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:

CIRCA 1867

*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.

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?