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!

Fluffy Sleeves and Fleurs de Lis: Simplicity 5294 at Scarborough Renaissance Fair 2019

I wasn’t feeling too keen on celebrating my birthday this year, but my sister decided to pay me a visit! She’d never been to a Renaissance Fair and Scarborough Fair in Waxahachi, Texas is only an hour and a half from where I live. So to Fair we decided to go!

Last year I wore my Game of Thrones inspired dress:

However, we would be going the last day of the final season and it just seemed odd to be wearing it out and about when most Thrones fans would be at home celebrating/mourning the end of an era. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like getting caught up in a discussion about the show…I just wanted to wander and enjoy hanging out with my sis and my husband. Plus, it’s a cool dress looks-wise, but it’s not a cool dress temp-wise!

I owe my life to that hand fan!
This was taken before I added the neckline trim and got the belt I originally wanted.

After tackling one of my childhood dream-dress patterns, Simplicity 4244, a few years ago, I had gotten all nostalgic for the other patterns that had set my heart aflutter waaaaaaaaay back when.

Many of them happen to be Andrea Schewe’s Renaissance patterns from the late 1990s and early 2000s:

I remember coveting all the patterns in this catalog. My sister and I played the “Wishbook” game with it: “That one’s mine!” “Well, this one’s mine, then!”

The star of the Renaissance collection was the “Ever After Dress,” which, for those of you that have been missing out on a slice of fairytale wonderland, is based on the dresses from the movie “Ever After:”

The original trailer in all it’s 1990s cinematic glory! This was my favorite movie to watch at my Nana’s house when I was a kid.

The costumes in the movie aren’t Historically Accurate, but they are based on late 15th and early 16th century dresses, mostly Italian despite being set in France, but once again, they were aiming for Historical, not Historical™, so don’t stress over it too much. Frock Flicks has a nice overview of the film costumes if you’re curious.

Portrait d'Isabelle d'Aragon (Isabella of Naples raphael

“Thou art welcome to direct your gaze hither, Sire.”
Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, wife of Gian Galeazzo, by Raphael, 1480-90

1486-90 'Portia_and_Brutus',_painting_on_panel_by_Ercole_de’_Roberti

“Verily, sir, I am here for naught but the food.”
Portia and Brutus, circa 1486-90

The movie had fantastic costumes–most famously the “Just Breathe” masquerade dress (and my favorite, Rodmilla’s green gown):

Simplicity, already high on the peak of the Renaissance Fair pattern boom, leapt at the opportunity. Andrea Schewe was commissioned to recreate the look for a pattern which soon became one of the most famous costume patterns from the Big 3:

Oh, how I pined for this perfect princess dress!

The Simplicity Ever After dress pattern was really popular for wedding and fair gowns through the early 2000s and it turns out this pattern has not one, not two, but SIX versions that have been printed over the years…each with a totally different pattern number! The design itself, however, remained unchanged.

In the Misses’ sizes, the first release was Simplicity 0657 then 8735. It sold so well that Simplicity asked Andrea Schewe to sew new samples for the re-release’s envelope front, Simplicity 3812:

The re-release cover. I like Views B and C much more here. I never cared for either in the original samples, but in the new fabrics, the details really show up and I love the gold version of View B especially!

These patterns only went up to the largest standard Misses’ size, either 18 or 20 depending on the release. But this pattern was so immensely popular that Simplicity did something so rare and wonderful that it’s basically a unicorn and I think it deserves a sparkle effect: EXTENDED SIZED PATTERNS UP TO SIZE 32W!

This is an accurate pictorial representation of my brain when I discovered 9228 and 5294 on eBay.
(Made with Gify)

Besides the regular Misses’ sized patterns, Simplicity released 9228 and later 5294, both of which were available in sizes 18W to 32W. That’s up to a 54″ bust measurement! One of the constant troubles with costume patterns from the Big 3 is that they do not offer larger sizes. I was so excited to find not only did this pattern get offered in larger sizes, the samples they made were styled to look like the Misses’ size envelope as well (so often “Plus Sized” versions of things are styled completely different from the regular sized things instead of adapting the design to be proportional to the increased size while maintaining the original look).

