Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 2

This should probably be parts 2,3,4, and 5 due to all the sewing that’s been happening but, as usual, my blogging hasn’t kept up! I have had more needle time lately and it’s been surprisingly nice doing so much hand-sewing. No machines to set up, no ironing boards, no noise.

Why I’ve ended up sewing the whole thing by hand is beyond me… I think it might be muscle memory! I’ve almost always sewn and trimmed 18th century gowns by hand so it just sort of happened this time too.

Anyway, the petticoat is more or less down – just a few more tacking stitches are needed on the trim but I’m thinking I’ll leave those for some evening sewing once I get to the Inn on Friday night.


Those pocket hoops really create such a flattering skinny shape, eh?

The next step was assembling and pleating the sleeves. They ended up pretty snug around my arms but the fit perfectly over my shoulder. Guess I’ll just have to be extra ladylike and not flex my muscles too much while wearing the gown!


Pretty sleeves! They're based on ones in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion

It hasn’t shown much in the photos but linen has been used for the lining – an apple green for the bodice, and a tighter weave natural for the sleeves. Everything from the stash! I was especially lucky after taking a close-up look at the Kyoto gown sleeves and realizing that they were originally trimmed with pleated and ruched gauze. Flashback ten years to making a gauze-trimmed 18th century wedding gown. I must have bought 10-15 yards at the time…. and sure enough, I still had some tucked away in the silk box!
(Admittedly I might not get to adding that trim before the dinner but I’m ready when I do have time!)


Not so interesting... The left bodice front and back pleats.

Last weekend was spent sewing the back pleats down and finishing all the front bodice edges. Boring (and slightly painful) sewing but it had to get done. Ten straight hours of sewing through 4-10 layers… My fingers were so sore the next day!

That’s all the updates for now as the midnight hour is striking again. Up next… Details on the pocket hoops and stomacher!

Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 1

After the lengthy and sad winter thus far, I’m looking forward to some merry-making later in a few short weeks. With friends planning a fabulous Francaise Dinner for March 1st, I’ve pulled out a long neglected project and have spent the evening stitching away.

kyoto blue dress

Kyoto Costume Institute: AC7621 92-34-2AB

I’ve admired this particular dress in the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute ever since spying it in one of their books close to a decade ago. I had a color copy of the book page pinned to my bulletin board for years and somewhere along the way I picked up ten or so yards of a similar looking Waverly print. Bits and pieces had been cut and prepped – enough so that when I pulled some of it out tonight, I found a completely finished petticoat! Hemmed, waist bound with tape, and even the waist ties are hemmed at their narrow little ends!

The next pleasant surprise was finding that the self-fabric petticoat trim (pleats of two depths) had been cut to size, joined, and all edges pressed under. All that was lovely (and probably accounted for 3 hours sometime in the past) but it did mean that I was able to get straight to pleating and attaching trim tonight.

Here’s the first go round!close up of pinned pleats

The photo is quite yellow but one can see the deeper of the two pleated bands starting to take shape. The pleated band is 14″ tall and the first step was creating repeating box pleats about 1″ wide with an equal amount of space between pleats. Since I was doing this while sitting in bed and watching Bleak House, nothing has been pressed and looks much puffier than the inspiration gown. That aside, the proportions seem pretty close for my height. The top 3″ are pleated, then the next 4″ are ruched all over, and then the bottom 7″ are pleated. I stitched the panel to the petticoat at the lower level of the ruching to create an attachment point. Next I just went crazy stitching the ruched section down in random patterns. It didn’t start to look right until most of it was done and a pressing should improve it even further.

The upper and lower edges were sewn down to the petticoat with a running backstitch. I’m hoping to find some appropriate edging  and that will cover any stitching that shows and add a beautiful finish. Once the base trim was on, I started pinning the lower level of trim in place. This was simpler – just 1/2″ box pleats with equal space between. I’ve only pinned it in place as I was getting pretty tired of stitching!

I finally called it a night and gave it one quick try-on and lo & behold it actually looked the way I wanted it to!!

2014-01-29 22.00.34

Sadly the photo of a reflection doesn’t do much justice to my efforts but it is looking like a proper trimmed petticoat!

Now to get some sleep and start the next batch of sewing tomorrow!

Blue Butterflies & Flowers

HPIM2179Here’s a touch of Throw-Back-Thursday as I look at past projects and commissions. This lovely gown en fourreau was made in a 1770s style in medium weight printed cotton. I had spotted a gown made of identical fabric (white ground with repeating blue floral and butterfly motifs) featured in the Milliner’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg about ten years ago so when I stumbled upon new yardage at a local fabric shop a year later, I scooped it right up.

