Sunday, January 27, 2013

Corded Stays: Part Two

I am just loving the Historical Sew Fortnightly — it has done wonders for my productivity! This week, I finished a UFO that has been haunting me for months. You can read more details here.

The Challenge: #2 UFO

Fabric: Lightweight Cotton Sateen

Notions: Metal Grommets size #00, wooden busk from Hedgehog Handworks

How historically accurate is it? The pattern was taken from an original and came with detailed historical notes and instructions. I sewed it completely by hand, and my materials were very accurate. The only thing I'm not sure about are the metal grommets, as I don't think they were invented until the 1830s or so. 

Hours to complete: Too many — for this challenge, it was only 2-3

First worn: Will be worn March 2013

Total cost: Approximately $40 (including pattern)

The corded stays are now much improved, and should be perfectly wearable. Here are some before and after pictures to show the changes I made:

Corded Stays Before

Corded Stays After
...and After

Side View Before

Side View After
...and After

Bustline Before

Bustline After
...and After

It's much better, don't you think? I made all the changes I proposed in my previous post, the most important being a new busk and better strap placement. The bustline is more lifted and perky, which is essential for Regency dresses, and the straps stay up much better than before. I am not sure that I completely love these stays, even with all the changes I made — the shape through the bust still leaves something to be desired. However, they are much better than before and will provide a nice silhouette under clothing, which is all I really need them to do. 

Speaking of which, today I started putting together my muslin dress (the whole reason I needed the stays). I'll post some pictures and details later. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Corded Stays

For Challenge #2 of the Historical Sew Fortnightly, I am finally finishing a set of corded stays that have been languishing unfinished for a very long time.

About two years ago, I decided to embark on a mammoth project to create a late 1830s gown and all the underpinnings for it — by hand. I love to sew by hand, and the purpose of the project was to hone my handwork skills while also exploring a new period. Great idea, yes?

Well, the first two garments I started working on were a corded corset and a corded petticoat. I spent the better part of a year on these two garments. The cording takes forever!! I know people who have set out to make a corded petticoat by machine, and given up in despair after the 15th or so row of cording. And here I was doing it all by hand.

The miles and miles of cording were somewhat demoralizing, and my pace slowed to a crawl. I eventually finished the corded petticoat, and also sewed several other petticoats to wear with it, but for some reason the corded stays remained incomplete. I finished the cording and construction, but the stays didn't fit quite right (much too large), weren't very comfortable (the straps wouldn't stay up), and were completely unflattering (they gave a strange shape to the bust). I managed to fix the size problem by taking them in along the side-back seam, but couldn't muster the motivation to address the other issues. In frustration, I threw them into the UFO pile, where they sat untouched for over a year. I never did end up sewing the gown that was intended for the project (maybe it will happen this year), but I did wear the petticoats with an 1840s evening gown and of course my brown wool 1840s day dress.

Now that I have decided to break into the Regency, it seems like the perfect time to resurrect these unwearable stays and figure out how to make them work.

The pattern I used is Past Patterns 001 1820s-1840s Corded Stay — View B (the one on the right in the illustration).

Despite the dating, I can't find anything about these stays that would prevent them being worn for a slightly earlier period. The main difference between these and earlier stays is that these provide more waistline definition. While not necessary or accurate for 1800-1820, I don't think it will matter much underneath dresses. With a little tweaking, I think they will give a shape that will work.

I made these from a fairly lightweight cotton sateen, with cotton twill tape binding and Sugar 'n' Cream cotton yarn for the cording. They are entirely handsewn with tiny backstitches worked with Gutermann hand-quilting thread.

Here are some pictures of what the stays looked like when I pulled them out to start rehabilitating them:

Past Patterns 001 Regency Corded Stay

In this photo, you can see what I mean about them being unflattering... The overall shape is okay, but the bust area is a little strange. The straps are falling off my shoulders, and aren't doing much to support my breasts. The neckline is too wide and is not snug enough across the top.

