Another Edwardian Day Out: Steam, Teens, and Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—More Edwardian and 1910s Costume Adventures—

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

More Easy Edwardian (1913-1914)

 

 

 

Conquering the Croissants Part III: Simplicity 4244 FINAL RESULTS

For 10 long sewing-skill-and-weight-gaining years, I had been beguiled by bake-shop beauty Simplicity 4244, the infamous “hip-croissant” Victorian wedding dress pattern:

“You promised the bread jokes were over…”
I LIED.

While the build-up took nearly a decade, the actual sewing itself took only about four weeks to make a double batch of dresses: one week to work up the gumption to cut the pattern, one week to fiddle with the mockup, one week to sew the ballgown for Tiaras and Toe Shoes, one week to turn the mock-up into a real dress for Bustles and Bullets the following weekend.

Though it was begun second, I finished the ballgown version first:

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Simplicity 4244 Evening Gown Cost Breakdown

8.4 yards rayon/nylon fabric – $27.66, Hancock Fabrics
1 king sized grey cotton sheet (dress lining) – $4.99, Thrift Town
1 twin size polyester sheet (bustle lining) – $1.99, Thrift Town

1 spool thread – $2.49, Walmart
17 hooks and eyes – $3, Hobby Lobby

Total: $40.13

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Yes, my tiara is on crooked. I took these pictures on a whim 20 minutes before I had to transform back into my regular librarian form for work, so my hair is a mess, too. Don’t care! Still fabulous! If I were real royalty, I might just start a jaunty-tiara trend.

I fondly think of it as my “Ariel” dress because halfway through sewing it together, I realized the shimmery–and impossible to sew– material is similar to Ariel’s modern Disney princess dress:

2013 Princess Ariel Redesign

I didn’t really have time to really roll with the theme, but I did give a little nod to her with my mermaid-tail bustle:

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The bustled train and pleated chevrons are the same fabric as the body of the dress. The right side used for the accents is very shimmery and iridescent. It’s very pretty, but I thought a whole gown of it would be kind of overwhelming and not so historical looking. So for the main body, I used the “wrong” side of the fabric which is lighter and not so shiny.

You may be getting the feeling that there’s something else different about this dress. It seems to be missing something….

Oh! I know! To make a ballgown version, I left off the sleeves:

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To slow off my toned-by-ten-hours-of-typing-a-day upper arms, of course. Why pretend to look rich if you can’t flaunt your sedentary lifestyle?

Fashion Plate, 1880

Well, that is true: my version is missing the sleeves of the original, but that’s not quite what’s bothering you?

Hmmmm…

Is it the plainness of the design? I did leave off all the trimmings except for the pleated chevrons on the skirt. Indeed, my ballgown is rather plain compared to the original pattern design and other fancy gowns of the era. I started it only a week before the event (a bad habit I’ve developed, I know!), so I didn’t get to add all the extra bits that would really make it ball-worthy. I did try to glam it up with a glittering golden floral spray I found for a steal on eBay:

bodice ornament

Jealous? Don’t be! Get one for yourself (or two) here!
I always expect eBay jewelry to be a little less pretty in person than the professional photos show, but this floral spray is just as gorgeous in person as it is in the picture.

Besides, I didn’t want my dress to outshine my glorious eBay tiara!

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If you need a princess crown on a pauper’s budget, this tiara was only $25 with shipping!
It’s good quality and the seller I purchased from is in the US, so if you live in the States and need a tiara quick (like I did), I highly recommend this shop.

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What? I’m STILL missing something?!
Well, let’s look at the original again:

Ah! I’ve got it now! You’ve noticed that my ballgown is COMPLETELY GLUTEN FREE!

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No breakfast foods in sight! It is a dinner dress, after all.

I am aware of the letdown this must be. After all, the whole reason everyone is so fascinated by this pattern in the first place is the handbang-sized puffs ballooning out of the side, but I SWEAR I have an excuse!

Simplicity 4244 calls for 14 yards of fabric to make according to the directions (not including all the bias binding and pleated trim). The shimmery teal fabric I chose was one of the bargain bin closeout bolts at Hancock Fabrics (*weeps silently*), so I only had 8.4 yards to work with. As I revealed in my post about constructing this gown, the pannier swags at the hips are formed by two very long polonaised bodice pieces:

simplicity 4244 pieces

Pattern pieces #1, #1A, and #3 become the swags.

With only 2/3 the fabric I needed to make the pattern as designed, I had to choose between these fabric-hogging swags and the full, luscious bustled train I desired. For the sake of my time, sanity, and design sense, I chose the full bustle.

My sacrifice (*more silent weeping*) does have an upside besides a swanky mermaid bustle: it shows the most basic structure of Simplicity 4244 and how easily you can change the design to suit you or your fabric. To do away with the overlay, I just cut pieces #4, #5, and #6 (the bodice lining, front and side skirt pieces) as one. That made the full front without the need for the polonaise layer over the top.

It also proved that the identifiably Natural Form Era lines of the dress are not dependent on the panniers. Since the pattern pieces themselves are historically accurate, the Victorian framework is already there for you to work with.

Lessons learned: The bare minimum amount of 45″ wide yardage to make an 1870s dress from this pattern is about 8 yards, and the design is not dependent on the panniers for the historical look.
Also, every women needs a tiara
!

Rest assured, friends, I did not neglect the fluffy polonaise croissants entirely.

Baking bread and latent ideas are two things you don’t want to neglect.

Before I made the ballgown, I made a mock-up. Since my initial half mock-up for this dress had gone so well, I decided to make my full mock-up a wearable mock-up. A wearable mock-up is one that you finish just like a regular gown, essentially a full garment. It was still an experiment, though, so I didn’t want to waste money on fabric if it wasn’t going to work. I chose a cheap $1-a-yard plaid cotton gauze from Walmart and used a king-sized cotton sheet for lining. Since I had the full 14 yards–well, 13.75 yards as there were some mangled sections– of fabric, I was able to make the polonaised front sections and even have enough fabric left for long sleeves and pleated trim around the hem!

BUT…

I did not make the croissants as directed!

I guess you could say that instead of full, fluffy French croissants, I made Pillsbury crescent rolls. I pleated the polonaise down the entire length of the side and skipped the rear swag entirely.
Here is the result:

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There she is!

I know, no delicious hip pastries, but the construction of the front remains nearly the same. The bottom of the polonaise front “floats” over the lining beneath:

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Since I made the mock-up with the ballgown in mind, the square neckline is a little too…ahem!…sexy for respectable daywear, especially for a old married missus like m’self! So I accessorized it with a fabulous micro-pleated cotton collar I hacked directly off an old button front blouse I’d found at Goodwill three days prior. I thought the shirt was hideous, but something in my mind nagged me to take it home. Glad I listened! The collar slips over my head like a scarf and is just the right size to keep me looking proper:

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The bows were made from the very last bit of ribbon left over from my 1850s bonnet. I used this amazing bow tutorial from The Ribbon Retreat to make the two big bows.

My dress form is a little wonky and no where near my shape, so the fit of the bodice and booty isn’t the greatest on her, but you get the idea. This dress isn’t designed to be worn over a full bustle. Instead, the bustle ties inside and my ancient tablecloth bum pad give it the right amount of fullness. Despite reducing the size of the train, it still ended up rather sizable for a walking dress. I can walk in it, though, and walk I did– around the Fort Worth Cowgirl Museum with the DFW Costumer’s Guild!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
(with some help from an obliging gentleman in the lobby!)

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre
I love this picture because I actually wrangled my hair into a passably suitable hairstyle despite being hair illiterate!

