Thursday, October 23, 2014

Female Hobbit Costume: Skirt


This skirt began with confidence. "Sewing skirts is easy," I thought, "you just sew up some rectangles, and a waistband and closure, ta-da!"

That is, skirts like this are easy when they fasten with a zipper or buttons; an entire elastic waistband in a casing is about as easy as it gets. This front waistband of this skirt was to be a flat, normal waistband, but the back was to be elastic in a casing. I spent several days flip-flopping between different methods and theories of construction, at one point praising the feasibility of this style and at another agonizing over a possibly horrid waistband. I even took photos of this skirt at every step during construction to create a tutorial, but now the photos are more like a cautionary tale.

The Female Hobbit Costume Skirt is made of 2 yards of fabric stitched into a tube and hemmed. All of the raw inside edges are pinked. This was my first attempt at an inseam pocket, which I self-drafted and sewed without issue.

The top edge is gathered. I used front waist and back waist measurements, as our bodies are not symmetrical and tummies tend to stick out more than backs. The front half of the waistband correlates to the front waist measurement; the interfacing is catchstitched since I didn't have iron-on interfacing. The back half of the waistband is larger to accommodate the elastic. The total waistband circumference is the bust measurement and the skirt is meant to be slipped on over the bust.

Using the elastic casing method for this skirt wouldn't work because the seam allowances kept getting in the way and the non-roll elastic rolled so easily that just getting it through a few inches of waistband had it curled to such a degree as to be nonfunctional. I ended up using a zig-zag stitch to secure the elastic to the outer waistband. The hardest part then became stitching the rest of the waistband over the elastic. Stitching in the ditch and topstitching, both valiant efforts on my part, didn't work and the stitches had a hard time getting the waistband without getting the elastic.




The end result is, in my opinion, messy. Add in the fact that this elastic easily stretched out and became several inches too big for my client after a day of wear...I decided to take out the waistband, make the entire thing a flat, interfaced, normal waistband with either a zipper or button closure.

Do you normally fasten costume skirts with zippers or button closures? Have there ever been moments when your best-intended sewing plans completely fell through?

Museum Mystery Boxes: 1867 Black Silk Mourning Gown

This was the most stunning and surprising find of the antique goodies I found packed away inconspicuously in the Kearny Museum's attic. Right there, on the shelf, was an unassuming cardboard box with a piece of notebook paper taped to it reading: "1867 Taffeta Gown."

*begin heavy breathing*

In a mad rush of adrenaline I removed the box from its dark corner of the attic and brought it into the museum. To my utter surprise, I found this inside:


This nearly 150-year-old gem had been rolled up and stuffed into that cardboard box!
Note: If you own an antique garment and wish to store it, lay it flat on a clean cotton sheet or a large piece of acid-free tissue paper. Lay pieces of tissue paper or cotton inside the garment to help support its shape and reduce stress on fragile areas. Cover the garment with tissue paper and another cotton sheet. Gently roll the garment (folds create points of stress that, especially in silk textiles, accelerate deterioration) and store it in a flat, wide acid-free archival quality box. 
Very carefully, I unrolled the gown and to my complete bewilderment the silk was intact, without the shredding and tears that would result from the points of stress created by folding a silk textile this way. This silk was strong and stiff, and I imagine it must've made an amazing rustling sound as it moved.

This 1867 Mourning Gown is made from black watered silk taffeta. The skirt and bodice are flatlined in brown polished cotton.

The owner (presumably) of this gown attempted an alteration job that was never completed. She unpicked the stitches holding the bodice to the waistband and skirt to the waistband, and unpicked the stitches of the front darts. Altering dresses like these isn't unusual; the material was costly and mourning dresses were worn for a year. It was likely that she gained some weight and needed the dress several years after she first used it.

Incomprehensible numbers on a twill tape label stitched to the neckline of the gown
Here you can see the skirt and bodice removed from the front half of the 1" wide waistband
The watered silk taffeta bodice has 2 darts on each side of the center front placket.

The dress fastens in the front with 9 buttonholes and a row of hooks and eyes. Most of the black velvet covered buttons have been removed or lost, but a few remain and the velvet is very worn through.

The sleeves armscyes are piped. The sleeves are very wide, full and bell-shaped. They appear to be lined in ivory muslin or cotton and are lined in dark blue silk, which has begun to shatter and deteriorate, especially near the wrist. The sleeves are decorated at the wrist with 2 narrow strips of bias-cut watered silk; these strips are arranged in an arching shape above the wrist.

