Tutorial: Death’s Head Buttons

I have another button tutorial for you today! This is for Death’s Head Buttons, a lovely kind of thread-covered buttons that can be seen on clothes through the 18th and into the 19th century. They mostly appear on menswear, but I have also seen what look to be Deaths’ Heads on a woman’s spencer (the resolution on the photo isn’t perfect, so I can’t be 100% sure), most likely part of a riding habit. I particularly like them for waistcoats.

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A Death’s Head button on Brandon’s linen waistcoat.

These are a bit fiddly, so don’t give up if you have trouble the first few times. I have made plenty of these, and I still find myself starting over! Be patient, and you will be making your own thread-covered buttons in no time!

What you’ll need:

  • Thread–you’ll want an attractive thread on the heavier side. My example is made with silk quilting thread. Don’t try to use an all-purpose or fine thread, or you may be wrapping until the end of the universe!
  • Scissors
  • A needle
  • A pin
  • A bone, wood, or pasteboard button mold with a hole in the center. I buy mine from William Booth, Draper, or Burnley & Trowbridge.

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Step 1: Wrap the thread in an ‘X’ shape

Cut a piece of thread long enough to wrap your entire button. For my 3/4″ button, I used about 4 yards. You can actually cut it when you get close to done wrapping, but I find that I get more annoyed by the thread twisting because it is still attached to the spool than I am by the propect of running out of thread if I didn’t calculate well.

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Put the end of your thread through the hole in the center of the button. You want a couple of inches of tail at the back, and the rest of your long thread at the front.
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Wrap your thread three times around the button. You want the threads to sit neatly next to one another, not to overlap. Use one of the fingers of your left hand to hold the tail still at the back.
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Turn the button over, and rotate it so that the tail end and the main thread twist around each other like the ribbon on a present. Move slowly and carefully so that the wrapped thread remains in place.
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Turn your button carefully back to the front and wrap it three times in the other direction. Make sure that your button is divided into neat quarters. You want them to be as even as possible. You can use your fingers to carefully scooch the ends of your wraps in order to make the quarters more even. If your quarters are wonky now, they will only get worse from here!
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At the back of the button, tie the two thread ends together to keep everything still at the center back.

Step 2: Begin your wrapping.

This is the part of the process where it is easiest to drop things. Work slowly and carefully, and be patient. Try not to be frustrated if you have to start over a couple of times. Whenever possible, support the wraps with your fingers while rotating and wrapping.

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Hold your button so that the threads make a “+”. Bring your thread up below the threads on the right. (If you are left-handed, you will probably want to begin on the left instead.)
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Wrap the thread up and over the upper right hand quarter. You want to go very slowly, and keep careful tension in the thread. If you pull too hard, you will pull the wraps out of shape, but if you do not keep it taut enough, it will not stay in place.
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Rotate the button counter-clockwise and bring the thread up below the next arm of the X. Here I am holding the wrap from the previous step in place with my left pointer finger.
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Again, wrap the thread up and over the next quarter, and bring it down on the other side of the vertical arm.

Rotate and wrap the thread twice more, so that there is one wrap across each quarter of the button. Make sure that the threads on the edge of the button are sitting neatly next to one another, not overlapping.

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Continuing in the same pattern, wrap a second layer of threads.

Step 3: Place your pin.

DO NOT let go of your thread while you are doing this. Make sure you keep your tension.

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When you have two layers of thread wrapped, put your pin through the center hole so that it is sticking out at both sides.This will help keep things in place, and will make the threads at the back of the button stack up in a convenient shank.

Step 4: Continue Wrapping

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Continue wrapping in the same pattern. As you keep going, this will become easier, and you will begin to see the woven pattern building up. The triangular shapes at the corners will continue to grow. They are what will become the final thread pattern on the button.
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This is what you back should look like as you keep wrapping. you can see how the threads are piling up at the center to become a shank. Don’t mind the extra thread on the upper left. It is just the tail of the thread from the beginning. I really should have just trimmed it, but for some reason I didn’t until the end.
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Keep wrapping until your button is entirely covered. At the very center, the threads will pile up slightly around the pin. Don’t worry about this, you can smooth them out later when the pin is removed.

Step 5: Anchor the wraps at the back.

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Thread the rest of your thread onto your needle.
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Wrap the thread behind and around the thread leading from the edge of the button to the shank.

 

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Rotate the button and bring the needle under the next section of threads. Keep rotating and sewing around the threads until you have gone around several times, you want to make sure that the threads stay nice and still. Try to close up any gaps where the button mold shows through.

Once you are sure that things are anchored well, you can remove the pin.

Step 6: Anchor the final wraps at the front.

Because the final few wraps at the center front of the button didn’t get woven into the rest of the wraps like the earlier ones do, you need to anchor them in place at the center.

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Starting beside the shank (don’t try to go through the middle of it), bring the needle up through the center hole. You want the point of your needle to come up beside the final couple of thread wraps in the center of the button.

