Saturday, October 31, 2009


Grumpy pumpkin says: Get off the lawn, you kids!

Taken last year in Old Town St. Charles.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Simplicity #8881: Elizabethan gown almost finished

I'm posting a few pics of the dress as it is without the ruffs. I think it looks pretty good as is, but I'm still going to try to get the ruffs right.

These pics were taken by my husband with his new camera, which I got him for our 5th anniversary last week. Also, he helped me do up all the hooks and such in the back of the bodice which I can never hope to do up myself. :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Elizabethan gown: Simplicity #8881

Part 4: Hemming and Hawing

Well, it's been over a month since my last post. Work on the dress has been going slowly, mainly because work of a (monitarily) gainful nature has been aboslutely nuts and making me work a lot of evening shifts. In order to keep myself sane, I needed to convince myself I was finishing something. So I decided that the best thing to do was to finish several smaller projects, that way I could look at a small pile of "done" items and hopefully trick myself into thinking that things weren't all that bad. I was working 50 hours a week between two jobs and not really seeing my husband, who was also stressed out at work. So, things were generally not happy. I did, however, finish a crib-size quilt made from a batik jelly roll, put the finishing touches on that Civil war ball gown I started last year and never finished, and three knitting projects, as well as several repairs to pieces of clothing. But enough of this. You're not reading my blog to hear me complain about my situation. You want to read about this dress...

I started hemming the skirt. Since this is long, somewhat tedious work, I'm just doing one panel at a time, from one seam to the other per day. Each layer of skirt needs to be hemmed by hand, and I am doing so with a single waxed silk thread. I am turning a 2 inch hem on each layer, not bothering with turning the top under or attach a hem tape, because I have serged the edges of both layers. It is going about how you'd expect.

I moved along to the bodice shortly after finishing the last major construction on the skirt. I took 2 layers of percale of the same sort as Susan's Farewell dress (see first two posts on this blog) and used them as the underlayers, stitching boning channels and marking dots and symbols on them. This is a strong material, and I want this bodice to hold up. After stitching channels and cutting bones, I decided to put a layer of thin quilt batting in the front of the bodice, between the boned layer and the outer fabric. It's only a thin layer of cotton, but it helps to puff out the main fabric just slightly, and it also helps hide the boning inside. I thread-basted the pieces of the front sections together along the center seam, then laid the sections over my thigh to get them to curve, so when I basted the other side together it would have a natural curve to it, and hopefully not get any strange lines or stress points when actually put on a body. I clipped the batting to the seam allowances, to reduce excess bulk. After basting the peices of each front together, I finished the edges that would not be bound over by piping binding by binding over them with bias strips of china silk (dressmakers' or Hong Kong finish). I had gotten the peach china silk from Thai Silks from their shop in Palo Alto. It was a remnant of about a yard long. I think I got it for less than $5. After lots of basting and binding, I sewed the bodice pieces together as per the envelope instructions, and bound off the top and bottom edge with piping binding covered with the same green silk as the skirt. Here's a picture of the inside:
Rather than slip-stitching the edge down as specified, I used a tightly spaced whip stitch. You might not be able to see it in these pics. I take most of them with my camera phone. I have found that through much wearing the slip stitch tends to come out, while a small, tight, even whip stitch will stay put and still be fairly unobtrusive. And, people in 50 years looking at your nice, even, miniscule whip stitches will think you were nuts and wonder why people don't do that kind of workmanship anymore. Heck, your contemporaries will think you're nuts. I sewed the hooks to the back, plugged in the sleeves, and tried the bodice on with the rest of the outfit. I found that the bodice shoulders kept slipping off, mostly due to the tightness of the bodice sleeves. I find my upper arms are a little larger around than average, and adding about half an inch into the width of the sleeve helps things fit better. After letting out the underarm seam I felt better able to move in the bodice, but it was still a bit loose in the shoulders. Since the partelett was made to snap into the neckline of the bodice, I figured that this would help hold the shoulders up.

