V185: The Polonaise Jacket of Doom and Hell

Du…Du Hast…Du Hast Mich

You know those projects that just don’t want to be made, and give you trouble all the way through to the violent end?

This is one of those.

It started with the waist of my pattern being too short (a common problem for me), so I thought, stupidly, that I’d drop the shoulders to fix the waist.  When I did that, it made the armscyes too large, which in turn resulted in the sleeve heads being too shallow, and the shoulder straps pulling off the shoulders.


Hours of work unpicked, shoulders came back up, sleeve (only one) went on over mannequin arms like I should’ve don in the first place, but the waist is still two inches too short!

Put those sleeves on the right way, Noob!

The real culprit here, besides my complete lack of good draping skills, is my dress form.  In reading “Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1500-1800” as well as “Couture Sewing Techniques,” it is very clear how important an accurate dress form is *before* building the costume or gown atop it.

So while Franken-Lilly, in her second incarnation, was better than any other form I’ve tried to use before, she needed more adjustment.  I used the measurement guide in “Period Costume for Stage & Screen” to once and for all accurately measure my body in stays – more than just bust/waist/hip, these measurements include nape-to-waist, underbust, high hip, shoulder width, etc.

Out came the hand saw, and off came more of Lilly.  She needed to come down to less than my corseted measurements, to then be wrapped in batting, and able to achieve the right measurements and shape.

I also added on an invention of my brilliant mother’s – Bean Boobs.

Bean Boobs in stays. 

Bean Boobs are THE BEST THINGS EVER – they are knee-high stockings filled with lentils, pinned onto the chest of the dress form.  The brilliant thing about them is that they conform, move, and shift very closely to the way real boobs do, so when you are lifting and squishing boobage with stays, you can now accurately represent that.  IT WORKS.

With the Bean Boobs in place, I measured down the 13″ in front, and the 15.5″ in back from my measurements chart, and marked the waist with a chalk pen, then placed the waist of my stays there, knowing it was the correct length of waist.

Now I have no excuse to fail so epically at draping anymore!

As for the jacket, I think there is hope – I can lower the waist seams in back down the 2″ they need by taking the pleats in, and readjusting where they flare open.  The sleeves also need some adjustment – there is too much volume under the arm.

I don’t expect it will go any more easily, though!  Lose some battles I may, but I’ll win the War of the Polonaise Jacket!!


  • Anonymous

    July 3, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    I am waging a similar war with a miniature sack gown, so I feel your pain. It's for a 22 inch Asian ball-jointed doll, and if I can finish it decently, it will be sold. The fabric is a little heavier than is wise, I had problems with the pleats in back, and I'm going to remove a ruffle from the front of the petticoat and re-do the pleats. Lotta "re's" there. Going to go out and set the sleeves now. At least the wearer can also serve as the dress form, so I needn't make bean boobs.

  • Missy Hayes

    July 3, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    Bean Boobs = WIN. So ingenious! Your mother is one smart cookie.

    Your jacket, despite it's many woes, looks amazing so far, especially how well you matched the pattern on the back. Can't wait to see it finished!


  • Jenny

    July 4, 2012 at 1:43 AM

    I still want to be you when I grow up. Your processes and photos and posts are so inspirational. I can't wait to see how it turns out! I know it will be beautiful, as everything you make is! 🙂

  • Lizzardtears

    July 4, 2012 at 3:09 AM

    how do you determine where the best place to lengthen the waist when the pattern doesn‘t tell you? do you just make it up and hopes it works? I have the same problem with my torso being too long.

    the bean boobs are a great idea! I’m going to have to share that one with fellow sewers for sure. dress form boobs just don’t do what they need to for proper fittings.

    good luck with the jacket, it does look good so far. I love the way you matched up the flowers .

    • Lauren Stowell

      July 4, 2012 at 4:37 AM

      Lizzard, I think the proper way to do it is to slash the pattern horizontally between the underbust and waist, and move it down, although I usually end up adding to the pattern waist, then tailoring out any excess. In general it's a pain having a long waist, right!?

    • KittyKatt

      July 6, 2012 at 2:10 AM

      There is a wealth of learning to be had from studying commercial patterns, despite their "one size fits most" sloper menatality. Also, there are some great books on altering patterns out there, I know that Nancy Zeiman was a favorite author for awhile, and this book: http://www.palmerpletsch.com/store/index.htm is really good.

      I like the Palmer-Pletsch book because it tells you to take a pattern that is drafted for lots of bodies and wrestle with it to make it fit yours.

      I made a similar mistake altering bodices some time ago for a fantasy Renaissance wedding (hence why I know about the book). I'm not a genius at draping, but I can alter an existing pattern pretty well – thanks to my, er, education with doing wedding sewing. :/

      Hope you have a much smoother time of it ahead, and don't be afraid to cast a question out there to the blog if you get stuck, though watching you explain what you did wrong and why it doesn't work may be really useful for some less experienced sewers.



