Monday, December 23, 2013

In Progress: 1870s Bustle

This olive-green silk 1870s bustle gown at the Kearny History Museum was stuffed with newspaper (the only thing that cheered me up about this was that the newspaper was a rather kitschy spring wedding spread). I've been working on this bustle since I completed the Bronzino Gown, but school and a few technical errors impeded the timely completion of this piece.

This gown was displayed on a wicker dress form, just like the 1906 Wedding Gown!!

I made the bustle using Truly Victorian's 101 Petticoat with Wire Bustle. I purchased the pre-cut, pre-tipped boning from TV as well. The bustle is made from unbleached muslin and twill tape. I also flat-felled the side seams. I'm in the process of making the ruffled overlay.

This was my first time tackling flat steel bones and the Victorian silhouette, and I admit that I wasn't entirely successful. The hem tips upward in the back, and I realized after I inserted the bones that I was supposed to apply the twill tape bone casings to the outside of that upper back piece. Since the bone casings are on the inside, the bones threaten to stretch and poke through the muslin...I've done my best to soak the muslin around the tip of the bones in Fray-Check and that seems to have helped. There is also a strange concave depression between the horizontal bones, which I hope won't be as noticeable once the ruffled overlay is attached.

Not sure why the back hem of the bustle is tipping up like that.
The bustle is pleated to the waistband.
See what I mean about the bones trying to poke through the fabric?
Displaying the bustle on my dress form was a little tricky because my dress form's hips and waist are far too big. My hips are too big for it too, but the bustle fits my waist measurement!

Neat topstitching along the center front.
Very neat topstitching along the waistband as well, probably my only successful part of this garment.
It really does look quite comical on my dress form!
On my body, the horizontal concave depressions are even more noticeable...
Debating wether I should add a front closure or just pin it onto the dress form I'm carving for the gown...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to Sew on Buttons--Easy and Professional Finish

Granted, it took me years to understand why the buttons I was sewing were so sloppy...the threads weren't uniform and no matter how neat I tried to be, my re-sewn buttons couldn't compare to the factory-sewn buttons on the rest of my garment. Until I took a closer look and realized that I (and probably many others) were doing it all wrong!

In factories, buttons are attached with multiple threads in just one motion--like using embroidery thread (which is comprised of 6 threads). This way, the threaded needle doesn't have to keep going up, and down, and up, and down, etc. You just sew through the shank/holes (depending on type of button) once! Of course, this can be done with embroidery thread, but if that's not available you can use this tutorial to simulate that look.

-Thread, Needle, Scissors/Thread Snips
-Button and Garment to which it will be sewn
-Tailor's Chalk (optional)

If the button has fallen off a garment, such as my coat above, then keep the original thread in it's place for as long as possible. If you feel the button start to loose with wear, pop it off but keep the thread on the garment. The thread will serve as our guide for where to place the button. Alternatively, you can use Tailor's Chalk.

Cut 6 lengths of thread, about a foot each. You can cut up to 8 lengths of thread if you prefer, but bear in mind the weight of the buttons/garment you're working with. Anything longer than a foot becomes difficult to handle.

Roll all of the threads together. Double-knot one end of the threads, and trim and discard the excess.

Level off the other end of the threads and thread the needle.

Remove the original thread from the garment and bring the needle up through one of the small holes left by the original thread. Slide the button onto the needle.

Pull the thread all the way through the material. Bring the needle back down, through the next hole of the button, and through the faint mark left by the original thread. Pull the thread, but not so tight that the button won't be able to slip through the buttonhole.

If you have a 4-holed button, repeat the previous steps. Make sure that the thread isn't holding the button too tightly to the garment. Bring the needle up through the first hole left by the original thread, and loop the thread around, securing your button.

 Bring the needle down through the second hole...

...And tie a double knot. Clip and discard the excess thread!

I hope this tutorial helps! I know it's not a sewing breakthrough, but it really took me years to figure out what I was doing wrong. This method is fast and easy, and you couldn't tell my re-sewn buttons from the factory-sewn ones on my coat!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Museum Mysteries: Grimy Edwardian Petticoat

If you remember, underneath the 1909-14 Silk Wedding Gown was a surprisingly filthy Edwardian petticoat. The petticoat did nothing for the shape of the dress, but it seemed to have somehow absorbed whatever was leaking from the ceiling onto the dress...

