Repurposing Wine Corks for Stuffing

As all of us who study historical fashion know, our foremothers had all sorts of ways of changing the shapes of their bodies in keeping with the current trends. Of course, we all know about stays and corsets, and hoopskirts are all but notorious, but we can’t forget about all the ways that women have shaped their backsides over time! Bum rolls, false rumps, bustle pads and other forms of hip and rear padding have been coming in and out of fashion for centuries. Sometimes we forget that, if you’re looking for a small waist, padding out your hips goes a long way towards achieving that goal. The contrast of large hips makes the waist look even smaller.

There are many kinds of stuffing you can use in your padding, but I have a definite preference.

Fiberfill is always available, but it’s hot, gets lumpy and flat easily, and it’s basically a million pieces of microplastic, which I try to avoid putting into the environment whenever possible, especially for my hobby.

Wool roving is also a choice but has the same problem of eventual flattening. You’ll also have to buy either Fiberfill or roving (unless you have sheep), while my other options are free!

Fabric scraps are always around in any costumer’s studio. My first rump was stuffed with these, but it was very heavy, because you have to pack A LOT of fabric scraps in to get enough volume. It also, inevitably, will eventually deflate.

That leaves my favorite option: cork! Cork is lightweight for the amount of volume you get, and is much less prone to being slowly crushed by the weight of gowns and petticoats. Cork is also a very historically accurate material for this kind of padding. In the 18th and 19th century, the cork was generally carved into blocks of the right shape and size before being covered in fabric and attached to a waistband. Today, though this may still be possible, it’s a lot easier to repurpose the corks that many of us already have lying around!

Of course, whole wine corks would make for a very lumpy and uneven stuffing, so it’s necessary to process them down into something a bit more effective. You will need:

  • Lots of corks
  • A large pot
  • Water
  • A serrated knife
  • A cutting board

Before you start, you’ll want to go through your corks and make sure that none of them are synthetic. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference. The synthetic ones are generally very smooth around the outside, and spongy on the ends. In these images, the two top corks are both real, the bottom one is fake. You can also see that the two real corks have cracks where the corkscrew went in, while the synthetic one has a clean, round hole.

Put your corks into a large pot. You will probably need to work in batches in order to get enough. You don’t want to do too many at once or they will cool before you have a chance to cut them all up. You will also probably get tired of this after a while, so give yourself a break before you get too tired and start to rush and cut yourself!
Add enough water to cover the corks by an inch or so (they will float, but add enough water that they would be covered if they weren’t).
Cover the corks with something that will weight them down and hold them in the water (or at least hold in the steam). I used a smaller pot lid, but you could also use a plate or smaller pot. Make sure that whatever you use, you will have a way to lift it easily while it is very hot!
Bring the water to a rolling boil and let boil for 20 minutes.
When you remove the lid, the corks should look swollen. Remove a cork carefully with tongs or a slotted spoon. Replace the lid so that the rest stay nice and warm.

Your cork should be larger than an un-boiled cork, and be squishy and pliable. In these photos, the cork on the left has been boiled. The one on the right has not.

Cut your cork in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. I found it was easier to cut it part way and then just tear it the rest of the way. You want to work pretty quickly, as the cork will become harder quickly once out of the hot water and steam. Don’t try to work so fast that you cut yourself!

I have read about people grinding whole corks in the food processor, but that didn’t work for me at all. There was always one cork that got caught on the blade, effectively capping it and rendering the whole thing useless. Go ahead and try that if you want, and I wish you better luck than I had!

Cut each half in half lengthwise again.

Chop each piece into 4 equal pieces, 16 pieces total.

At this point, if you need smaller pieces, you might try the food processor again. For my purposes, these 16ths were just fine. (Remember, the smaller your pieces, the more cork you will need to stuff something, and therefore the heavier it will get. I would only go smaller than this to stuff quite a small pad.)

Leave your pieces to air dry, or pop in a warm oven for a while.

You can now use your cork pieces as stuffing!

I used mine to stuff a 1780s split rump made using the pattern from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

Now, go use up those boxes and jars and bags of wine corks you’ve been stowing away forever!

Dragonstone Landing Part 1

It’s been a wild five months, y’all. In January, I embarked on what I thought would be a 2-3 month project, and here at the beginning of June, I’m still putting the finishing touches in place. It’s been a long, inspiring, frustrating, and all-consuming project. It has pushed two months worth of other projects back, and has been the reason you haven’t heard from me here in more than three months.

But, the other day I put on the completed pieces. I’m still working out the details: jewelry, and wig, but the main part of the costume is done. I’ll be honest with you all, I was terrified when I put this costume on. I hadn’t actually tried it on for several months, not since I started working on the major embroidery. I had never tried it with the sleeves, I wasn’t sure how much things would weigh, and how that weight might affect the way the dress hung. I was afraid the whole thing might fall off my shoulders and be a disaster that I had to waste another several months fixing. Honestly, if that had been the case, I might have just thrown out the last five months and tried to forget that I ever attempted Daenerys Targaryen’s Dragonstone Landing dress from the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 7.

