Thursday, November 7, 2019

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A Spoopy Day in Virginia City, Nevada

The Spoop-Crew in Virginia City, NV. No actual buckets of blood were consumed, but we thought about it....
Several weekends ago a group of friends came to visit us here in Reno.

We all decided to invade Virginia City, our local mining-old-west-tourist town, with the general costume theme of "spoopy" (a meme-generated misspelling of "spooky").

We had bustles, Edwardians, 1920s, 1930s, punk rock Victorians, Camille Clifford, time witches, and a whole lotta fun exploring the town. Here are a few photos...

Photos are by...
Nicole - @silk_and_buckram
Chrissy - @thelacedangel
Lauren M - @madamedestroyer
Vivien - @freshfrippery
(and me)

Vivien, Abby, and Nicole chillin' on C Street, looking fab. Photo by Christina.

Nicole made a new Edwardian suit for the occasion, from a stunning figured russet silk and vintage black lace trim. Photo by Vivien

Samantha in 1920s velvet - photo by Vivien

Vivien rocks her "Crimson Peak" historical cosplay, complete with creepy and fabulous clasped-hands belt.

Some of the creepy crew - Sam, Amanda, and Lauren M. pose in the very haunted Virginia City graveyard.

Bustlin' - photo by Lauren Moyer

The American Duchess girl gang - me, Abby, Nicole, and Chrissy - photo by Vivien

Victorian rockstar Chrissy in Madame X paired with the most adorable late Victorian jacket made by Nicole, and rocking some seriously (19)80s vibes. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

We had great weather for the day, and a beautiful high desert setting.

Abby and me disrespecting the dead. Photo by Vivien.

Sam representing the "younger" end of our historical spectrum in 1920s. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

Sam, Amanda, Nicole, Abby, and Adrienne rendezvous on the Virginia City boardwalk. Photo by Lauren Moyer. 

We rode the "short train" to Gold Hill and back, with a little history lesson about the silver and gold mining. Photo by Lauren Moyer.

Witchy vibes - Lauren M. in one of the well creepy doorways of Virginia City, NV.

Chrissy turning heads at local spoopy bar Death & Taxes - photo by Nicole.

I pulled out my 1880s wool and velvet bustle gown, a perfect choice for the very temperate weather and dirty venue. This gown isn't perfect, and it's undergone one size alteration already, but I really like it and enjoy wearing it, despite the weight.

My wool and velveteen 1880s gown with linen plastron and whitework jabot. I love this dress - it has tassels! My hat was made by Liza M. and I've got Renoir Victorian Button Boots for my shoes. I actually wore the wrong corset this day so my bodice didn't fit quite as it should've - ah well!

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Friday, November 1, 2019

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Altering My 1860s Evening Gown

Currently on my sewing table is a "simple" alteration to my one-and-only 1860s evening gown. I made this gown, along with a matching day bodice, back in 2014 and over the years it's mysteriously shrunk in the closet.

A quick try on to see if letting this bodice out would even be possible...
With the Nevada Statehood Ball coming up, it was time to pull the old girl out and inspect for possibilities of alteration. I usually have little to no hope of this because Past Lauren is notorious for making bad decisions like trimming seam allowances too closely, cutting open darts, and making things with too-little fabric.

Aw Yissss, look at those BIG HONKIN' SEAM ALLOWANCES! Note to future self: more of this, pls.
But this time, for whatever reason, Past Lauren actually left some big-honkin' seam allowance on the side seams! MIRACLE!

Trying the gown on, I needed to make these adjustments:
  • Move the hook/bar on the skirt waist to let it out
  • Let the bodice side seams out to gain a total of about 1.75 inches (crikey)
  • Remove the bertha and take tucks in the neckline of the bodice front and back to bring the shoulder straps up onto the shoulders more.
  • Re-make the sleeve puffs for the larger armscyes and set them in again.
  • Re-shape the bertha and tack it back onto the bodice.
  • Replace all the hooks and bars linking skirt and bodice.
I opened up the side seams and re-set them on my dress form, with a final check on my body before sewing.

We took some pretty hefty tucks on the front and back neckline to bring the straps further up onto the shoulders.