At this point, make sure that everything is laying nice and smooth,

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Bring your needle back down through the hole so that you have made a stitch across the center threads that were your final wraps back in Step 4.
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The needle isn’t doing anything in this photo, I’m just using it as a pointer to the stitch that we just made.

You can now tie your thread off at the back of the button, and you’re finished!

Remember: Be Patient, Move Slowly, and Don’t Give Up!

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 2: Overskirt

Pant…pant…pant… It’s here! It has been six months since my last post about the Ravenclaw bustle gown due to more time-sensitive projects barging their way to the front of the line! When last we met here in Ravenclaw-land, I had just finished the underskirt, but that wasn’t the only thing going on the bottom half. Here we have…(drumroll)…the overskirt!

In the true spirit of bustle-era excess, I ask: why have only one skirt encrusted in intricate detail when you could have TWO?!

I started the overskirt by mocking it up in some very fun harlequin print quilting fabric that I had sitting around.

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Here is my sketch so that you can get an idea of what I was going for.

The mock-up was draped right on the dressform, just moving bits around and bunching things up until I was happy with how things looked.

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Cutting out the real fabric. The pieces are also flatlined with cotton organdy.
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Checking the fall of the front panels with the tucks at the waist.

In order to give myself a solid base on which to gather the polonaise (the puffed-up portion) at the back, I made an extra organdy lining to go inside the back.

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Finishing the front hems with the help of my new sewing bird!

The back piece is pleated into the side seams in order to give extra volume to the polonaise (the puffy portion) at the back.

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Finishing off the extra back lining.

I got the base of the skirt done pretty fast…

…and then had this thought that kept bugging me in the back of my brain. Wouldn’t those side seams look extra cute with a bit of bronze piping? So I tore it apart again.

Which wasn’t so bad, because I decided to put the trim in place before putting it back together so that I would only have to wrestle with one piece at a time.

The first stage of trimming involved figuring out the size and placement of the velveteen false turn-backs at the skirt front. I did this in the pretty non-scientific way of sketching a shape I sort of liked with a marking pencil onto the skirt front, and then cutting the velveteen to match, plus extra for hem allowance.

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I had a slight crisis-of-faith after cutting the first one, and tried out a couple of other shape variations with fabric scraps before deciding that I did like the first one best after all.

I folded the edge under, and backed the edge with an offset piece of the bronze taffeta for extra contrast against the main skirt body, then set these pieces aside to attach later.

The rest of the overskirt decorations are the same as the underskirt, so I will only go through them quickly.

Binding the hems of what will become the pleated ruffle:

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The velveteen appliqués are also bias bound.

Piping and attaching a strip of blue taffeta to cover the raw edges of the pleats and appliqués.

And then I attached the false turn-backs. I stitched along the edge of the velveteen, through all layers, so that the edge of the bronze isn’t held flat against the skirt.

The velveteen is hemmed to the inside of the front edges several inches in in the hopes that it will provide some weight to keep the skirt from flying open when I walk, and to provide a bit of coverage over the white organdy if it does.

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The piping on the side seams extends past the seam and all the way down the edge of the back piece. The swallowtail at the lower half of the back is finished with a backing of blue taffeta to make sure the white organdy lining doesn’t show.

The inner edges of the swallowtail got a row of pleats, and one of the blue bands to finish the pleat tops, but no velvet appliqués.

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Yes, I did pick out the basting on the pleats once things were in place.
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A slightly blurry look at the side seam piping.
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Finishing off the top edge of the taffeta backing.

Gathering in the back and stitching the waistband in place:

This waistband was out to get me. First a thread broke about a third of the way through. Then I ran out of bobbin thread another five inches after that. Then when I got to the end, I realized that the gathers hadn’t made it into the seam in two places, and had to go back and open it up to get the raw edges back inside the waistband. It was a lot of drama.

The final step was to put it on the dress-form, play around with the bustle area, and tack the polonaise in place when I liked how it looked!

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I feel like this has taken me for-absolutely-ever (not the six month break, just building it took waaaay longer than I had anticipated). Hopefully the bodice will be a bit friendlier. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like together, though! Wish me luck!

Tutorial: Thread Shirt Buttons

Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.

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Here are the buttons on Brandon’s new shirt in action!

You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!

What you’ll need:

  • Heavy linen thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter

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Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing  guide

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Tie a regular-old square knot at the end of your thread. Don’t cut the thread off of your spool/skein/threadwinder just yet.
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Put the loop of the knot around your sizing guide (I used a pencil, but you can use any 1/4″ diameter stick-like item you have lying around), and pull tight.

Step 2-Wrap your thread

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Wrap the thread around your sizing guide. A lot. For my very heavy linen thread, I did 30 wraps. If you’re using a slightly finer thread, I would go more like 40. It should seem like a slightly ridiculous amount of thread.