  • Kleidung um 1800

    July 4, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    Sorry to hear about all the problems you have with your Polonaise – the fabric looks beautiful and I love your progress on the jacket! A big "Hurrah" for not giving up…usually when the project is finally finished it's these parts/troubles that have taught us a lot and bend the learning curve upwards a great deal 🙂
    And the "bean boobs" (I first thought it to be lentils – lol) are such a gorgeous idea!!!


    • Anonymous

      July 4, 2012 at 7:31 PM

      DuchieMom here – They are lentils. While creating them, I kept humming that line from a song in Funny Girl: 'when a girl's incidentals are no bigger than two lentils…."

  • Susan

    July 4, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Hi Lauren-
    Your posts always make me smile (because we've all been there too!) Thanks for sharing!

    PS- sent some NPS business your way! Hope it works out!

  • Artemisia Moltabocca

    July 4, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    I had to make a new cover for my Uniquely You dressform for the same reasons. I also chopped off Camilla's (dressform!) boobs completely off. I was going to add them back when I needed to, but now I'm throwing them away and making bean boobs! Thanks for another great idea. 🙂

    • Lauren Stowell

      July 5, 2012 at 12:36 AM

      I admit I gave up with my Uniquely You – gave so much trouble, in the shoulder area, oddly enough, but also with the boobage. She has a new home now 🙂

  • Anonymous

    July 4, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Trudy Victorian will get a set of bean boobs! She is almost the right size but she is lacking in the shiftablility of the boobage. So a fitted bodice looks ok on her but as soon as I put myself into it and my corset the squishy bits do dumb things to the opening. It is like the girls are trying to escape! Your mom is brilliant! Trudy may get a bean pot belly to. She lacks the bit that squishes out underneith the corset. It is usually not a fitting factor because the skirt flare takes care of that, but if I ever make something more fitted…..

    • Lauren Stowell

      July 5, 2012 at 12:36 AM

      I imagine you could use bean "objects" all around the body, anywhere that needs squish and shift. Or batting, though it doesn't react in the same way in the boob area.

  • Anonymous

    July 4, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    Ooh, I love the idea of the bean boobs! I bet they'd work wonders on non-corseted looks as well, especially with fabrics like satin etc. that easily pull very differently on a person than a dress form…

  • Anonymous

    July 5, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Matilda has a towel around her shoulders to lengthen the center back. Unfortunately, Matilda and I are no longer the same size–she hasn't got the meno-pudge. I keep thinking of making myself a sort of cat-suit and then putting it on her, stuffing the difference between her shape and mine with batting. May have to use bean boobs, too. Love the idea. –Karen

  • Kiyotea

    July 6, 2012 at 1:46 AM

    Where in the world did you get that fabric?
    I want some, even though I don't have any uses for it… yet!
    Anyways, GREAT idea witht the bean boobs, and when I get/make a dress form I'll have to get/make it squishable (anyone know if a duct tape double squishes?) to fit it in stays/corsets, and add your mom's genious idea so that I can do fittings without help!

  • Anonymous

    July 7, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    couldn't believe it when I read this! have just gone through all the same problems right down to the excess underarm fabric, sleeves on wrong way, short waist etc etc etc! I feel your pain! The the bean boobs! Brilliant! have struggled so much with unmoveable boobs when the frocks are meant for moveable ones and make absolutely no allowances for anything other than a flat waist to bust front. My solution was to make stays and stuff a cushion down the front of my smallest dummy – but I'm off to buy beans right now!
    ;ove your blog!

  • Anonymous

    July 8, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    BeckyK here, I am just about to start on my first 18th century gown and reading here has been a GREAT education!! Bean boobs! Genius 🙂 I'm self taught, so things like draping aren't in my skill set….yet. My current dillema is how to make nine yrds of 43-44" patterned fabric into either a robe a l'langlaise (probably polonaise) or an "open" robe…. I'm still deciding on patterns too so I would be grateful for advice and suggestions!!

  • Unknown

    August 29, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    OMG!!! bean boobs!!! that is amazing! i am kinda chesty and nothing ever fits my dressforms the way it fits me, no matter how much i alter the form. I laughed out loud at bean boobs, but i am sooo making them. On another note, the jacket is so pretty, i cant wait to see it finished. Do you think you will have it done for Williamsburg? was that the plan?

  • Anonymous

    January 28, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    Very late to the party; I've recently discovered your blog and have wondered what the deal was with the nylons around your dressform's neck. Brilliant! Did you have to somehow measure to get the volume right? Or does that not matter so much because any excess just squishes away?

  • Ilse Gregoor Costume Design

    November 21, 2017 at 5:18 PM

    Bean Boobs! As a lady with an average sized figure but big boobs, I have never been able to work well with tailor dummies, because I can never pad them quite right to fit my figure. Tomorrow, when the supermarket opens, I'm running there asap to buy a bag of lentils! this is brilliant!

    oh, and good luck with the rest of the jacket of course. I have to many of those projects I just want to throw in the bin… But the jacket is gorgeous already, so I hope you get it the way you want it to!

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