Corded Stays Lacing

Here is a view of the back — not too bad, but you can see how the straps are barely staying up.

Corded stays side view

The side view really shows how the straps are placed too close to the edge of the stays. But it also shows that the overall shape is good and definitely worth saving.

Corded Stays bust closeup

Here's a closer view of the strange, sad neckline. You can't even see where the straps attach — they're buried somewhere behind my boobs. And shouldn't Regency stays provide a little more oomph to the bust?

But the following detail shots show why I am so determined to save these stays — the hand-sewing is lovely and I spent too much time on it to throw it all away!

Past Patterns 001 Cording detail
See how much cording there is!

Handsewn cording
So neat and even!

Cording closeup
Look at those tiny backstitches!!

Another thing I disliked about these stays is the busk. The pattern includes detailed instructions for making your own, but I have neither the skill nor the inclination to attempt such a thing. Determined to find a ready-made alternative, I tried all the usual sources, but none of them seemed to offer a busk in the appropriate dimensions. I ended up settling on the busk you see above, which I found at Lacis (it's not on their website, but was available in store). It is a bit too long to be perfectly comfortable and is not as wide as I would like, but it was the best option I could find, so I made do. I added extra rows of cording to make up for the narrow width, but I was never very happy about the finished look.

A couple of months ago, I was exploring resources for period sewing supplies, and happened upon the website for Hedgehog Handworks. Not only do they sell all kinds of hard-to-find threads and accessories, but they offer a perfect Regency corset busk. It is much shorter than the one I had, is a fair amount wider, and has holes pre-drilled for a cord to hold it in place. When I decided to rehabilitate the stays, the first thing I did was to order a new busk.

Here's a picture to show the difference (the new one is on the right):

Busk Comparison

Now that you know the whole backstory, here are the changes I plan to make so I can finally call these stays finished:

1. Take out the old busk and make room for the new one by removing one row of cording on each side of the busk channel.

2. Add some short rows of cording at the top of the busk channel to stabilize the area above the new shorter busk.

3. Add two eyelets in the busk channel for cording to hold the busk in place.

4. Add a drawstring through the neckline binding to snug up the neckline.

5. Move the shoulder straps in from the edge of the neckline by about 1".

6. Work buttonhole stitches to reinforce all the bust gusset points.

Hopefully once all of this is finished, I'll have a functional and flattering set of Regency corded stays!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Regency Shift

Regency shift

Here is my completed project for Challenge #1 of the Historical Sew Fortnightly. This challenge was to make something from a year ending in -13. I chose 1813 and made a simple shift to wear under the Regency gown I will be starting soon. I finished the shift on Monday January 14th, just in time for the challenge deadline, but didn't get the pictures uploaded until today. Here are the details:

The Challenge: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennial
Fabric: about 1-1/2 yards of lightweight linen from Discount Fabrics 
Pattern: The shift is constructed entirely of rectangles and triangles, arranged and cut with period techniques designed to waste as little fabric as possible. I used the cutting instructions on this blog as a general guide, though I cut my sleeves slimmer and shorter than she did. My sleeves have no fullness, but are set in flat. 
Year: This style of shift was common throughout the first quarter of the 19th century, but for the purposes of the challenge, we're going with 1813. 
Notions: 100 wt. cotton sewing thread, cotton drawstring cord
How historically accurate is it? Quite accurate. The pattern shape and dimensions are taken directly from period sewing manuals, and my version is completely handsewn with period techniques. All seams are sewn with tiny running stitches, then felled with equally tiny whip stitches. The hems and neckline casing are sewn with running stitches. 