The partelett was made from the handkercheif linen I found at Jackman fabrics, one of the independant fabric stores here in the St. Louis area. I bought three and one quarter yards of it, unsure I would be able to find anything else suitable anywhere else (I did my usual several days of google searching and sitting on eBay for weeks, and didn't find anything else more suitable). I really wanted pure white linen lawn or organdie, but this is rather hard to find. I'll say more on this when I do the ruff. The neck liner was made from a scrap of silk organza I had left over from another project, with some white decorative cord to close it at the neck. This is the linen here:

So, it seems that all I have left to do is make the ruffs and figure out how to starch them and set them. I will begin with the wrist ruffs to perfect the tecnique and then decide what I want to do with the neck ruff.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elizabethan gown: simplicity #8881

Part 3: Of reeds and sleeves
I went ahead and ordered the boning for the farthingale this past week. I figured since it had been my birthday and I was forced to work a closing shift, I would go and buy myself a present :) I had read in The Tudor Tailor that farthingales used to be boned with reeds, and I wondered what that would be like. Their instructions called for soaking reeds in a bathtub overnight, then binding them into the desired shape and letting them dry. I was a little bit sceptical about the whole process, and about the finished product. From the instructions I knew I would need reeds in lengths up to 123", and knew I couldn't completely submerge something that long and strait in my bathtub. And what about the finished product? Baskets are made from reeds, and any of them I have handled have been rather rigid, and sometimes brittle. I didn't want a brittle hoop inside a farthingale: I'd never be able to get it through a modern door. And if I do end up wearing it to the ren faire, I don't want an overenthusiastic reveler to break my hoops if they happen to run into me. However, I thought for the price I would give them a try. I found them on for $8.99 for 90 feet of 1/2 inch flat oval reeds. I knew they would probably come in sections ( I don't know of any reed that grows to 90 feet long), but wasn't sure of anything much beyond that. Just to be on the safe side, I ordered one roll of plastic covered hoop steel (12 yards for about $25) and figured that if the reeds didn't work out, I'd only be about $10 worse off, and the steel I already had could go into the top hoops while the proper crinoline steel would go into the bottom hoops to help keep the bottom from collapsing.

What came in the mail on friday was a total surprise (in a good way). After extricating the package from the very stubborn mailbox, I thought they must have shipped the steel and the reeds in separate packages: the one box was a fairly standard size but very light. When I opened it, I found the steel and the reeds, both wound in tight coils. I set the steel aside and gently opened the reeds, which did spring out a bit, but not terribly far and not with deadly force like spring steel. There were indeed several pieces present, but they were all fairly long: ranging in length from 68" to 160", very useable lengths for the farthingale. And, since they were already coiled, I just started measuring canes and putting them into appropriate channels in the farthingale. I didn't even bother to cut off the longer ones, simply slipping the extra length into the boning channels. They didn't have any splinters, but they had a certain roughness of the grain. This didn't impede my sliding them into the boning channels (except the two at the very bottom were a little hard to shift around), and seemed to keep them in place without drilling holes in them to tie them off. When I did get all of the hoops in, I found that they were a little too curled, and the hoops in the bottom were curling and warping quite badly. From my experience woodworking, I knew that wetting them would help them relax and straiten, so I sprayed the hooped farthingale with water, laid the whole thing on the floor with the hoops in concentric circles, and let it dry overnight.

In the morning, I found the farthingale just as I hoped it could be. The reeds had dried in the casings, and were now the right shape and rigid enough not to buckle under the garment's own weight, but still flexible enough to squeeze through a door. I put the underskirt over the farthingale and bumroll to see if it would collapse, since the underskirt is slightly heavy. It did not collapse. This bodes well for when I get the overskirt done. Yes, it does swing just like a regular hoopskirt, so I might have to rig up some sort of bloomers in case of high winds. Arnold pictures some portraits of women wearing an Elizabethan form of bloomers in her book, so that detail might have some historical accuracy, though I will have to look at the book again to figure out who was wearing them. This is what the front of the overskirt looks like over the fully boned farthingale, looking down.

Progress on the overskirt has been rather slow, and so far pretty much as per the instructions. The trim on the front edges is taking a long time because, of course, I'm sewing it on by hand. I am sewing on two strips of 1" wide gold-tone trim, and I am sewing freshwater pearls in each of the spaces between them.

Also I am sewing lapis lazuli chips on each strip of trim. Each pearl and chip is individually knotted. It has taken me the amount of time it takes to watch Pride and Predjudice (Colin Firth version) twice to sew the trim and various stones on one side.