The biggest "domino effect" part of this project was having to completely disassemble and re-shape the bertha. I re-used as much of the previous bertha's material as possible, but also got dang lucky in finding a small bag of purple silk scraps to piece together more bias from.
My hoop also needed help, greatly. Chrissy, queen of costume engineering, improved it 1000% adjusting each hoop, but part of the problem is that I used a combo of scavenged hoop steel and giant zip ties, and it's all just wackadoodle due to different 'spring' strengths. My bottom hoop is not big enough and my top hoop was *too* big. I ordered some proper hoop steel and re-stuffed each channel, including discovering an empty channel at the hem and correcting that with its own, fresh new hoop.
Before silhouette adjustment - it wasn't bad but it wasn't great.
Additionally, I crafted a new Ugly Puffer - longer and flatter in front, which helped bulk out the middle section of the silhouette nicely. The truth is that I really need a different/new/proper elliptical hoop entirely, but with precious little time I just Tim Gunn'd this one and it worked well enough for the evening.

Hoop, bum pad, Ugly Puffer, and petticoat fluffed out the elliptical silhouette. I find this silhouette tricky.
While I have a lot of small-ish tasks to do, it feels great to be able to wear something again. I did not sell this gown in my great moving-house purge, even though I knew I'd probably never fit it again. I am pleasantly surprised and very happy to find that's not true and it shall have more life. Making new things is fun and challenging, but re-using, updating, and remodeling old things is satisfying, responsible, and historically accurate too. <3

Final try-on of the re-fit gown before the even night. All systems go!
Photos from the Nevada Statehood Ball are coming soon!

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Adventures in England - Nature, Painting, and Fashion

Hadiran's Wall, UK
Chris and I have recently returned from a vacation in Cumbria, UK, visiting the famously gorgeous Lake District.

We rented an airbnb cottage for the entire length of our trip. It was a converted byre of a 17th century farmhouse set off the beaten track.

Wood Farm Cottage, a lovely AirBnB
Most of the days were spent walking in the countryside. We visited Hadrian's Wall, climbed up Gummer's How for an incredible view of Lake Windermere, and ambled around Aira Force taking in the natural spaces.

A chunk of Hadrian's Wall

Painting atop Gummer's How with a view of Lake Windermere

A Gummer's How Cow - omg they were so cute!
I took mostly tweeds with me and put them to good use. I bought a few choice pieces from Walker Slater earlier this year and have been waiting oh-so-patiently for colder weather. It also rained several days, and my 1940s style raincoat was put to good use.

Walker Slater waistcoat and trousers, thrifted shirt, and Royal Vintage "Rosie" boots.
The whole of the Lake District is peppered with painfully quaint and beautiful cottages, pubs, and farmhouses, but there are also grand hotels and former estate mansions too, many of which were best-admired from the decks of the many historic steamers and ferries still operating. We rode the 1930s steam launch Teal between Bowness and Ambleside and down to Lakeside a couple times, but my favorite trip was on the tiny private 1902 steamer Osprey, which launched from the Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats and tootled around islands and far shorelines, quietly puttering along under coal power with its original 1901 two-piston engine.

1901 Steam "Osprey."

Tootling around on "Osprey." It was peaceful and lovely.
My favorite historic house visit was to the Blackwell Arts & Crafts House, a truly gorgeous 1901 manse on the shores of Windermere, full of that wonderful Arts & Crafts aesthetic. There were huge open medieval-inspired fireplaces, hand-painted wall coverings, carved woodwork, stained glass and idyllic window seats. It was peaceful and beautiful on a rainy day. I could've stayed there all day.

The bridge house in Ambleside - the original tiny house built in the 16th century on a former bridge.

Backstreet doodle in Bowness...this must've been a pub.

Rainy-day car painting of a typical Cumbrian farm.
All in all it was a wonderful off-season trip to a beautiful place. I did a few paintings, but I could've drawn and painted 12 hours a day and not captured the scope and detail of the beautiful little villages and rawness of the landscape. Guess that means we'll have to go back!

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Thursday, October 3, 2019


I Made a Vintage Style Raincoat...Somehow

I live in the desert.