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Photo by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre

We had a wonderful time together dressed as 1880s city folk and turn-of-the-century country cowgirls! As you can see, I was the “oldest” of the bunch, just eking over the 1880 mark. There are more photos of our outing in Jen’s Cowgirl Museum album on Flickr and if you’d like to play dress up with us, check out the DFW Costumer’s Guild website for a list of events!

Simplicity 4244 Plaid Day Dress Cost Breakdown:

14 yards of plaid cotton gauze – $14, Walmart
1 king sized sheet – $4.99, Thirft Town
Hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
1 nearly-full spool of thread – $2.49, Walmart
Ruffle collar stolen from blouse – $4.29, Goodwill
Navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay

Total: $32.52

Alrighty! Review time!

Let’s take off the rose colored glasses and get going.

This gown is tricky for me to review because while all the techniques and the pattern pieces themselves are all fairly straight forward, the sheer amount of fabric and the fitting requirements make it unsuitable for a beginner.

If you forgo the trimming, as I did, I think a confident (or stubborn) intermediate seamstress could tackle this project with good results. I consider myself an intermediate seamstress, and I was challenged, but not frustrated, by this pattern. I would NOT try to make a ball gown out of it in a week as I did! Take your time and go slowly. You will need to be willing to work with your body in order to get the smooth fit over the torso required to make this pattern shine, so be prepared to practice making lots of darts! There is a fair amount of hand finishing: facing the neckline, sewing hooks and eyes or buttons, and sewing on the bows. If you choose to do a proper hand-sewn hem instead of a machined hem, be prepared to spend a few hours to sew the 100+ inch length (depending on your train). The large pattern pieces require lots of space to cut and assemble and can be unwieldy around the sewing machine. However, I feel the work is well worth the result you can get. The accuracy is spectacular and, as a base, the pattern offers plenty of opportunities for customization.

I had fun making this pattern and will likely make it again in the future–perhaps this time with all the carbs included!

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Part I: Researching Simplicity 4244
Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

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Sadly, this pattern is Out of Print (OOP), so it can only be purchased through private sales. If you want a copy, check online auction and craft sites. I think it’s a good candidate for a re-issue by Simplicity. Maybe if enough of us “Conquer the Croissants,” they’ll consider re-printing it so everyone can more easily get a copy to play with!

Conquering the Croissants Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

In my last post, I dug into the history of the infamous “Victorian hip croissant” pattern, Simplicity 4244:

“Please tell me you are done with the croissant jokes…”

With a clearer understanding of what the pattern was supposed to do, I was ready to start baking…er…making Simplicity 4244!

simplicity 4244

“I hate you…”

I made both a day and an evening version of this dress. The pattern is accurate and easy to alter for either look, depending on your fabrics and trimmings. This is a pretty lengthy post because I wanted to be fairly thorough. It’s not a step-by-step guide, but I did make changes to suit my needs which I thought I should elaborate on.

The Process: Analyzing the Pattern

I had already figured out the era and the look the pattern was aiming for, but was the pattern itself historical in construction? As soon as I got my copy in the mail, I opened it to see what the pattern looked like. With over 70 steps printed in the guide and 32 pattern pieces (9 of which are not patterned on the tissue, but rather measured out on your own), I almost had a mini heart attack!

DROP THE PASTRIES! ABORT MISSION! ABORT MISSION!

BUT, upon further inspection, I realized that 38 of the 72 steps were instructions for trimming and only 8 to 9 of the 32 pattern pieces were actually needed to make the basic shape.

simplicity 4244 pieces

Blue highlighted pieces provide the basic structure of the gown.
Orange dotted pieces are helpful, but not required.
The rest is all trimming and train.

I was honestly expecting something hideously complicated, especially for the piece(s) that would form the side swags. I was surprised to discover the swags are polonaised via an elongated/skirted version of the bodice. Pattern pieces #1 and #3 in the image above become the swags merely by pleating them according to the guide provided by pattern piece #2. You’ll notice that I didn’t highlight 2 or 3 as necessary to make a dress from this pattern. You will see why later!

After I did my first mock-up (photo below), I thought, “Why is there a long, weird, curvy dart under the arm?” A few of the other instructions also caught me off-guard and I began to wonder, “Is some of the funkiness of this pattern due to the fact that it’s based directly off of an original garment with its own quirkiness?” After making the pattern twice now, I can say with certainty that Simplicity 4244 is quite accurately patterned from the original gown, including some period (and possibly personal) techniques. I cannot vouch for it from a strict candle-light-and-hand-dawn-well-water reenactor’s point of view, but from a hand-finish-the facings-but-machine-the-long-seams costumer’s point of view, this pattern is right out of the period. The little underarm dart/pleat, for example, is a tell-tale feature of period polonaise patterns. Frances Grimble’s book “Fashions of the Gilded Age, Vol. 1” even has a nice little excerpt about it in the introduction to the Polonaise section:

“‘[A polonaise] is shaped under the arm by a dart instead of the regular underarm seam.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310.

The same excerpt even describes the precise way 4244’s panniers and rear swag are formed from the elongated front bodice piece:

“‘In very many dresses the pannier fullness attached to the front is brought outside the side pieces and back. It is joined together by a large rosette or a sash bow on the middle seam of the back.'” – F. Grimble quoting Harper’s Bazar, 1879, on page 310

Indeed, when you compare Simplicity 4244 to original period patterns (in this case a polonaise dress on page 318 of “Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol. 1”), they are spot on, right down to having pleat markings to create the pannier swag:

4244 victorian original comparison

The purple tissue is my traced pattern of Simplicity 4244 pattern piece #4, the front lining, exactly as it is printed. The small Xs on the left side of the antique polonaise pattern denote the pleats to make the pannier for that particular style.

That’s what makes the gown a polonaise/princess-line hybrid: the front portion is constructed like a polonaise, but the one-piece construction and flat train behind are hallmarks of the princess style.

The Process: Cutting and Fitting

Choosing the correct size can be tricky, and I have, much like the over-stuffed puffs on the envelope, expanded beyond my usual bounds in recent months, so I went by the finished bust measurement on the back of envelope, which led me to choose a base size of 12. All the shaping at the waist and hips is done with French darts, so the bust measurement is the only “static” measurement besides length.

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Here’s the dress (inside out) before I added the front darts. Makes a cute 1920s dress, don’cha think?

I decided to fit the dress over my new Corset Story corset. While it’s not entirely accurate, the long tapered waist and a dramatic hips are perfect under the close-fitting Natural Form style. I don’t have very prominent hips to begin with, so having the extra va-va-voom really helps get the proper shape. Here’s the first mock-up I made, a straight size 12, using only the top half of the pieces to make a “bodice” of sorts:

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You could probably make this dress into a two piece dress if you chopped the pieces off at the hips like I did for my mock-up.

Not bad! I did end up completely changing the darts to accommodate my larger bust-waist ratio and shorter waist. At first, I thought I might need to remove the underarm dart, too, because it was pulling strangely, but I figured out that, like the other darts, it just needed to be tweaked to fit my body. This where the “direct from historical garment” part comes in to play. You may need longer/shorter/deeper/shallower or otherwise slightly different darts than the original wearer. Altering darts is part of the joys and sorrows of being a uniquely shaped human being!

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Original pattern in purple on the left, my changes on the right. Notice I didn’t include the side dart on my pattern. I found it easier to pinch them out by hand before adding the sleeves in order to obtain the best possible fit.

I am exceptionally proud of my French Darts. I’d never sewn them before and I was very pleased that I did them passably the very first time!