Interestingly, the upper folds and waistband seem to be the worst areas affected by the moisture damage, but the entire petticoat is dirty. This leads me to believe that it was left dirty before it was even displayed under the wedding gown (Hint: don't put dirty petticoats under antique gowns).

The material was finely machine-pleated to a yoke.
The lace trim has also torn at the seam in a few places.
Submerged in water. I'm not sure what the accession number (written in marker) means.
I had to wash it before storing it. I took a deep black basin from the staff kitchen of the library and soaked the petticoat in water. I let it soak for 24 hours and tried not to agitate it, since it had a few tears. The petticoat really needs a decent wash and more time soaking (maybe some soap, too). Within minutes the water looked like urine and now I'm really curious as to what was leaking from the ceiling and what was dirtying up this petticoat!

A sample of the water after I removed the petticoat from its soak.
I was so curious, in fact, that I took a sample of the water post-wash. After about two weeks, something must've happened to all the oxygen molecules because the sealed bottle was all sucked in. Also, something rather brown and dust-like had settled at the bottom of the bottle...

My method for drying the petticoat in a limited space: folding it up and propping it on a bookstand hooked onto the drawer pulls. Unorthodox, but it worked!
The not-so cleaned definitely needs some soap and a larger washing vessel. Laying it flat to dry would also help!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

McCall's 6503 - Smocked Berry Dress

This is one of my "Unfinished Objects," which I started in the fall of 2012. I had found a perfect summer/fall transition fabric at the creepy Fabric Warehouse: 3 yards of plum-berry cotton for $2 per yard.

I eagerly began cutting out McCall's 6503, which I got for $1 at Joann's. I was making View D (sleeves, button front). One change I plan to make in the final construction of this dress is to make and add floral piping in a coordinating color theory along the top and bottom of the waistband just like Kathryn did here.

I didn't make a muslin of this dress, which in the end, wasn't entirely a mistake. When I already had most of the dress constructed, I tried it on, only to realize that this pattern had a ridiculous amount of ease in the bodice, and the bodice was weird and stiffly blousy on me. I could remedy the back of the bodice by changing the darts and removing some material in the side seam--I wanted a really tight back, since the pleated skirt was also on the tight side. Balance is key! I have a very narrow, petite back, and when I wear clothes that are baggy above the waist I look rather dumpy from behind.

To remedy the front of the bodice, which would've been oddly baggy even if I had made darts and taken in the side seams, I decided to experiment with a new technique: smocking! I used a variety of tutorials online. The smocking isn't completed, but I plan to completely re-do it to allow more room at the bottom for attaching the waistband, and to generally tidy up the smocking. In the end, I think the smocking really makes this dress--it's a unique twist to a popular and fairly simple design.

This is the best depiction of the color my camera could capture.

The sleeves also need to be taken in. They were so baggy that they made my arms look wimpier than they actually are.

The waistband, waistband facing, and collar also need to be taken in but are for the most part assembled.

I'm considering letting out the pleats on the skirt just a smidge, because I'm worried they'll be uncomfortable in the future. I'm also considering a few pintucks along the hem to increase the visual interest but that's something I can add after the dress is completed.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Costume Contest and Thoughts on the Bronzino Gown

I've entered Costume Works annual Halloween Costume Contest! You can view and vote for my entry, the Bronzino gown, here!  You can view and vote for all of the entries for 2013 on this page. Voting closes on November 20th so be sure to check out all the lovely entries before then!

On another note, I have some thoughts on my Bronzino Gown:

  • I definitely need to shorten the back waist on this pattern. I had already hacked off an inch from the waist all around, but maybe this discrepancy was also due to the crazy angle of my lower back/waist. It was really difficult to gauge where the back waist hit when the dress was half-assembled. 
  • Next time I make a gown mostly with synthetic materials, I should photograph it before completion. I didn't realize how wrinkly the back was (partly due to the waist being too long!) until I saw it in photos.
  • Next time I might also try a lightly corded bodice.