Luckily for my sanity, it wasn’t a disaster. Much to my delight (and somewhat to my surprise), I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so proud looking at myself in a costume. Even with no wig on (not to mention no pants, since I was just testing the fit of the dress and cape) I felt so. utterly. badass.

I’m not going to show you the finished product on me just yet–hopefully it will be photographed soon in all it’s glory by someone with more skill and a much better camera than my iPhone 7. But, here is the beginning of my saga of making a replica of this incredible costume, originally designed by Michele Clapton, and embroidered by Michele Carragher.

Hi-res images from FarFarAwaySite.

I have been wanting to make another Daenerys dress for quite a while now (you can see my first one here), and as soon as the promo images from Season 7 started to appear, I knew that this was the one. I loved, the structure, the cape (those shoulders! This was the first of Dany’s costumes to feature this silhouette, which she rocked through the final two seasons), and I especially loved the idea of attempting to replicate some of Michele Carragher’s embroidery.

But, before I could think about that, I had to think about understructure. Looking at the above photos, you can see that her torso is very smooth and stiff looking–the fabric fits closely with no bunching at the waist. You just don’t get lines like that without a corseted body and boned bodice. In this case, we also know from interviews that Emilia Clarke did wear a corset under her costumes. Because the waist is smoothed out, but the bust still has a natural roundness, I went with an underbust corset. I used Laughing Moon #113 to get the silhouette I wanted. (Now that I have this Late 19th century underbust corset lying around, I’m feeling the urge to add an 1890s riding habit or bicycling outfit to my wardrobe!) I’ll just go over the corset quickly before I get to the good stuff.

I made a very quick mockup of the corset out of heavy linen. This was mostly to check the length, since I have a very short torso, and have to shorten most commercial patterns. I wasn’t looking for a ton of waist reduction with this corset–I’m wearing it more for structure than anything else.

This corset is made with a single layer of coutil, no lining. The first step of the actual construction is to put a facing at each center back, which gives a nice double-layer to put the eyelets through.

The center fronts also get a facing, both for strength, and to give you somewhere to put the busk. In the left hand photo, the breaks in the seam that holds the facing to the front are where the loops of the busk will stick out. The posts of the busk come out through holes in the front made with an awl. Once the busk is in place, with the posts and loops through their holes, you stitch along the edge of the busk to hold it in place.

The next bit is simple: all the pieces get sewn together.
A piece of twill tape at the waistline helps to strengthen the corset at its highest stress point.

Pieces of bone casing get placed, first covering each of the seam allowances.

And then through the center of each piece.
Bones go in.

The top and bottom are bound with bias tape.

And voilà! I padded out my dressform to match my shape in the corset as closely as possible.

Well, that’s the understructure out of the way, now on to the main event. With my dressform padded out, I was able to start draping my pattern.

Working on the front.

The back has a particularly interesting shape. The black tape helps me lay out the seamlines before I start working with fabric.

The cape!

I am am always way too focused to remember to take photos during fittings, but rest assured that I did sew this up into a mockup, try it on, and make lots of adjustments (I think that’s the third iteration of the bodice front you see there, and I actually ended up altering it to have a princess seam instead of darts after this photo was taken) before I went ahead and did this:

Turns out I had JUST enough fabric. I spent a long time figuring out a layout that would get everything I needed on the right grain-line!
In order to stiffen the neckline, I catch-stitched a piece of buckram interfacing along the center front and neck edge.
And then sewed the front into a single piece.

I did the first round of bodice embellishment while the front was still in two halves. This started with making a section of smocking to look like dragon scales. Mine is done in silk habotai. Michele Carragher (the embroiderer from the show), has a useful tutorial on how to do this.

Here is a little video of the smocking process:

When the pieces were finished and pressed, I stitched them to the sides of the bodice.

The rest of the fronts are filled in with variations on fly stitch and feather stitch in grey and black silk thread.

This costume is particularly interesting in that it was actually used twice in the show. The dress was originally created for the finale of Season 6, and the cape, long undersleeves, and some details of the embroidery were added for the first episode of Season 7.

The red fly and feather stitch along the neckline and center front was one of the additions for the later appearance.

At this point, I decided that my grey thread was too light, so markers to the rescue!

The next stitch was an interesting one to undertake. There is hardly any information about lock stitch online at all. I had to base my entire process on observing the finished stitch, and seeing what other cosplayers had done. The key to the lock stitch in this costume is to make it irregular and organic, so that it gives the effect of reptilian skin.

The stitch is formed by wrapping thread in alternating directions around long stitches. In this case I worked the stitch in two different threads: black silk, and a silver and black metallic.