Step 3-Cut your thread

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At this point, you can cut your thread, and thread the cut end onto your needle. You want a nice long tail, I went with about a yard.

Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle

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Slip the wrapped thread to the end of your sizing guide and onto your needle. Be careful to hold the wrapped thread between your fingers to that it cannot come apart.

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Step 5-Pull thread through

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Pull your needle and working thread all the way through the center of your thread ring.

Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring

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At this point, you will begin to buttonhole stitch around the thread ring. Put your needle back through the center, and bring it up behind the ring, with the thread tail behind the point of the needle.
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When you pull the stitch tight, a loop will form around the working thread.
Here it is in action! Needle through the center, thread behind the point of the needle, pull tight.
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Continue all the way around the ring, until all of the thread ring is encased.

Step 6-Create the shank

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Turn your button over so that the back is facing you. Pass your needle behind a thread or two on the opposite side as your working thread.
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You should now have a bar across the center of your button.
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Pass your thread across the same place several more times so that you have about four or five threads across the hole.
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Here is what you button should look like at this point.

Step 7-Wrap the shank

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Pass your needle behind the shank you just created.
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Wrap the working thread around the shank several times to keep everything together.

Step 8-Finished!

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Tie it off and you’re done!

You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!

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I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.

Regency Square Cut Shirt

Leading up to Christmastide 1816 at Locust Grove in December, Brandon finally got something he’s been needing for a while: a new shirt. Yes indeed, he has only had one shirt in the entire four+ years that we’ve been reenacting. Yikes. That sounds really bad when I actually think about it.

So, his old shirt, which was made in a rush out of cheap cotton, was in bad shape. Like, really bad shape. It was literally disintegrating.

It was definitely time for a new one. I had fabric ready and everything, I’d just been putting it off for a loooong time.

The new shirt is made with a lovely 4.7 oz. 100% linen from Dharma Trading Co. The Locust Grove ladies went in on a big order so that we could get a bulk discount. The lovely thing about square-cut shirts is that they are exactly that. Square cut. Every piece is a square, a rectangle, or a square cut in half corner-to-corner to make two triangles. This was done for several reasons.

  • It makes fabric usage very efficient. A good housekeeper could cut several shirts out at once by filling in all the gaps like a game of tetris, with yardage wasted in the square inches. (This is trickier today with our wider fabric widths.)
  • The large, gathered, square bodies make for a garment that fits even if the wearer gains or loses weight.
  • Shirts were generally made at home, rather than by professionals, and the formulaic process was much easier to learn and perfect than a more demanding fitted garment.

Shirts for men functioned much like shifts for women–they were an undergarment that was less valuable and more easily laundered than a person’s outer garments. They helped protect those expensive outer garments from sweat and wear. The only parts of a man’s shirt that would generally show were the crisp white collar and cuffs.

There are period cutting guides available so that you can make a shirt as accurately as possible, but since I was in a rush (as per usual) I used the Kannik’s Korner pattern, which comes with excellent documentation and instructions. I highly recommend it if you are in the market for a shirt pattern.

Traditionally, a square cut shirt is cut by measuring out pieces, then pulling out threads of the fabric to mark where to cut. This ensures that each piece is perfectly square. I attempted it, but the threads must have been a bit too flimsy, because they would break after a couple of inches, and I eventually gave it up as a bad job. Hopefully next time I try, the fabric will be a bit more obliging.

The first step in sewing is to finish the edges of the big slit in the shirt front that allows the man enough room to get his head through (and then some). The slit edges are hemmed as narrowly as possible, and then the bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitch, and a bar tack. You’re going to see the word re-enforced a lot in this post. A lot of work goes into making sure it’s as difficult as possible for the wearer to destroy his shirt quickly.

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Before the shirt can be put together, the side slits and bottom edge also need hemming. This happens before the side seams are sewn.

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The front and back of the shirt are all one enormous rectangle, with a T-shaped slit in the center for the head. You already saw me finishing the stick part of of the T (the chest slit). Now it’s time to deal with the crossbar. The shoulders and neck slit will take the most strain when the shirt is put on, worn, and taken off, so these areas get a lot of re-enforcement.

First, each end of the neck slit gets a gusset to prevent the fabric from ripping farther.

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There is also a secondary row of back-stitching for extra insurance.

 

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There is a matching gusset piece on the inside to cover the raw edges and provide even more strength.

The gussets are only the beginning. The entire shoulder line is re-enforced with shoulder straps–long rectangles of fabric that cover the gusset and go from the neck edge to should edge.

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To ensure that they stay perfectly straight while being stitched in place, the straps are basted down the center line.
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Then back-stitched in place along each edge.

The shoulder preparation is complete at this point, and it’s time to get the collar ready.

The collar is one large rectangle. Each of the short ends is folded in, then the whole thing is folded in half and the edges are whip-stitched together, leaving the seam allowance free at the bottom.

