Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Robe a l'Anglaise at last

Pink linen Robe a l'Anglaise

I would like to say, hand on heart, God bless Larkin and Smith.

Whoever you are and wherever you live in this world, may the sun shine on you and may you see your grandchildren's grandchildren.

I had decided to base the first dress pattern I made roughly mid-18th century. The gown pattern I landed on was the 18th Century English Gown, a 1760 - 1770s open front gown with a stomacher. I was a little scared of the French style of gown with it's saque back, and I loved the look of the back in the enfourreau style.

I first checked out how much fabric I would need. It seemed a huge amount at the time - about 7 metres from memory! I actually ended up with about 2 metres left over, while still doing all the recommended fullness, so I guess it was because it was a plain fabric and no need to match patterns?

The fabric I chose was a medium weight pink linen. It is the lovely dusky pink colour that I am extremely partial to right now. I'd no idea if women of my class (middling classed wife of a shop owner!) would wear pink or linen. I think that possibly no-one over the lower class actually wore linen outer-wear, and especially not in the open fronted robe style. Pink was probably less inaccurate than the fabric. But for now, linen seemed nice and authentic, and I wasn't that keen on forking out for 7 metres on a $50/m silk and upwards, on a whim. What if I made an absolute stuff up of it?!

I also bought coarse pink cotton thread as the local Big Box fabric store had no linen.

I started with the mock-up. As before, I took the size 34 and added 4cm to the length of the bodice front and back. There was two pages, and seven steps and relevant full-colour photos to help with this process. As I don't know exactly what they ought to fit like at this stage, in terms of creating the correct posture, it is still somewhat trial and error as I have never actually worn a true 18th century costume!

Cutting and pleating the back panels was easy and extremely rewarding. I had never actually hand-sewn before, and it was very interesting to read that historically there wasn't the stigma of having to hide the stitches from the outside. The stitching became something of a feature and a place to show off your abilities (or that of your seamstress anyway!). I loved the pleating template that they included, as it made it so easy to get the accurate width and curve to the pleats.

Inside waist seam

The pattern uses the technique of sewing the lining to finished pieces and then to each other, rather than completing the entire outside fabric and the entire lining and then sewing them together. This is new to me, but makes it possibly to ensure all the pieces are lined up and the correct size with no horrible realisation when inserting the lining that you have cut it in the wrong size!

Neck facing were something of a tricky step, and it seems common to have a slightly un-symmetrical back neck facing on many original gowns. This makes me feel better! I still tried my best to have corners matching but didn't quite make the mark in many places.

Back neck facing

The stomacher was a slight failure, as for some strange reason I omitted to lengthen it as I had the bodice pieces. The pattern also calls for it to be un-boned, which is all well and good when pinned to one's stays. However I was completely new to this and the idea of pinning oneself into ones clothing was terrifying!

Unboned, wrinkly stomacher in floral linen

In the end, I tried on the gown and marked the edges of the robings, and then sewed hooks and eyes to hold the stomacher inside the gown. This I will definitely change at a later date, but for now it felt a little less scary. I also sewed the robbing completely down the front opening. This is probably going to be a problem if I ever wear the dress, as it means the robbing need to be folded back open if pinning and then folded back over the pins. However I think some gowns had robings sewn to them, so maybe it's not entirely inaccurate!

Hooks and eyes for stomacher

To get the correct silhouette I needed a bumroll. Either that or panniers, but that seemed much more casual and easy. A couple of attempts later, below is the resulting silhouette. It was made of a banana-shaped tube of some left-over fabric, lots of poly-fill from some old cushions, and two pieces of cotton tape. Bob's your uncle.

Finally I made the petticoat in the same fabric, knife pleating to the suggested width of 1" each. I made a self band to tie front and back with the traditional pocket openings of 10" on each side. At this point I think I decided that I was just going to interchange imperial and metric measurements and this is what you get!

Below are the dummy photos. Unfortunately the dressmakers dummy is too large for the dress dimensions, so I will later post a photo shoot by my lovely daughter, wearing it myself.

Worn over my first unsuccessful shift attempt.

Just out of interest
Pattern plus shipping: NZ$60.00
Linen fabric: 7m @ $13/m$91.00
Linen lining: .5m @ $30/m$15.00
Cotton thread: $4.00
TOTAL: NZ$170.00

Friday, 28 April 2017

The First Set of Stays

It was time to take a deep breath and hold it for a very long time. Both while making the stays as well as while wearing them, I had no doubt.
Image from Pinterest
The pattern I used was JP Ryan's 18th century Strapless Backlacing Stays pattern (see my pattern review page). This was the first time I had read the term "Mock up", and it was an unknown to me. How much do you make up? How much detail do you go to? Isn't that insane - to almost completely make up something only to pull it apart again??

One helpful blogger told me that you basically make it all up in two layers so that you can put in maybe half of the boning, use an old eyelet strip to lace it up, and then repeat. Numerous times.