With that preliminary embellishment done, I went ahead and put the dress together. It is grey corduroy lined with grey linen. The construction itself is not the most exciting, but the edge finishing is a nice little detail. The edges of the fabric and lining are turned under, and finished with prick stitching in metallic thread. There is also a row of metallic prick stitching where the skirt front attaches to the bodice. I love it when costumes incorporate period handsewing techniques that are rarely used in modern sewing!

Adding the side backs:

Constructing the back:

I made the sleeve drapes separately, and stitched them to the dress afterwards. They will tie at the center back.

Here I am trying on the dress before finishing the edges and attaching the sleeve drapes.

At this point, it was time to finish the remaining edges. They are all prick stitched together with metallic thread.

The sleeve drapes are stitched to the dress along the top of the shoulder, and left to hang free in the back, where they will be tied together. These ties are what will bear a lot of the weight of the major embroidery later.

And with that, the dress is made and ready for the major embroidery!

I’m going to stop here, because this next bit definitely deserves its very own post, but here’s a sneak peek of what will be happening in the next installment!

See you next time!

How to Make Basic Lucet Cord

If you’re just getting into historical crafts, and you need a little something to do with your hands while at an event that is cheap, portable, and easy to pick up, lucet cord may be a great option for you!

There is some controversy about when exactly throughout the course of history lucets were used: if you are interpreting in the medieval period, or in the 19th century, you’re probably pretty safe–between those two periods you may want to do a bit of your own research or check with the site or group that you are interpreting with before you demonstrate it at an event.

That said, lucet cord is simple to make, and makes a nice, strong cord that can be used for drawstrings, lacing, trimming, and any other use you can find for a nice bit of string.

What You Need

Here’s the great thing about luceting: you only need two things!

  1. A lucet. This is the shaped wood that you will use to hold your loops of thread as you work. You can buy a basic one for $5-$10, or spend a bit more if you want one with some pretty fretwork or other ornamentation. Just search the word ‘lucet’ and you’ll come up with plenty of options, and you can also usually see them around at events from vendors that sell basic sewing supplies.
  2. Thread or yarn. Exactly what you want to use will depend on the final use and look you are going for. Basic heavy linen thread will make a nice strong cord. Making a cord from yarn can make a great accent for knitting or crochet projects. In these photos I am using a green size 10 crochet thread because I was looking to match the color of a particular fabric. Experiment away!

The Process

I will go through the process in pictures first–there will be a video of the process lower down!

Put your thread through the hole in the middle of the lucet. Contrary to this photo, you should do this from back to front. Whoops, sorry!
Let an 8″ or so tail hang down the front of your lucet, and hold it in place with your thumb.
Keeping the thread tail held in place with your thumb, take the working thread (the part that is still attached to the spool) around the left arm from back to front, then around the right arm from back to front.
Wrap the thread again around the second arm from back to front. you should now have the thread around the left arm twice, and the right arm once.

Bring the thread across the front and hold it in place against the front of the right arm.

These next few steps can get a bit frustrating until you have built up a little cord. Because there are no knots yet, there is nothing to hold everything in place, which makes things a bit delicate. Be gentle and try not to get frustrated–it will get easier soon! You will be repeating these steps over and over again to create your cord, but I will go through them a couple of times so that you can see how it works as you begin to build up a bit of cord. It will seem complicated at first, but as the cord begins to build up, the process becomes simple and feels more natural.

Continue to hold both threads against the right arm with your thumb, Let go of the bottom thread and take hold of the lower thread on the left arm.
Lift the lower thread up and over the upper thread and off the arm. Be gentle so that you don’t pull the thread tail back through the hole.
Put your left thumb back on the thread tail to hold it still. Pull the working thread gently with your right hand to tighten down the loop that you just pulled over the arm. You can see how the thread is now wrapped once over the middle of the threads between the arms. No need to pull it too tight here.

Continue to work slowly and carefully until you have a little tail of cord built up, at which point you will be able to speed up a bit.

Holding the working thread in you right hand, rotate the lucet so that the right side moves towards you and around to the left. This will cause the working thread to wrap around the right arm, which will then become the left arm.
You will now once again have two threads on the left arm and one on the right. Once again, hold the working thread and the wrapped thread in place against the right arm with your right thumb. You will be working again with the lower thread on the left arm.
Again, lift the lower left thread up and over the upper thread and off of the arm.
Here you can see the thread loop that has now been pulled over the arm.
The tail will have loosened a bit when you did this, so give it a gentle pull, continuing to hold the right threads in place.
Hold the tail in place with your left thumb. Keeping the working thread contained in the space between your thumb and finger, take hold of the loop around the right arm and pull it gently, this will tighten down the loop in the center between the arms.
You can see the tightened knot in the center here.
Rotate the lucet again: right arm towards you, holding the working thread.

This is the point at which the process really solidifies and feels the same as it will through the rest of the cord.