The dress is accompanied by a delicate lace collar that was pinned to the neckline; this is an incorrect archival practice which could leave holes in the silk. Ladies of the time would have sewn these interchangeable lace collars to their gowns with quick, long basting stitches to make removing and replacing them for wash easier.




The skirt is free from decoration except for a thickly piped hem. The stark decorations of this gown strongly indicate its status as a mourning gown: mourning etiquette required that dress trimmings were limited to fabric decoration during the first few months of mourning, known as "full mourning." Later, lighter colors and softer trimmings could be introduced.

This 1867 gown doesn't fit the mourning mold in several ways, however. Neither the dress or its sparse decorations are made of matte crepe material, but rather a shiny, eye-catching watered silk taffeta. I wonder if this dress was used as the woman's "Sunday best" after the period of mourning had ended...perhaps she was the widow of a Civil War soldier?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Strapless Sweetheart Lace-Up Bodice

Do you ever just become so inspired, so confident, and so needing of a project that you start it the night before you need it and work until 3 in the morning to try to finish it?

I do. Way too often!

So was the case with this strapless lace-up bodice. I was content in the outfit I had quickly thrown together to wear at the New York Renaissance Faire, until I remembered the first commercial sewing pattern I had ever used--McCall's 4107, which I used for my Alice in Wonderland costume!

I loved the simplicity of View A, a strapless bodice that laces up the side and back. The adjustability meant that I didn't have to waste time fiddling with fit.

However, the pattern seemed a bit odd in that the top edge of the bodice was really high, so high that it was uncomfortable under my arms. I wasn't crazy about the straight-across edge either, so I removed about an inch from the top edge and created a sweetheart neckline.

I made this out of leftover green damask (?) from the Italian Tarantella skirts. It is boned along the two front and each back piece seam, totaling 4 pieces of wimpy plastic boning. This was the boning layout suggested by the pattern but were I to make this again, I'd bone the center front, near all of the lacing, and keep the boning at the seam of each back piece.


I made hand-bound eyelets simply because I didn't have enough grommets on hand. My eyelets are pretty uneven and as soon as I buy several packs of metal grommets I'll rip out the eyelets.

Overall, creating this strapless sweetheart lace-up bodice was a great experience. I now have a very lovely and well-fitting sweetheart base that I could use to make a dress or even more iterations of this style.

If I do make this design again for the Ren Faire, I will sew it wrong sides together and then apply binding around the edge. I find this is a lovely detail creating visual contrast; it was also pretty difficult to clip all the curves and corners of this bodice before turning, so a bias bound edge would likely create a cleaner finish.

Do you think costumes for wear at a Renaissance Faire should have metal grommets or hand-bound eyelets?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

New York Renassaince Faire 2014

In early September I had plans to attend the New York Renaissance Faire. This would be a step up from last year's foray with the Fort Tryon Park Medieval Festival, and I was both excited to experience new things but dreading the 90 degree forecast!

What to wear, what to wear...of course the Filippo Lippi Medieval-ish Tunic was far too warm, and I would surely have gotten heatstroke wearing the Bronzino Gown.

Naturally, I began whipping up a bodice the day prior to the NYRF and worked on it until 3 a.m. and later in the car on the way to Tuxedo Park. I was unable to finish it in time but it was an honest attempt, and my back-up outfit wasn't so bad!

I wore my stand-by Italian Renaissance Camicia, 18th Century Petticoats, and one of the Italian Tarantella Bodices. I wore my Embroidered 18th Century Pockets (a great idea for carrying my water bottle--no way was I going to pay nearly $5 for water!), a vintage belt, and a vintage necklace (which I picked up at an estate sale for pennies). I tucked my brown petticoat into the waistband to break up the expanse of oatmeal brown.

Myself, the Faire's Maid Marion, and my friend who brought me to the Faire.
Wearing the Moresca Cleo bodice. Yes, it was beautifully designed and constructed, but for me, buying garb ruins the fun of creating your own!
Also, isn't nearly $200 a little much for something I'll only wear once a year?
Overall, the outfit was cute and practical. I can proudly say that I had the largest, fluffiest sleeves at the Faire! Yes, it was 90 degrees and extremely humid, and yes, I must wash the hideous sweatstains out of my camicia, but I am happy in knowing that even though I mixed 16th and 18th century pieces, I was still one of the most Renaissance-looking people at the Faire.