I think I only made one mockup, added 4cm to the length at the point at which it told me to lengthen/shorten as I have a long body, and cut it out using the size 8 and making no adjustments to the bust or waist. I tend to also have a narrower waist as well as bust to the norm so I should have learned to make mock-ups and adjust patterns years ago. However stays are so personal to the individual that all that correct fitting is heightened.

I decided to machine sew the stays as much as possible, as the fabrics weren't strictly accurate and I was also not quite sure they would work out! There is no way I wanted to waste 40 hours of my life for something I was going to throw out.

After the mock-up, I cut out the pattern using a thick cotton left over from some blinds I'd made, cotton duck left over from slip covers I'd made, and the aforementioned 'unneeded' cotton sheet. I stitched together the self and interlining fabrics, then sewed them together as one, as with the lining. Once pressed, they looked quite smart and well-behaved.

Now it was time to begin sewing the boning channels. These are sewn through the two layers of self and interfacing, including the seam allowances. I was intending to use zip-ties/cable-ties for the boning, so I used one as a guide to mark the width of one or two channels in pencil. I took note of where the machine foot was placed when sewing these and from then on was able to sew the boning without marking, simply using the machine foot as a marker. This works easily with fully boned stays as the boning is all parallel to one side seam, and you just stop when you run out of room for a full boning channel, and begin on the next panel.

When I got to the back centre edges, I folded the seam allowance at the marked place, so that the boning continued over the seam allowances nice and neatly, leaving room for two bones in the last channel. The pattern called for metal bones at the seam edge of each panel, however I didn't have access to these so I made each one slightly wider and inserted two zip-ties instead.

Yes, this does reduce the size of the stays, but hopefully the mock-up has taken this into account and the stays are slightly too large! Also, by making sure there is plenty of ease at the lacing edge, the stays can be loosened if too tight and then tightened again once they stretch and give with wear.

And now it was time to insert the boning. This was lots of fun, made quite a mess, and worked very well with the zip-ties. I extended them into all the tabs as the pattern stated, stopping where they would extend into the seam allowance.
Now it was time to get onto the binding. I have heard horror stories about binding stays, especially the tabs. I found a good website on Yourwardrobeunlocked that gave some great ideas, some far more advanced than I was going to attempt, but very useful.

However, I didn't find this until I had finished the tabs! For some reason I thought that it would be easier to use wider binding, so bought ready-made binding in the wider size. I feel better knowing that that was part of the reason it was so difficult, but to be quite honest it wasn't too torturous.

In my naivety I didn't realise that I could sew the outside of the binding on by machine, saving myself a lot of trouble. I pinned the binding around the stays, then slipstitched them on by hand. Not neat, not smart, but serviceable. Actually, probably not serviceable either by hey, I wasn't planning on wearing them every day or anything!

The final stage was the eyelets. With the same mentality as that I had with the sewing, I decided to use metal eyelets instead of working by hand. I found them in white at the local fabric store, as well as a little tool to insert them. The tool is terrible and leaves the edges all ragged. It ruins the ribbon I laced it with, so I decided to either a)become more authentic and make them by hand next time or b)not be so cheap and go out and spend $50 on a better tool.

I inserted the eyelets in the recommended spiral style, not entirely evenly! Oh well, I tell myself it's my practice set of stays. 

Finally the stays were finished! 

I thought I had been clever by buying a mannequin before starting on this project. Wouldn't it just make all the work easier! I could simply make the dummy my own dimensions and pin to my heart's content. Of course, the dimensions are all well and good, but they don't actually go small enough for me in the waist and bust, and as we all know (now), corsets and stays are to create a specific shape that a solid dressmakers dummy won't conform to! So a bolster pillow did for the photos. I promise I will get some of it on myself once I get around to it.

Just for interest's sake:
Fabric: Left-over cotton curtaining 50cm: $0
Left-over cotton duck interlining 50cm: $0
Cotton sheet 50cm: $0
Eyelets x24 $5
Poly thread: $0
Bias binding: $3
Poly ribbon 2m: $2
Zip-ties 40cm x100 (not sure how many I used): $20

Starting at the Beginning: A Shift

I'm going to pretend that the first practice shift didn't happen. It was such a disaster, I'm going to pretend that I started at the second, and more successful one and forget all the horrors of learning how to set a gusset. You may laugh now, I certainly do, but a gusset was a bad word for a few hours as I figured it out.

As I got to in my last post, I had decided to begin with an 18th century costume. Complete from skin to cloak, or thereabouts. And in that order of course.

Following this sensible decision, I went ahead and found the nicest gown pattern I could to order online. After a few seconds I realised I wasn't making any robe until I had made a set of stays so I would fit this gown...oh my goodness...NO WAY. There was no way I could possibly start my self-taught sewing lessons with stays.

Unfortunately I wasn't kidding. Not even to myself. Stays it would have to be. So I went ahead with my online order, including a nice simple set of stays. (I am kidding, what is simple about stays to a novice dressmaker?)

On this note, I would like to rate the patterns I bought at some stage. As any new dressmaker knows, there is a vast difference between the quality of patterns, and unfortunately with all the amazing information in the world available online, I could not find a good, reliable pattern rating system that I could understand. It was going to have to be trial and error. Plenty of error, no doubt. But trial it would be.