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The top edge has a row of back-stitching to keep the collar nicely folded.

The collar is ready to be attached! This is pretty basic–the neckline is gathered up and stitched between the layers of collar.

The collar buttons shut with clever little shirt buttons made of linen thread. I will be putting up a tutorial on how to make these next week. They quick, and simple, and make a great little demonstration!

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The sleeves of the shirt are–you guessed it–rectangles! The cuffs are prepared and go on just like the collar. There is also a square gusset in the armpits, which gives the wearer plenty of extra room to move his arms. Above the gussets, the sleeves are gathered onto the shoulder of the shirt. At this point, the sides of the shirt are still open.

Each of the gusset sides is stitched and flat-felled. The gusset is oriented like a diamond, with the top point opening up the sleeve seam, and the bottom point opening up the side seam. This gives the extra room in the armpit, so that the sleeve and side of the shirt don’t just create a corner under the arm, which could be binding and lead to the shirt getting torn when the wearer strains the seam.

With the gussets in place, the sides are ready to come together. They get stitched together, then flat-felled to finish the raw edges.

There are still some raw edges left on the shoulder seam, plus the whole thing could use some extra re-enforcement, so a sleeve binder (another long rectangle like the shoulder strap) gets whipstitched all around the armscye seam and gusset, and carefully hemstitched to the shirt body. The stitches barely show on the outside, and it gives extra strength to the seam.

We’re nearly there! The side slits get their own bit of extra oomph with small gussets. These are little triangles like the neckline gussets, but only the smallest part of their point is sewn onto the top of the slit, then the rest of the triangle is folded up inside the shirt and stitched down.

There’s one last adorable step before the shirt is officially finished. Each shirt gets marked with the wearers initials and an inventory number, so that the household can keep track of a bunch of shirts that look basically identical. Since this is the first shirt I’ve properly handsewn for Brandon, it is marked with ‘BV’ and a number ‘1’. I’m excited to do another one just so I can number it ‘2’!

This kind of plain sewing may look a bit dull, but it’s incredibly satisfying. Linen is a joy to handsew in the first place, and add to that all the little details like the finish on the neck slit, the flat-fells, the gussets, and the initials, and there’s just enough spice to keep things interesting.

Here’s Brandon looking much better (and happier) in his new shirt! Good riddance to the old rag!

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2017 in Review

I never feel as if I’ve done much in a year until I go back through the blog and see everything all in one place. Somehow at once 2017 flew by, but completing Snow White and Luna seem to have happened years ago. I was actually surprised when I looked back at the beginning of the year and saw them there! Go Figure. Here I’m going to look back at what I’ve done in the past twelve months, and tell you a bit about what’s coming in the next twelve!

What I did in 2017:

Snow White

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Photos by Ben Marcum Photography

I’m absolutely thrilled with how this cosplay came out! I’m going to add some wires to the front at some point so that the collar can be shaped more. It looks good in these photos because this is the first time I wore it, but it has gotten a bit crushed now. I did enter this one in the costume contest at Cincinnati Comic Con, but no luck! I may try it again elsewhere.

Brandon’s Regency Fashion Plate

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Brandon’s Christmas present from 2016! I finished the pants and made the coat in January 2017. We do have plans to add another row of buttonholes to the jacket so that it can be worn folded open as well as closed. Still adore that blue stripe down the pants. I’ve seen fashion plates with a red one too, so I’m tempted…

Luna Lovegood (Half-Blood Prince)

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The second legwarmer is actually finished now! No good photos of this one yet, but we’re waiting to do a photoshoot until Meredith’s (you may remember her as Margaery) new Hermione wig is done so that we can do photos together!

1870s Underthings

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All ready for beautiful things to be made over them! I do already have plans for a new Victorian corset, but the way my schedule is looking, it will be 2019 before that happens!

Two Tambour Lace Pieces

Tambour is my favorite demo to do while interpreting the early 19th century. I have big plans for the upcoming year, so stay tuned below!

1870s Ravenclaw Underskirt

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The problem with bucket list projects that aren’t for any specific event, is they get shunted aside for things that are more time-sensitive. But Ravenclaw is back in gear this month, expect progress soon!

Adora Belle Dearheart & Moist Von Lipwig

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In preparation for the best 1st Anniversary we could ask for (The North American Discworld Con in New Orleans), Brandon and I cosplayed as two of our favorite characters! (Though I didn’t blog about it, I made Brandon’s coat and altered his hat, while he made his trousers and waistcoat.) We won Best Workmanship and Best Overall in the costume contest, and the Hall Contest as well! We can’t wait to hear where the next one will be!

18th Century Stays

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Very pleased with these, though I still haven’t found time to put the lining in!

Columbine 1780s Pierrot Jacket and Petticoat

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I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into the 18th century–an era which has interested but intimidated me for so long. It was so fun to make and wear, and I can’t wait to wear it again!

