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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fun with Vintage Patterns

A while back, a friend of mine who's a little older than my mother gave me the pick of her old patterns. Like most seamstresses (of whatever skill level), she had kept probably all the patterns she had bought over the years. Why would you throw them out after you've spent the money? But there does come a point when you are, realistically, never going to use a given pattern again. Hence getting me to weed out some of hers. She doesn't sew as much anymore.

I got quite a few patterns from the 60s and 70s that I'm rather excited about, though actually using them is dependent on acquiring fabric, so most of them are still just waiting on the shelf in my bedroom. But last week, I finally got to use one. Inspiration struck and matched up this pattern:

with this gorgeous fabric I had been given, but for which I originally had no clear plan:

The fabric is green-shot-blue taffeta with velvet flocking and a glitter design, and the pattern is from the early 60s. It was love at first sight with both of them, but it took some time to realize they should be together.

This pattern is a little odd compared to what I've sewn in the past. One minor oddity is the wrap skirt. It's made in only two pieces and doesn't wrap as far as I expected, so I have to come up with some sort of solution to keep it from pulling open quite so far when I move certain ways. Or I may make a short petticoat to wear under it that's actually intended to be seen a little. I haven't decided yet.

The much greater oddity is the seamlines of the bodice. They are completely different from anything I've made before, and I've made things from a lot of different eras. Guess where the top of the side front piece goes. In that inverted pointy part in the front piece!

So you have to sew this acute angle, which might not be so bad if it were going into a seam. In fact, I've sewed much more acute angles in the process of inserting a triangular piece into a seam to give a skirt flair or make a Viking apron dress, and it was really quite simple. But sewing an acute angle into a solid piece was a pretty big challenge. I found it difficult to get everything to stay in place while I sewed it and to keep the point from puckering. However, like my recent victory over jeans zippers, I got all of these (the back pieces are essentially the same, but with less curve) in correctly with a minimum of re-doing. This is what it looks like sewn together from the inside since the seams are easier to see in my lining than in the pretty fabric.

Once you get the front into one piece and the back into two sections, you sew them together like a T-tunic, i.e. seams across the tops of the shoulders, and seams beginning at the ends of the sleeves, through the armpits, then down the sides of the bodice. I've made plenty of T-tunics since I'm into medieval clothing, but it's very unusual in modern formal (or even semi-formal) wear.

The side seams do not extend down the skirt on this dress because the skirt only has one seam down the back. It has box pleats that line up with the bodice seams, and the two panels simply overlap in the front (though not as far as I wish they did--which is why, if I were a good little seamstress, I would make muslins). The pattern called for self piping at the waist, but I chose to make that with black taffeta instead.

piping and box pleats
Now for where I deviated from the pattern more drastically than the color of the piping. First of all, it's not intended to be lined. I did that for two main reasons. I don't like facings, and I don't like unfinished seam edges. I happen to think it's easier to get a neckline to lay right with with a lining or a bias binding (and bias binding was inappropriate here) than with a facing. Facings have always been notoriously rebellious for me. And look back at the pattern envelope. See that big curve along the front edge of the skirt? They wanted me to face the entire skirt edge as well. That would never have worked for me. Oh, I probably would have gotten it right eventually, but I would have had a strong desire to burn the dress before I was done.

The seam issue is a bit of a different story. I normally zigzag (in lieu of a serger) the edges of my seams together both to finish the edges so they won't fray with wear and washing and to reinforce the seam. However, this was one of few patterns where I actually acknowledge that ironing the seams open was fairly necessary in order to get everything to lay right. And the only way to have the level of garment strength and finished edges that I prefer and iron the seam allowances open is to line the garment. Hence, fully lined dress. Yes, I realize I'm a little crazy.

hand-stitching at the waistline of the lining
The next deviation is partly because of the lining. The pattern called for a stiff interfacing in the whole skirt (with the facings to finish the edges) to give it more fullness. While I like the fullness, I don't like the interfacing, and I was lining the thing anyway. Admittedly, I didn't line it with anything stiff--just with a lightweight cotton, but I didn't like the idea of the extra bulk, so I left it out. Since I have to deal with the front wrap opening as I move anyway, the petticoat I mentioned earlier might give me back some of the fulness as well as being cute instead of embarrassing when the wrap opens. We'll see. I may just sacrifice the fulness and take some blind stitches on the inside to hold it closed enough.