I ended up on Burnley & Trowbridge Co. which looked like it had a good selection and ordered the Larkin & Smith English Gown 1760-1770  which was about NZ$40 and the JP Ryan Stays pattern for about NZ$25.

While I waited for these to arrive from their countries on the other side of the world, I did some more study and decided the first thing to make was actually the shift, found a good pattern on a site online which wasn't going to cost me this week's grocery money, and headed out to the local fabric store. (In actual fact, there is a short spell in the middle of that sentence that involves cutting up an old bedsheet - that I later discovered wasn't actually actually old nor unneeded - and some hand sewing, but we are going to ignore that).
This pattern was my inspiration from Terry Dresbach's website. Unfortunately her site is not up at present while working on season 3 of Outlander, for me to link to.

When I say THE local fabric store, I mean the one and only. These days in NZ there is practically no option outside of the main centres besides good old Spotlight. But at least they had white linen. According to everything I read, if I was going to be English, I was going to wear linen. And it must be white. At NZ$30 per metre I decided I was going to follow the 18th century principles of fabric economy, and started hacking into that pristine white fabric. I also had to get cotton thread as they don't sell linen thread.

The pattern I used was from a website which I believe is Marquise. The pattern and instructions were excellent, and there were links to great little pictures and diagrams. As fabric these days comes in 150cm widths, I decided to cut across-wise and sew a shoulder seam. I cut it on the small side, my frame not being particularly wide, if somewhat tall. I learned to set an underarm gusset, flat-fell the seams, create shape using gores, and make self-facings and self-casing. I got the impression that the general length for this period was mid-calf, the sleeves 3/4 length, and they didn't seem to have draw-cords in either wrist or neck. I preferred a short split at the centre front, so went ahead with a drawcord anyway, as well as with the sleeves. Later, once I had made the gown, I realised that what had at first seemed like a very low neckline in the shift was in fact not even low enough for the common neckline of an 18th century gown. The next one I make will be even deeper and I'll leave out the drawcord. For this one, I removed the wrist drawcords after finishing as they were pretty pointless. As for techniques, I did a mix of machine and hand sewing, making sure that all the flat-felling was done in as even stitches as I could.

I found the shift so comfortable to wear when trying it on, I decided to sleep in it. It's great to wear in both summer and winter I have discovered! For many reasons, but as this is no place for graphic descriptions, I will leave it at that.

Just for interests' sake:
Cost of Shift
Pattern: $0
2m medium weight linen $30/m: $60
Cotton thread: $5
Ribbon: $1
TOTAL: $66

The Inspiration: In the Garden of Versailles

It all started in 2009 when our business sponsored a show at the St James Theatre in Wellington. They needed some classical water fountains to help transform the concourse into the Gardens of Versailles, where their show would take place:

The Affaire of the Diamond Necklace

My husband brought home two complimentary tickets, telling me that it was 'recommended' that we go in costume. At first I thought that he was joking: if you know my husband, you'll know he is the last person on earth to don high heels and a frilly bib. But it seemed we would be very bad sports if we didn't.

We visited Totally Frocked, a wonderful treasure chest of costumes with a passionate staff, who jumped on the bandwagon and found us two perfect costumes. My husband was dressed in white stockings, black breeks, glittery gold jacket and waistcoat over a white shirt with a frilly 'bib' stock, and said high heels. My costume was a pink cotton/linen robe and stomacher in one, complete with gold frills and lace, and panniers. I pulled out my wedding dress for the underskirt, bought a lacy little push-up number and we were going to the ball!

As Richard's hair was at a horrifying length of glossy red curls, we didn't go down the powdered wig road, nor did he let me anywhere near him with the makeup. As for me, I declined the matted wig on offer at the costume shop, and instead did a little You Tube research, finding a great little clip on how to do an authentic 18th century French 'Do' and had a go at it. Honestly, my head still felt bruised weeks later, but I had a lot of great compliments on it which made the pain all worth it. Well, nearly.

I have to say, still in my memory as the most embarrassing moment of my life was getting into the car when we were leaving and a commuter passed at that moment. I tried to dodge into the car in time, but the cheerful toot alerted me that they had spied me in my glory and my rosy cheeks were not completely due to the period makeup I had applied!

The evening was so much fun, with everyone in costume. This was the first costume event we had ever been to, and it was great to meet a bunch of strangers who came from all different walks of life, enjoying the same entertainment. The most fun part of the evening was actually taking a breather outside the St James at midnight in the heart of Wellington's night life, alongside half a dozen others likewise taking a break from the 18th century dancing, and receiving all kinds of responses from the passers by as they jumped from one night club to the next.

It has taken me eight years to finally get to a point in life where I can basically waste time and money on a hobby that is completely selfish and pointless. I have been enjoying the Outlander series, and was impressed with how lovely the costumes were that Terry Dresbach has created for the actors. Happily getting into the swing of wasting time, I did some research, decided on an era to begin with and dived head first into my newest passion: sewing historical costumes.