Lift the lower left thread up and over again. You can see how the center knot lifts up and to the left when you do this.
Holding the working thread against the right arm, pull gently on the tail in order to bring the center knot back down.
Hold the tail in place with your left thumb. Tightening the knot is a threefold process: first, pull the working thread to tighten the knot most of the way. When it is nearly tight, pull on the front of the right wrap to tighten it the rest of the way (doing it this way will help keep the knot centered. Finally, pull on the working thread again in order to tighten the right wrap back down.

You can see the tightening process in more detail in this video:

Finishing

When you have a cord of your desired length, cut the working thread.
Remove the loops from the arms of the lucet.
Put the working thread through the right hand loop.
Pull on the left loop. This will tighten the right loop around the working thread.
Here it is tightened down.
Put the working thread through the left loop.
Pull the working thread to tighten down the left loop.
Ta-da! You have just completed a pice of lucet cord.

If you enjoyed this, it is just the beginning! This is a very basic lucet cord. There are many other variations on the art, including multicolored variations using different colored threads. Go out into the world and use more things, and perhaps I will add more tutorials here later!

Rambling Rouleaux

I’ve been a bit slow about publishing recently, and there’s a good reason for that! This project has been taking up my whole life! I think it was worth it, though.

This project is the culmination of a couple of things I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. First: I wanted to make a spencer and petticoat set that hooks together at the waist, like this one circa 1815.

You can see more details of this set on LACMA’s website.

In the soggy heat of a Kentucky summer, a little trick like this can save me a layer on my upper body, plus it’s a fun little teaching moment at events, as most people don’t realize that women wore separates like this during this period.

Second: I wanted to make an outer garment trimmed with rouleaux (thin tubes of fabric). Rouleaux trim was a little journey of discovery for me, and you can read my tutorial on how I did it here.

This is a selection of the inspiration for my spencer. I copied much of the rouleaux pattern from the spencer at bottom right because there are lovely clear pictures of it, and it had a similar feel to the fashion plate at the top left, which I particularly liked. I went with back details from another spencer, combined with the same motifs as the front and my shoulder caps were inspired by the fashion plate on the upper right. My spencer will someday soon have a tasseled belt as in the center fashion plate, but I haven’t had a chance to finish it!

I started the process with the Period Impressions 1809 spencer pattern, which I have long since modified until I have a basic spencer that fits me nicely. It’s a great base pattern for making Regency outerwear.

I used a minty green lightweight cotton twill. The crochet thread is for the tassel details which will be added to the spencer later!
Reduce, reuse, recycle! The spencer is lined with fabric from an old pink linen duster of my mom’s, which had a big coffee stain down the front.
I made an extra copy of the front of the spencer and drew the pattern on it so that I could work out the proportions.
And transferred the pattern to the fabric using tracing paper.
There is one dart in each front piece.

The pieces are put together using a technique I love, where the lining and fashion fabric are sewn together simultaneously. You put the two lining pieces you want to sew together right side to right side, and the two fabric pieces right side to right side, and then put them all together so that one matching pair of fabric and lining pieces are together, and the other matching pair are on the outsides. Then you sew all four pieces together, and when you open up the fabric and the lining, the seam allowances are sandwiched between.

You can find lots of pictures and information on how the rouleaux were made and applied in my tutorial, so here is a little gallery of the process.

And here are a few of the back rouleaux details.

Just in case there weren’t enough little tubes of fabric involved in this project already, there is also quite a bit of piping: on the edge of the color, on the center front edges, and between the bodice and the waistband.

I didn’t get a lot of chances to work on this particular project during events, but here I am working on the collar rouleaux at Locust Grove!
I just love the textural richness that the overlapping pieces have!
Finishing the lining at the neck.

I will often leave sleeve seams unfinished since period examples usually are, but in this case the fabric shredded a bit too easily for my comfort, so I flat-felled them.

The shoulder decorations are just petal shapes with piping around the edges, which are appliquéed onto the top of the sleeve. There is a rouleaux bow at the bottom, and I’m planning to add some little tassels hanging from it when I get the chance!

Some of the trickiest bits of decoration were the rouleaux designs on the cuffs. It took a while of staring at a photo to realize that every other loop is made while laying out the pattern in one direction, and then the gaps are filled in as you work your way back up, so that both ends of the piece end up at the top. This also got topped with a rouleaux bow, and like the shoulders will one day have some dangling tassels. I had to lay out the design in kitchen twine first (first photo) so I would know exactly how to proportion it and how long each rouleaux piece needed to be.

The waistband has a row of piping along the seam.

To finish the front edges, I sewed on a piece of piping with an extra long seam allowance, and used that allowance to encase all the other raw edges on the inside.

Finally–closures! The front of the spencer closes with hooks and eyes. There are also 9 hooks inside the waistband for attaching the separate petticoat.

Petticoats are a nice, quick little project–if you’re deperate for an extra outfit for an event, but don’t think you have time for a new dress, try adding hooks to a spencer and whipping up one of these! I plan to make a couple of these, and put waistband hooks in all my spencers, because it’s just such a nice little trick to have a walking outfit without any added heat or bulk.