We get, oh, a handful of days of novelty rain per year  and so a raincoat is not something that regularly factors into my wardrobe.

So it is conundrum when I go to those strange, alien-like lands where rain is common and plentiful. Now, before I start this off, I need to say that, yes, I did have a raincoat before I decided to make this one in 3 days, but it had some issues. 1. It had no hood, ffs, and 2. It only came down to high-thigh level. I've searched at length for a vintage-style raincoat that is a longer length, has a hood, and is truly waterproof without being made of shiny PVC. Nothing checked all my boxes (and I'm first to admit I'm picky and usually disappointed with 83% of clothing I buy from elsewhere), so I decided to make my own.

Enough with the prattle, on with the project ...

My chosen pattern and the fabric, a gore-tex-like semi-breathable and very waterproof fabric.
I used Hollywood 1777, a 1940s "coat-dress" pattern. It seemed simple enough but in hindsight I recommend a pattern without a waist seam...something big and tent-like. I didn't follow the pattern exactly: I added in-seam pockets and the ever important hood, which I traced off a regular knit hoodie and added a fish-shaped gusset.

I traced off the hood shapes from a hoodie. I was worried about the hood being too small/close, so I added an extra gusset into the center seam, which gave plenty of extra space.

Here you can see the gusset - its wide at the front and tapers to a point at the back/neck edge, so no extra length had to be dealt with when setting this to the neckline of the coat.
My raincoat is made of a "Gore-Tex-Like" fabric, plain-weave rayon for the lining, and almost all of the seams are taped with heat-adhesive waterproofing tape. The gore-tex-like fabric is lightweight, matte in finish, breathable, and epicly waterproof, and it was available at my local Mill End shop, along with the seam tape. The rayon came from Nicole, who is herself a magical genie with all the best fabrics and somehow willing to part with some of this.

Goretex with rayon bemberg (plain weave) lining, which was breathable and comfortable. I originally got cotton for the lining but we all decided it would be too "sticky" when trying to put the coat on over other clothes.
The finished coat front with the extension, snaps, and belt.

I added width to the side seams of the pattern to adjust for my measurements and ease, which probably would've worked fine for a dress, but for an overcoat it all came up a bit small. I ended up adding two rather wide pieces to the front to create enough of an over-and-underlap to keep water out and to be able to easily close the coat. This worked fine but I didn't do a great job in the finishing (shhh...just don't look at the hem...eeeee).

Clipping under the seam allowances in progress, which is when I decided I'd need front extensions for this to fit loosely like an overcoat and not snug like a dress.
I constructed the outer shell first, taping every seam as I went. I trimmed, pressed, and adhered the tape over each seam using no steam and a press cloth. I originally bought 10 yards of the seam tape but had to go back for more. It's amazing how much length is in the seams of what appears a basic pattern!

Here you can see the seam tape applied. So the seam allowance is trimmed, pressed open, and the tape heat-adhered over the top. You have to do the tape at every step not after it's all done.

The tape isn't pretty and it kindof feels like "oh my gosh, this is going to look all puckery on the outside," but the goretex is weirdly forgiving. Just get that tape on there. The armscyes were the biggest pain in the tookus - everything else was pretty straightforward.
I had some problem-solving to do with the edges. The idea is that everywhere there is stitching water can enter, which makes cuffs, front edges, and hems particularly tricky.

For the sleeve cuffs, I sewed the lining and outer fabric right sides together at the cuff, opened it out and taped the seam, then pulled the lining up into the sleeve, hand-stitching the armscyes of the lining in the tailor's method.

Once the outer shell was constructed, I bag lined it around all edges save the hem - here you can see it all inside out with the facings and lining ready to stitch on along the front and neck edges.
I ended up not taping the hem. I figured that it was way down there and not at high risk for water ingress, so I just serged the edge, turned it up, and top stitched it. The lining at the hem gave me the most trouble and it's not really level. I hemmed it by machine and tacked it to the main seam allowances of the outer fabric with loose-ish thread loops, which mimics the seam finish used on my London Fog rain jacket but not done nearly as well.

A bit of luck - may hood came out great! The dress pattern is collarless and I sortof wing-and-a-prayer'd the hood onto the neck edge and was pleased to find it came out perfectly. It's my favorite part of the coat.

