Sunday, May 29, 2011


Revolution Dress - Front Meets Back

Some more progress and problems on the Revolution Dress...
First, I was having trouble getting the front pieces to lay smoothly after I stiffened the silk with fused interlining.  Bugger.  I decided I needed more control, so cut the piece apart at the side, to create a side seam, to help stretch across the front.  It was a good decision, but it was still difficult.

You can see wrinkles on the front, UGH.  I sometimes wonder if this Quest For the Wrinkle-Free Bodice is all in it? I mean, has anybody actually achieved a totally wrinkle-free bodice? Please tell me how you did it if you have...

The back pleats look good, all sewn down with running stitches.  I did the back pleats wrong, but only became aware of that mistake after I'd sewn them all down by hand.  They're going to stay, as I'm on a deadline, but I know better for next time (p.s., special thanks to Abby and Hallie for setting me straight)

Up next is pleating the en fourreau part of the skirt (the piece that was all cut in one with the bodice back pleats) into the waist, then pleating up and adding the two additional skirt panels that will come around to the front.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Revolution Dress - Baby Got Back

Just a quick update on this gown I've been procrastinating on.

I cut it out, there's a start, and pinned up the en fourreau back pleating, using pgs 49 - 50 in Costume in Detail: Women's Dress 1730-1930 as a guide.

Image from Costume in Detail, page 49

Image from Costume in Detail, page 50
The next step is to hand stitch all of this down to its cotton lining, using a running top stitch.  Whether it's 9 stitches per inch, or more of the tacking stitch you often see with en fourreau backs, I have no decided yet.

I also tried the front and side back pieces combined, with no extra side seam.  With this method, you smooth the piece around to the back, turn under the raw edge, and top stitch it along the curved side back seam with a back stitch (by hand, of course).  I'm nervous about losing the control in fitting a side seam gives, but I want to at least try to try to historical methods, and the Williamsburg polonaise seen in Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790 uses this method.

Lots of pins, to see how things will lay and look.  Next is to sew all this stuff  for real-real.
Front looks nice and smooth, just pinned into position.  The strap will be handy in adjusting to length of waist, too.
Again, all pinned so it looks rumpled, but off to hand sew for the evening I go!
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vintage 12-in-12 and a Great Many New Old Patterns

Yesterday was a glorious day: I got my hands on 43 vintage dress patterns from the 1950s and early 60s.  All of them are fab, some more my style than others, and my plan is to make up all the ones that appeal, which is a great many, and sell the others on Etsy.

You can see all 43 patterns on my Facebook Page, "like" the page, then check out the "Vintage Pattern Collection" album.

I'm not going to post them all here, but just 12.  I thought it would be cool to do a 12-in-12 project (inspired by Wilhelmina's 12-in-12 costume project -LJ or blog), one of these vintage patterns each month, starting in June.  It'll go through May of 2012, unless I get lazy and don't stick to it, but then you can beat me with sticks.  Here are my choices:

June '11
I love both of these.  Fabric will be cotton or linen something, for summer.
July '11
View 1, maybe in stripe too.
August '11
View 2 for Summer, but I'm going to do this one again in View 1, in the future, it's just too cute.
September '11
Probably View 1, maybe in a lightweight wool.
October '11
View A for the fall, but I'll be back to do View B in the future.  This is one of my favorites.
November '11
View A with the white jacket, and I like the brown silk material for November.
December '11
Christmas Dress!  I have a gold brocade already, so it'll be some other brocade :-)  I like View 2 a lot, but View 1 is very sweet as well.
January '12
A coat for January, though this could be a dress too, depending on the material.  I'll make that decision in January, and depending on how cold I am :-)
February '12
I love the long lines on this dress.  I like the tweed in View A, too, but for February maybe something different.  Wool would be good, though.
March '12
Both the jacket and the skirt, and I love this color combo, or at least the plaid with a solid.
April '12
It'll be View A, the classic early 1960s dress.  Maybe in a dupioni...?

May '12
Party Dress!  I'm intrigued by View A, but it'll more likely be View B, and in a summer brocade I already have.