Regency Shirt & Waistcoat for Brandon

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The shirt was a desperate need, as his old one was literally disintegrating more and more with each wear. It’s the first one I’ve made entirely by hand, and I really enjoyed it! I may be posting a blog about it in the next few weeks. The waistcoat was Brandon’s birthday present, which I made in secret, and had his in-character mother give him as a Christmas present at our Christmas event at Locust Grove in early December. He was so surprised–it was really fun!

Coming up in 2018

Number 1: finish Ravenclaw!!! I draped the underskirt on Thursday, and should be cutting  today! It’s really happening!

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It’s going to be a historical heavy year, with only two cosplays planned: A female version of Colonel Mustard from Clue (part of a group that should be really fun!), and Daenerys’ landing dress from Season 7 of Game of Thrones, which I knew I had to have the moment that photos started appearing. There are fabric swatches on their way so that I can start finalizing my plans!

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Other than that, it’s all historical, all the time! I have two new 18th century looks planned (another jacket & petticoat, and a Robe à l’Anglaise), and a whole pile of 1816 plans. I realized I haven’t made myself anything new for the era I spend the most time in since January 2016, and that has to change! I have plans for dresses, spencers, petticoats. The biggest historical project of the year is one I’ve been planning for quite some time, and am finally ready to bring to fruition. A tamboured net evening gown over a colored silk petticoat.

It’s going to take forever, but I’m really excited about it!

All-in-all, it should be a fun year for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching!

 

 

 

 

Columbine Pierrot Jacket and Petticoat, 1780

My first foray into the wonderful world of the 18th century has already made its appearance all over my social media, but here it is officially!

You may have already seen my new 18th century stays, but in case you missed it, you can read all about them here.

It’s kind of amazing, considering the amount of Revolutionary War reenacting that goes on, that it’s taken me four solid years to jump into this particular century, but once I was ready to get started, I had lots of decisions to make. With a large time-span at most of the events I am likely to attend, I first of all had to pick a smaller span in which to focus my research. I ended up focusing on the early 1780s, since it is it is a silhouette I particularly like.

In the 18th century, I will be primarily demonstrating as a wig-maker: so a trades-person, but one who works in a highly valued and fashion-related trade. Therefore I was aiming for something not overly fancy or ornate, but definitely fashionable and neat. I started by looking through paintings and fashion plates, looking for women with similar ideas. I was particularly inspired by the two plates below. The first is from 1778, and is described as a cook from the provinces, who has just begun to take on the elegant airs of Paris. The second is of a governess in 1780.

I fell in love with that cook as soon as I saw her. There’s just something about her little bows and peplum. “Pert” is the first word that comes to mind, but in the best possible way! I found the governess when I decided I wanted to do a short jacket and petticoat combo, and started narrowing my research even more. I love that the two employ basically the same shapes. but show how much variety you can get out of simple garment forms.

I settled on a Pierrot jacket and petticoat, and since I found a fun red and white stripe cotton for cheap on Fashion Fabrics Club, I decided to base the details of my first outfit on the governess plate.

By the time I got my stays done, I had one week left to make the actual outfit, which was a bit nerve-wracking. I knew I could get the petticoat done in very little time during the week, so I used the weekend to blaze through as much of the jacket as possible. I wanted to drape the jacket, but I obviously can’t drape on my own body, so I hemmed and hawed a bit until my friend Meredith made a genius suggestion. She and I are very similar sizes, and crucially, are both 5′ tall with very short waists. In my stays, padded out in a few strategic places, Meredith made an excellent body double! We spent Saturday afternoon draping and putting together the jacket.

By some stroke of luck that hadn’t attended me in the build up to making this outfit, this process was incredibly fast. I had help from a couple of extant pieces in order to see what the pattern shapes should be, and ended up with a simple pattern of center back piece, side back piece, front piece, and shoulder strap. I’ve got to say, I love the 18th century shoulder strap. It makes draping and construction so easy!

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Jacket from the Met.
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Jacket from Les Arts Décoratifs.

I am an idiot, and managed not to get any pictures of Meredith in the stays for the entire several hours that she was in them, except on my Instagram story, so those are gone forever…

We draped with the lining fabric (white linen left over from a pair of Brandon’s trousers). Here I am cutting out the second center back piece from the original draped piece:

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I also cut and sewed the jacket together as we went. I had to sew it by machine to save time, but it is constructed using the ingenious method I learned at a Burnley and Trowbridge workshop, wherein the lining and fabric are both sewn at the same time. Why we stopped doing this, I will never truly understand. Bag lining is the worst. But I digress.

And the front pieces:

With the main body of the jacket together, we decided it was high time for me to give it a try. I ended up making a slight alteration to the side seams, but other than that we were good to forge ahead! Meredith had a go at placing the shoulder straps:

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And then of course, I remembered that I had wanted a zone front, so I tore the fronts back off again, but it was all ok. We had all the shapes we needed, and (most of) the difficult part was over.