The Process: Fabric Choice

As discussed in my previous post, fabric choice is hugely important since it changes the way the swags lie. The original dress was silk satin which lets the panniers hang properly. A great fabric choice to be sure, but so very very very far out of price range!
Instead, I scurried off to Walmart for bargain-bin cotton gauze. Walmart had them in a few colors–purple was my first choice– but this yellow plaid had enough for a dress: 14 yards. And, yes, it did take nearly the entire 14 yards to make my plaid dress! If you plan on doing the original Vandyke hem and pleating, you will need closer to 16 to be safe. This is accounted for on the back of the envelope.

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Thin cotton gauze/voile is an excellent choice for this gown. It’s got the drape needed, but still has body; plus, it’s easy to sew. Highly recommend–especially at $1 a yard!

I also bought the last bit of an iridescent rayon/nylon blend from the bargain section of Hancock Fabrics (*sad sigh*) for the evening gown version.
I am terribly upset that H.F. is going out of business. I found so much awesome fabric there.

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I only had 8.4 yards of this stuff. It was painful and tedious, but I was able to squeeze an evening dress out of it with only a few tiny scraps to spare.

I used cotton sheets for the lining in both gowns. It took 1 king-sized sheet each.

The Process: Cutting

This is where I started to deviate from the design. The pattern pieces are so huge that I found it easier to cut my fabric into sections as I went. I cut the lining out of the sheet first which helped me work out the best cutting configuration for my needs.

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Obligatory “helper cat” picture.
Also, you can see some of the changes I made to the pattern. The two front skirt pieces, for example, I cut as one. On an original gown, the separate pieces were probably done so they could fit on narrower pieces of silk. My fabric was able to accommodate them as one, though. Since I was making a day dress, I also omitted the extra piece for the super-long train by cutting the back piece about 3 inches from the fold. This provided enough fabric for a full back without being overwhelming.

I am 5 foot 6 inches tall. I lengthened the skirt by about an inch all around the bottom to make it walking/ankle-length when I wear a small heel. As I discovered later, the skirt pieces are squared off at the bottom in order to form the triangle edge. If you are going for a smooth hem (as I was) you’ll need to taper them; otherwise, the bottom will not match up. I discovered this too late to fix the plaid gown, but I was able to cover the weirdness with trim.

The Process: Assembling/Not Assembling the Hip Swags

Alrighty! Here’s the fun part everyone’s curious about! How in the great blue blazes do do you make those croissants?!

Well, you assemble the skirt front(s) and lining:

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And sew pattern pieces #1/1.a on top:

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Then use use the provided guide to pleat it up into the pannier shape at the side. That’s literally it. How you pleat pattern piece #1 (and #3, if you are making the gown with the tail swags in the back) is what determines how delicious your croissants/panniers look.

It is now confession time: I majorly deviated from the pattern here. I wrestled with this decision. After all, half the glory of this pattern is the soft, fluffy hip-croissants of infamy! But, no matter how strong my drive to prove this pattern is good in spite of what folks may say, my drive to experiment with the pattern was stronger. So instead of pleating the sides from hip to bum like the pattern guide told me to, I pleated it the whole way down.

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I wasn’t sure if having lots of pleats terminating so abruptly on a princess-line gown was accurate, but my dress ended up looking similar to this extant gown:

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Brautkleid (Wedding Dress), circa 1881

In fact, my plaid dress ended up being very similar to this gown even though I didn’t mean it to be! I must have been surfing on a 1881 wavelength as I was sewing.

LESSON LEARNED: You do not need to make the hip croissants if you don’t want to! You can play with the polonaise front as much as you want. Look at extant examples for inspiration. Get creative!

For my ballgown, I left the polonaise panniers off entirely in order to get a full dress out of only 8 yards of fabric. Instead, I used pleated bands of decoration down the front.

The Process: Assembling the Back

This part is easy. You just follow the instructions given. The train is completely customizable depending on how full or long you want it. Since the train is a separate width of fabric from the back pattern piece, you can easily make it of an accent fabric like I did for my ball gown. The train gives you a lot of options to play with it by making pleats, adding layers of ruffles and lace, tucking in flowers, or playing with draping. It’s quite fun! I’m not a huge fan of the flat train. I find it rather uninteresting and difficult to maneuver, especially at crowded public events, so for my ballgown, I created a mermaid tail train.

To make the mermaid tail, I cut the train lining the size I wanted the finished train to be. Then I cut the fashion fabric much longer in order to make three fat box pleats:

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I made them a too far down, so I ended up tacking the top of the pleats up in order to get them to fall attractively.

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An entertaining view of the WIP laying flat on its side. SO. MUCH. TRAIN.

Even if you choose to leave out the train entirely, the back of the dress is very full. My plaid dress is only six inches wider than the back piece (the pattern calls for an extra 20 inches to make a full train) and it is still very VERY full and long. I struggled to get the whole thing in a picture when it’s flat:

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This would be gorgeous going down the aisle on a wedding gown and the length is pretty much fashion-plate ideal for the Natural Form Era! However, it makes getting around modern life difficult, so for the sake of myself and others, I bustled it up with some cotton tape, creating a nice little “meringue” pouf at the back to make up for my lack of croissants:

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Minka is miffed that mommy won’t let her play in the wonderful plaid tent.

A NOTE for ladies with narrow and/or swayed backs and/or large busts with a small ribcage:
The lower back of this pattern is very VERY wide. The pannier pleats are probably under the model’s arm rather than father back as they should be because the lower back is too wide. I ended up taking nearly FOUR INCHES of width out of the lower back to get it to hug my spine the way it should!

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This one change greatly improved the side profile and fit of the dress. So if you find yourself tugging at your front French darts wondering why you keep taking out more but it still doesn’t look right, take some width out of the back first! It will also help slim your side profile and give you that graceful, swooping line so prized during the Natural Form Era!

The Process: Sleeves

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Again, I failed to stick to the pattern. I didn’t make this dress with the sleeves given. Instead, I created a 3/4 length, one-piece curved sleeve (which I should post a tutorial for soon) for the plaid dress and left the sleeves off entirely for the ball gown. This was just personal preference. The two-piece, short sleeve pattern that comes with Simplicity 4244 is perfectly fine and period correct; it’s just not to my taste.

Sorry, folks!

The Process: Finishing

The pattern calls for 15 tiny buttons and button holes down the front. I have never done buttonholes before and hadn’t even figured them into my pattern fitting, so I used hooks and bars (flat eyes) to close the front instead. Again, just a personal preference.
I made 4 inch wide hem facings to finish the hems. A hem facing protects the lining and fashion fabric from wear and weighs down the train so it lays more smoothly on the ground rather than bunching up or flipping over. I also added a key component that Simplicity 4244 is completely missing: interior bustle ties!

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I can loosen or tighten the ties to give me the shape I want. The cream colored cotton tape is helping distribute the weight of the train along the seam. A period gown would also have a waist tape (an interior belt) to help support everything. I left the tape long so if I ever put a waist tape in, I can use it to help hold up the train.

Having the interior bustle tie under the skirt in back pulls the front tight to the body so that you get the very slim front profile and flared train/tail in the back. It keeps the sides from flaring out like in the line drawing and on the model which Natural Form Era gowns are not supposed to do. You can tell the original gown probably had ties, too: the ruched trimming at the bottom ends abruptly about the place where the gown would wrap around the wearer:

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Bustle ties would pull the ends under the train, masking the abrupt stop.

I did not use either of the collars provided by the pattern. Instead, I just bias bound the square neckline (this step is is included in the pattern directions). I learned a very handy trick for making beautiful, neatly-turned facings: understitching!

Understitching keeps the facing from rolling over to the front. There are tons of tutorials, but this tutorial on Craftsy helped me the most:

“Essential Techniques: Discover the Secret to Perfectly Sewn Necklines!” by Linda Reynolds

I used the same technique for the armholes of the ball gown.