Sadly, all these patterns are Out of Print, so the envelops are only available second hand. However, Simplicity has recently added the Misses/Regular size version to their Print-On-Demand service as EA381201…but not in the extended sizes.

So, if you want one of the extended sizing patterns, you must scour the ‘net if you weren’t lucky enough to pick up a copy when it originally was in stores. Because they’re out of print, they can be kind of spendy, but I found a copy of 5294 in the 18W to 24W range for a reasonable price. I immediately snapped it up! It was worth the investment 100 fold!

This is the back so you can see the glorious measurement chart! Also the yardage….holy cow, the yardage! The few older online reviews I found mention this dress is a fabric and trim hog and they were all 110% correct! The dress is worth it, though, IMHO.

Pattern in hand, I set out trying to find a suitable fabric.

Now when I say suitable, I’m not talking suitable for a Screen Accurate Reproduction® or Historically Accurate dress. While lovely, I didn’t want to make it out of taffeta or velvet. When I say suitable, I mean suitable to survive the blazing Texas heat! Bonus points if I could also combat the heinous humidity that’s been plaguing us during an abnormally wet spring.

Linen would have been the HA-ish solution. While not exactly court gown material, it’s wicking and the most breezy of all the fabrics which is why it has been favored in hot climes for centuries. But, I had neither the cash to buy the stuff nor the patience to deal with its tendency to wrinkle more than a raisin at the slightest provocation.

After squishing my skirts into a hot, humid car for an hour and a half (which would set the wrinkles like a nice, steamy iron), I would certainly emerge looking not unlike these grapes or a crumpled paper ball…

Instead, I decided to make the dress out of cotton because it’s breathable, but also cheap, comes in a wider variety of prints, and wrinkles waaaaaaaay less. I wanted to find a brocade or embroidery-esque print to mimic the wild silk fabrics I saw in paintings. I was especially keen to find a nice mustard yellow. Yellow’s not “my color” (being a pale dishwater blond), but I love it! And the patterns I found were just fabulous!

Visitation (Detail, from Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence) by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1485-90

Portrait Of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1488

Found another History Sister and she’s wearing a bangin’ brocade! I decided to copy her look a bit, minus the spaniel-ears. I save that look for my early 19th century dresses.
Ritratto di Gentildonna (Portrait of a Gentlewoman) by Leonardo Boldrini, circa 1490s

However, most of the colors we associate with the Renaissance period are rich jewel tones like wine and navy. I found tons of beautifully patterned fabrics, but only in darker colors like emerald or black. I had just about caved to a black and gold design until science gently placed its practical hands on my shoulders and shook me back to sanity: I needed something light colored and less likely to absorb heat and cook me alive.

Then, I found this nifty fabric online:

It doesn’t show well in photos, but the dots and outlines are metallic gold.

Minka giving my new fabric the Cat Butt Blessing.

And it reminded me a bit of Eleanora di Toledo mixed with medieval heraldry:

16th century…a bit late for my dress’s style.

Early 15th century, a bit too soon for my dress’s style.
(PS, I found this image on a great Hungarian blog about hennin)

Mash ’em together, average ’em out, and you get roughly the correct era for my dress (1490s), right? Right?!

Cheap it wasn’t after shipping, but not any worse than a quilting cotton from a certain chain fabric store beginning with J–about $7 a yard. It’s a great cotton, though, lighter than a standard quilting cotton, but thick enough not to be sheer.

The envelope recommended 5 1/4 to 5 3/8 yards of 52″ wide fabric. I had 6 yards of 45″ wide fabric…with a one-way design…

It was a very, VERY tight fit.