This shows the skirt lining as well as how little the skirt overlaps.
The lining caused another minor deviation. I bought silver embroidery thread and top-stitched the edges of the neckline, sleeves, and skirt. I could have just pressed them into place, but I liked this idea better.

 My final deviation from the pattern was the greatest oddity of all--well, the method from which I deviated is. It had a back zipper, but an unusual one. I have made a few dresses with side zippers. These function, instead of by opening the whole top of the dress, by making the fitted portions (from just under the armpit to around the hip area) widen enough that you can slip it over your head. You don't go in through the zipper; it just loosens the fitted parts while you get in. Well, the pattern for this dress called for a back zipper that functioned like that. It was supposed to be a placket zipper that went from a little higher than bra-strap height to around hip height.

Part of me wanted to do exactly what the pattern said, mainly for the novelty of it. Then sanity set in, and I remembered that I have a very bad relationship with regular zippers and only have a really high success rate with installing invisible zippers. (If you've ever tried to install an invisible zipper with a regular zipper foot, you probably think I'm crazy, but I'm telling you, buy the cheap little Coates & Clark invisible zipper foot that is on the rack of zippers, and put it in with that, exactly according to the instructions in the zipper package, and you will see why I think they are easier to get right.)

I hand-stitched the lining to the zipper tape on the inside, but I made my stitches a little too long and close to the zipper teeth, so the slider would catch my threads a little. It wasn't impossible to zip up my dress, just annoying. I have already remedied that situation because it was just a matter of moving the folded edge of the lining a little farther (about 1/8-inch farther) from the zipper teeth and then taking shorter stitches.

the original stitching
I had a lot of fun making this, but was mildly disappointed that my dress wasn't as pretty as the picture on the pattern envelope until my husband reminded me that 60s patterns have very stylized drawings on the envelopes rather than actual women in actual clothing. Then I felt better, and I really do think it's a pretty dress.

(Sorry I'm not in it. My husband wasn't around to take pictures when I wanted to take them, and my dummy is no good at using a camera.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Drastic Makeover

No, not for me; for a dress. My mother-in-law (who, by the way, is super awesome, and no, I'm not kissing up because she doesn't even read this to my knowledge) periodically tells her kids that she has stuff to give away, and we find a time that we can all get together to divvy it out. Anything that doesn't get picked at all goes to a thrift store or something.

The most recent time she did this, I picked some VHS tapes (yes, I still have a working VCR) and some LPs (I also have a turntable). Jon grabbed a book about science or engineering (I can't remember which at the moment) that was his when he was younger. We weren't interested in much else. Then Jon's sister-in-law handed me a dress and said she thought I should have it because I'm most likely to be able to do something with it. I'm also known to be fascinated by the history of fashion. Neither of Jon's sisters objected to this suggestion because no one actually liked the dress in question.

 My mother-in-law is the one with the long, straight, brown hair. And because these are wedding pictures, not pictures designed to show off a dress, I have also included a sketch. Please excuse my lack of artistic skills. Photographs would be better, but I forgot to take any before I had already begun the rather drastic changes.

As you see, the dress had no waistline in the front, but it did have sashes sewn into the sides that tied in the back. After the wedding, Nancy added a ruffle to the neckline (I realize I didn't draw that very well) because it was a bit more open than she really liked. By the time I got it, there was also a fair bit of damage to the dress. The neckline was torn at the right shoulder, the right sash had been torn off, and there were several tears in the back of the bottom ruffle--I'm guessing from her stepping backward with heels on.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have accepted it (I obviously hadn't picked it on my own) if it weren't for the fact that it was offered to me very publicly, with everyone's attention directed toward us. Not that I thought it was hideous like all of the other girls did (and yes, they said this). I really do often like vintage styles, but this one, as I've said, was rather damaged, so I certainly couldn't wear it as it was, and add to that the fact that it's made of some really weird, though apparently quite expensive, lace. Oh, it's a pretty color and unobjectionable floral pattern, but I wish there were some way I could let you feel it. You'd see what I mean.