The one slight inaccuracy is the fact that I have only one side gore on the back panel-- period shifts usually had gores on both sides of the front and back panels. I was able to cut mine the way I did because my linen fabric was much wider than period fabrics would have been. I could have cut the shift into more pieces, then sewn them back together in order to have all the period-correct seams, but I chose not to be so persnickety about something that no one will actually see when I'm wearing it. Cutting it the way I did saved me about 6 hours of sewing time. 
Hours to complete: I was bad and didn't keep track. My best estimate is 10-12 hours. 
First worn: This will not be worn until March 2013. 
Total cost: ~$20

Regency Shift Back View
Back view -- see the triangular gore added to the back panel? This makes for very efficient cutting.

Regency Shift closeup
Neckline closeup

Shift Sleeve Gusset
Sleeve detail -- shaping is achieved through square underarm gussets. 

Now that I have my base layer completed, I'll begin working on things to wear with it. I have a set of corded stays that I sewed last year that need a little tweaking before they are wearable. They will be my Un-Finished Object  for HSF Challenge #2 UFO

As for the dress, I've begun researching and planning what style I want it to be. I think I've decided to make a simple white muslin dress ca. 1810 -- something I could dress down for daywear and dress up for evening. I don't expect to have very many opportunities to wear Regency clothing, so I want to make something versatile that I can accessorize to suit different occasions. 

Here are some dresses for inspiration:

Lovely muslin dress from the Metropolitan Museum (more pictures)

Day dress, also from the Metropolitan Museum (more pictures

Stay tuned for more details!

    Friday, January 4, 2013

    New Endeavors

    2013 is off to a great start. I've already surprised myself by getting this blog off the ground so early in the year, and now I'm starting to plan new costuming adventures.

    First of all, I am setting myself the goal of participating in the Historical Sew Fortnightly. I think it's such a lovely idea, and a great way to keep me on my toes with planning and following through with sewing projects. As I plan upcoming projects, I'm going to keep an eye on the challenges and find ways to participate in as many of them as I can.

    The second big idea for the year will be expanding my costuming horizons. The majority of my costumes thus far have centered on the mid-19th century. It's time to branch out! Last year's Titanic Era dress project (stay tuned for upcoming post with details) whetted my appetite, and now I want to start exploring other eras in a big way.

    First up is Regency. I have been huge fan of this period for years, but have never had the time or motivation to make any clothing from it. 2013 will be my year! There's a PEERS Jane Austen Ball coming up in March, and I'm going to try to have something ready for it.

    To start with, I have to get going on foundations. I have a set of stays that I think will work just fine, but I need a shift to wear under them. I'm thinking it should be a simple squares-and-triangles affair, following the instructions here. I bought some nice lightweight linen today that will be just the thing. I'll be sewing this together by hand; the tiny run-and-fell seams you see in period undies are impossible to replicate by machine. I'm hoping I can get this done in time to count as my project for HSF Challenge #1. A generic Regency shift can count for 1813, right?

    The second big project I have planned is a turn-of-the-(last)-century evening gown. There's a group of ladies here in the Bay Area who are planning a Gibson Girl theme for the Gaskell Ball in April, and I plan to go all out. Of course I'll be starting with a corset, most likely the Truly Victorian 1903 Edwardian Corset (HSF Challenge #3?). S-curve, here I come! I already have this book for inspiration, and I'm hoping that this one will give me a dress pattern I can work from. I've even started reading hair tutorials to give me that Gibson Girl pouf.

    To set the mood, I leave you with my favorite Gibson Girl image:
    She is clearly above it all

    2013, here I come!

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    1840s Day Dress

    Laughing Moon 114 1840s Fan Front
    Please ignore the terrible background in these pictures...

    I made this dress in November 2012 to wear to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. The outfit I had worn for two previous years was mid-1860s, which is a little late for the time period established for the Fair (1842-1863). This year I wanted something earlier, something more typically Dickensian. I've never been a huge fan of the 1840s, but I like the 1850s even less, so 1840s seemed the lesser of two evils. To my surprise, the more I researched the time period, the more I got into the Gothic aesthetic.