Between learning how to make French darts and understitching, I can safely say that I have graduated to the Intermediate sewing level! I even made it official on PatternReview.com. :P

However, those two techniques were the only new skills I needed to learn in order to make this dress. Everything else– plackets, hem facings, hooks and eyes, and pleats were all things I’d done before. In fact, most of the techniques to make the basic version of this gown without all the trimmings are fairly easy to learn. The most challenging part of the whole thing is the front placket. The rest is wrangling the huge amount of fabric and getting the fit the way you want it.

I know I said that this was going to be the final review, but my process analysis went waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated! So this is now an overstuffed, underdone trilogy!

simplicity 4244

“…”

Keep Reading:


Part III: Simplicity 4244 for Day and Night

(also, fewer half-baked jokes….)

Careful, they’re still hot!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

Conquering the Croissants Part I: Researching Simplicity 4244

You may be familiar with a certain Simplicity pattern, #4244. Number not ringing a bell? Perhaps the phrase “Victorian hip croissants” might:

Even the model is wondering why she’s wearing an unbaked breakfast pastry…

I saw this dress when it originally appeared in the pattern catalog a decade ago. It’s very ornate with lovely details, but I was confused by it as were many others. The pattern was pulled from production after only a year in print in 2006, but I never really forgot about it. The oddity of it was like a little worm that spun a chrysalis in my mind, biding its time until I was ready to take on the challenge of turning a pastry into a butterfly. Last year I finally decided that I had gained enough sewing skill to attempt the curious croissant pattern.

Step 1: Finding Real-Life Examples

The very first thing I did was hunt for reviews and examples other people had made. Copies of the pattern are plentiful despite being only printed for one year, but since the pattern is OOP copies run between $20 on the low end and $70+ on the high end. I didn’t want to invest money in a pattern that was bungled up or impossible to make. Plus, the picture on the envelope and the line drawings did not provide satisfactory information about the actual fit of the gown.


The picture on the pattern cover is a side view. It showcases the croissant-forming pleats and the elbow-length sleeves. However, it doesn’t show what the front or back looks like. The line drawing on the inside, detailed as it is, wasn’t ideal for figuring out how everything draped because the woman in the drawing appeared to hovering in midair…

How does the train lay on the ground? How do the poufs look from the front? How does the material choice affect the silhouette? How puffy are the hips in real life? How on earth does the back work?!
To find answers, I looked at some rare, real-world examples that had made from the pattern. It turns out that not very many people have made this dress, or at least not many people have shared pictures of it online (the pattern came out 10 years ago, after all).
I was very pleased to find 6 examples! I’ve made a Pinterest page to keep track of them:

Simplicity 4244 Examples

If you have made Simplicity 4244 or make a version in the future, let me know! I would love to add your creation to my Pinterest collection. Also, I highly recommend posting a review to Sewing Machines and Pattern Review‘s website so others can learn from your experience.

For a long time, only two completed versions of the pattern were posted online, both by Heidi of Time Travel Costumes. She posted a step-by-step process on her blog and she uploaded her incredibly detailed process to Instructables. She also posted pictures on Deviant Art and wrote brief reviews: the review for the black version is here and the review for the purple version is here. In both reviews, she concludes that the 72-step pattern was “Difficult, but Great for Advanced Sewers.” I’m not the world’s greatest seamstress or even the world’s 3-millionth-greatest seamstress, and, though I crave a challenge, the sheer complexity of the gown described intimidated me.
Other versions include Sara’s pink confection from Etsy, Gina’s purple cotton version and Patti’s brown silk version shared via the Historical Costume Pattern Review group on Facebook, and Lydia’s floral cotton version from her blog, the Antique Sewist. Everyone’s reviews echoed a similar sentiment: it’s an okay pattern, but be prepared to work for it!

Thanks to their reviews and photos, I felt prepared enough to give Simplicity 4244 a try, but I still wondered:

How historically accurate is Simplicity 4244 and if it isn’t, can it be salvaged?

Step 2: Historical Research

Many Simplicity/McCall’s/Butterick/etc. “Victorian” costume patterns are less-than-accurate. Everyone seemed rather incredulous that such a strangely constructed dress could be genuine. What, if any, era was this “Victorian” wedding dress pattern from? Did ladies ever really think wearing breakfast foods were fashionable?

1870s breakfast dresses

Fried eggs and black coffee, anyone?

One thing historical seamstresses complain about most is the Big 3’s lack of historical background for their designs. Many independent historical pattern makers go to great lengths to provide their customers with excellent, well-researched information about their patterns. Patterns of History, for example, lists popular color choices for the particular year so you can make sure your 1888 dress isn’t made of a color that didn’t exist before 1895.
The big commercial patterns, on the other hand, barely include any explanations with their patterns, so you have to do your own sleuthing. The front of the Simplicity 4244 pattern envelope has a clue: a logo for the “Victorian Bridal Museum.” Turns out that the Victorian Bridal Museum is a real place which you can still visit! I emailed the proprietress, and the dress that this pattern is based on is not out for display, but she shared some tantalizing photos on the website:

1875 wedding gownSo close to making out details on the back!

simplicity 4244 inspiration 1875

Notice that the original dress’s hips are not quite so puffed-out and smooth as the pattern picture shows. Instead, they hang in heavy folds. For the publicity photos of the reproduction, the well-meaning-but-misguided Simplicity style team padded out the sides, resulting in the overly-plumped, pastry-like appearance. It seems to be a common misunderstanding that Victorian gowns were all hugely fluffy, so even museums sometimes get overly ambitious, adding bustles were there should be none or, in the case of this unfortunate Worth gown, stuffing the skirt like it’s a Build-a-Bear…

They may be tiny photos, but they were proof that 4244 wasn’t just another Big 3 pattern of dubious accuracy, but was based off of a real dress that did, in fact, have swagged hips! The museum dates the gown to 1875, which puts it right before the Natural Form Era, but after some research, I began to find dresses in fashion plates with similar hip poofs from about 1879-1881–quite a few, actually. This is just a very small sampling showing the various styles and placements:

Revue de la Mode (day dresses), 1879
Natural Form Era dresses are called “Natural Form” because they more closely followed the wearer’s body. While hip pads and small bustles were still worn, they were much more subtle than the fluffy bustles of the early 1870s and the shelf-like bustles of the later 1880s.

Revue de La Mode (evening gowns), 1880
The lace ripple down the front is a nice touch.

La Mode Illustrée (day dresses), 1879
Double hip swag! Also, a pointed swag similar to Truly Victorian, Past Patterns, Mantua Maker, and many other polonaise patterns.

Revue de la Mode (day dresses), 1880
The pink polonaise/princess gown on the left is so pretty!

La Mode Francaise, 1881
The swags are not quite as full as the previous years, but the rippled lace trim down the skirt front was still around.

Fashion Plate, 1880
BEHOLD THE GRAND POUF!

The hip “croissants” were called “panniers” at the time. There was an 18th century style revival during the Natural Form Era thanks to the United States centennial, though the languid, low-set swags of the Natural Form Era bore little resemblance to the wide, shelf-like panniers of the Rococo period. The Natural Form Era’s version of panniers were at their puffiest during 1879 and 1880.

In addition to the photos of the original gown and the fashion plates, I also found other extant gowns with puffy panniers and swags:

American Day Dress, circa 1880
The museum has way too much bustle under this Natural Form Era gown in their display so the back looks funky. In reality, the “bustle” should fall in a long, graceful train with the bulk of the puff at thigh level.

French Silk Dress, circa 1880
So much fringe! But I really like the bow at the neckline.

Dress, circa 1876-1881
Another frustrating “there, but not there” photo of a very similar style gown with no other views available! Maddening!