I had to reduce the skirt width a bit to get the enormous gored skirt pieces to fit on the fabric. I thought about ignoring the gores and just using the full rectangle yardage, but I didn’t know how that would work with the pattern’s peaked front. In the end, I made it work. THANK HEAVENS. The slight reduction didn’t seem to affect the drape of the dress too much.

If you want to make this dress out of 45″ fabric, you will have to reduce the width of the skirt pattern or piece your fabric because the pattern pieces are wider than 45”.

This dress in general takes a lot of fabric and trim. Each skirt is 4+ yards and the huge sleeves are over a yard each on their own:

Giving my 1890s sleeves a run for their money in the poof department!
Shoutout to Mistress of Disguise for graciously offering her help selecting a complimentary fabric. I thought about using the cream organdy sari for the underskirt as well as the sleeves, but after cutting the sleeves out, I didn’t have enough left. Fortunately, the original mustard color doesn’t look too bad on me despite my pastiness.

I was so proud of myself: I got the dress to a wearable state well over two days in advance of the event! So much better than my usual method of “Wait until the day-before to do everything and let the panic inspire you!

Yes, those are my DnD Barbie dolls in the background. Yes, I have weirder nerd hobbies than rage-sewing Historical costumes. Yes, I do own a vacuum and wastebaskets, I swear!

At that point, it was mostly untrimmed. Kinda boring. The basic dress shape of this pattern is nice, but it is really the trimmings that elevate it from nice to WOWZA. Trimming took quite a bit of time getting everything placed just so– almost two days. Altogether, it took a week of four-hour sewing sessions to get the dress to its current state. I admit I was still sewing when my sister got here, but I got it done enough for Sunday’s Scarborough trip!

Still need to make the tie-on sleeves at some point.

The previous day was rainy and we were sure the ground would be soaked and sloppy, especially the parking area which is just an open field. I wore my not-so-pretty boots in anticipation but to our amazement, the sun had dried out most of the muck. The sunshine also meant that my choice of a light-colored cotton fabric paid off! I was warm, but not uncomfortably so. It was the perfect blending of science and fairytale with a Happy Ever After ending!

To keep cool, I took a fan and, most helpful of all, picked up an $8 paper umbrella from Hobby Lobby’s party section. 100% would recommend! Between the parasol and marinating myself in sunscreen, I didn’t even get sunburned!
To hide my modern necessities, I got a cheap little faux-leather book case for my phone and made a simple drawstring purse from scraps. A few other little accessories like my favorite braided gold necklace, antique brooch, and a decorative bun-roll (made last minute by wrapping trim scraps over one of those tubular mesh hair rollers) rounded everything out:

My sister wore the teal version of Amazon’s “Renaissance Dress” which is a good option for anyone looking for a fast, inexpensive costume that’s easy to wear, plus it’s flattering on a variety of body types. It has ties in front and back for an adjustable fit and comes in a huge selection of colors. It costs about $50. She was quite pleased with the quality. I made her a flower crown to go with it as a belated birthday gift.

Flower crowns are beautiful, easy to make, and fun to wear. You just need some flowers of your choice, a hot glue gun, and a wide fabric-covered headband!

Chris even got in the festival spirit of his own accord! He wore his punk-rock kilt, grabbed a cap and belt, and even joined the dulcimer lady for an impromptu public duet!

We took in the hilarious shows, the magical musicians, ate overpriced-but-tasty food, and cheered for the jousters (I’m kicking myself a bit for not getting a picture with the slightly villainous knight Sir Joseph, whose colors I happened to serendipitous be wearing). The fair was fab and there were lots of fairies and tieflings and elves running around for Fantasy weekend.

Great sewing pattern, great fun, great family–it was a good way to spend a belated birthday!

For a more technical (ish) review of Simplcity 5294, click here to read my write-up about it on PatternReview.com

Easy Edwardian Day Out – Thistle Hill House Tour with the DFWCG

Family, Friends, and Fashion!

