Measure Twice: Preparing For Costume Creation

One day you’re surfing the internet, enjoying your favorite dress diaries, when BAM! it hits you. There on your screen is an image of a dress, a jacket, a bodice, that makes your salivatory glands gush with joy. Your heart flutters and you’re overcome with the overwhelming feelings of Costume Lust. You must have *insert garment here.* You MUST!

I was overcome by this phenomenon yesterday, as I mused about creating something new for an upcoming picnic in August. A quick assessment of my multi-century hot-weather day dress collection revealed that I am sorely lacking, and the idea that I could or would ever wear the same regency gown all summer long (and for a good portion of evening dance events) is simply dellusional.

My saliva-inducing garment was this 1790s jacket from the Kyoto Costume Institute (pictured above). It appeals in so many ways, from its red & white stripes, to the oversized pinked collar, to its appearance of casuality, which seems perfect for a summer Sunday picnic. Better yet, the jacket can be worn for Fall events as well, which sealed the deal in deciding to create it.

So what’s next? What exactly happens between the time you decide to make something and when you slice into the fashion fabric?

For me, it always begins with a sketch. This is not a perfectly rendered masterpiece, but a working drawing of how the garment will be constructed. Where are the seams? What will the pattern pieces look like? What is the overall shape, and where is the neckline and waistline? If I am confused about how to pattern, I turn to primary and secondary sources to see how other seamstresses have done similiar garments.

Once I’ve worked out exactly what I want, I get down to business – money and materials, that is. Fabric – rough yardage? what kind of materials (silk, cotton, linen, etc.)? where to get it, and how much will it cost? Notions – what are they (boning, grommets, buttons, etc.)? How much will they cost? And how many of these materials are already in my stash?

I make a list of absolutely everything I need for the entire ensemble, not just the jacket, and check off things I already have. Then I decide a dollar amount for each needed item, and note that down as well. For all you Depressionistas, this is a step not to be missed. For this ensemble, which includes the hat, skirt, and accessories, I’ve decided on a budget of $50.

At this point, it would be good to start patterning, or shopping for your patterns. I insist on doing my own patterning to save money, so I will be draping this jacket in the near future, and finalizing a paper pattern. At that point I’ll know exactly how much yardage I need.

In the meantime, I’ve been shopping fabrics all over the internet. Strangely enough, red and white striped cotton seems in short supply, so I’ve really had to look hard for the proper weight, stripe, and an acceptable price. So far I’ve found a nice-looking option at Fashion Fabrics club, for really not so much money. I know that this pattern will not require much yardage, so the $6.95 (+tax/shipping) doesn’t scare me. Before ordering, though, I plan to check my local fabric shops to see if any quilters cottons or half-off 4th of July prints pop out at me.

This jacket is my “I need a break from the owl” project. I only had two more costumes on the books for the rest of 2009, so I don’t feel I’m overloading myself, and it’ll be a nice addition to the wardrobe. Look for future posts!

Edit: Thanks to Leimomi, I didn’t order COMPLETELY WRONG FABRIC. I double-checked the description on the striped fabric I showed above, and the stripes are almost 2″ wide! OUCH! So the search continues….


  • The Dreamstress

    July 22, 2009 at 11:05 PM

    Oooooh…I like it! Very cute and casual and summery! And you should be able to make the skirt for it in a matter of hours! It's so interesting to see your working process – It's so different from mine! I've tried and tried to do the working sketches, and always end up dumping them because I make so many alterations as I sew. I think I am too visual and tactile and can't think seven steps ahead.

    I'm wondering if big red and white stripes might be a little overpowering for that jacket? Have you thought of red and white striped seersucker-ish fabric? There was a ton of it in fabric shops in NZ last summer (I bought it in blue and white and beige and white).

  • Lauren R

    July 22, 2009 at 11:16 PM

    Hey Leimomi – I do a lot of alterations as I go too, but I like to use the sketches as a jumping off point, with the understanding that things can and probably will change. I come from an art background, so it's a natural step for me, but that doesn't mean that everyone has to go by that method :-). I think part of perfecting your craft is finding the methods that work best for you. By the way, I picked up some techniques from some of your draping/patterning photos, so I'm looking forward to trying them out on this project. 🙂

    The Seersuckers I've had experience with have a slight texture to them and a little stretch, so I avoid them for period costuming projects. Are the stripes in that swatch wide, or is it just a close up pic? I want, like, 1/8" or 1/4" – I'll double check the description.

  • Dana Reeser

    July 23, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    I like the idea of seersucker. The "pucker" would add interest and a nice summery look, but it would be harder to carry into the fall. As for stretching, line it with a light cotton, maybe batiste, maybe old sheet – whatever the budget allows. Don't you already have something in red/white stripe? A darker color – maroon? chocolate? would transition into fall a little better, if that's a consideration.

  • Lauren

    July 24, 2009 at 7:29 PM

    I can't wait to see what you come up with. Have you tried looking at BR Exports online? They have some lovely striped silks and I did run across a striped red silk with very thin stripes.


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