American Reception Dress, circa 1875-1880

American Day Dress, circa 1881
Blue was obviously a very popular color at the time! I like the lower-hanging swag of this polonaise-style dress quite a bit.

Simplicity 4244 is a princess-line gown made as one piece fitted with French darts at the waist. Princess-line dresses were popular during the Natural Form Era. They could be quite costly to make because even though they look slim, the large, full-length pattern pieces can require lots of continuous yardage, especially since many had long trains. As an example, Simplicity 4244 requires 14+ yards of modern 45″ width fabric. Historically speaking, high-quality silks might only come in widths 23 or so inches wide, meaning a princess line dress could easily gobble up 20+ yards.  Most princess-line gowns fit very tightly and smoothly and were the body-con dresses of their day:

“The Ball” by James Tissot, 1880
A creme-de-le-creme princess-line ball gown with oodles of knife-pleated ruffles!

The languid pannier style, however,  is more of a feature of two-piece gowns and polonaises. Were there other one-piece princess gowns made in one piece with polonaise-like panniers worked into the design or was the original inspiration dress an unusual one-off? Turns out there were some others, like this pretty lavender princess-line gown:

princess line gown

Princess Line Gown, circa 1880
This gown from the DigitaltMuseum shares many similar features with Simplicity 4244: one-piece construction, a Vandyke (dagged/triangle) hem with ruffles, short/elbow length sleeves, a flat train, and even a little puffing at the sides.

However, the most exciting dress I found in my hunt was not in a museum, but from an eBay seller! All the Pretty Dresses, a blog that collects images of private-collection antique garments, luckily saved some images of it before it disappeared. And, lo and behold, it is nearly a perfect match for Simplicity 4244! Here’s Simplicity 4244’s line drawing:

And here’s the extant gown from All the Pretty Dresses:

Natural Form Era Dress, circa 1876-1881

Square neckline? Check!
Layered standing and lace collar? Check!
Line of tiny buttons down the front? Check!
One-piece construction? Check!
Long, flat train? Check!
Funky, lace-trimmed hip swags with tails that are pulled over the back? Check! Check! Check!
DING DING DING! WE HAVE A WINNER!

This poor extant gown is in sorry shape, but the design elements are still there, clear as day! So Simplicity 4244 was indeed accurate in styling and at least common enough for there to be at least two examples left after 140 years.

With this new knowledge at hand, I took the plunge and ordered the pattern, fingers crossed that I hadn’t bitten off more croissant than I could chew…

fireworks-animation-46

—–AMAZING UPDATE!—–

After posting my final version of Simplicity 4244 on the Facebook group Historical Costume Pattern Reviews, Arlene Terrell contacted me with some fabulous news– she was a friend of Eve Faulkner, the proprietress of the Victorian Bridal Museum, and she not only had a larger version of the picture from the website, she had a photo of the original owner wearing the dress!

I am sharing these precious photos here with Arlene’s and Eve’s permission so you can see all the detailing and how the original fits on a body vs. a mannequin:

original simplicity 4244

Photo courtesy of Eve Faulkner, The Victorian Bridal Museum

Arlene’s comments: “Here is the original dress as displayed […] the original wasn’t displayed over the correct foundation for the skirt and the hip drapes were stuffed with tissue paper, so perhaps this is what led the photo stylist down the wrong path .

Bride wearing simplicity 4244

Photo Courtesy of Eve Faulkner, The Victorian Bridal Museum

Arlene’s comments: “Here is the original owner wearing it as intended”

———-

Curious how the pattern goes together? Keep reading:

Part II: Making Simplicity 4244

Part III: Simplicity 4244 COMPLETED!

Never Again Until Now: A Review of Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores

My Victorian Corset Story Corset Story (So Far)

I have heard many horror stories about Corset Story. Indeed,they are still probably the most controversial corset brand out there. Corset Story isn’t their only name, either. You may know them as Corsets UK or CorsetDeal or any of their other 40+ names. While the sale sites are different (perhaps owned by different individuals, like franchisees??), the manufacturer for these brands is the same, so you will see many of the exact same designs from “different” shops. This manufacturer has been lambasted for having the lowest quality corsets on the market. So low quality, in fact, that their corsets have lived up to the modern myth that corsets hurt you: people reported bruises and even stabbing caused by the heinous combination of horrible boning made of non-corset steel (literally pieces of metal for construction work, not corsets) and shapes so tubular that they didn’t even touch your waist, causing many people to hurt their hips and ribs trying to close them (and thinking it was normal because “corsets are supposed to hurt, right?”)!

I had my own encounter with these tubular corsets early into my corseting journey. After my wonderful experience buying my first Victorian corset off eBay, I was gung ho about buying another. I found Punk69’s corsets way back in 2013 before I knew of anything about them. I had just closed my 24 inch corset and was excited to try an underbust in the next size down. I picked a cute cherry one that seemed nice enough to my then-untrained eye:

punk69cherrycorset

When it arrived, I was sad to discover that it wasn’t as curvy as the picture– far from it! So far, in fact, that it has been relegated to holding my makeshift mannequin’s innards together. Lesson learned: corset seller photos lie!

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I use her to model the tiniest of Victorian bodices. Now, tubular corsets are not entirely useless. Not everyone wants to reduce their waist when they wear a corset; they might just want the look. There are also lots of people who are less curvy and/or rather slim and tubular themselves, so a fairly straight corset suits them. Apple body shapes who have large waists, but small hips and busts may find a corset with a very gentle curve is more suited to their needs than a curvier model. But, for me, this shape just would not work!

Disappointed, I swore off eBay corsets altogether, and as my knowledge of proper corset fit increased, I also swore off Corset Story and their like because I found nothing but faults with their products.

Then, tragedy struck:

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My beloved white satin eBay corset suffered a catastrophic bone breech at Georgian Picnic. While fixable with some flossing, after three years of unforgiving wear, the poor soul was barely clinging to life. No longer able to contain my excess holiday pounds, I fear that its time is at hand. I needed a new inexpensive multi-tasking corset to take its place. Despite its many flaws, I really wanted the same model, but the company no longer makes it! I know because I asked multiple times, offered to buy any deadstock, and pleaded with them to see reason and start stocking them again. Alas, it was not to be.

I turned back to eBay and for months hemmed and hawed over the hundreds of thousands of cheap overbusts flooding its pages. I am still considering one because I like the conical bust shape my white corset gave (because of its too-small bust, ironically). It was good for 18th century wear and I already have my custom Hourglass Attire Victorian corset, so I wasn’t looking for another one.

However, in my search, I tripped over Steam Ingenious’s review of the new Corset Story Waist Tamer line from Spring 2015. That got my attention because her blog was the one that introduced many, including myself, to the horrid reality of Corset Story/CorsetsUK/etc.’s sub-standard quality. However, as I read through the post and studied the pictures, I began to feel that perhaps this newer style of corset, the Waist Tamer with Hip Gores, would be worth a try…

But at $135, I balked. At that price, I was halfway to a What Katie Did corset or even another basic custom corset from Hourglass Attire (both still on my wish list!). Did I really need another Victorian-style corset?

But, as luck would have it, a week later, the style went on massive sale and I decided to take the plunge and give this new stock a try! Here’s my experience:

Ordering: Easy, fast, with no hiccups.  I chose the same model as Steam Ingenious: the Waist Tamer Overbust in Black Satin with Hip Gores. There are other styles, including underbusts in this line. I picked the satin fabric over the brocade because my brocade Orchard Corset was very thick and stiff which I do not like. I hoped that the satin would be thinner and more pliable, like my white eBay corset. I normally buy 24 inch corsets and wear them with no problems. However, studying the size chart for this model, I realized that even with the touted hip gores, a size 24 wouldn’t fit over my hips. I opted for a size 26 instead. With shipping, I paid $63.00 = $55 for the corset + $8 shipping. I chose untracked shipping for maximum cheapness.