I am now working on the other side, and have the trim and pearls sewn down. Like the underskirt, I am not sewing pearls to the final 6 inches of the overskirt until I know how much to turn the hem up. The only other deviation from the instructions was in the cutting of the front panels: since the fabric was 54"wide, it did not have to be cut in two pieces. I simply lapped the small wing piece onto the main pattern piece and pinned it temporarily to obtain the full size pattern piece. I have done the cartridge pleating on one side as well, and am hopeful I can get the rest of the detail work done soon so I can put the whole skirt together.

Also last week I made the sleeves of the gown. Sometimes I will work on pieces of a project so that I will do a good job on the details earlier in the project while I'm still interested, and at the end I can put all the finished pieces together when I am really impatient to see the thing done. Since I didn't read the instructions really well, and since I had done things a little differently a the La Jolla playhouse, I deviated from the printed instructions just a bit. I used the green silk for the base of the sleeves with polyester organdy for the overlay, and then I cut a lining of that same cotton/poly broadcloth I used for the farthingale. I sandwiched all the layers together; broadcloth, then silk, then polyester, and serged it together on all sides. Using the layer of broadcloth as the base makes it a bit stronger, giving the sleeve a good base to sew the lines of trim on, as well as giving me a good canvas to mark out for the placement of the trim. I sewed the trim lines on by machine with a zigzag stitch, then put the pearls on by hand, individually knotted of course. I did not sew the six lines of trim to go over the puff, though, because I did not think the trim I had would look good. Once I had the puff on, I sewed 4 lines of czekosloviakian faceted glass beads on each puff, just to give them a little interest. I serged off the top edge of the sleeve, puff and all, so it will be easy to stitch into the armscye of the bodice. To finish the cuff of the sleeve, which I did not finish like the instructions said, I simply bound it off with a strip of white bias tape and cross-stitched it down. I hope when I make the cuff ruffs that I will be able to baste them temporarily to the ends of the sleeves onto that bias tape to keep the silk and organdy clean on the outside. I sewed a pearl to the end of the slit as well, to keep the stitches from pulling out.

Hopefully this coming week I will finish the overskirt and be able to attach it and the underskirt to the waistband, and make a start on the bodice. It will take a few days to cut and tip the bones once the bodice is assembled. I should find some thin wool flannel or the like to put between the bones and the silk so the bones won't show. And I am still having trouble finding the linen lawn that I'd like, though my boss at the fabric store says he'll try to find me something he can order for the store. We'll see what happens there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Elizabethan gown: simplicity #8881

Part 2: The Understructures

After finally finishing the chemise (as expected, felling the seams by hand made for a lot of work and was very time-consuming), it was time to work on the understructures of the bum roll and the farthingale.

The bum roll was made from white broadcloth (cotton/poly blend), pretty much as per the instructions. As a fastener, though, I used skirt hooks instead of the velcro, because I think they are more sturdy. Velcro has the nasty habit of picking up lint and the loops pulling out, so I thought I would just avoid using it. The farthingale was made from the same white broadcloth, and I sewed the channels out of white cotton twill tape, 1" wide. I did all the construction by machine, for strength. I felled the seams to the inside and then sewed the channels onto the outside of the farthingale as suggested on the website (this is another great place for practical advice on creating period garments, and also one source for supplies for period garments). I need to order the crinoline steel. I do have some quarter inch wide steel in my stash, but from experience I know it does not work in hoop skirts or the like. I did put some into the boning channels to give an idea of how the farthingale would look when finished. This was the result

The thin weight of the steels seems to be ok if doubled up for the top two bones, but the bottom bone buckles terribly, especially when walking around. This type of steel is best used for corsets and bodices, so don't go buying 25 yards thinking it'll do the trick and save you some money.

The only other problem I seem to be running into is the chemise, which is bubbling and falling off my shoulders in the front. I can only assume this is because I don't have a corset on to keep it in place. Hopefully the bodice will serve to keep it up when it gets to that point.

I have also begun work on the underskirt. I am making it out of a banquet size tablecloth I found at Goodwill for $4.95. It is an offwhite brocade. This is what it does over the improperly boned farthingale:

You can just see the bottom edge buckling and warping inward. The instructions suggest gluing pearls to the front panel and using fabric paint to decorate the pattern of the fabric. I'm actually sewing freshwater pearls onto the front panel.

These are some of them, to give you an idea of size. Hanks of freshwater pearls cost me between $2 and $4 per hank, depending on where you go (wal-mart, Jo-ann or Hancock) and whether or not they are on sale. I'm trying to use pearls that are fairly round and uniform. Not all of them are, but they look pretty good when they are sewn on. I don't know that I'll go as far as putting fabric paint on it. I left the last 6 inches or so unadorned for the moment, because I don't know how far up I'll have to put the hem yet.