Anyway, I did accept it because I felt a little bit on-the-spot, but also because once Sara suggested it, I was actually intrigued by the possibilities of this dress to become something else.

The first order of business was to remove the neck ruffle. I didn't like it, and it was torn anyway. Unfortunately, the actual neckline was torn too, so I zig-zagged it to hold it together, but trim was going to be the best bet to really make it look nice. But that comes later. I also promptly opened up the side seams to take out the one remaining sash and remove the remains of the one that had been torn off. Unfortunately, the fabric had also been damaged next to the seam, so there is some zig-zagging there. Luckily, it is not terribly noticeable because my arm is generally in the way.

The next order of business was to shorten the skirt, but I didn't want to remove the ruffle completely, and I also didn't want to take it off and then re-attach it because that sounded like a huge hassle. When you hear what I did, you may not think my solution sounds like less hassle, but it was to me. What I didn't want to do, was re-gather the ruffle, which would have been necessary if I took it off and cut off the skirt above it because the new bottom of the skirt would have been narrower than the part I cut off.

So I actually cut it at a high waistline. The back always had a waist seam because the skirt was gathered in the back. I detached the skirt at the back including detaching it from the zipper, then followed that line to cut it off at the front, and cut a bunch off the top of the skirt. I thought I was going to add gathers to the front, but that looked bad, so I took it back off and took in the side and front seams to match the waistline, tapering back out to the original seams at the bottom because I liked the fullness in the skirt and still didn't want to take that ruffle in.

I realized that I hadn't removed quite as much length as wanted to. This was actually serendipitous because I also discovered that the width of ruffle that had looked good on the original floor-length style was too wide on a shorter skirt, so I took 3 or 4 inches off the bottom of the ruffle. This also allowed me to remove some, but not all of the damage to the skirt. It was blessedly easy because the ruffle was a gathered rectangle--a very long rectangle, but still a rectangle. (This isn't terribly abnormal, but curved ruffles do exist and would have been less convenient to measure accurately for shortening.)

This newly created waistline didn't look so great, so I turned the sash that I did still have into a waistband instead. I wish I had decided to do this a bit later in the game, though, because I ended up realizing the dress was a bit too tight, but I couldn't let it out as much as I would have liked because of the length to which I had cut the waistband. Oh well. It turned out comfortable enough to be wearable.

Next came the sleeves. I liked the general idea of the puffed sleeves, so I didn't actually take them off, but I didn't like such a long puff, nor did I like the ruffle below the elastic, so I just cut the sleeves at an angle (higher on the outside of the arm) above the elastic and gathered the bottom.

The poor dress stayed at that stage for a few weeks because I had other projects that more urgently needed my attention, and I was stewing about what color of fabric to buy for trim. When I was finally ready to buy fabric for this, I took my husband and some of the lace I had cut from the sleeves to the fabric store, and we settled on a rather bright blue.

For the sleeves, I cut strips of the contrasting fabric with the grain, ironed them into double folds, and sewed them onto the sleeves edges. I had also bought ribbon that matched the new fabric, and I hand-sewed that onto the edges of the waistband. I decided to trim the bottom of the skirt partly just for aesthetic reasons, but also because I wanted to cover as much of the damaged lace as possible. I cut this with the grain because the hem doesn't curve at all, machine-sewed the top of the trim wrong-side-out, then ironed it down, turned the bottom under as well, and hand sewed that edge down. It doesn't cover all of the damage because I felt that would make the trim too wide, but it covers enough that what remains isn't noticeable.

You can barely see the stitching a few inches above the trim in this picture (you're more likely to see it at all if you look at the picture bigger), and the trim really does cover the worst of the damage, but there is a little but of pucker, not because I sewed the trim on badly, but because the lace itself puckers where I had to mend the worst tear that I didn't cut off.