My birthday was this past week, so when the DFW Costumers Guild scheduled Edwardian Day Out that weekend, of course I had to go! We visited Thistle Hill, a stately old house from 1904. It’s surrounded by hospitals and parking garages. Thank goodness they saved this old house from becoming another concrete car park!

Thistle Hill is a little patch of green in the middle of the medical district.
I’ve always been slightly confounded by urban Texas. On the one hand, Texans are fiercely proud of their history, particularly their 19th century pioneer heritage. On the other hand, they are capitalist to a fault and if a plot of land is worth more as parking lot than a historic house….hello new parking lot! Not many 19th century buildings are left and many that remain are in terrible disrepair. Dallas has lost the vast majority of its pre-1930 historical architecture. Fort Worth still has some of its older neighborhoods and storefronts, but many folks drive a few hours to surrounding towns like Waxahachie just to see Victorian houses! Thank goodness for for places like HFW and Dallas Heritage Village which have helped preserve historical architecture in the Metroplex.

I was going to wear my green version of Butterick 6093 again, but the week before, I found a lavender bridesmaid skirt at Goodwill that was freakishly similar to the one Becky owns!

In addition, I have a giant green tub full of *literal pounds* of Easy Edwardian stuff I’ve hoarded over the years, so I dug it out and settled on a modern cotton blouse with a fussy ruffle down the front and a vintage burgundy leather belt.

LITERAL POUNDS.

Turns out my giant tub of stuff would come in handy again: we invited Becky’s mother, Marcella, to come along for her first costumed outing. She found a lacy maxi skirt and needed a blouse and hat to go with it– and the Tub provided!

Marcella’s fabulous first historical costume. She made her coordinating drawstring purse herself!

Now, I won’t say definitively that I endorse costume hoarding, but by golly does having a variety of costuming pieces in a range of styles and sizes come in handy! It’s great for helping new-to-the-hobby friends or pulling together a last-minute outfit when nothing you’ve made fits or suits your fancy.

Time to check the Green Tub, girl! The Green Tub’s got you covered!

After being wadded up in the tub for months, my blouse needed a good pressing. To turn a modern collared blouse into a more Edwardian-esque shirtwaist, simply iron the collar flat to remove the fold. This will make it stand up like the high-collars of yesteryear! You can wrap the collar wings over each other and hide the wrap with a jabot or brooch, or do as I prefer and just fold the front tips back.

Thanks to the Tub, there was no last minute event sewing needed! It was nice to spend 2 hours planning and pressing an outfit rather than 2 days or 2 weeks frantically sewing. The most time consuming part– aside from doing my hair– was trimming my hat. Okay, so I guess that counts as sewing because I had to tack town the trimming…but it only took about 20 minutes!

This particular hat has been in my collection for years, but this is the first time I’ve had an outfit to wear it with. I originally purchased it from Dilliard’s. Usually their hats are SUPER SPENDY, but if you go at the right time, like a post-Easter sale, they mark down their hats a ton– I got this one at 80% off! However, it is still the most expensive hat I’ve ever purchased for myself. The fluffy puffball is the original decor. It’s not really Edwardian looking by itself, but the vintage brooch from my 1890s hat helped tame the goofy poof somewhat.

My belt and shoes were a purple-tinged maroon, so to *tie* the hat in with the outfit, I decorated it with a sliced-n-diced neck*tie* of a similar shade:

Ha ha! Puns.
Thrift store neckties are great for decorating hats. They’re another one of those costume bits that I hoard…

The tour itself was a bit expensive ($20) and felt rushed. The house is a popular event space for dinners and weddings, so there were tables and chairs out everywhere and the staff was preoccupied with clearing the space after a dinner the previous day. However, the house is lovely and the ticket allows you to tour another local historical home, too. The biggest surprise was that the ticket is also valid for a full year! So we can go back again as many times as we like! I think there are a few more Edwardian events in our future.

Check out the full Flickr Album here: Edwardian Day Out

And check out the DFW Costumers Guild website for more info about the group and future events!