The petticoat is made the way I make most of my 1816 skirts–the back piece is a rectangle the width of my fabric, and the front piece is narrow at the top to fit my front underbust measurement, and as wide at the hem as I can make it. The front waist edge is slightly shaped to help the skirt stand out in a nice bell shape without too much pulling at the sides or awkward clinging.

The long side seams are sewn with mantua maker’s seams.

I finished the slit in the back with as narrow a hem as I could manage, with buttonhole stitch to reinforce the bottom so that it (hopefully) won’t tear.

The whole thing is gathered onto a matching waistband.

I worked eyelets in the waistband to correspond to the hooks on the spencer. There are two at center front, one in each side front, one at each side, one in each side back, and two at the center back. These two overlap on a single hook at the center back of the spencer, which keeps the petticoat closed without the need for any additional closures.

I wore this outfit during the day at Christmastide, and just about died of happiness. I’ve been working on the spencer since August, and it took so much longer than I anticipated. I gave up on a couple of other things I wanted to do in order to get it done, and I have no regrets! I am totally, completely in love with this outfit!

Sorry I won’t have a separate post about the bonnet–I started it ages ago and didn’t take any photos of that part of the process, and then it languished for a long time because I wasn’t happy with the brim. I finally pulled the brim off and drafted a new one, which I love! All the decorations came out of my stash, too, which made me happy! The veil is a scrap of lace left over from my wedding dress!

Here are a few progress photos of covering the bonnet.

And here are photos of the full ensemble at Christmastide at Locust Grove!

And here’s a little video that Brandon took, which shows everything really nicely! I’ve never felt more like I stepped out of a period movie! (In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m REALLY excited about this outfit!) I can’t wait to wear it again!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2019 is full of things that bring you as much joy as this project has brought me!

Daisies and Bluebells: A New 18th Century Jacket

Since I started building 18th century wigs using period techniques at work, I’ve been doing more and more 18th century events. And you know what that means: I need more 18th century clothes! 

In preparation for 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove this year, I set other projects aside to give myself time to build a new jacket and petticoat so that I wouldn’t have to wear the same outfit both days. When I bought this jacket fabric, I had hoped to get enough for a gown, but sadly by the time I bought it there were only two yards left, so I could only make a jacket. But I do love a smart 18th century jacket, so no real harm done! 

This was a quick project, and I didn’t take as many photos as usual, so this will be a bit of a short post for me, but I love the way my new outfit turned out!

I was loosely inspired by this plate from Galerie des Modes 1778.

I started with the petticoat while at a cabin getaway with some friends. It is made from a lovely dark red wool from 96 District Fabrics.

Making an 18th century petticoat is incredibly simple: just sew the side seams, leaving them open at the top for pocket slits. Hem the bottom (which I didn’t take a photo of).

Pleat the top so that both the front and the back measure a few inches longer than half your waist measurement. Pleat the front away from the middle, the back towards the middle.
Bind the pleats at front and back with tape long enough to tie around your waist. You put the petticoat on by tying the back waistband in front, and the front waistband in back. You can also wrap the back waistband all the way around and tie it in back as well if your tape is long enough.

And now, the fun bit: my new jacket! This is made from white linen with a woven yellow stripe from Renaissance Fabrics.

I was a dingus, and completely forgot to take photos of cutting and putting the main pieces together. Luckily, the body is basically the same as this jacket, except that I modified the back to a swallowtail, and sewed it all by hand.

My first photo is of the sleeves, all sewn together with their lining, and ready to be set. Since my other striped jacket has vertical stripes on the sleeves, I went with horizontal on these ones just to shake things up.

Setting 18th century sleeves is a fascinating process, in which you sew the bottom of the sleeve to the body, and then sandwich the top of the sleeve between the fabric and lining of the shoulder straps. This lets you really play with the pleats on the shoulder until you get a look you really like.

Brandon helped me drape the shoulder straps for this, and you can see his sense of humor in the notes to tell me which strap is for which side.

The edges are finished by pressing the fabric and lining towards each other and topstitching.

I pleated some lovely blue ribbon from Wm. Booth Draper to trim the neckline and sleeves, accented with bows.

And here’s the finished product in action at Market Fair! 

Wig by Custom Wig Company. Photo by Wayne Tuckson.

Wig by Custom Wig Company.

Wig by Custom Wig Company.

Wig by Custom Wig Company.

How to Make Rouleaux Trim

Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.

Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.

Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!

Pink Rouleaux Spencer
Spencer with Rouleaux Trim, ca 1820, Met Museum
Blue Rouleaux Pelisse
Pelisse with Rouleaux Trim, ca 1823, Museum of London
Rouleaux Fashion Plate BA Jan 1815
Walking Dress, La Belle Assemble, January 1815

I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.

You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.

Preparing the Bias Strips

Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.

Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).

You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.