The finishing touch was the trim on the neckline. It would need to curve, so I cut it on the bias. I ironed it into a double fold like I had the sleeve bands and machine sewed it on. This is the final product. I think it's a pretty fun dress. And a little boy at church who apparently likes me (I teach his little sister's class) told me I was pretty when I wore it, so I must have succeeded! :)

So it went from this:
to this:

Quite a change.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Victorian Corset

So I said I'd write a post on my corset, and here it is. The corset isn't completely finished, but it's quite close. I'm pretty sure I already posted about patterning it and beginning construction, and I possibly even posted about more of the work than that, but the first time I thought I had finished it, I used hook-and-eye closures.  I know, I know--it wasn't my first choice either, but when Jon cut my busks out, he forgot to put the hook-like parts on one side, so instead of asking him to redo all of it, I used some heavy-duty hooks and eyes I had. I knew the small ones you normally buy at the fabric store would just come apart under corset tension, but I had these stronger ones, so that should work, right?

Well, it didn't really. They didn't do what the little ones do. That wasn't the problem at all. There were two completely different problems. First, they didn't exactly "lock" shut, so the corset would end up getting pushed open at the bottom by my skirts and then overlapping, squeezing my guts much more tightly than the corset, properly closed, ever would have. It was painful. And I'm not exaggerating. It wasn't uncomfortable; it was honestly painful. Second, since I did have a sort of busk plate, the hooks and eyes couldn't be sewn through all layers of fabric, which meant that when they were properly closed, they were pulling at the fabric in a way that was damaging it.

So I removed the binding along the front edge on both sides and took the steel busks out and didn't do much else for quite a while. I was trying to decide whether to buy a pre-made busk or have Jon work on the one I had, and that was a rather long and drawn-out decision. Plus, there were always other things to work on. Anyway, I probably should have decided on a purchased busk because it would have been a lot less hassle (my busk has been a bit of a headache for Jon), but my husband seemed to want to finish what he had started, and he can do nearly anything he tries, given time to get it right, so that's what we decided to do. Only it's still not done yet due to the aforementioned "headache."

One minor change I made during this time was to take a little bit off those front edges while I had them unbound because I realized while my corset was functioning semi-correctly (meaning I hadn't moved much yet) that it wasn't quite tight enough to give real support. I have no desire to really shrink my waist significantly--I'm thin enough already, and besides, I don't think it's healthy to significantly reduce one's waist in that way--which is why it ended up not tight enough in the first place. I didn't trim it down a lot, just enough to make it a little more snug. It did an okay job before, so I think it will work well now.

Anyway, to make the post thingies for the one side, we decided to use copper rivets. Jon peened them in with the flat side out and washers stuck between said flat sides and the fabric to create a gap for the hook parts to go around. But because we were using copper, I didn't want the peened side on the actual inside of the corset turning my predominantly white underclothes (yes, I usually wear all the layers) green, I wanted it to go between the layers. And that also posed a problem. If we did it that way without doing anything else to the corset, the tension would all be pulling on the less-strong outer layer, still damaging it.

Jon came up with the solution. I cut strips of the leftover twill from the lining that were the width of the busk channel when it was open and sewed down the center of them to the lining right next to the seam with the outer fabric. The busks would then go between this folded-over piece of twill, ending up with two layers of twill behind and one layer of twill and a layer of decorative fabric in front. On the side with the rivets, the rivets would go through the outer fabric, a layer of twill, the busk, and only one more layer of twill, with the actual lining closing behind the rivets. I sewed the outer three layers of fabric shut around the busk, then re-handstitched the binding around all four

The other side is actually a little simpler for me, but more of a pain for Jon. He's making separate hook pieces out of the same steel as the busk and then rivet them on with copper rivets, and cutting out these hook pieces and completely smoothing all the edges that will be exposed has proved time-consuming. But the reason it will be easier for me is because I have already sewn the binding back down around the outer two layers and put a separate piece of binding around the inner two layers. Then when this half of the busk is completed, it will simply be slipped between the now effectively two layers, and I will handstitch along the edges, leaving openings for the hooks to stick out.

Just for your viewing pleasure, a close-up of the lace along the top of my corset. Jon really likes it.

And in case you're wondering, this is a decent source for corset busks. They have a variety of lengths, widths, and numbers of hooks, as well as a few spoon busks.

Happy corseting! ;)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Adventures in Costuming

I should probably start with a picture of the muff from the previous post actually finished.  I think it's quite pretty.

