need a  belt to go with your gown. The pattern comes with two. I haven’t tried making them, but the armor-like one (based off Cersei’s in the show) looks wicked cool. If you don’t want to make your own, I recommend a comfy wide elastic belt. They are easy to put on and adjust, plus there are tons of styles online to choose from. I picked a rather basic black one with a brass closure to match the beading on the sari. Bonus points for it being something I can wear everyday, too! There are fancier models, though, like these that I found just by doing a quick Amazon search for “wide elastic belt:”

Overall, I had a ton of fun making and wearing this dress. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to make something new! I also liked that it was fairly low-pressure. Sometimes historical accuracy can be a little claustrophobic if you have tons of internet people judging your every stitch and trim. Since this was entirely fantasy, there was much less pressure! I look forward to making another one of these dresses in the future. If you are feeling adventurous or need something fresh to jumpstart your creativity, I think this could be a great project. I worked for me! I’m still stressed and not feeling very motivated to costume, but I am proud to have made at least one dress this year.

For those of you curious about how I did my hair, I made a small tutorial thing for ya:

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Calculating the “Cost” in Costuming

Investing in the Hobby: Is it worth it?

Dress made of £50k for a promotional.

When you begin a costume, there are a few major determining factors that dictate how your project will proceed. You must have in mind an era or character that you want to recreate, like a 1942 army nurse,  Jessica Rabbit, a Civil War widow, Zelda, an 1570s Italian, etc. While this might seem like the greatest determining factor of a costume, in reality, nothing looms over a project so largely as a budget.

My grandmother and I had a phone conversation a while back, and I mentioned my latest sewing projects and plans. She admitted to not having sewn anything in a few decades. She asked how much fabric cost.
“I usually buy cheap fabric that costs between $1.50 and $6.00 a yard,” I told her, “but a quilting cotton could easily run $8-14 dollars.”
I could imagine her shaking her head as she told me, “I used to get patterns and yardage for about 50 cents. Now, it’s often so much cheaper to buy things already made than it is to make it at home.”

In 1959 (when this pattern was published), 50¢ had the modern purchasing power of approximately $4.10 today.

That brief–but informative–moment on the telephone prompted me think a little harder about the actual cost of my hobby. Granted, the vintage price of a pattern or fabric wasn’t subject to modern inflation, but fewer people sew their own clothes these days than ever before, turning fabrics and patterns into luxury hobby goods rather than household staples. A firm project budget is a must!

There is big difference between a set budget and the actual cost of a costume. Budgets should be set before the costume is even begun. Ideally, a budget should be a fixed number, but sometimes you go over, but often you might find yourself happily slipping by under budget! Cost, however, is ultimately a fixed number. It is the amount you spend making your masterpiece (or novicepiece, as is often my case). The concept seems pretty straight forward, but after costuming for a few years, cost can become a fuzzy grey area.

I’ll use perhaps my “cheapest” costume, my 18th century maid’s outfit, as an example.

Calculating the Cost of an Individual Costume

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1. Fabric

Usually when you calculate the cost of a costume project, the most natural thing to do is figure how much you spent on fabric bought specifically for that project. For example, my Simplicity 3723 dress involved the following materials:

6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE!
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – STASH!
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – STASH!
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Total: $6.00

I was fortunate (or unfortunate, as the stuff turned out to be a wrinkly nightmare) to find some faux-linen-whatever at Walmart for only a dollar a yard, and the floral decor remnant was from my stash, as was the cotton sheet. The cewel-work sample that became the stomacher was sent along as a free gift with another sample I bought. When it comes to fabric calculations alone…HOLY COW! A DRESS FOR $6?!

Yes!

Well, sort of.

You see, I am a miser–or perhaps, more aptly, an accountant– when it comes to my purchases. For example, while the crewelwork and sheets were genuinely free (my parents had purchased the sheets for me five years ago as a college gift and I had worn them out), the floral remnant I could remember paying $10.64 at Hobby Lobby about a year prior, thanks to the paper label I had kept it wrapped in. Even though it wasn’t purchased exclusively for this dress, it was still an integral part in the costume.