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I used my handy-dandy cutting mat. You can see I’ve lined the selvedge up with a straight line, and used the angled line on the cutting mat to cut the fabric at a 45° angle. 

From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.

I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.

Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.

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In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.

You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.

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When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.

Sewing the Rouleaux

If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).

HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.

Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.

Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:

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This is not absolutely required, but it will make it easier to get started.
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Insert your needle up through the top fold.
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Take your next stitch from back to front through a few threads of the bottom fold.
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Pull the thread though, but do not pull the stitch tight yet. It should look like this.
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Now, insert the needle through a few threads of the top fold, about 1/8-3/16″ away from your original stitch.

At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.

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This is the stitch pattern you will follow from here on out. Pick up a few threads from the bottom fold, then a few threads from the top fold, and pull your needle through, but don’t pull the thread completely tight.
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Once you get past the place where you have ironed, you will need to keep bending the fabric down. I use the side of my needle to fold the fabric over, than hold in in place with the thumb of my off-hand.
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Once you have a few stitches made (anywhere from 4-10 depending on the thickness of your fabric), go ahead and pull the thread tight. This will pull the two folds together to form a tube.

Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:

 Attaching the Rouleaux

Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.

Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.

Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.

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Begin by bringing your needle up inside the seam allowance of your garment piece, near where your design begins. Make sure that it is within the part of the seam allowance that will remain once you have sewn and trimmed the seam.
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Put your needle through your rouleaux, near one end. Make sure your stitch is very close to the seam, so that it will not show once your rouleaux is attached.
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Take a small stitch (about 1/8″-3/16″) along the line of your design and pull tight so that the end of the rouleaux sits against the fabric.

From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:

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With the rouleaux sitting just above your stitching line, put your needle through the base of the rouleaux.
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Use the thumb of your off hand to move the rouleaux below the stitching line. Take a stitch along the stitching line. 

This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!

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As you stitch, make sure your keep your rouleaux smooth along the stitching line by ensuring that your stitch goes into the rouleaux right where the thread comes out of the fabric, and into the fabric right where it comes out of the rouleaux. If you accidentally put your needle in too far ahead or back, you could end up puckering the fabric or rouleaux.

Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:

Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.

Tip #1: Tight curves

When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.

Tip #2: Sharp corners

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When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.

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Pull your thread through, and move your rouleaux above the thread so that when it turns the corner, it will wrap around the thread.
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Rotate your piece so that you are now following the next part of the line. Pull the rouleaux so that it is over top of the corner thread. 
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And then pull your thread straight up away from the fabric so that it forces your rouleaux to bend exactly where your want the corner to go. Pinch the corner of the rouleaux between your fingers to help it hold the crease.
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Insert your needle through the rouleaux from the inside of the corner crease to the outside.
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And put it down through the fabric right on top of your original corner stitch.
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Bring your needle back up along the stitching line, and continue stitching as normal.

Tip #3: Close parallel lines

When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.

In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:

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The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.

Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.

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Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!

As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.

Happy stitching!

Looking Sharp in the 1820s

There’s nothing like a time crunch to make me productive. This time around, it was the crunch leading up to author Sarah Vowell’s visit to Locust Grove, where the interpreters were appearing in the 1820s to celebrate General Lafayette’s tour of the United States.

I was already well supplied with an elegant 1820s gown, but Brandon was in desperate need of a civilian coat, since his character, Dr. John Croghan, was acting as host for the evening.

By the time we got back from a lovely vacation back home in Northern MI, I only had ten days left to make the jacket.

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I used Laughing Moon #121. I have made their other tailcoat pattern many times, so I had high hopes of it fitting Brandon right out of the envelope–and it did. This is me tracing out his size. He was nice enough to do the cutting out, so that I could crack on with sewing!

The first parts of jacket tailoring are my favorites: my love of precise handsewing means padstitching is right up my alley. I find it so satisfying to watch the fold and curve of a collar or lapel becoming more defined the more you stitch.

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Padstitching is followed by another favorite of mine–catchstitching, which is an (ideally) invisible way to attach non-padstitched areas of the interfacing to the fabric, while still allowing a bit of flexibility to the piece.

The trick to catchstitching is not to pull things too tight. The purpose of the stitch is not to nail the interfacing in place, only to prevent it from folding up inside the coat. It’s much better to leave things a little loose than to pull your stitches too tight and pucker the outer fabric. I usually try to leave a sliver of daylight between the thread and the interfacing, just so I know for sure that I haven’t messed things up.

The lovely thing about jackets of the early Romantic era, as opposed to the Regency, is the existence of a waist seam. The decorative pocket flaps on this coat just get basted onto the tail piece, and the raw edges are hidden away in the seam. It also allows for some much needed waist shaping that doesn’t exist in earlier cuts. Amusingly, since they are false flaps (i.e. there are no pockets inside of them), you then baste through the tails and the bottom layer of the flap to ensure your decorative flaps stay perfectly placed and never actually, you know, flap.