I understand that the Faire isn't the place for historical accuracy, and practicality is a major consideration (my petticoats were caked with mud after the Washer Woman Wenches show), but I don't think I can wear a knit top or worse--printed knit "bloomers" with synthetic lace! I think I looked "Film Historical," that is, not historically accurate but not out of place in a period production.

More pictures from the New York Renaissance Faire:

The Spanish dignitary. I loved the trim on his cape!
The Queen. And hey, they even got a redhead!
The Queen's Court. That striped gown had a MASSIVE bumpad!

Making a Traje Domingar and Exploring My Culture

Over the past year I have developed a steadily increasing interest in Portuguese folklore and specifically, regional costumes. If you follow my Pinterest, you've undoubtedly seen one of the several boards I have created to store nearly 1,000 photos, links, and bits of research.

For nearly 10 years I was a member of the Portuguese Cultural Association and its subsequent folkloric dancing groups, Sonhos de Portugal (Dreams of Portugal, the adult group) and Os Sonhos Continuam (The Dreams Continue, the children's group). Somewhere in my home must be pictures of me drowning in my oversized Traje de Lavradeira, but smiling and excited in my small part to keep tradition alive.

I admit that I wasn't a very good dancer, but I enjoyed dancing so much that it didn't matter. I left the group when I was in high school because of my homework load, but when I complete my undergraduate education I would like to return to the group.

Perhaps the allure is that now, I can make choices. I can choose to be involved, or not. I can choose what group to belong to, what traje (costume) to make (though I didn't choose my obsession over making the traje). And it has become an obsession: I lay restless at night unable to decide on on color or trim, agonizing over whether I will find the perfect apron.

The PCA's child group uses the Lavradeira outfit, a colorful and embroidered costume worn on feast and festival days. The adult dance group uses the Domingar outfit, an outfit without embroidery and with a linen skirt instead of handwoven wool. The Domingar outfit can be made in nearly every color, and its feasibility is what draws me to making it rather than purchasing it.

Traje Lavradeira from the 2013 Feiras Novas de Ponto Lima Celebration


Trajes Domingar via the Rancho Folclórico das Lavradeiras de Vila Franca
There will be elements of the Traje Domingar that I have to purchase--I am not a cobbler, so I must buy the leather slippers. I do not have a loom or the knowledge of using one, so I must buy the apron. I must also buy the crocheted socks and the matching headscarf. Seeing as the Traje Domingar comes in so many colors, I will first select a color and an apron and work around that.

But eventually (aka in several years when I hopefully have completed all of my languishing UFOs), I will make the bodice, skirt, petticoats, drawers, pocket and embroidered shirt and in so doing further explore my culture and its traditions and history.

Thus far, I have narrowed down possible color choices to dark red, dark green, dark blue, purple, brown, and possibly black. Black is a bit unconventional but I will explain in my next post why it might be the frontrunner! I think that once I make my first complete traje, I will be unable to resist making others in other colors.
via Rancho Folclorico Sonhos de Portugal

via Rancho Folclorico Sonhos de Portugal (I love the brown to the right)

via Rancho de Norwood
via Loja Do Folclore
Vintage postcard via Folk Costume & Embroidery

What color would you chose if you had a Traje Domingar of your own?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Female Hobbit Costume -- Chemise/Blouse


I've made some progress with my sewing commissions! For the Female Hobbit Costume, the customer wanted a light beige peasant-style shirt with short sleeves. I chose unbleached cotton muslin because of the "natural" look of the material, which my client specifically recommended.

I turned to my standby peasant chemise/blouse pattern, Butterick 6196, a Butterick "Making History" pattern which I used to make several Italian Tarantella Dancing Costumes.

I made the FHC chemise/blouse using the revised instructions in my post Butterick 6196 Pattern Hacks & Tips, except that I only used a french seam for the seam connecting the raglan sleeves to the front and back of the garment. I stitched and then serged the seam that runs from the wrist, to underarm, to torso, to shirt hem. Contrary to Butterick 6196's original instructions, I hemmed the sleeves before putting in the elastic, which is much easier and faster and produces a cleaner look. Instead of using single fold bias tape to create the elastic casing at the neckline, as per the original instructions, I just folded down the neckline and created a hem wide enough to accommodate the elastic.