Pictured: Not my stash.
My stash is nowhere near this organized.

Stash and scrap fabrics are an interesting case because so often we forget how much they cost.  Does it need to be included in the “cost” of my costume if I use it even though I purchased the fabric so long ago? Obviously I spent money on my stash fabrics at some point and even my penny-pinching side can’t remember the cost of every fabric in my stash. Could I count four yards of expensive embroidered silk taffeta as “free” if it’s been sitting so long in my closet that I can’t remember what I paid for it? That’s a tricky question. Basically, if I think the stash fabric would cost under $5 to buy new, I ignore the cost just for the sake of my sanity. Otherwise, I try to list a fair price.

There are also trims to consider, like the lace engageantes sleeves I made which, though removable, are basted to the dress and an important piece to complete the look. So my cost calculation should look more like this:

6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE!
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – $10.64
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – FREE!
2 yard of lace for the engageantes – $10
_____________
Total: $26.64

2. Notions

Paper box with linen measuring tape, circa 1790-1810

All these fabrics and trims aren’t held together by angel dreams and unicorn tears. Sewing requires notions. I have a large collection of threads, bias tapes, and other sundry items, but do I include them in my calculation of cost? Notions are just like stash fabric. Often, we have collected them over a long period of time and can no longer remember their cost. Some, like spools of thread, can be used across multiple projects. However, notions (especially if you consider buttons or ribbon to be notions) and other structural materials like boning can add up fast, not to mention the cost of the pattern itself!

6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE!
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – $10.64
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – FREE!
2 yard of lace for the engageantes – $10
22″ zipper from Walmart – $2.55
Size 10 sew-on snaps – $2.97
Zip tie for boning the stomacher – FREE!*
Thread – $1.55
Simplicity 3723 pattern – 99 cents*
_____________
Total: $34.70

*As a general rule, if I calculate that I spent under 50 cents for the individual item, I do not count it, but I had to purchase a whole pack in order to get just this one 1/2 inch wide zip tie. If I never use the rest of them for other projects, I basically just spent $6 to buy boning for this one costume.  Also, the pattern was on sale at Hobby Lobby. On a regular day, Simplicity 3723 costs $10-17, depending on the store.

This is the money that I personally invested in this particular dress. It’s not the $6 dress from earlier, but it’s still plenty cheaper than buying one pre-made. You can’t find a mass-produced costume for that cheap, especially not one custom made just for you.

2.5 Equipment

This category is tricky and I’m only going to briefly go over it. Hence the “2.5” designation.

Almost any hobby requires you to invest in a few basic tools. The most basic tool for sewing is a needle. A good, sharp pair of scissors is another, as is a lot of pins and a flexible measuring tape (or 5). All other sewing equipment is just a variation of those three tools. These basic tools can be purchased for only a few dollars: needles are a dollar or two a packet of 10 or more, a box of pins might cost another dollar or two and a flexible measuring tape costs about the same. The most expensive is the scissors for $8-10. So for a handsewer’s start-up, the initial equipment investment can be less than $15!

However, most folks who sew will want to invest in a sewing machine. I sew on a Singer Simple machine. It was a gift, but would cost about $100 to buy new. Machines require special machine needles which, ideally, must be changed at least once a project and purchased to suit the type of fabric being sewn. Some people like also having a serger to finish edges for them or an embroidery machine. Those can run into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Others, like myself, content themselves with investing in lot of excellent pairs of fabric scissors. I have pinking shears ($20), regular fabric-only shears ($15), and two or three sets of thread-snips scattered around the craft room ($10 each). Some folks prefer cutting their fabric with a fancy rotary cutter instead of scissors. A good seam ripper is another must-have tool ($3). I probably spend more time ripping apart seams than sewing them!