I also want to take this moment to shout out Renaissance Fabrics–this herringbone striped wool is so gorgeous. That sheen you can see in the light is in no way exaggerated by the photos, it has an almost satiny finish. Extremely elegant!

The pockets themselves have nothing to do with the flaps. Their openings are hidden in the seam between the back and tail pieces, which itself is hidden inside of a decorative pleat.

On the Saturday before the event the next Friday, Brandon helped me out by jumping on his 1898 Wheeler & Wilson treadle machine to construct the sleeves and sleeve linings while I worked on the tails and the front facings.

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These photos show the tail overlap in the center back from the inside and outside before I put in the tail facings, which I apparently forgot to photograph. That’s what happens when you’re steaming though a project!

In order to help it keeps it’s shape, a jacket like this gets two layers of front interfacing: one inside the actual front piece, and one in the front facing (the piece of matching fabric that is sewn in the inside of the front so that it can come around and make the outside of the lapel.) In this case the front facing lines most of the front, and comes all the way around to help stabilize the upper back as well.

Although it was not called for in the pattern, I supplemented the chest area facing interfacing with two layers of cotton batting to help facilitate the “pigeon-breast” shape that was fashionable for men in the Romantic era. Basically, the more you can get your torso to be shaped like a cone, the better. Some men even wore corsets to help create the large-chested, small-waisted shape.

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The under collar is sewn to the coat, and the upper collar to the facing. Once the facing is attached, you’re left with a lovely finished collar and lapel.

Since Brandon made the sleeves, I don’t have a lot of photos of the process, but rest assured that they did go in, and get lined! Due to the fashionable shape, the sleeves also have a good bit of gathering and poof at the top to help add to the wide-chested illusion.

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The sleeves were lined with whatever I had in my stash, so parts of them are this cream color, and parts are striped!

The final hurdle on Thursday night were buttons and buttonholes. Luckily, I only needed to make 3 functioning buttonholes. Since we were using brass shank buttons, I tried out a technique I’ve never actually used before, but definitely like. You poke holes with an awl where the buttons need to go, put the shanks through the holes, and pass something (tape, ribbon, in my case yarn because it was all I had that fit through the tiny shanks) though the shanks on the wrong side of the fabric. Then you stitch your tape down to the fabric, and that holds the buttons in place, and keeps them from flopping around as much as they would if you just sewed them to the front of the coat. It’s a technique I’ll certainly employ in the future.

And that was it! I even got done in time to finish hemming a white cravat that I’ve had in my workbasket forever.

Here’s the finished look, I think he looks pretty sharp!

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Tambour Lace Lesson 3

To find more tambour lessons: click here.

For today’s lesson, I am going to focus on one technique that will allow you to do a couple of very useful things. It’s a very helpful little trick to keep your work looking neat and tidy.

It’s not complicated, and once you’ve learned it, you’ll find that a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

As far as I can tell, this technique doesn’t have a name, so I’m going to refer to it as a “false stop” because that’s exactly what it is: behaving as if you’ve finished the work, but actually moving on instead.

My old lap hoop, sadly, has broken off of its stand, and I need to fix it, so this tutorial was photographed in a small hoop, clamped to the edge of a table. This is a great solution if you can’t invest in a hoop with a stand right now, but you have other embroidery hoops around.

Imagine you have embroidered a motif, like this cute little flower:

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It’s finished, but there’s no clear way to get from the flower to the next part of your pattern. You could cut the thread, but goodness, who wants more ends to weave in when you’re finished?! Not I.

So instead, you follow these simple steps:

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Pull out the final stitch on your needle so that you have a large loop. It doesn’t need to be as big as shown.

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Put your needle through the back of the work, right next to your last stitch, but if you are working on net, NOT in the same cell as your last stitch.

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Pull on your working thread to tighten the loop around the hook.

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Pull the loop through to the back of the work. You will need a large loop on this side.

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Take your working thread.

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And pass the entire spool, threadwinder, skein, what-have-you through the loop.

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Pull the working thread so that the loop tightens up around it.

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Continue pulling until the loop has tightened up completely. Try not to pull any more than necessary, or you may distort the stitches at the front of the work. The knot doesn’t need to be extremely tight, it’s only there to stop the work from pulling out while you take the working thread somewhere else.

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At this point, the stitches on your first motif are secure, and you can now pull up the working thread at another point in your pattern and continue working as normal.

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I love this particular fragment from the Manchester Art Gallery because you can clearly see the working thread moving from place to place behind the fine muslin.

Now that you’ve seen how useful a false stop can be for moving your thread from one place to another without breaking it, I’ll show you another way to use the same technique: turning sharp corners.

You may have noticed that tambourwork doesn’t like to go around corners. The turning stitch tends to distort and stick up in an effort to make the turn. Fear not! This can be avoided.

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When you come to a place in your work where you need to turn a sharp corner, perform a false stop using the same steps as above.