So that's the plan.  Some of these patterns are my size, but most of them are one size too small, which means I have a little alteration work to do to add the extra inches on.  I'm going to try to use as much fabric from my stash as possible - I have some nice brocades, and who knows what else - but I also want to take advantage of the wool section at my local weird fabric warehouse, for the Fall.  Yay, plans!!

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Friday, May 13, 2011


Making a Workable Dress Form - or - The Violent Transformation of Franken-Lilly

This is Lilly straight out of the box. 

Lilly is a dress display mannequin, as opposed to a dressmaker's form. She has a nice jersey cover over a molded, hard foam body. She has removable arms that can be posed. Her measurements are B34-W25-H35.

LIES. She has CRAZY boobs, and a weird square waist about 26" around.

The original idea with Lilly is that I could stuff some cotton batting around her waist to help achieve my waist circumference, but also length. This didn't work at all.

Lilly's problem is that she's just too busty. She's a 34" yeah, but not at all like MY 34". She also had some funny square-ish-ness to her waist. As you can see, the stays don't work on her.

Solution to Lilly's problems? A dress form masectomy.

These are actually more common than it may seem, and often happens to Uniquely You dress forms. In Lilly's case, I was able to pull down the jersey cover and saw away her body with a sheetrock knife. A large bastard file and some rough-grit sandpaper helped smooth things out.

Here's Lilly in her new shape. I actually hacked off more of her chest after this photo, because my plan was to add the cotton batting over the waist and the chest, to make both areas squishable.

Other alterations to Lilly's bod - I brought the back in a bit to mimic my swaybackedness, and I narrowed the waist considerably, down to 23", to allow the stays to cinch in and achieve the correct waist.

Lilly doesn't look female at all anymore, in her naked form. Here she is with the batting wrapped around her middle and over her chest. The jersey cover has been pulled back up and reattached at the top, with the arm sockets screwed back into place.

At this point you may think I'm crazy, but just wait...

What a difference it makes, though. Lilly looks great in corsets of all periods now, and she not only has the right measurements - B33"-W26.5" - but the bust and waist are in the correct places.

I can now drape and fit things with confidence, knowing they won't come out short-waisted, as is always the case. One caveat about Lilly, though, is that she is purely for historical costuming, because she always has to wear underpinnings. Oh darn.

And finally Lilly is dressed. This is me playing with the pose-able arms, and they are a delight. The existence of shoulder caps makes a HUGE difference. I can't wait to correctly fit shoulder width and sleeve heads with Lilly's help.

This method will work for ANY mannequin form made out of high density "carvable" foam.  This is a hard foam that is very lightweight - the mannequins on this page are made from this foam, and finished with a nice jersey covering.  The prices are great, as well of the variety of arms, no arms, legs, miniature and plus sizes.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


On Wiglets and Hair Pieces, Part 1

I say "Part 1" because this is a work in progress.  I would also like to say up front that I am not a hair genius, in fact I suck really really badly at hair, which is probably why I don't have any of my own to speak of - I get frustrated and cut it all off.

That being said, I want to show you my most recent Big Hair Adventure, because I'm actually proud of it.

I was looking through old vintage photos and ads recently, and kept running across the most fabulous "Hair Fantasies" of the 1960s.  Ladies 50 years ago really knew how to sculpt their hair, and the height they achieved rivaled the hair hoppers of the 18th c. and then some.  How did they do it?  With the teasing comb and hairspray of course, but more importantly, with hair pieces.  Big ones.

These images are from The Hair Hall of Fame blog -
So I undertook to make a hair piece from a package of 18" human hair wefts I bought a little while ago.  The idea with the hair pieces is that it sits on top of the head, like a hat, and blends with your real hair, which takes a lot of fenagling and style trickery.

Click for notes
My first experiment with the piece proved quite front.  What you can't see is that there's absolutely nothing going on in the back, and I learned very quickly that I need MORE hair.  Another part of my problem, though, was the absence of rats.

Experiment #1 - looks good in front, but nothin' going on in back
Rats?  What's a rat.  Let me disperse the visions of rodentia living in your hair...a hair rat is an understructure for hair, commonly and historically created from wads of your own hair that you have brushed out and saved and rolled into these thick tube-like shapes.  For those of us who don't have any discarded hair to make rats out of, you can make them out of polyfill and old nylons, or net stockings.