My basic sewing equipment arsenal adds up like this:

Singer Simple – FREE-ish! (gift, but $120 new)
3 bobbins, button hole foot, needle threader, lint brush included with machine
Invisible zipper foot (a recent acquisition) $11
Sewing machine needles, pack of 5 – $6
3 boxes of pins – $6 ($2 each)
Fiskars fabric shears – $15
Fiskars pinking shears – $20
Fiskars thread snips – $30 ($10 seach)
3 flex measuring tapes – $3
Innumerable hand-sewing needles of various sizes – $5 (rough estimate)

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Total: about $220 if I had to buy it all over again

While the start-up can be initially expensive, these tools are used for every project, so their per-use cost rapidly decreases the more projects you do with them. I have used my scissors so many hundreds of thousands of times that I don’t even consider them as a cost for a costume. At most, the per-costume use cost would be a few cents. But if you are just starting out in the hobby or starting a costuming business, the cost of your sewing equipment is an important budget consideration.

3. Time

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Sewing at 2am is standard practice.

Material costs are one thing, but the time required to turn those materials into a piece of wearable clothing makes a custom costume more expensive. My costume took lots of hard work to make. I handsewed 90% and it took me over a week. I sewed about 4 hours a night for 8 days, so about 32 hours. That’s like working an average day job! At my current day job, I made about $12 and hour. If I carry that value over to all my time, by working 32 hours, I have have done $384 worth of work!  If you sell the costumes you create, keeping track of the time invested in your items becomes especially important. While you may not get the equivalent of $12 an hour, you don’t want to undervalue your time either! This is why custom clothing items are so expensive compared to the mass-produced clothing you buy in Walmart or even department stores. A home crafter or even a small co-op cannot match the production costs of a giant factory filled with specialized machines staffed by workers paid pennies by the hour.

I don’t think “paying myself” for something I do as a hobby applies to this dress because I made it for myself, but putting a price on the physical labor does make you appreciate your own handiwork infinitely more.

However, even if I put aside the hours of work involved in making my dress, I still haven’t reached the actual cost of my costume!

SAY WHAT?!

4. Support Garments

I’m not just wearing the dress I made, I’m wearing undergarments as well:

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Though I did not sew my undergarments myself, my costume wouldn’t be the same without them! My costuming undergarments include a corset, tank top, and button-front skirt. Even though I wear them with everything and don’t include them in any costume’s cost calculation, I technically did pay for them at one point:

Corset – $75
Tank top: $3
Second-hand skirt: $3

I wear these so often that if I apply the “divide the cost by number of times worn” rule, the cost of the most expensive item, my corset, comes out to only about $1 a day. But if someone else wanted to recreate my look from scratch, they would have to invest the whole $75. The same goes for homemade stays. To buy fabric and boning to make them also costs money. Even my stash-made pillow panniers are made of material I once had to purchase.

5. Accessories

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Accessories are another sneaky cost, but they can elevate a costume from cute to full-on fabulous! For this particular costume, I splurged on my beloved American Duchess Pompadours. I dyed and trimmed them for pizzazz. I have a favorite pair of stockings to wear with them as well. Up top, I used vintage baby bonnet to cover my bun. Even though my grandmother gave it to me in a box of linens, it was still marked with a $4 price tag. I also threw on some vintage faux pearls for charm; these belonged to my sister and were promptly returned. So to me, they were free!

American Duchess shoes – $92
Shoe dye – $12
Antique metallic ribbon – $18
O Basics stockings – $8
Vintage bonnet – FREE! / $4
Vintage necklace – FREE! (or $5 if you hit up Walmart)

Total it up!