    The Inspiration

    The recent movie version of Jane Eyre really helped me warm up to the 1840s styles. Those sharp, tailored bodices balance nicely against the soft femininity of the rounded bell skirts, and the somewhat austere outlines of the dresses are softened by delicate details in the trimming and hairstyles. My two inspiration dresses from the movie:

    See how her dress is fairly short -- a carryover from the Romantic 1830s. 

    This is the dress that made me fall in love with this time period. Everything is so tidy and neat, yet still soft and feminine. 

    Now that I had an idea of the general look that appealed to me, I spent more time looking at fashion plates and photographs from the period, and of course, as many original dresses as I could find. I quickly learned that the mid-1840s was the heyday of the fan front bodice. The fanning v-shaped folds of this style are created by adding extra width in the bodice front that then is controlled at the waist and shoulder seams with pleats and/or gathers. You'll see this style in the second Jane Eyre picture above, and in the following period images:

    Here's a fan front in plaid, 

    and one in a solid color, 

    and a plaid one from a fashion plate dated 1844. 

     This dress from Augusta Auctions is a great example of a real fan front from the period. Although fan fronts are not very well-represented in museum collections or fashion magazines of the period, they are incredibly commonplace in photographs of real people. My goal for this costume was to make a basic and typical dress of the period, something that wouldn't stand out as elaborate or high-falutin', so the fan front seemed perfect. 

    Pattern and Fabric

    Luckily for me, they are several well-regarded fan front patterns available (Truly Victorian 454, Past Patterns 801, and Laughing Moon 114 were the ones I found). After much consideration, I chose the Laughing Moon pattern because the particular details of its construction best suited the vision that was taking shape in my head. 

    I had decided that the dress needed to be wool in a dark color. Anyone who has spent any time at all at the Dickens Fair will understand why this was important. The Cow Palace is filthy, and my pretty silk dress from last year had an unfortunate run-in with a glass of mulled wine. This year, I wanted a dress that would hold up to a few years of abuse and dirt, and would disguise any potential stains. After much hunting, I decided on a lovely lightweight worsted wool in a dark greyish brown, purchased at Britex Fabrics. I lined the bodice with a sturdy (read: cheap) linen from Joann's, which I also used for a nice deep hem facing. I bound the hem edge with a black worsted wool tape, again to improve durability. 

    This was my first time working with a Laughing Moon pattern, and I was very pleased with it overall. It fit very well, with only a few modifications. I made three main fitting changes to the bodice:

    • I cut a larger size to accommodate my large bust region, but it was a little loose in the ribcage and waist. I adjusted this by pinching out excess fabric in the side seams.
    • I had to shorten the bodice length by an inch or so, but this is a normal pattern adjustment for me since I'm rather short-waisted. 
    • I raised the armscyes by an inch or two. As drafted, they hit me much too far off the shoulder. Combined with the extra folds of fabric across the chest, they made me look like a line-backer. I'm not sure if this was because I cut a slightly larger size, or if the pattern was drafted for someone with much broader shoulders than me. Whatever the cause, it was an easy problem to fix. Even after raising them, the armscyes still hit me well below my shoulder point. 

    Laughing Moon 114 back view
    The back view shows how nicely the bodice fits -- I probably could have taken off another half-inch of length from the back to smooth out those wrinkles, but I think it looks pretty good as it is. 

    Once the fit was where I wanted it, I realized the fan needed some adjusting. I shifted the shoulder seam gathers a little bit closer to the shoulder point to accentuate the V-shape, and then added about ten more rows of shirring stitches at the center front than the pattern called for. These changes helped minimize the bulky look of all that excess fabric. 

    Here's a closeup of the fan:

    This picture also shows the skirt gauging at the waist. This was the first time I've gauged around a curved waistline -- it took some math and careful measuring, but it made for a very satisfying result. 