 

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But, instead of moving to a different place, insert your hook back into your last completed stitch–NOT into the loop you pulled down as part of the false stop, but into the fully visible stitch before that.

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Pull up your working thread.

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And continue to stitch as normal, reveling in the beauty of your perfectly sharp corner.

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This technique comes in incredibly handy while working a complicated tambour motif.

I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

For more tambour lessons, click here.

 

Going Postal Photos

Since we were already going to be in Ben’s studio, and I already had my corset on, we took the opportunity to get photos of our costumes from last year’s North American Discworld Convention as well as the Ravenclaw gown.

Last September, we had the fun of going to a con entirely in celebration of our favorite fictional universe for our first anniversary, and winning the costume contest dressed as some of our favorite characters, Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart. Moist is a conman-turned-postmaster-general with a heart of gold, and Adora Belle his cynical but idealistic love interest on a mission to revenge herself on the man who swindled her family out of their business (amazingly in this case, not Moist).

These were some of my favorite costumes ever to work on, because instead of working off of a visual source, I was able to design them entirely using descriptions from the books in which they appear (Going Postal, Making Money, and Raising Steam), which is much more fun that simply copying someone else’s design.

I love how the photos turned out–if you know Discworld (and if you don’t, may I suggest you run out and track down a book RIGHT NOW), you may spot a few familiar names among the addressees of the letters on the floor. The one in Moist’s hand is, of course, the infamous S.W.A.L.K. letter to Antimony Parker. The last photo (Thanks, Ben!) is one of the only pictures of my profile that I LOVE! It just goes to show–if you want to feel great about yourself, go have your photo taken by Ben Marcum.

I made my entire outfit and Brandon’s coat, cravat and the wings and other modifications to his hat. Brandon made his waistcoat and trousers. My wig is from Custom Wig Company, styled by me, and is also the wig I use in my Snow White costume. Don’t worry! I don’t smoke. Adora Belle’s very necessary cigarette is a prop from New Rule FX. Moist’s Ankh-Morpork post office badge is from Discworld.com.

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I didn’t find time to do any blogging about Brandon’s outfit, because we were desperately finishing it in the airport and hotel room, but you can read all about Adora Belle in the blog posts linked below.

Adora Belle Dearheart Part 1

Adora Belle Dearheart Part 2

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown Photos

It’s almost unbelievable to realize that this project is finished. Yes, I’ve taken breaks to work on other things but still.

I posted my first blog in connection to this ensemble when I finished the chemise and drawers at the beginning of May last year.

I posted the original research and design post in late June.

It took almost exactly a year for the entire outfit to come together. Before that, though, I had been thinking, and researching, and planning, and sketching for nearly two years. At first it was just casual. At the time, my work consisted of four people: a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff, a Slytherin, and me. So we cooked up a scheme to create four bustle gowns, one for each house. We wanted to make them, but mostly it was something to talk over in great detail over long days of tying hair. Unfortunately, the four house gowns never happened, but I couldn’t get the dress I wanted to create out of my head.

So I decided to do it anyway, despite the fact that I had nowhere to wear it, no goal in sight! I started planning in earnest: costing out silk, and saving money, shopping though patterns for good underthings, and base shapes, and thinking through the draping and drafting on elements that I knew I would have to do myself.

Now, more than a year later, I still have nowhere planned to wear it (hit me up with good events within a reasonable distance of Louisville, KY), but I do have something wonderful to share.

At the end of May, I had the fun of doing a photoshoot with the wonderful Ben Marcum Photography. I have done many kinds of shoots with Ben: headshots, my wedding portraits, beauty shoots, and cosplay. I can tell you this–if you are in Louisville, or coming through Louisville, and can find any excuse to have some professional photos done, go have your portrait taken by Ben. Especially if you hate having your photo taken. (Believe me, we also did some Adora Belle photos at the shoot, and next week I will reveal one of the only photos I’ve ever liked of my own profile!)

Even if you are nervous in front of a camera, Ben will make you laugh, make you comfortable, and make absolutely beautiful images of you every time. I always look forward to doing a shoot with him, because I know that I will have a great, goofy day, and come out of it feeling good about myself.

The wig I’m wearing is, of course, from Custom Wig Company, styled by yours truly. The beautiful cameos are from Dames à la Mode. The set was styled by Ben’s wife, my awesome boss, Heather Fleming. The books are a blend of antiques, and handmade replicas by Strano Books.

So without further ado:

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You can read all about the ensemble’s construction, from beginning to end, on the blog.

Underthings

Chemise & Drawers                          Corset                            Bustle & Petticoat

Gown

Research & Design                  Underskirt                      Overskirt                        Bodice

Hat

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have ideas of ways to add to the ensemble! At some point, I would love to make an evening bodice to turn the gown into a stylish and practical day-to-night outfit. I also have ideas for a feather mantle wired with LED lights so that it glows from between the feathers.

Work never ceases!