Butterick 6196

I also shortened the sleeve considerably so that the elastic cuff would sit at my client's elbow. My pattern went up to a size 16; I added 1" to that size when cutting the material.

I wanted to try something new for the photos in this post! Since I have had success taking photos with a foamboard "studio" in the past, I decided to pin the chemise/blouse to the foamboard--my mannequin would just not have shown this blouse justice! Though the foamboard was expensive, it is a worthwhile investment and I recommend that you buy a few sheets, too.


This garment was really fun to sew, especially in such a well-behaved fabric like muslin (damn you polyester chiffon!). I highly recommend to anyone on the market for a Hobbit/Renaissance Faire/Peasant/Costume chemise/blouse to purchase this pattern because I honestly think it is the nicest chemise/blouse pattern the Big 3 have. One word of caution: DISREGARD THE PATTERN'S INSTRUCTIONS because they are completely wackadoo and will leave you with wonky seams, fraying edges and several migraines.

Do you have a favorite "tried and true" costume pattern?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 19th Century Drawers


Found among the treasures of the Kearny Museum's mystery boxes, these 19th century drawers were a pleasant surprise. There is a nightgown on display that matches the drawers, so they were likely once a set and perhaps the grape motif that decorates the embroidered trim signifies fertility, marriage, and union--making the nightgown and drawers part of a bride's wedding trousseau.

It was difficult to date the drawers; their long, straight, full legs lead me to believe that they are pre-Edwardian but as early as 1860. All seams have been made on a sewing machine and the lace is also machine-made. These are split-crotch drawers. They are gathered to a narrow waistband which fastens with an interesting purple button--it appears that the top layer of paint or lacquer or whatever has crumbled away.

These cotton drawers are decorate with 6 rows of 1/4 inch wide tucks and trimmed with 2 inch wide cotton scalloped lace that is machine-embroidered with a grape motif. I describe my process of patching a torn area of this lace here. These drawers are also decorated with an interesting vertical arrangement of 1 x 2 inch wide sections of floral-embroidered cotton and gathered lengths of cotton.


In terms of cleaniness, these drawers were in pretty bad shape. There were mysterious stains of nearly every shade of beige/brown splattered all over the drawers, and the entire garment had a dingy beige hue. Remember that this is the time before tampons...and I don't WANT to know what caused those stains (shiver!).


First, I soaked the drawers in cold water. After just a few minutes soaking, the water turned a very murky brown. Yuck! In total I gave the drawers 2 2-hour soaks and 1 4-hour soak; I wanted to let the water do as much of the work as possible before bringing in a light detergent.



Of course, just water isn't strong enough to dissolve all of those stains, but there is a noticeable improvement. Overall, the drawers are a lighter shade of beige, but still not white, like their matching nightgown. The darkest blotches have considerably lightened, too. On the left is the before, and to the right, after!


Have you ever encountered a nasty or mysterious stain on an antique garment?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Patching a Pair of 19th Century Drawers

These 19th century drawers were one of my Museum Mystery Box finds at the Kearny Museum. They are long and very full but straight-legged, which leads me to believe that they could be as early as the 1860's. There is a matching nightgown already on display, and these drawers will be added to that vignette.

First things first: the lace edging along the bottom of the legs, in a lovely grape motif, had an odd, squarish slice. It wasn't the kind of rip that occurs if the sturdy lace had caught on something; rather, it appeared that someone was trying to cut around a grape motif and didn't finish the job (thank goodness!). The cut lace was flopping down and had frayed badly over the years.


To remedy this, I decided to patch the cut using unbleached cotton muslin. Not only is unbleached cotton muslin an archival quality material, its texture and color is very similar to the beige cotton of the drawers. I made a little patch, securing the raw edges with blanket stitches. I pinned the patch to the lace and, using much care and very small stitches, sewed the lace down to the patch. By placing stitches very close to the floral, vine, and grape designs of the lace, I was able to camouflage the stitches in the design of the lace.


I'm very proud of the finished result. As you can see in the finished photos, including the first and last photo of this post (the leg of the drawers on the right side), the patch and tear are nearly invisible. On several occasions, I have attempted to show others the patch but am unable to find it after the first try!


My next post will discuss these drawers in greater detail, including their cleaning process.