My dear friend A.T. was the lucky recipient of this made-to-order gown and matching petticoat – both with self-fabric trim and blue silk bows on the sleeves. I’ve been hunting my photo files for closer views of the gown but thus far… no luck! However, I do remember that all of the trimming was made up of gathered ‘poufs.’ Strips of fabric were torn from selvedge to selvedge in varying widths according to where it would be placed on the gown. The bodice trimming used strips that were probably about 1.5″ to 2″ wide and each long edge was turned under and secured with a running stitch before gathering into the ‘poufs’ every 1.5″ or so.

The gown skirt started with trimming of the same width at the waist. As the trim progressed in S-curves along the front edges, I used slightly wider trimming. It’s hard to be sure, but from looking at the photo, the trimming strips were probably cut as wide as 4″ by the time I was trimming the lowest portions of the skirt. That same size of trimming is also used on the matching petticoat.

As with most of the gowns that I was commissioned with, only a few seams were sewn by machine. The bodice lining seams, the armsyce, the skirt sides and the petticoat sides are typically the few that see machine stitches. The remainder were sewn by hand and at the time I was making this gown and others, it was usually taking about 8-10 hours to complete a basic gown and 3 hours to complete a basic petticoat. I wish I could remember how long it took to do all that trimming but alas… no idea!!!

The sleeve ruffles added just the right finishing touch to the gown and I got lucky finding a blue silk satin ribbon that matched the print exactly. Speaking of the print – although they don’t show up in this fragment, there were indeed butterflies mixed in to the print and it still makes me smile when I find bits and pieces among my scrap bags!

blue butterfly fabric

No butterflies to be seen here… but still some lovely shades of blue!

Medieval Wedding Costumes

This post is written with a heavy heart as I recall a fond memory. Seven years ago I made the costumes below for my parents to wear to a medieval-theme wedding. I’m remembering them again now because my mother passed away a few days ago and I finally had a chance to meet the bride from that wedding during the visiting hours at the funeral home. Mom had been sick for a number of years now but I love how happy and healthy she looks here. And I’ll always be cheerful remembering working on these costumes for her and my dad…

Now for the flashback to December 7, 2006
So… let me tell you a story. Imagine that a couple get invited to a wedding. It’s for a friend and former coworker of the woman and as it turns out, the bride and groom have planned a medieval wedding. And the guests have been asked to come in medieval attire… Wondering where this story is going? Well… your author is the daughter of the aforementioned wedding guests. Yep… Mom & Dad want to dress up for the medieval wedding in January! Did you see that coming because I sure didn’t!

Wondering what’s in store for me? Here’s the plan so far….

After Mom spent hours searching the internet and deciding she liked 14th century kirtles for her costume, we spent an afternoon together recently and went through all the costumes books I could find in the house. I won’t share all the debates we had but ultimately the decision was made to stick to mid-late 12th century costumes for both mom & dad. A bliaut & girdle for her and a tunic-like thing (sorry… can’t recall the correct name!) for him.

Fast forward through several shopping trips to today… Final fabric choices were a faux-dupioni-slubbed-silk synthetic type of fabric in a forest green for the bliaut & matching girdle, a sheer cream fabric for her veil, and a burgundy velvet for Dad’s tunic. Yes… I know these aren’t authentic choices but they are only costumes in this case and the fun will be in the wearing… not in the details!

And I should mention (emphasis on costumes again here) I’m using some patterns from Katherine Strand Holkeboer’s Patterns for Theatrical Costuming to make both ensembles. Not perfect – but they will result in recognizably medieval costumes and that’s all we’re really hoping to achieve in this instance. But… just to make sure I don’t stray too far from the correct designs, a little internet research is in order. Guess I know how my evening will be spent!

This is the sort of plan that we are working from!

This is the sort of plan that we are working from!

December 8, 2006
Huh. Okay… found a few interesting things. Basically how to do it right! This won’t be what I do but it’s interesting reading nonetheless…

The Beautiful Bliaut:Haute Couture of the Twelfth Century
by Lady Arianne de Chateaumichel (no longer working)

A 12th Century Bliaut

A Bliaut by Louise de La Mare (no longer working)

The Bliaut, A Twelfth Century Court Gown (no longer working)

That last one had some great pictures of contemporary artwork and I found it somewhat redeeming that my tunic shaped bliaut might not be all bad. Did I mention that we already cut out Mom’s bliaut pieces. One mistake already… there will be a shoulder seam because I forgot to place the top shoulder edge on a fold. However… the gown really needs some trim to liven it up and that will be a good place to add some! So nice to work on ‘costumes’ where there’s a bit of creative allowance!