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So here is the new calculation based on every single item in this outfit:

6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE! *sent along with another I paid $24 for
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – $10.64
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – FREE!
2 yard of lace for the engageantes – $10
22″ zipper from Walmart – $2.55
Size 10 sew-on snaps – $2.97
Zip tie for boning the stomacher – FREE! *$6 for the pack
Thread – $1.55
Simplicity 3723 pattern – 99 cents*
Corset – $75
Tank top: $3
Second-hand skirt: $3
American Duchess shoes – $92
Shoe dye – $12
Antique metallic ribbon – $18
O Basics stockings – $8
Vintage bonnet – FREE! / $4
Vintage necklace – FREE!
_____________
Total: $249.70
OR
if you include the $384 time investment:
$633.70

I’m not going to lie: that’s a lot of money. Looking at the breakdown now, my dress seems like a poor showing for $250, much less $634! Would I pay that price for it? No. But remember, the actual dress only cost me $34.70! Everything else is an investment. My corset, stockings, shoes, and all the other separate bits are reusable. There may be thread left on the spool, the rest of the zip ties get used up the way they were intended (did you know that zip ties can actually be used to tie things together? Who’d have thought?!), and the leftover bits of fabric get added back into the stash. That is why when a costumer lists the “cost” of their final outfit, they do not include those sorts of items in the math.

While keeping costs down is the goal of many home costumers, you will ultimately spend money and, more importantly, time. There’s just no way around it. That’s why setting a budget and making smart investments is so important. Even a $35 dollar historically accurate pattern is justifiable if you have the skills to make it properly and/or make multiple pieces from it. Use a $10 dress pattern once and you paid $10; use it twice, and now it was only $5 per dress! The more you make, the better you will get and the cheaper the pattern will become. Find pieces that multitask or that you can refashion later when you get tired of the old version. Borrow and share pieces amongst your (trustworthy) friends. Recycle as often as you can!

The most important thing to remember about cost is that you are investing in your hobby. Keeping yourself busy with something you enjoy is the best therapy in the world, even if you get so frustrated with your machine you want to smash it with a hammer and throw it down the stairs after it gets all tangled up with an impossible amount of red thread in impossible places…

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Experience speaks!

I costume not because I’m particularly talented at it, but because I love a challenge just as much as I love pretty clothes. To me, making costumes is like earning a series of giant, wearable achievement badges. More than once I have turned down a beautiful fabric because I couldn’t afford it or my current skills would not do the fabric justice. I may miss out on the perfect print, but I don’t think it’s a huge sacrifice to go with a cheaper fabric that I feel comfortable making a mistake with. You name the mistake, I’ve probably done it! However, I usually don’t stress too much if I purchased plenty of fabric at a good price. I could buy a $10 box of chocolates that will disappear in a few hours and mysteriously reappear around by waist a few weeks later, or I can buy $10 worth of fabric and puzzle a dress out of it. Even though I love candy (and dessert in general. Oh, the cheesecake!), investing $10 towards a new dress much better than spending $10 towards growing out of one.

Is costuming worth it? Yes.
Is it for everyone? Well, it could be. :)

Whether you make or buy your own costumes, what matters most is that they make you happy!

Making an Early 18th Century Stomacher from an Old Pillowcase

HSF Challenge #9: Flora and Fauna

I know I said I wasn’t going to post Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges here, but I’m all about making historical costuming fun and easy and making a stomacher for an 18th century gown is a project even sewing-machine-phobic me completed with little fuss. First of all, here’s my final stomacher:

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Early 18th Century style Stomacher, circa 2013

I based my stomacher’s look off of these examples I found online in the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The bright colors, especially the yellow binding on the second one, appealed to me. The 18th century was all about crazy color!

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Embroidered Linen Stomacher, circa 1710

Stomacher, circa 1710-1720
This stomacher has matching tabs that were fashionable during the first decades of the 18th century.

Embroidered stomachers were very popular, especially during the early decades of the 1700s. I am no seamstress and definitely not a skilled embroiderer, but I found a simple, cost-effective solution– an old  crewel embroidered pillow case with a perfect Georgian-inspired motif!