OMG it worked!
For the closures, I opted for snaps instead of buttons and buttonholes. My buttonhole attachment on my machine is dodgy at best and I didn't want to ruin the hard work and good luck I'd had in making this thing. I'm pleased to say the snaps work great and it's very quick and easy to get the coat on and off.

I was warm, dry, and fashionable on the days it rained. I could also sit down on the damp benches of the historic ferries and steamers when everybody else fled inside because I was the only one with a raincoat long enough to cover my derriere (lol).
So the verdict? Does it actually work in the rain? Yes! I'm writing to you from the UK, where it rained all day and I stayed nice and dry.

Have you been thinking of making your own raincoat? Here are my tips for success:
  • Fabric choice is important. There are lots of waterproof fabrics, but not all are breathable; some are a bear to sew and require special presser feet, and some shred in the seams. I highly recommend Gore-tex (or in my case, off-brand gore-tex) and it was a pleasure to sew and is wonderfully waterproof. For lining, rayon is the standard. Cotton is too "sticky," silk is very warm. A slippy polyester isn't a bad idea but it won't be as breathable.
  • Tape those seams! The curves seams are trickiest, but otherwise it was no big deal and does not add noticeable stiffness to the finished garment. I have no idea what brand my tape was, but Goretex seam repair tape is available on Amazon.
  • Choose a simple pattern. My pattern had way more seams, and way more work, than it needed. A 1940s straight-cut coat would be perfect, or a 1950s swing coat. Nice, long, straight, simple seams. Belt these and you're good to go. Insta-vintage, easy-to-make.
  • No pins! Pins leave holes, which means water can get in. Instead, I used Wonder Clips and they worked perfectly.
  • Account for ease. Make sure there's enough ease so you can get your coat on over your clothes. 
  • No hood? No problem. There are tons of free diagrams and patterns online for hoods of various shapes and sizes. It's easy to add a hood in lieu of a collar, though there are also designs that have hood+collar combos. A little trickier, but doable.
  • Study how professionally-made raincoats are finished, particularly around the hems. Try to reproduce these finishes.
  • Consider pockets. I felt the patch pockets included with my 1940s pattern weren't a good choice for a raincoat because their openings face upwards and they could fill with water. In re-considering, next time I would do a tilted patch pocket or a shaped in-seam pocket.
mission accomplished - 1940s style raincoat made, worn, loved.

Have courage! You can do this! Heck, I did it in 3 days with zero idea of what I was doing, which means you can definitely kick ass making your own raincoat. Grab a pattern, order some materials, and get stitching, and be ready for everyone to covet your fashionable new rain slicker and ask you where you got it. <3

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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The Isabella Mactavish Fraser Project - Day 2

Georgia Gough wearing the finished Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown and arisaid - Edinburgh, Scotland
I'm back with the second day reporting from the Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding-gown-in-a-weekend project, a wonderful demonstration we did with Timesmith Dressmaking at National Museum of Scotland June 29 - 30, 2019.

Bright and early on the second day, Abby starts to fit the gown back and bodice fronts on Georgia.
When we left off, the team had come up a bit short with our day 1 time-target, so first thing in the morning on day 2, we set to fitting the gown on Georgia.

The fitting was done over all of Georgia's underpinnings - shift, stays, bum pad, and petticoat. The pleated back was pinned to Georgia's stays, then the bodice fronts were pinned at the center front closure. Next, the shoulder straps were pinned to the back temporarily and the side back seams of the lining taken up and pinned for a good fit.

The gown front pieces pinned down the center front, ready for fitting through the side back seams to the back panel.

Fiddling with the shoulder straps and back - tricky!
Also during the first fitting, we took the opportunity to fit the sleeves. The Isabella dress has very interesting sleeve construction, with extensions, overfitting, and on-the-fly corrections that we tried to recreate in our dress too. To do this, we purposefully made Georgia's sleeves very tight when her arms were straight, so much so that she could not comfortably bend her arms. The sleeves came off, were stitched, and the cuffs and correction done later on...

A quick fitting of the sleeves on Georgia and our opportunity to purposefully overfit them at them elbows, just like the original gown (although it wasn't on purpose back then!)