Bliaut on dress form  Bliaut with arm extended Bliaut showing belt draping

January 1, 2007
First of all… happy new year! It’s hard to type 2007… it will take a while before that becomes second nature. I have been working on the green bliaut a bit before now but never quite got the time to get pictures up & add my comments. So here’s where I’m at now… Mom came by and we checked the fit of the bliaut – most things were pretty good. I’m a little concerned about the length but some of that will depend on her shoes. Also we had to take the sleeves up a bit and pull them more towards the shoulder. Just too long and rather odd the way they were! We gathered up one of the sleeves – you can see that in the pictures below.

Bliaut being modeled Modeling the girdle detail Detail of belt trim

So all of that was done probably two weeks ago and I haven’t touched any of it until today! Wendy, my senior apprentice, was here today and she worked on some of the hemming. Those sleeves are huge and she made a huge dent in one of them. I finished the neckline hemming (finally!!!) and I made up the girdle & belt, too.The girdle is made up of 4 layers – 2 of the green silky stuff and 2 layers of blue linen. Everything was cut on the bias according to the diagram and eyelets were put in along the left and right edges for lacing closed. The curve is deeper along the bottom edge to cover more of the abdomen in front. The top curve will fall just below the bust.

Girdle nearly completed girdle showing eyelets detail
Finished bliaut, girdle, belt

Now tell me that doesn’t look cool!!! Still need to gather other sleeve but I love the way it’s coming along…

The belt turned out to be pretty easy. I had some black velvet so I cut two strips the width of the velvet by about 4″ across. Sewed those together to make one really long strip. Folded the velvet, wrong sides together so that the raw edges overlapped. I placed the metallic trim across the center, covering the raw edges, stitched it down (yes, by machine) and that was that. Knotted up some cording to imitate the drawing and voila! Belt is done… well – for now anyway. Final length will be adjusted at the last fitting. Since I’m tired of writing about this… here’s one more picture and then I’ll move on to Dad’s costume which also got started today!

Sorry… I changed my mind… it’s late and I’m tired of typing! Here’s a quick preview of things to come…

February 16, 2007
Here’s a quick recap… yes, the costumes were completed in time to wear to the wedding. There were apparently a lot of compliments and mom & dad even agreed to let me include some photos…

HPIM0256 HPIM0260

There’s really not much else to add… I think they turned out quite well! Dad’s costume was basically one piece – just sewn up the sides and along the underarms. Due to the manner of cutting, there wasn’t quite enough to make the sleeves long enough. So I added a band of black velvet, cut some wine velvet from scraps to cover the lower arms and used gold ribbon to cover the seams. That gave me an excuse to bring more gold & black into the rest of the costume. The neckline was faced with black velvet and laced closed with gold cord. A black velvet belt was wrapped in a repeating pattern with more of the same gold cording.

Don’t they look great?

Tutorial Time

Happy New Year!  I haven’t planned any particular firm resolutions for 2014 but here are a few things I would like to accomplish in no particular order:

  • 1911 yellow walking ensemble
  • 1923 picnic dress & hat
  • blue chintz sacque gown
  • stays patterning video tutorial
  • gown en fourreau photo tutorial
  • 1911 petticoat photo tutorial
  • scanning 1911 Priscilla magazines
  • 1820s blue corded corset (I’m currently lusting after the one below from the Met!

Cotton corset (1825-35), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.6417

Oh, and probably other random projects that pop into my head! But speaking of resolutions, I do really hope to stay on top of my blogging. I have mote than 15 years of miscellaneous tutorials and notes on extant costumes that need to make their way off my computer and on to these pages.

With that in mind, I’ve created a new page for tutorials that I will continue to expand as time allows. The first tutorial posted is Making Stays, 1730-1780, based on extant garment study, stays making workshops, and my experience making custom 18th century stays, and what I learned from teaching that process.


While the tips and techniques included are far from the only ways to constructs stays in an eighteenth century manner, I do hope the overview and photos will prove useful to others. Full handsewing directions are there for those that like the authentic route but I also found a few shortcuts when time is short and/or machine sewing is preferred but a reasonably authentic look is still desired.  I still haven’t managed to handsew an entire pair of 18c stays for myself so I’be had fun figuring out the most effective ways to “cheat” with a machine. Measuring for stays & adjusting patterns will be added shortly… I just need to find a willing model and some free time to shoot the photos & video!

First draft of 1920s lingerie book

So, not that I had free time, but I was running ahead of schedule yesterday and managed to squeeze in a quick visit to work to take advantage of the scanner there. It’s a slow process but the scans are very clear and will result in a high quality pdf when all is said and done.  So far I’ve scanned the cover, inside cover and pages 1-15. And I have to admit, I’ve barely had a chance to do more than skim the contents but there are a few pieces that are already in my future.