Shipping: I’m in the USA. Corset Story ships from overseas, so I was expecting anything from a two-week to two-month wait. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived in only 8 days!

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Packaging: It was packed in a plastic mailer (non-padded). The corset was in a crisp plastic bag of its own. There was a sticker “invoice” of sorts listing the model number and price, but no return labels (you must pay for your own exchange shipping). Out of the bag, the corset is tied together down the busk with a cord to keep it from opening. There is also a product card with a short, thick spiral steel bone sample.

The Corset Itself: I am not as much of a corset-construction expert as Lucy from Lucy’s Corsetry, so my review isn’t as in-depth as hers would be, but here are the basics:

  • This is apparently a two-layer corset: one layer of the poly satin and one layer of the twill. Both are very stiff and heavy, securely stitched.

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  • There is an exposed woven waist-tape and satin ribbon garter tabs. There are also loops at the top of the corset for bra straps(?), a feature I’ve never encountered before.

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  • The wide, unstiffened modesty panel is sewn into the corset, so you cannot unpick the seam to remove it without releasing a boning channel in the process. I immediately cut my modesty panel off with scissors. It left a ragged edge, but I hate modesty panels more than I hate raw edges, so I am perfectly fine with it.

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  • Laces are a good length: plenty to let out to get the corset on and off, but not so long they are overwhelming. They are easy to tighten and do not slip too much.
  • The grommets in the back are color coded at the waist. The third grommet from the top of my corset has a interior split. It doesn’t show well, so I can’t get a photo, but I can feel the laces snag and hear the dragging when they are pulled through. The laces are sturdy, so they haven’t frayed yet, but I imagine this burr will begin to fuzz them up soon enough. (Steam Ingenious noticed a similar burr on her corset as well).

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  • The boning channels are funky to me. At first it felt almost like they doubled up the bones in each channel, one on the other! In actuality, there are applied cotton channels on the inside where the boning is inserted, but the satin outside is double-layered (welt seamed) over them, making the boning lines on the corset extremely thick– almost 1/2″ over the bust curves! This creates a very prominent ridge over the bust, especially the left side where there is also a deep structural wrinkle in the fabric where it caught incorrectly into the binding. I won’t be able to wear this under thinner dresses, but for a heavier bodice, it works okay.

IMG_0343

Terrible picture, but you get the idea. This bodice was shaped over a higher-waisted corset, hence the odd fit over my new one, but otherwise, it works nicely. The shirred inset hides any lumps and bumps from the corset’s thick boning channels.

Silhouette/Shape and Fit: I measure 38-30-36 with an inverted triangle body type. This corset design is nicely curvy on my figure. The waistline is lower than some corsets: it gradually tapers in down the side, then sweeps wide over the hips which I really like. My bottom half is very tubular (my hips are  only 6-7 inches larger than my waist when I’m uncorsetted), so I really like how this corset gives me some va-va-voom in that area! But the biggest treat was that this corset actually fits my bust! I wear a 34F bra, so finding an OTR overbust with enough room for the girlies without smashing them or causing them to bubble over the top is like finding a rare unicorn. I guess Corset Story should rename this model “The Mythical Beast” because, surprise! It fits and it is the exact same shape as the pictures portray! I think this corset would fit a C-G cup best.

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Corset Story advises that the Waist Taming corsets are designed to be worn with a 2 inch gap after an average waist reduction of 3-4 inches. I didn’t quite get my gap down to 2 inches because the hips, though very nicely shaped, were at capacity even on my small-side-of-average hips. The gored design is still very flattering and does not pinch, but if you have more than a 7 inch natural hip spring, you will probably find the hips in this style too small. I am short-waisted (9 inches from underbust to lap) and this corset was about my limit lengthwise. I can sit in it, but it does bump into my lap and boost my breast up. This corset would be the perfect length if you are ~10 inches from underbust to lap. I would recommend this to my fellow inverted triangles who have longed for a flattering, comfortable Victorian corset!

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Waist Reduction: I was able to get about 3.5 inches of interior reduction (26.5 inches). However, the material and bulky boning channels add a lot of thickness back to waist, so my exterior measurement is only 1.5 inches smaller than my natural waist. This isn’t much a of a deal breaker unless you are hoping to squeeze down a size or more for an event. I know many people buy corsets to wear under formal and other special occasion gowns.
BE ADVISED: This is not a short-notice piece of shapewear!
I’ve worn mine four hours a day for 7 days and it is nowhere near seasoned. It’d be very uncomfortable to try to lace yourself down quickly in a corset this stiff, especially if you are new to corseting. If you buy this corset, be prepared to give it plenty of time to break in, much like you would break in a new pair of shoes.
It’s a bit of a myth that the thicker a corset is, the better the quality, and I think C.S. fell for that myth HARD. Victorian corsets achieved amazing shaping with only a single layer and my eBay overbust, cheap as it is, survived over three years of abuse even though it’s paper thin and light as a feather. That was what I really liked about it: lightweight, cool, and easy to wear. My Waist Taming corset appears to be very durable, but I was really hoping for a softer corset (which is why I chose the satin in the first place).  I’m still grieving over my first corset, so I might be a bit biased, though…

Note on the Design:

Above: What Katie Did Storm Overbust

Above: Corset Story Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores
You can see the similarities between the What Katie Did design and the Corset Story one. You can see in the photo that their version is not as cleanly executed, exhibiting the same bumpiness over the bust that my corset has, though mine is not as wrinkly. This image is from the Corsets UK site, the British parent company of Corset Story, one of its many offshoots.

I think the Waist Taming line is Corset Story’s attempt to compete with higher-tier OTR brands like What Katie Did. WKD is known for their smoothly sculpted black satin corsets that are famously a little stiffer and heavier than other OTR corset brands and have gored hips. Corset Story didn’t copy WKD’s designs exactly, which I appreciate because stealing designs is a huge problem in the corset community, but I see C.S. wanting to mimic certain design features in order to appeal to a new clientele. That’s okay. I am glad they are seeking to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Final Thoughts:

Pros: Excellent shape for 1880-1890! A good basic corset that could work as an undergarment or as outwear (would look especially nice with a gothic ballgown skirt!), shape is exactly as advertised and photographed on the website, lots of bust space, nicely shaped bust cups, hip gores provide some extra space and lots of contrast (making the waist look even smaller), very sturdy construction, amazing value if you can catch it on sale, pleasant shipping experience, comfortable if seasoned properly.

Cons: Material is very thick, the boning is very stiff (Steam Ingenious took her corset apart and found the same non-corset steel bones being used in the back channels, but the rest is wide spirals), hips might be too small for some and the bust too large for others.

Overall Corset Rating for Corset Story’s Waist Taming Satin Overbust Corset with Hip Gores:

corset rating

3 out of 5!

I want to score this corset 3.5 or even a 4, but I’m hung up over the bulky boning…otherwise, I really enjoy it!

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This is not a solicited review. I am not affiliated with Corset Story and they haven’t paid or given me anything for this review. I purchased this corset with my own money for my own private use as an undergarment for 19th century costumes, so I am approaching it from that angle. I am not a waist trainer or costuming professional, so this review is based only on my personal knowledge and experience. Your experience may differ (and if so, please share in a comment below!). If you have any questions about this review or any of my other blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the Pragmatic Costumer Facebook page!

Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

Full, Exhaustive Title:
Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

found in Extant 19th Century Garments from Augusta Auctions

I enjoy poking around on internet auction sites for extant garments “in the rough.” Museums can’t hold every original piece of clothing. There are literal tons of antique clothing sitting in private homes and shops that no one has ever seen before! We are blessed in this age of internet commerce to see some of these treasures for a few brief days on websites like eBay, Etsy, or Ruby Lane before they disappear again into private collections. Many of these amazing private holdings posess design details and quirks that are often glossed over by sweeping generalizations about past fashions. Looking through these often less-than-perfect dresses in their wrinkled, as-found condition is a wellspring of fresh sewing inspiration!
Since I can’t buy every gorgeous gown that scrolls across my screen, I have taken to collecting them digitally on Pinterest, combing through online sales pages for pieces with unusual features or appealing designs. One of the many sites I try to check regularly is the Augusta Auctions page. They are an antique/vintage textile and clothing auction house that so kindly keeps pictures of previous auction lots long after the auction has ended (so many times auction sites remove photos soon after the sale is complete). They have garments of many types from the 1700s to modern, but my research recently has focused on the Victorian era (1837-1901). Many of their items are de-accessioned from public museums which means that the Augusta Auction website is often their last accessible record before disappearing from the public view. Rifling through the auction lots has yielded some unusual and strange pieces, but it also has brought to light a few simple, unique design elements that a modern costumer could easily adopt!

1. Mix-n-Match and Matchy-Matchy Accessories
(I guess that’s really two tips in one, so this list has 6!)

Morning Glory Cotton Sateen Day Dress, 1880s
“2-piece, maroon [looks brown in the photos, but it my be more reddish in person] cotton sateen w/ blue floral print, lace trim, cut steel buttons, matching fan.” – Augusta Auctions

I’m not generally a matching maven when it comes to my day-to-day modern clothes, but making my own historical outfits means I pay a lot more attention to color, pattern, and stylish shortcuts. This dress has a classic combination of dense print paired with a plain matching color. The printed bodice and bustled overskirt are separate from the simple tiered brown cotton underskirt, so they can be mixed and matched with other pieces. The solid colored skirt would be very easy to match other bodices with and it’s likely the dress’s original owner had one or two other pieces she could mix together to create a multitude of outfits with, especially since (unlike many bustle underskirts that have plain backs) this underskirt is decorated all the way around making it extra versatile:

A very simple bustle back suitable for an active woman on the job or on the go!

But sometimes you just wanna MATCH. Some women match their shoes to their purse. Others can’t leave the house unless everything from their underwear to their earrings are all the same shade. This day dress in particular comes with a unique matching accessory, especially for such an otherwise ordinary outfit: A custom matching fan!

It matches so well it’s nearly camouflaged!

If you are interested in making a matchy-matchy fan of your own, here’s a semi-tutorial posted on La Bricoleuse:

Making a Silk Folding Fan

As an added bonus, the fabric on the fan was protected from the sun when it was folded up, so it did not fade! It gives us a clue about how much brighter this dress used to be: just look at that pop of ultramarine and hint of crimson! It was a brilliant use of excess fabric. Other ways to use extra fabric scraps to create matchy-matchy accessories include small drawstring purses and coverings for hats and bonnets.

Lined Drawstring Bag Tutorial
By In Color Order

Cardboard and Duct Tape Victorian Bonnet Tutorial
by Darling and Dash

2. Ribbon Flowers
(may be combined with the matchy-matchy tip above for decorating pretty much everything)

Detail of a Silk Visiting Dress, 1860s
“Three-piece buff changeable ribbed taffeta, trimmed with bright coral satin bands, scallops, bows, rosettes and Van Dyke points: front buttoning boned bodice with high neckline; belt with attached back peplum; trained unlined skirt, gold stamped label “Louis Hille Tailleur Pour Dames 398 Rue St Honore Paris”[…] Featured in April 1998 ANTIQUES Magazine” – Augusta Auctions

It’s fairly common to see garments decorated with ribbon bows and cockades, but when I found this dress, the big pink satin flower caught my eye right away. It is extremely similar to modern ribbon flowers that can be found on everything from toddler headbands to coffee cup koozies!

There are hundreds of ribbon and fabric flower tutorials, but for this particular design, there are three methods that will produce similar results:

Ruched Ribbon Flower
Tutorial by Nikki in Stitches

Scrap Fabric Flower
Tutorial by Melissa of Until Wednesday Calls

Round Petal Kanzashi Flower
Tutorial by A Pumpkin & A Princess

In addition to how modern the flower looks, the placement also gives it unique charm. There’s one at a fairly standard location at the small of the back, but another is placed just off the hip and another midway down the skirt. So cute!

The seamstress really liked trimming in general. Just check out the amazing design created with matching pink ribbon/fabric applied in a multitude of ways!

Rosettes, stripes, binding, applique, scalloped edging, bows… the works!

3. Embroidered Accents

Embroidered Visiting Dress, 1870s
“2 main fabrics: black silk faille & black silk satin, satin w/ narrow velvet stripe embroidered w/ wine, brown & blue flowers, polonaise bodice, cut steel buttons & lace, blue satin modesty insert, trained bustle skirt, B 36″, W 30″, Skirt L 40″-59″, provenance, Homans family Washington, D.C.” – Augusta Auction

Victorian costumes often feature lovely embroidery work. They didn’t have access to fancy in-home digital embroidery machines like we do now, but there are so many beautiful modern fabrics and trims that come pre-embroidered today so even if you can’t embroider, you can have the look! Even now, embroidered fabric can be pretty expensive. A whole gown of the stuff might be out of the question for most. A yard or two, though, is enough to add a rich touch to a dress like in this sophisticated frock:

The seamstress who crafted this dress made judicious use of the fine striped satin with embroidered flora, placing it front and center on the bodice and cuffs, but leaving the back plain while edging and gores in the skirt tie the look together.

There was quite a heated discussion on a forum about the legitimacy of using pre-embroidered fabrics in historical costumes. While handwork is always period, pre-embroidered fabric is a fantastic way to mimic the look. The embroidery on this dress in particular features a small, repeating pattern that looks very much like many pre-embroidered fabric available today.

Bonus points for the pieced front and late 18th century revival styling!

4. Bold Buttons

Silk Brocade Jacket, 1880s
“Black silk ground w/ Persian inspired brocade, small rondels in metallic gold, sky blue, maroon & yellow, fitted torso, constructed in style of gent’s 18th C jacket, black velvet trim & back pockets, cream & gold embroidered lace trim, 24 magnificent gold metal buttons inset w/ cut steel faceted beads in silver, cobalt & wine, bright yellow silk satin lining, B 32″, W 24″, L 27-30″, excellent. [De-accessioned from the] Brooklyn Museum.” -Augusta Auctions

The last dress had some pretty nifty cut steel buttons, but this jacket certainly ups the ante! Victorians loved buttons of all types and there are as many colors and styles as you can imagine. The buttons on this jacket are something truly avant-garde and different, though. They look thoroughly modern. They would be right at home on a 1930s suit or a 1960s mod mini dress, but here they sit on an otherwise unassuming brocade jacket!

Like many buttons and pieces of jewelry from the 19th century, these buttons are made of faceted steel studs riveted together. These are unusual for their added color and abstract dot pattern.

As they were 150 years ago, buttons can be an expensive investment, but they can really add a pop of character to an otherwise plain dress! Many Victorian buttons are more “traditional” than these, but Victorians loved quirky buttons of all types– from colorful lions and garden insects to distant planets and birds on a telegraph wire!
Etsy is a great place to look for unique buttons, both antique and modern.

With all the wild figurative metal buttons out there, you could probably use these awesome steampunk mechanism buttons or these ancient glyph buttons and no Victorian would bat an eye (they might even compliment you on them, considering how fond they were of industrial progress and ancient cultures). After all, they were the ones putting spiders, ears or corn, and fighting children on buttons first!

Fashionable fisticuffs, anyone?