    I changed the sleeves considerably. As drafted, they had a lot of extra fullness which looked a little frumpy with the extra fullness in the bodice. The sleeves were cut on the bias, which meant they could be a lot more snug and still have enough give for comfort. I took them in quite a bit, changing the shape as I went. They're still not as tight as some dresses I've seen, but they are much more balanced and flattering. 

    The skirt was three panels (probably a little wider than strictly necessary for this period), with a nice deep pocket set into a side seam. 


    The collar and cuffs are made from some antique whitework edging, and the the brooch is an antique cameo that belonged to my grandmother. 

    Laughing Moon 114 closeup
    You can see how low the armscye is even after I removed 1-2 inches. 

    The shoes are a lucky thrift store find: black, square-toed, lace-up ankle boots that look historically accurate enough to fool some very trained eyes at the fair. No, they're not expensive hand-crafted reproduction boots, they're just some small-footed man's shoe from the 1990s.  

    1840s Dress Front View
    The brand name is "Bootalino's".  I kid you not.

    To brighten up this somber, dull dress, I made a garish and frilly bonnet with the Louisa Ann pattern from Timely Tresses. This is the second pattern of theirs that I have made, and I can't say enough good things about the comoany. Their patterns are well-researched and well-drafted, and the instructions are very helpful. 
    This bonnet is possibly one of my favorite things I've ever made. It is covered in a dark seafoam green silk faille (also from Britex), and trimmed with a delicious vintage ribbon from Hyman Hendler in NY, some paper flowers and velvet leaves from my stash, brown silk taffeta ties, and a few jaunty pheasant feathers. 

    Timely Tresses Louisa Ann Bonnet
    How's that for a color pop?

    Timely Tresses Louisa Ann Bonnet Side View
    A better shot of the trimming. 

    I finished off the outfit with a grey/brown plaid shawl (another wool from Britex) and some decent-looking leather gloves from Macy's. 

    The completed ensemble! 


    I should say a word about the underpinnings. I will likely write a more detailed post about them later, since they were an odyssey of their own, but here's a brief run-down. 

    The corset is a heavily modified version of Simplicity 9769, which I made last year and wear for all of my mid-19th century costumes. It doesn't fit as well as I would like, and probably needs replacing. 

    It is worn over a chemise that I hand-sewed from instructions in The Workwoman's Guide (I will definitely post more info about this -- one of my other favorite things I've ever made). 

    Part of the reason I chose to make an 1840s dress was to avoid having to wear hoops at fair. I know most people do, but I can't stand it. The shops are too small, the crowds are too large, the opportunities for knocking over expensive or stain-producing items are too frequent. This year I wanted to have a smaller and more compressible footprint, so I went with several heavily starched petticoats. There is a short and smallish modesty petticoat, a larger heavily corded petticoat, and two outer petticoats with tucks and deep hems. The petticoats were all sewn by hand. Underneath them all is a small bum pad to give the back waist a little more oomph. All those layers, plus the gauged wool skirt, provided ample poof that made it hard to miss my hoops. 

    Update 03/06/13: I finally photographed and wrote a blog post about the underpinnings for this dress.

    Look at that shirring!
    Looks pretty good to me!

    The dress wore very well, twirled beautifully on the dance floor, and was admired by several people with taste and knowledge of the period. So all in all, I consider this costume a success. Now to see how many years I can wear it to the Fair!

    Tuesday, January 1, 2013

    This is finally happening

    Happy New Year! After years of saying that I don't have the time for blogging, I have finally decided to make time. Up to this point, I have been pretty terrible at documenting the research and construction details that go into my costumes, and my resolution for 2013 is to change that. As much as I tend to undervalue my work, I've come to realize that there are people out there who would enjoy seeing my process, and might be able to learn something from my mistakes and successes.

    Also, it will make my mother happy to see the things I'm working on. Keeping your mother happy is so important.

    I will also begin the monumental undertaking of documenting past projects. So please check in from time to time to see what I've got going on. I will try to keep it interesting!