I love that corset covers are featured prominently – within the first few pages – just going to show that not every woman tossed away her corsets as soon as the calendar pages flipped to 1920. And just to help quick track of the different books I’ll be scanning, this one is the 1922 edition of  Patterns for Underwear and Lingerie by Mary Brooks Picken and published by the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences. I’m trying to determine if this is volume 30 or volume 16 (both numbers appear in the booklet) but haven’t found a definitive list of all the publications yet.

1922 lingerie book page 9

There are surplice corset covers, two-piece embroidery corset covers (fig. 6 above), slip-over corset covers, and of course, plain corset covers. The plain ones form the basis for drafting all the variations so I guess I’ll have to start there.

It will likely take a few weeks to get the full book scanned and cleaned up, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview. (Download 1922 Lingerie Book sample in pdf ) It’s the first fifteen pages, mostly untouched with only a watermark added. The final version will be watermark free. There’s five or six sets of drafting instructions within those pages and I’ll be expanding on each one as I work my way through scanning the entire book. Take a look at page 2 for the complete contents to get a taste of what else will be included. I’m looking forward to the Knickerbockers and Combination Suit myself!

The One-Hour Dress, c. 1924

This was a project I worked on earlier this summer, just in time to go to the Gatsby on the Isles event with the Swell Society in August. It was a gorgeous day – wonderful people – amazing music – delicious food – fun games! Can’t wait to attend next year as well… although admittedly summer seems a long ways off!

1HourDress1924smIn any case, I had purchased one of the various reprints of Mary Brooks Pickens’ The OneHour Dress books and it happened to be the 1924 version. The basic dress is a very shapeless sack… or at least it would have been with me wearing it. Instead, I opted for the fuller skirt and choose the alternative version that was featured on the cover. I was using some lovely lavender silk satin organza – amazing drape and so soft! The book suggested organdy or eyelet for the skirt and it’s pretty obvious that it would have helped the skirt stand out a bit further, but I was using what I had on hand.

The instructions are incredibly simple – and totally doable in an hour. Basically you take a few key measurements – bust, hip, skirt length, and torso length and cut four pieces of fabric based on calculations provided in the book. Unfortunately, I erred a bit on the short side for my finished torso length so the dropped waist isn’t as low as I would have liked. Solution? Add a wide sash! (It helped that one was pictured with the dress I was making!)

gatsbyisles2013You have to forgive the slight is-she-pregnant-or-not look as this photo was taken at the end of the day and I’m pretty sure all my slips and such kept shifting up each time I stood up! The new 1920’s corset I made will hopefully eliminate that effect next time around.

There is a second dress below the sheer layer, made from a god-awful crepe-back poly satin. Ugh. But it was on hand and matched the silk so the cost was right. I made the underdress in the same way as the organza layer except that I cut off the sleeve extensions to form a sleeveless version. The underdress ended up being too long in the torso… apparently I overcompensated for shorting the organza layer. Go figure! The satin underdress was finished with narrow hems along the neckline, armsyces, and hem. The organza dress hems, as recommended in the book, were bound with bias strips of fabric – in this case, I used some of the poly satin. The original instructions state to use two bias strips, one for the front neckline and one for the back neckline. Personally I thought this turned out rather messy and would definitely just use a single piece all the way around for future versions. The sleeve hems were treated the same way.

IMG_9815The cover dress was described as having 3 1/3 yards of 7″ ribbon used as a sash but as that’s pretty hard to come by these days, I made my own from more of the crepe-back satin. It was two lengths of 15″ wide by 60″ long fabric joined to make one long piece. The sash was then sewn right sides together along the long edge and flipped right side out. I cut the ends at an angle and whip-stitched them closed by hand.

The sash didn’t stay in place very well while I was wearing it, but that may have had more to do with not wearing a corset and having bumpy slips underneath everything. The sash was also pretty heavy and the poly-satin didn’t stay tied very tightly.

The gloves I was wearing are vintage, something from my great  Aunt’s collection and the pearls are your typical ‘flapper costume beads’ available at any ol’ party store. The shoes (which I adore!) are the Gibsons from American Duchess. I don’t get to wear them often these days as they being used as part of the Behind the Seams exhibit at work. They return to my closet next April!

The hat? I love the hat! I used the crepe side of the crepe-back poly satin so it would coordinate but not be too matchy-matchy. The pattern is one I found on etsy at Elsewhen Millinery and was very quick to put together. It’s lined in white cotton and has two cut steel vintage buttons trimming the right side.

The whole ensemble took less than 6 hours to cut, sew, and be ready for wearing… so I have to say, Mary Brooks Picken was really onto something with her 1-hour dress instructions! The hat and the sash were a bit fussier, but the two dresses were definitely done in under three hours – and that was with some hand-sewn finishing. Look forward to trying this again with all the proper underpinnings next time. Last but not least, here I am with my beautiful sister-in-law! Fun sewing but even more fun spending the day with her!