5. Stunning Studs

Taupe Silk Tea Dress
“2-piece silk crepe, boned bodice w/ overlay of chemical lace studded w/ cut steel beads, grey velvet trim, label “Jermyn W. 45th St.”, B 36″, W 28″, L 41″” -Augusta Auctions
(This dress would totally fit me! If only I had snatched it up. It sold for only $120!)

Augusta Auctions dates this to the 1910s, but the shape, construction, and styling all scream 1889-1892, so I’m including it here.

Ah, my angsty teenage self sure did love silver studs! I treasured my gnarly Hot Topic studded faux-leather bracelet because it made me feel like an invincible warrior. Surprisingly, it’s not just goths and neo-Victorians who enjoyed being studded with glittery steel. The dresses above had silvery cut steel buttons. This particular dress cut out the middle man and has cut steel applied directly to the lace!

Cut steel jewelry and accessories have been around for centuries as a bright, sparkly alternative to diamonds. In the late Victorian period, cut steel was mass manufactured and widely popular. Steel-encrusted miser purses, opera capes, and shoes were de rigueur. While individual studs were less common, they were popular for wearing indoors because they were excellent at glittering in low light.
Studs weren’t just made of rounded cut steel. Some were spiky enough to make even the hardest-core punk rocker happy! Here are two bonnets with pyramid studs that defy the supposedly frail and fragile femininity associated with the Victorian era:

H. O. Hanlon Bonnet, circa 1887
Metal (the Met doesn’t list if they are steel or something else) studs in action. My favorite 1880s bonnet!

House of Virot Bonnet, circa 1885
Black glass pyramid beads add some fierce glitter to this otherwise plush bonnet.

Victorians loved the interplay between hard and soft surfaces and playing with textures. Some combinations are truly unusual and funky, but if done in moderation and with a careful eye for the design, even supposedly “modern” fashion elements can work in the Victorian era!

A Simple Girl’s Victorian Dress from New Look Pattern A6319

I don’t have any kids myself, but after posting about the 1860s child’s dress I found a few months back, I’ve gotten a few questions about making Victorian clothing for children. Usually, my lack of experience with sewing for children leads me to recommend asking someone else, especially if someone is asking for strict historical accuracy. However, I am not one to shy from any project. The 1880s are a popular costuming era thanks in part to lots of recent movies set in the era and the rise of Neo-Victorian fashion. I have a whole bunch of lovely fabric pieces that are too little to complete a full project for myself, but a child sized dress? Certainly!

Children’s dresses in the 1880s were drop-waisted with full or pleated skirts with fairly straight bodices.

Cotton Dress for a Girl Aged 5-7, circa 1886-88

Silk Lace Dress, circa 1885

Wool Dress, circa 1880-90

This basic shape remained popular into the 20th century, especially during the 1920s, 1960s, and the 1980s. I was originally going to use one of the plentiful, adorable 1960s or 80s patterns like these to craft a dress:

 

1960s

1980s
This is a bit more 1890s in shape than 1880s. The 1890s saw the bloused front come into fashion full swing.

I just couldn’t settle on a pattern, though, so I just kept collecting them in my favorites on Etsy. Then, I was browsing in the pinnacle of American capitalism (aka Walmart) when I found this pattern:

A6319

New Look A6319: Child’s Bias Dress and Jacket

Cute plaid? Adorable silhouette? Just the right amount of yardage needed? WE HAVE A WINNER!

The skirt construction is two giant circles, so probably not as historically accurate as pleats or gathers, but the amount of flare it creates is impressive.

The silhouette of the New Look pattern, though not perfect, reminded me of this antique dress I’d pinned earlier:

Capture

Child’s Dress, circa 1880-90

I love plaid and it’s pretty darn vintage looking in most cases, plus I had 3 yards of woven green cotton plaid that, though fairly thick, I thought would make a great dress. I also had some other scraps of lace, some ribbon, and a few button options that could work:

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I ended up choosing the cotton net lace and the big, antique square buttons (a gift from my grandmother). Taking a cue from my 1860s child’s dress, I decided to trim the dress with black velvet ribbon, too.

I followed teh pattern directions exactly except for the zipper in back and the sleeves. I left the zipper out since I planned to close it with hooks and eyes instead (though buttons would be a better option). I used the long sleeve pattern from teh jacket portion of the pattern because the heavy plaid was more of a winter weight than a summer weight and long sleeves are more period-appropriate anyway. The shorter sleeve or sleeveless options are a good choice for summer dresses, and perfectly fine for the period:

Queen Regent Maria Cristina of Spain and her daughters, Infantas Maria Teresa and Maria de las Mercedes, late 1880s

I also chose not to cut the bodice on the bias. Yes, diagonal plaid is amazing. I own a few shirts and dresses cut on the bias. The look is lovely, but the way it twists as I move (especially if the stretch heavy favors one direction) drives me nuts. No child will probably ever were this dress, yet I refuse to make an annoyingly twisty bodice!

IMG_2276

The dress went together rather quickly. The hardest part with getting a neat hem on those darn endless circle skirts! Each skirt had a 108″+ hem and there were TWO of them….with curved hems….

Yep, it took about 3 hours to press and sew. Not gonna lie.

Still, the flouncy effect is gorgeous and has great buoyancy that no other type of skirt can give without hoops and petticoats.

The plain dress is pretty on its own, but I wanted to deck it out.Sorry I didn’t get many process shots:

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Attaching the lace to the front

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Planning the velvet trim. I had a hard time choosing where to put the thinner velvet since I only had one spool. I liked the look of the thin velvet along the hem. I would want to make all the hems match, however, and I just don’t have the patience, money, or the masochism to handsew 220 inches of velvet ribbon. Nope, nope, nope! Ultimately, I opted to follow the original dress and just put double lines around the cuffs. I hoped I had enough lace for the cuff, too, but I barely had enough for the front.

Here’s the “finished” dress:

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It’s actually not complete. It doesn’t have a back closure and it still needs a bit more refining (like more black velvet ribbon), but I admit that I probably won’t ever finish trimming it. Yet, I feel accomplished despite not crossing the finish line! It’s a cute, simple pattern with a lot of possibilities for both costumes and modern wear. Multi-tasking patterns are always a welcome bonus for anyone. I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert on sewing for kids. What I hope folks will take from this experiment is the basic principle of silhouettes. You don’t need a specific pattern to approximate or create an interpretation of a historical style. Practice identifying common features and shapes and suddenly you’ll find inspiration in places you would have never thought to look!

Costume Breakdown:

3 yards cotton plaid – $4.50, Walmart
Lace remnant – Free, but there’s about $2.50 worth of lace there
Thin black velvet ribbon – $2.49, Walmart
Thick velvet ribbon for waist – $3.99, Hobby Lobby
Four antique mother of pearl buttons – Free! Thanks, grandma!
Pattern – $2.97, Walmart

Total: $16.45

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this dress yet. I’ll probably just squirrel it away or throw it at some unsuspecting 6 year old at the park like a reject fairy godmother.

Bippity Bobbity BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

A note if you plan to use this pattern for costuming or modern wear:
I followed the pattern instructions for a size/age 5 dress according to the envelope back, which is meant to fit a child with a 23 inch chest. It turned out really huge. I know most modern patterns have tons of ease built in, but, dang! The dress ended up being 26 inches wide–that’s 3 inches of ease in the chest and over 5 inches in the waist! It’s nearly large enough for me to wear as a (cute) top!

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This may partially be due to me cutting it on the grain rather than on the bias. If it was on the bias, it would hang and stretch downwards, slimming it a bit. Kids need room to move, but I think you could probably size down in this pattern, depending on your child, the fabric you choose, and how she likes her clothes to fit.