The next Italian Renaissance gown I make will likely be a Vincenzo Campi style dress, hopefully made of mostly non-synthetic materials. I also want to see the difference between a side-laced and back-laced dress. I think that applying the trim all around the back will be much easier if the dress is side-lacing, something I didn't realize when I was designing this dress a year ago (the trim on my gown didn't go all the way around the back because I just didn't have enough of the lace). The Campi style dresses are also more practical for Ren Faires and seem to have more options for accessories, in terms of partlets, sleeves, and aprons.

Vincenzo Campi's Fruitseller, c. 1580
Campi's Kitchen, c. 1580
Campi's Fishmongers, c. 1580
Which is your favorite Campi painting?

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Bronzino" Italian Renaissance Gown -- Finished!

After months of toiling away and late evenings madly sewing eyelets (1 am on the night before I planned on wearing the dress...last minute sewing is the only kind of sewing), this dress--officially dubbed the "Bronzino Gown"--is finally finished! I think I like this dress more than my Chemise a la Reine: the color, the shape, the decoration, I'm so in love. Finishing this dress was a personal victory. Pour la victoire!

The hem is whip-stitched by hand. A muslin hem guard was also whip-stitched by hand, a total of 12 yds of handsewing!
The dress was worn with my Italian Renaissance Camicia, Improved 18th Century Petticoat, and Embroidered 18th Century Pockets. The Italian Ren version of pockets, a Saccoccia, is pretty similar to the 18th c. version anyway. The red scarf was bought from a streetside vendor in NYC. I'm also wearing gold earrings with blue glass bead drops, a vintage ring, a gold filigree ball necklace from Portugal (part of my Portuguese folkloric dancing costume), and a girdle. The girdle is cobbled sloppily together from 2 flea market necklaces: a very long chain and pearl necklace, looped up, with a chain tassel removed from another chain necklace.

The lower sleeves are my favorite part of the whole dress. They took several weekends to make; just the piping took an entire day! The piping is made from a silvery-champagne fabric that my aunt gave me a year ago. The outer fabric, a gorgeous silver-green damask, was a gift from her as well--remnants from an upholstery project almost a decade ago. The mother-of-pearl-ish (plastic) buttons are vintage (1980s) from a sweater my mom had. The beige ribbon loops are made from those ribbons sewed into clothes to hold them onto hangers. The lower sleeves were completely free!

The neckline trim is made with metallic gold lace sewn over a strip of the silvery-champagne poly satin. A few pearls are sewn on as well; historically accurate or not, I loved the depth and luster of the pearls. The dress fastens in the center back with 40 handmade eyelets

I'm wearing a soft cup, wireless bra just for some "definition"--the clear straps are showing here.
I honestly did not notice those wrinkles in the back while I was making this /: It's difficult to fit a back-lacing garment on yourself! In fact, I think the wrinkles aren't as noticeable in person--at least the ones in front--and show up more prominently on camera.

I realized that though the dress isn't as perfect as I'd like, I don't love it any less. I had to realize that in the end, this project was a historical costume, and not a faithful recreation.  For one thing, most of the materials are synthetic (though they were selected because they didn't look synthetic). Secondly, this was my first try at a garment from this period, and there is much more that I have yet to learn. I learned new skills--cartridge pleating, sewing eyelets, making piping--that contribute to both the historical accuracy of the gown and to its glam-factor.

4.5 yds of blue poly satin ($3/yd) --  $13.50
1 yd of green damask for bodice interlining -- stash
1 yd of green heavyweight linen? for bodice lining -- $1
Muslin for hem guard -- stash
Silver poly satin -- gift
Silver green poly damask -- gift
Plastic mother-of-pearl buttons -- stash
Pearls -- $2 for 100
Gold metallic lace -- $5
Various threads -- $4
Yarn for piping -- stash
Pink ribbon -- gift (wrapped around a birthday present!)

Total: $25.50

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Italian Ren Gown Update

I'm not making as much progress as I should be, but I have conquered substantial steps toward the completion of my dress. So far I have:

-Addressed fit issues in the bodice
-Cartridge pleated the skirt
-Attached the skirt to the bodice and sewn down bodice lining
-Hemmed skirt
-Added hem guard made of unbleached cotton muslin
-Made God knows how many yards of piping
-Redesigned and finished lower sleeves
-Redesigned and began attaching upper sleeves
-Started eyelets (3/40)
-Started attaching pearls to the neckline trim

Yards of lovely piping made with yarn and my Singer Merritt 2404