Next is one of my costumes for Salt City Steamfest (which was a blast, by the way).  It's actually just my Regency dress that I have previously posted on here with a fun corset I got from over the top.  I also wore one of my vintage cameras around my neck most of the day, but I took that off for the ball because necklaces swing a LOT when you do Victorian dancing, and I was pretty sure no one wanted my metal-bodied camera to their face.  I wore my pretty mask on my head because I rather like my mask, but it wasn't, strictly speaking, a masked ball, so no one else was wearing them, which made it a lot less worth it to me to just deal with the fact that masks make my face feel crazy after a while.  (Yes, my face has emotions of its own, completely independent of the rest of me, so it is the one who goes crazy.)  Regency isn't typically what people use for steampunk costumes, but this struck my fancy, so I decided to try it.  I like it, and it went over quite well.

I don't honestly know why Jon wanted all the extra accessories for the ball when he wasn't going to keep them on for more than a few minutes.  The inverness (I made that--it still needs buttons on the cape part, and a few other finishing touches, and then I will post about it properly) and hat would make him way too hot while dancing, and the cane just gets in the way.  Well, I suppose I do know--he really likes to make an impression.

This picture shows Jon without the extra accessories and me full-length.  I don't know if the fan is good, bad, or indifferent, aesthetically, but it was an absolute necessity.  The hotel got quite hot with several hundred people packed in, and besides, Victorian dancing is a lot more vigorous than you might think.  Every time I got to stop dancing for more than a second or two, I unhooked it and used it.

I'm pretty sure Jon is only still wearing the Harley boots because his dress shoes somehow didn't come with the rest of his clothes for his costume change.  The other two lovely ladies are my nieces.  I can't take much credit for their outfits because a sari is a sari (though I think Anna looked very pretty in it), and Emily is wearing her own clothes except my belt and aviator goggles.

Next up (trumpets sound): my Elizabethan gown!  The underdress/chemise is finally completely done, and the entire outfit is wearable, though I still intend to gradually do more to the outer gown.

Here's a couple close-ups of the neckline of the underdress from the inside--one of the front corners and the center back.  It is one long strip of fabric (actually there's a seam to get the length I needed out of the piece I wanted to use) cut with the grain and turned at the corners.  I machine stitched "wrong" sides together at the neck edge and whip stitched the other edge on the inside with the raw edge turned under.  I made it so wide because I felt my finish would be less noticeable if it were wider than the amount of fabric that would show with the outer gown on.

This shows the neckline from the outside.  The sheerness of the fabric is the reason it shows so prominently from the outside.  Again, that's why I made it wide enough that the edge of the neck facing wouldn't show when I'm wearing the outer gown.

And the full-length view of the chemise.  I'm very pleased with it.  These pictures don't really do justice to it, but it's way too sheer for me to model it on my real body without the rest of the costume over it.

The bodice is three layers of fabric--two layers (brocade and heavy twill) for boning channels, and one more of the brocade for the outside.  To finish the armholes, I trimmed the center, twill layer away from the edges to reduce the bulk.  Then I turned the other two edges toward each other and stab stitched very close to the edge.  I used a heavy black thread so it would be strong enough, but I made very small stitches so it wouldn't show. 

I did this part weeks ago and then realized just recently that the curves of the two armholes don't match in the front, which is only noticeable at all because of the trim.  But it's not extremely noticeable, and it will be even less so once I add the shoulder rolls, so I probably won't bother to fix it.  I'm normally plenty picky enough to fix that sort of thing, but I just don't think it's going to end up being worth it this time.

So this is wearable now (and I intend to wear it), but I still want to add shoulder rolls to the armholes and thousands of pearls to the trim.  Other things are going to come before that, though.  Jon needs a new, informal 19th century shirt, and I'm working on some fun mundane sewing.  (That sounds like an oxymoron--"fun mundane"--but for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, "mundane" just means "non-costume" or "modern" in this context.  It's pretty common terminology in the SCA.)

To keep this from being a super long post, I'm going to give my Victorian corset its own post.  I have worked on it, though, and it's finally almost done.  I just need Jon to do a little more work, and then I can finish completely.  It's really pretty, though, and I like the fit better than the Corset Story one pictured above because it is actually made for me (small boobs and all) rather than ordered based on waist size and then made to a standard curve (Corset Story apparently believes most women have bigger boobs than mine, which is probably true).