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I cut the zone front so that the stripes matched those on the front. I briefly considered changing the front to have horizontal stripes as in the extant jacket above, but after looking at it for a bit I decided I just didn’t care for it.
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The edge is then turned under and stitched in place with a minuscule running stitch.

When I got the jacket put back together, and the shoulder strap linings attached, I spent ages staring at 18th century sleeves. It’s always scary jumping into a sleeve design you’ve never worked with before. Luckily, I found that Janet Arnold had patterned the perfect sleeve on one of the gowns in Patterns of Fashion 1, or I might have been stalled by indecision forever. It even had a similar gathered cuff detail to the one I wanted!

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Testing out the mock-up sleeve.

The grid underneath is the original from Patterns of Fashion, the one on top is my final altered piece. It looks crazy, but it makes a nice shape! The scoop on the bottom right comes up over the top of your forearm, while the v on the right gets sewn together so that it cups your elbow.

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I really liked the way 18th century sleeves are set, but I won’t tell you all about it myself, because Koshka the Cat has a wonderful post dedicated solely to that, which you can read here. Long story short, the bottom of the sleeve is sewn to the body of the jacket as per usual, then the top is pleated to the shoulder strap lining seperately, making it really easy to adjust the pleats to your liking.

 

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Sleeves on!

 

 

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Top-stitching the shoulder strap in place on top of the sleeve.

At this point, it’s just a matter of finishing off edges. The lining and fabric edges are folded up towards each other, with the lining just slightly shorter than the fabric, then the whole thing is top stitched in place.

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Technically finished! There were still details to add, but those would have to wait until I had something to wear on my bottom half!

Once again, Koshka the Cat has a fantastic tutorial for putting together an 18th century petticoat. Mine is made to go over a split false rump, and pleated smoothly in the front half, and gathered in the back for extra floof to help achieve that 1780s silhouette.

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Placing pleats.
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Finishing off the twill tape waistband. The twill is a bit thicker than I would like but I realized too late that I was out of nice thin linen tape in the right width.

I was cutting it very close on time at this point, so of course I had to have one major disaster. I had pressed up the hem, all ready to stitch, and decided to try the petticoat on to check the length. It wasn’t until this point that I realized that I had gathered the (shorter) front half of the petticoat, and pleated the back, which resulted in a bizarre and unflattering silhouette… So off came the waistband and all that work had to be done again.

After wasting all that time, I was down to just a few hours before I really needed to go to bed so that I would be conscious for Market Fair, so I prioritized my details: Hat trimmings and breast knot, peplum ruffle, sleeve ruffles, hem ruffle. The hem was last because it was big enough that I could either get just the hem ruffle done, or everything else.

On Friday night, I trimmed out my straw hat with peach ribbons and white flowers, and made a lovely little bow for the center of my neckline from the leftover ribbon. That would at least give me a bit of fun even if nothing else got done.

After that, I started on my first ruffle. Time was getting very short now, and I had to hope that I could do it quickly, because once it was part way on, I would be stuck doing the rest, no matter now late I had to stay up.

The peplum ruffle has a narrow hem, the top edge is pressed to the back, and a gathering stitch run through both layers.

I had to stop here for Friday night, but after the event on Saturday, I managed to move one more step forward. The sleeve cuffs are made by pressing under both edges of a tube of fabric, gathering both edges, and then stitching each edge to the sleeve. I really like the way these turned out!

I got started hemming the hem ruffle, but quickly realized that hemming, gathering, and attaching a ten yard ruffle was just not going to happen that night.

I took some photos at the event with no hem ruffle. I still love the way this outfit turned out! Market Fair was freezing cold, so I spent most of the time wrapped up in shawl and gloves, but I can’t wait to wear this next spring!

My wig is the one documented in this blog post. If you’re interested in acquiring your own handmade, human hair, and endlessly customizable beauty (or you’re just interested in seeing more of what we do), check out Custom Wig Company!

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I enjoyed wearing this so much. I already have many more 18th century ideas bouncing around, and there will be more outfits coming next year!

PS: The Hem Ruffle!

It turned out to be a good thing I waited on this, because it took me aaaaaages to get it together.

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Here’s what 10 yards of 12″ wide ruffle looks like waiting to be hemmed…

Like the peplum ruffle, the hem ruffle has a narrow hem, and is then pressed under at the top. This one has two rows of gathering: one 1/2″ below the folded edge, and one another 1 1/2″ below that, creating a ruched band between the two rows of stitches when the ruffle is attached.

Sadly, I’m not sure I’ll get to wear the completed look again between now and Kalamazoo Living History Show in March!

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18th Century Stays (Finally!)