Crewel Embroidered Pillow Case, circa 1975-ish

I’ve seen lots of crewelwork pillows in my time. They were really popular as a homemade or kit craft in the 1970s. If cutting into a pillow makes you queezy, there are also lots of crewel fabric samples available online, but be prepared to pay handsomely for them since most are designer and hand-embroidered. In my case, the crewel embroidery is wool thread on a cotton duck background.

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There are a few bits of missing crewel here and there since the pillowcase has seen better days. I consider the missing bits an element of my “costume dirt:” little imperfections and wear that make an outfit look like real clothes I live in everyday. After all, if this was really 1710, I would be wearing this stomacher day to day, and it would get grimy, thin, and patchy just like my favorite 21st century t-shirts.

Most 18th century stomachers were linen or silk, but since wool and cotton are both natural fibers and would have been available, I feel no shame using them at all. I did however, use poly-cotton blend double-fold bias tape to bind it, but I’m ridiculously cheap and miserly. Poly-cotton is what WalMart had, so that’s what I used!

outline

My goal was to include both of the large flowers in the stomacher design, which required cutting the stomacher a little longer than fashionable for the 18th century, but for an early impersonation (roughly 1710-ish), it’s a fine length, especially on a taller person. It works much better proportionally for my 5′ 9″ tall sister than it does for 5′ 6″ tall me! For a template, I used the “bodice” piece from the Simplicity Pirates of the Caribbean dress (Simplicity 4092), which I purchased for 99 cents at Hobby Lobby’s super-huge pattern sale! Huzzah!

The pattern’s thin tissue allowed me to see through to the design and position the flowers right where I wanted them. I then followed the pattern directions for boning the stomacher.*

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* It is important to note here that I have never sewn boning channels directly into a lining before in my life (I’ve always used applied casings) and I hate sewing on the machine, so I am super proud of my hideously ugly results! I even added an extra two channels for more support since the pattern only called for 3. For bones, I used 1cm wide zip ties from Lowe’s Hardware store. Zip ties work wonders! I highly recommend them.

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THIS IS WHY LIZZY NEVER SEWS ON A SEWING MACHINE.

It’s “sew” much easier to do it by hand, but I was crunched for time. I was a foolish, lazy individual and didn’t start working on this challenge until the day before it was due. I only used the machine for the back of the stomacher since I knew it would be hideous, but since the machine stitching was the back, no one would see it when I had it on. So, congratulations! You are now privy to my machine-sewing secret! I am not sure if this information should be considered a privilege or a burden…

Stomachers from the 18th century could be boned or unboned. The modern pattern I used required boning to support and smooth the fabric since most modern women do not wear stays under their dresses. I boned mine because I’ve worked with period Victorian garments long enough to know a few extra bones here and there really improves the way a garment performs on the body.

I then loosely whipstitched the raw edges of the lining and the crewel embroidered fashion (top) layer together and bound the edges with double-fold bias tape in a really bright yellow. I used basic fell stitches to bind the bias tape to the front.

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My handstitching is much better than my machine sewing, thank goodness!

I added four tabs to the sides by unfolding the half-fold of the bias tape and making loops. I must admit, I love the bright yellow. There are quite a few antique examples of stomachers with bright yellow binding, and it was what really inspired me to get moving on this project. Eventually, I plan to make an equally cheery yellow gown or petticoat to match.

Gown with Embroidered Stomacher, circa 1700-1729

CaptureI have some sunny yellow cotton in my stash that might make the perfect compliment to my flowery stomacher. I draped it over my dress form a tad and it looks like enough to make a dress. Now to find the time to sew it!

HSF Stats
The Challenge: #9 Flora and Fauna
Fabric: Cotton duck with wool crewel embroidery, cotton sheeting
Pattern: A stray bit of Simplicity 4092
Year: Early 18th century
Notions: Poly-cotton double-fold bias tape, cotton thread, zip ties
How historically accurate is it? 65%
Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: By Simplicity, my dress form.
Total cost: $24 for the fabrics, $2 for the bias tape, $6.75 for the zip ties (pack of 20) and $1.50 for the thread