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Friday, February 10, 2017

Dickens Caroling

It is probably apparent by now that I LOVE Christmas. It is probably also apparent that I am equally likely to dress up in costume for Christmas as I am for Halloween. So it should be no surprise that when I go Christmas caroling, I dress up like I'm from a Charles Dickens novel. Admittedly, I dress up more like one of the wealthy side characters than any of his protagonists because I have no desire to dress up like a street urchin.

At any rate, I recruited some friends to come caroling in costume with me during the Yates Mill photos with Santa event. There was one minor flaw in my plan: I owned exactly two 1860s dresses, and I recruited two ladies to sing who needed to borrow them. That left me with nothing to wear. So of course, I needed a new dress. And bonnet.

Money was tight, as usual, but we had received a $50 gift code to Amazon, and I got lucky enough to find a 10-yard lot of red plaid fabric that I liked for $50. Score! So I ordered it and crossed my fingers, hoping it would get to me in time since I did not have money to expedite the shipping. It came in fairly good time, and I loved it. My only complaint was that it was advertised as 100% cotton, and it was definitely not. There was no label, but I did a burn test, and the fibers melted. Oh well. It draped nicely and looked good, so who was I to complain when I got the fabric for $5/yard?

Who knew 10 yards of fabric could fold up this small?
I had projects for paying customers to finish, so I was unable to start my new dress until two days before I needed to wear it. That is not a practical time frame, but I have never claimed to always be practical. I had to try, or I would have nothing to wear for caroling. (Or I would have to take one of my dresses back, but that seemed mean.)

I used Simplicity pattern 1818 for the jacket/bodice. I am fully aware that there are more authentic patterns out there, but this one really isn't bad, and I already had it. (And have I mentioned that the really good historical pattern companies are more expensive? They are worth the money, so I am in no way undervaluing them. I'm just poor.)

Because I was in such a hurry there was no time to make a mock-up. (I know, I rarely do them anyway, but I probably would have on this one.) I went straight to cutting out my lining. It wasn't exactly a mock-up because I didn't have enough of my lining fabric to cut it out twice, but it was less intimidating than cutting into the plaid. I did a fitting with the lining, and it was proportioned well for me, but a little tight, so I let it out a bit at the seams and made a note of the new seam allowances for assembling the outer fabric.

I didn't have time to be really perfect with pattern matching the plaid, but I did my best to line up at least the horizontal lines. Some seams turned out really well, and the ones that didn't are still pretty good, considering how little time I had. (Some of these pictures were taken later, so they include embellishments that were not added in the initial two day sewing binge.)

On this side, one dart turned out very nicely, but the other is a little askew.

I'm very happy with both of these darts.

The back makes me the least happy. Perfect pattern matching wasn't going to happen on those curves, but I feel like they should have been better. However, my greatest displeasure is with the center back panel. I centered the wrong part of the plaid! I blame sleep deprivation.

This side seam also turned out nicely.

This one is a little off, but not enough to bother me much.

The sleeves are actually curved the way your elbow bends, so this is the inside curve of one sleeve. I think it's pretty good.

This is the outside curve of the same sleeve. It's a little off, but not bad.

This is the outside curve of the other sleeve. I really love the way it lined up.
The main body of the jacket is lined in a stiff red fabric to give it the structure it needed, but I added a facing of the plaid along the front edges, including the lapels. I really wanted the lapels to be black velvet, but I couldn't find my remnants of that quickly. The sleeves are lined with the main plaid fabric because they are very wide, so the inside would show some. When attaching the linings to the outer fabric, I sandwiched in some off-white pom pom trim the same way you would put on piping. That was risky when I was in such a hurry, but I knew I wanted it there, and I would never open it all up to put it on later. Despite the rush, it turned out okay.

I had planned to make covered buttons, but I realized, too late to send my husband to the store, that I did not have enough covered button kits left. Luckily, I had enough black buttons of an appropriate size in my stash. Panic attack averted!

During all of this, I paused only to snack give my dog basic care, go to the bathroom occasionally...I didn't have time for sleep or actually taking good care of myself. My dog wasn't very neglected, though. He was fed and taken out appropriately, and while I couldn't cuddle him very well, he had a nice comfy place to lay near me. And he genuinely wants to sleep most of the day. Any Italian greyhound owner can tell you that they are very lazy dogs. But I digress.

So at some point, on no sleep or possibly a short nap, I started the skirt. That I did with no pattern because I didn't really need one for the style of skirt I wanted to do. The skirt panels actually needed to be rectangular to facilitate matching the plaid more completely on the skirt. Once I figured out the length of panels I needed to cut, I began measuring lengths of plaid. I did mess up the second panel I cut because I forgot to cut off some wasted fabric in order to start at the same place on the plaid as the first panel. Luckily, I had enough that I was able to simply set that panel aside and not use it in the skirt. I cut the rest of the panels out correctly.

This time, I didn't just line up the horizontal lines in the plaid; I also sewed the fabric panels together in such a way that the vertical lines repeat exactly when they should. I have to just brag for a second and say that it's well enough matched that you can't see the seams unless you are really looking. And
I did that in a hurry and very sleep deprived. I am extremely proud of that.

See what I mean?
Jon helped me put in gathering threads, but I did the actual gathering. The skirt also got minimal embellishment due to lack of time, but I sewed the same pom pom trim that I had used on the bodice along the hems. This wasn't a particularly time-consuming addition because I top-stitched it on at the same time as sewing the hems. I finished the dress sometime Saturday morning, only a few hours before I needed to put it on, so from the time I woke up Thursday morning until I went to bed Saturday night (which I didn't even do early), I stayed coherent and functional on a little caffeine, a couple of 2-3 hour naps, and sheer determination. It probably wasn't my best life choice, but I still really enjoyed Saturday. And I looked pretty good too! (People must have been so distracted by my dress that they didn't notice the dark circles under my eyes.)

I was honestly pleased with how my dress turned out even that first weekend, but I always knew I wanted to add certain things, so I did as soon as I got the chance. First, I added black Venice lace to the bottoms of the skirt layers. Then I hunted down my remnants of black velvet and added it to the lapels. I bought more covered button kits and covered those in black velvet as well and sewed them on. I added some more lace to the bottom of the bodice/jacket. It took me a little longer to find the perfect width of black velvet ribbon at the right price, but finally I did, and I put it on the sleeves with little bows in front. Now the dress it truly done, and I love it even more.

I originally intended to include my bonnet in this same post, but this is already so long that I have decided to give the bonnet its own. But lest you get the wrong idea, I made the bonnet before my fabric ever came, so its creation was not also crammed into those two crazy days.

Happy crafting!