Taking in the sleeve seam. This seam was lapped from the outside, so it was quite easy to adjust it.
With the bodice side back seams in the lining stitched, Abby made "the scary cut" of the back skirts where the excess fabric is pleated towards the center back. Also at this point, the lacing strips of the bodice were stitched in, the skirt panels sewn on, and the tartan of the bodice fronts turned and stitched down from the outside along the side back seams.

Abby makes the Scary Cut on the back panel, where the skirts will be pleated into the back. This is a "make or break" moment for all pleated back gowns!

This cut is so scary because if it's too short or too long, the waist won't sit in the right place. It also creates a weak point in the fabric that can tear easily if not handled delicately before being stitched and finished.

Coming together - with the bodice fronts and back fit on Georgia, the gown comes off the body and the pieces are sewn together.
Now is when we kicked it into higher gear, pleating up the skirt panels by eye, basting them, and preparing for the second fitting. The second fitting with Georgia determined how much to fold over at the top of the skirts to level the hem, the placement of the shoulder straps (and subsequently the waist), and the sleeve.

With skirt panels all joined, the skirt is pleated towards the back on both sides.

...but before the pleated skirt is sewn onto the bodice, we needed another fitting! The gown went back on Georgia and we leveled the hem of the skirt by marking and turning down the top of the pleated skirt panels.

Now the gown nears completion. The sleeves are set on the body, the shoulder straps pinned in place for stitching later, and the skirt is turned over at the top.
At this point we ran into *challenges,* not unexpected. As all human bodies are different, Georgia's shoulders were quite a bit wider than Isabella's, so we could not accurately replicate the back of the original gown. The sleeves were set on in a more familiar though no less accurate-to-the-original way, but it is one of the major compromises we had to make with our version of this dress. Lastly, before the gown came off for the final stitching, we fit the cuffs and made the clip at the crook of the elbow to allow Georgia to bend her arms.

After the winged cuffs are placed, Abby makes the correction to the overfitted sleeves - a small snip at the crook of the elbow to allow Georgia to bend her arms. This is on the original and is in my opinion one of the most interesting parts of the story of this gown.
Final stitching was fast and furious. The bodice was back-stitched to the skirts right-sides-together through layers and layers of the thick tartan, causing bleeding and savaged fingers for Abby, Katie, and Peryn. The interior of the sleeves were roughly overcast, turned and hemmed down like the original, and the shoulder straps and outer back pleats were backstitched into submission.

All hands on deck - Katie and Abby backstitch the bodice to the skirts while Peryn, Alex, and myself discuss next steps. This is a difficult part of the project when under time constraint because there are only so many hands that can work on finishing the gown.

We all agree that the way this bodice and skirt was stitched together was.....not the most efficient or cleanest way.....but we recreated the operation as best we could. The skirt was pleated, turned down, whipped across the top, then the bodice was placed right sides together and backstitched through ALL layers.
In the end, we ran overtime by about an hour and the gown was truly barely finished. There are things about it that reflect a rushed construction (like the original!), but seeing the final gown come alive on Georgia was a treat.

Exhausted, hot, hungry, a little frustrated, but the gown got finished!

Georgia Gough modeling the *barely finished* Isabella Mactavish Fraser wedding gown late on Sunday evening at Greyfriar's in Edinburgh.

About 14 hours start to finish - the final gown worn by Georgia Gough at Greyfriar's Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland.
 The recreation is now in the care of Rebecca of Timesmith Dressmaking and will be used as an educational tool in the future.

Rebecca Olds with the final gown.
We were honored to work on this project and so very pleased that so many people came and stayed to see us bust this gown out. It was a hard slog, I'm not going to lie - the room was extremely hot, and we had atypical challenges with this gown that sucked the time away with alarming speed. While I don't recommend making a gown in a weekend, I hope that what can be learned from this exercise and the resulting piece will help other historic costumers learn more about this interesting, rare surviving tartan gown, and the role of mantua-makers in Scotland in the late 18th century.

Tired team! From left to right - Flora, Peryn, Katie, Rebecca, Lauren, Abby, Georgia, and Alex.

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