It has been a year of starting new periods for me! I began venturing in the the 1870s with my Ravenclaw bustle dress, I dipped a toe in 1890 with my Adora Belle Dearheart costume, and now I’m diving headfirst into the 18th century. This particular new period goes along with a passion project for me at work: Custom Wig Company will soon by launching a line of historically-constructed period wigs, researched and developed by Yours Truly! The line won’t be released quite yet, but I’ll be demonstrating several wig-making techniques at the 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove this coming weekend.

It has been rather slow going. I actually started mocking up my stays shortly after we returned from the North American Discworld Convention in September, but with the ever-busy Santa season in full swing at work, and a few small projects and adjustments that needed to get done, I was going pretty slowly. Everything would have been back on track, but of course then I got sick in early October, and ended up (most unusually for me), too lethargic and cranky to work on much of anything. You know I’m feeling bad if I’m not even knitting! Being knocked out of commission for 10 days seems to have jump-started me, though, since I’ve been extra productive since I started feeling better!

But things are certainly moving now! With only 5 days to go until Market Fair, my stays and false rump are finished, and my dress is well underway. For the moment I’ll just be using my Regency chemise, and under petticoats from a couple of different outfits in order to be dressed in time for the event!

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I used the JP Ryan Half-Boned Stays pattern.
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My purple sateen mock-up (leftovers from my bustle) turned out so pretty, I’ve decided I need to turn the rest of it into a new Victorian corset! I’m thinking whisper grey flossing.
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The stays are made from a nice, sturdy linen canvas.
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The front! (Lots more boning channels to come on this piece, both horizontal and vertical.)
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There are two horizontal boning channels along the front neckline, which help keep everything in that nice, rounded, ice cream cone shape.

My boning is 1/4″ reed, which you can purchase in enormous quantities from William Booth, Draper. There are two pieces, flat sides together, in each boning channel. The reed was very easy to work with, and so far is comfortable to wear (definitely my most comfortable period shapewear! I’m reserving total judgement until I’ve worn them out for a full day or two, though.

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All the bones in, except the two at each center back. I waited until I’d sewn the eyelets before I did those.
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I love hand-sewing eyelets and buttonholes! These are opened with an awl, and then secured with a simple overcast in buttonhole silk.

At this point, it’s time for binding! I used chamois leather–just the basic piece you can get for detailing from any auto supply store. One piece was big enough to bind two pairs of stays. It’s cut into 1 1/4″ strips, then sewn to the front side of the stays with a 1/4″ seam,  just like ordinary bias tape, then wrapped around and secured at the back with a whip stitch–no need for any folding under the raw edge like you would with fabric. It was so soft and easy to sew! I did all the binding by hand in order to have more control going around corners and curves. I used a thimble, but that was much more for the canvas than the leather. Chamois is broken down so much in order to make it soft that it’s more like sewing through craft foam than leather.

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The top edge of the stays, bound!
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I was especially impressed with how the chamois went around the tabs!

My computer is being a putz about the completed photos for some reason, but luckily it’s ok with this composite I did for Instagram! Like I said earlier, these are definitely the most comfortable shapewear of any era I do! I will put a linen lining in them as well, but I’m skipping that for now due to the need to make a petticoat and jacket before next Saturday! Better get back to that now!

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Adora Belle Dearheart Part 2

With ten days to go until the North American Discworld Convention, my Adora Belle Dearheart costume is finished!

If you missed the first part of this blog, which talks about design, patterning, and building the main body of the dress, you can read it here:

Adora Belle Dearheart Part 1

When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.

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Stitching the lining, with attached interfacing, into the collar.

The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.

They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.

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I attached the false cuffs with a row of decorative herringbone stitching in grey buttonhole silk,
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The under and upper sleeves with false cuffs attached.
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The upper sleeve has a slight gather at the elbow when it attaches to the under sleeve–this helps give it a bit  of flexibility when moving.

The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.

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I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!

With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.

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The darts also each got a row of herringbone stitching, which both looks nice and holds down the extra fabric on the inside. I got this detail from one of the original dresses I referenced in Part 1.

At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!

The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.

Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.

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I also stitched a piece of re-enforcing twill tape up the center back skirt seam to help keep it from stretching, since it is both cut on the bias, and the only part of the dress that isn’t lined.
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Adding a final row of herringbone stitch just below the collar.

I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.

The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.

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I used a pair of calipers to mark the buttonholes evenly down the side of the dress.
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I was sewing buttonholes for days… I could get about six done on a week day after work, more on a weekend day.
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There are four buttons on the shoulder, and 43 down the side.
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I absolutely adore the vintage buttons I found on Etsy store The Vintage Pillbox! And there are still more available!

It was so satisfying to get the last few on!

I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)

Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.

If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!

You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.

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Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.

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Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?

Edit to add a few photos from outside our hotel in New Orleans! (Including Brandon in his Moist Von Lipwig suit!)

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Adora Belle Dearheart Part 1

If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.

Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.

Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.

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But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.

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Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.

Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.

Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”

Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890.  I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.

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This dress from the Musée de la Mode is what first made the light go off in my brain. It isn’t exactly what I wanted, but it started me onto the 1890 silhouette as the one for Adora Belle.

Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:

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Godey’s Ladies Book, 1890
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Day Dress, 1891, Gemeente Museum
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Harper’s Bazaar, 1892

But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:

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Afternoon dress ca. 1892. Met Museum

It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.

I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.

It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.

The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.

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I started by tracing out the original pattern, as is, in orange.
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Then I made some initial adjustments based on my own measurements in blue.

I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.

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I massively overestimated how much volume I would need in the front of the skirt, so all of the skirt pieces got a slim-down except for the center back.

After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.

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The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.

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Testing out the drape on the back.

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The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.

There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.

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This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.

Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.

Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.

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A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.

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And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.

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I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 2: Underskirt

I finally have some real progress to share on the Ravenclaw gown! Things have been going slower than I had planned, but we are moving forwards (though things will slow down even more with Jane Austen Festival this weekend)!

The gown is actually three parts: underskirt, overskirt, and bodice, and I have now finished the underskirt.

You can read more about the dress design here.

The upper part of the skirt is very plain, since it will be almost completely covered by the overskirt, while the hem is heavily embellished.

I used the Truly Victorian 1870s Underskirt pattern (TV 201). The skirt is a great basic shape, and fits perfectly on top of Truly Victorian’s early bustles and petticoats.

The construction is quite basic: one front panel, one back panel, two each side back and side front panels, and a waistband (and a pocket, which is very exciting!). I flat-lined the entire thing with cotton organdy to help it hold its shape and volume.

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Since taffeta is prone to fraying, I overcast each seam allowance down to the lining, which took FOREVER!
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I think we can all agree that dresses with pockets are the best dresses.
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I pinned the skirt to my dressform before putting on the waistband because I couldn’t wait to see what the volume would look like!
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Setting the hem.

Instead of shortening the skirt when I cut the pieces originally, I added a bit of functional decoration with three tucks around knee level.

The waistband is the last bit before the fun of embellishing begins!

The first component of the hem embellishment is a deep, knife-pleated ruffle in bronze-colored taffeta.

Instead of a hem, the ruffle is bound at the bottom with bias strips of the blue taffeta.

I used ye olde stitch-in-the-ditch technique to finish the binding, because there was no way I was going to hand finish the binding on ten yards of ruffle that’s going to be on the ground anyway!

If you and the people around you are interested in sewing, you may have seen a video a few months back of someone very cleverly using a fork to form pleats by sliding one tine under the fabric, twisting the fork so that the fabric wrapped around all the tines, removing the fork, and sewing over the newly-formed pleat. I got to go one better. When my husband saw me heading to my sewing machine with a piece of cutlery, he understandably asked what on earth I was doing. Once I explained the technique, he promptly took the fork away and headed out to the garage, where he fabricated these nifty little devices so that I can now make even pleats in multiple sizes without the need to waste time on measuring or pinning! They made pleating a breeze!

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Brandon also helped me pin the pleated ruffle in place, so that we could make sure it hung at exactly the right point when the skirt was being worn.

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Basting, basting, basting…

Next came the velveteen appliqué shapes that go above the ruffle. I made a quick template out of paper, and cut out 18 shapes to fit around the entire skirt.

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There’s basically no such thing as too much contrast bias binding.

Placing and stitching the shapes:

I watched a lot of Bleak House while working on these appliqués!

You can see in the pictures above that the raw edges of both the ruffle and the appliqués are showing in the center, so I needed something to cover them up. I used a bias band of the blue taffeta with a row of brown piping along the top edge, where it will contrast with the blue velveteen.

If you’re interested, you can read more about making your own piping in my blog about making Luna Lovegood’s iconic pink coat, here.

I was able to machine stitch one side of this band to the skirt by sewing right in between the blue fabric and the brown piping so that the stitches disappeared into the seam between the two colors.

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The other side had to be hand finished (more Bleak House!).

Voilà! I’m very excited about how the embellishments turned out! They really look like my sketch, which is so satisfying! But in full color, it’s even better!

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The next step on this project will be the overskirt, and I’m salivating to see how it turns out, but it’s going to have to wait.

The North American Discworld Convention is happening at the top of September, and Brandon and I need costumes in which to celebrate both our first anniversary, and our favorite fictional universe. I’ll be taking a break from the Ravenclaw gown in order to work on our Adora Belle Dearheart and Moist Von Lipwig costumes, which will be inspired both by the book descriptions and by the fashions of the early 1890s. Can’t wait to show you progress on those! I both dread only having only 6 weeks to work on them (though both of us will be sewing), and think September can’t come soon enough!  (If you don’t know Discworld, go find some now! Your life can only be improved by Terry Pratchett’s hilarious satirical look at life, the universe, and everything.)