FatRat with wig clips sew on both sides, to attach it securely to the wiglet cap, which is made of net.
A smaller, longer rat.
Don't be afraid of the rats, they are fantastic.  They are like the hoop skirts of hair, and they allow you to get the height and shape without wasting valuable hair by having to backcomb it into shape.  I created three rats of varying sizes - small, medium/long, and super-huge.  They should really be very close in color to the hair you are working with, so in my case I will need to paint/dye/something them.

The FatRat placed on the crown of the head.  There's a lot of hair pulled forward that will be smoothed over this rat
Look at the height you can get when the hair is pulled over the rat, and it can get higher and higher as you like
The rats in front allowed me to pull the hair up and over, for the pouf, and I then had more hair in back to work with.  In this case I curled the tendrils and let them fall down the back, but the plan is to create individual clip-on additions - more barrel curls, and the characteristic rolls - that can be added wherever needed to "fill" the space back there, and get the period look.

Late-night photos, no makeup, but look at the hair - my own hair is blended in to the front, over the poof
Blending is more difficult on the sides because I have so little there, but backcombing, smoothing, and spraying is the trick.
Tendrils down the back.  Adding some clip-on rolls will make a big difference, I think.
I do want to say one thing about all this wiggery - IT'S HARD.  At least it's really flippin' hard for me, and if it's hard for you too, know that you are not alone.  I foolishly thought this hair thing would come together easily, but it's a difficult skill that an entire industry of specialist studied and apprenticed for years to learn, just like shoemaking and staymaking.  The wigmistress who worked on The Duchess studied wigmaking for 2 years and has worked on countless productions to get to the level of wiggery she accomplished on that film!  Me?  I think I'll try the book Wig Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre & Film and practice, practice, practice!
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Friday, May 6, 2011

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Revolution Dress - About Those Stays

The Dreamstress asked me to share a little about the stays I've been working on.

Those extra grommets at the bottom are me messing up.  Ignore those, pls. :-)  I apologize for vague modern underwear sightings as well.
These stays are cut for the 1780s "prow front" fit, which means that the bust is pushed upwards, while the waist is pulled in.  This differs from earlier styles that are flatter in front and create a more conical shape.

All the undies on together.
The pattern has a major change in the shape of the front pattern piece.  Instead of a straight edge to meet the Side Front piece, it is quite curved.  This pulls the stomach in and creates a very curved front - you sometimes see this with German and Italian bodies of the 16th c., too.  Another change with the 1780s styles is the boning patterns.  Half-boned stays appear, but don't let the name fool you, there is quite a lot of hardware in the front of this thing - two layers with vertical stays (1/4"), another two layers at the top with horizontal stays (1/2"), all tucked neatly away under the lining.

Click for notes.
I chose to make my stays front and back lacing, so I can get into them myself, and adjust as needed.  While this breaks the line of horizontal boning that spans the chest, the support is really quite good.  Prior stays have been too short-waisted for me, which put them too low in front, and caused all kinds of weirdness, including muffin top, but with this pattern, I extended the strap tab quite a ways up, and ran one boning channel right up it, containing a 1/4" cable tie (not too stiff) - something like this is seen in the Diderot stays pattern.  It makes a huge difference in controlling side-boob.
Diderot Stays pattern, showing boned strap tab, and also the horizontal stays across the chest.
The ribbon straps I have no documentation for.  I simply made them up, the reason being so the strap tabs in front would be pulled in close to the body instead of sticking out, because they contain that one channel of boning.  I also despise straps that manage to *always* show underneath the necklines of gowns, and since I like low and wide-cut necklines, I opted for something discreet and that could be easily removed.

What's historically accurate?  the patterning, the boning pattern, the resulting shape of the torso
What's not historically accurate? the metal grommets, my undocumented ribbon straps, my boning materials, the bias-cut binding, and my method.

Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques  (pgs 10-25, the 18th c. stays patterns)
Costume in Detail: 1730-1930 (pg 44)
Diary of a Mantua Maker : Stays Sketches
The Diderot Stays Pattern
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