My hope is that I will be able to get to the overskirt this week and put the whole skirt together. Maybe I'll even be able to order the correct steels and get the farthingale done!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Elizabethan gown: Simplicity #8881

Part I: Getting started
So, since the job-search is going slowly for an out-of-work costumer, I decided to finally get going on that Elizabethan gown I've always wanted to wear to the local ren faire. I made a Tudor gown while interning at the La Jolla Playhouse about 7 years back, and that was fun (though time consuming). Also, since the local ren faire has a French theme, I thought it might be fun to traipse around as an English noblewoman, just to see who's paying attention. I got a pattern for an Elizabethan gown several years ago (simplicity #8881), and I've spent a few months collecting various materials. I still have to get a few things, but I have enough to make some good progress. I also have a couple of really good books for reference: Patterns of Fashion 4, by Janet Arnold with additional material by Jenny Tiramani and Santina M. Levey, and The Tudor Tailor, by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies. So; I have a reason, a plan, the right stuff, and some good advice. Might as well get started!

In looking at this pattern, there are a few things I begin to notice. One is the fact that the only understructures are the bum roll and the farthingale. This pattern is currently out of print, but Simplicity has put out two new ones to take it's place: #2589 is a Tudor gown of a similar general shape as the one I will make, and #2621 makes the undergarments for #2589. Pattern #2621 includes a narrow-sleeved chemise, a corset, a bum roll, and a spainish farthingale. From my reference books I conclude that these are the proper underpinnings for a dress of this type. Having a chemise makes sense; this dress, when finished, will be practically unwashable, so a layer put next to the skin to absorb sweat and body odors is a major necessity. The absence of a corset concerns me a little, but if the gown is not constructed with one in mind, (and indeed, the one I made in La Jolla was not), then it may be fine to make the dress as pictured without need for reference for it. I also notice that the farthingale for #8881 is put on _over_ the bum roll. In pattern #2621 the bum roll is put over the farthingale. The latter seems to make more sense to me, but it seems the farthingale for 8881 is constructed with the former idea in mind, so it might be best not to try to change that. I also notice that the partelett in this pattern is attached to the bodice with snaps. I'm not sure I like this idea, and I might change it slightly based on ideas from The Tudor Tailor, to tie under the arms or possibly to tuck into the bodice. And, since I am slightly nuts, the idea of building and starching a ruff the traditional way kind-of appealed to me, so it might be fun to construct and starch a ruff out of linen lawn, as outlined in the back pages of Patterns of Fashion 4. I have a box of potato starch, and I even have some saffron I could dye it with ($6 per jar at Trader joes is the best price I've found). Now all I'd need is the linen lawn, which is a very rare item as it turns out. It is available at one English site I've seen for 44 pounds sterling per yard. I think I'd need 3 yards. I think I'm better off checking Goodwill for a tablecloth or an old dress I can canniblize. Yes, it has to be linen if I'm going to do it this way. So we shall see if I will do it by the book or by the pattern.

So far, I am constructing the chemise, as per pattern #2621. I am making it out of a white Irish linen I got from someone who was cleaning their closets before moving. It is a very even weave, slightly finer in texture than what you find commonly in fabric stores. I am stitching the main construction seams with the sewing machine to save me some time, but I am felling the seams by hand with tiny little stitches. This will help insure that it is comfortable to wear and it will survive the wash. I had started to do some embroidery on it in red silk, but decided to put that off because it was slowing down the production, and I was afraid if I didn't make good construction progresss I'd probably never get the thing done. If I feel so inclined when everything else is said and done, I will go back and finish.

I am pretty confident that this will help keep the inside of the dress clean. This should be done within the next few days, and then I can start on the bum roll. Wee!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mini project: Child's Pirate Jacket

Well, things have been a little bit dull on the sewing front since getting laid off from my costume shop job (budjet cuts). So, needing something fun to do, and having forgotten my friend's son's birthday, I decided to make him a little pirate jacket. He just turned 6. Knowing how much he wears his pirate shirt (daily, if it's not in the wash), I know that this jacket will most likely be worn to death and will be washed often. I also know it would be wise to make it a few sizes bigger, so that he can grow into it.

Seizing the opportunity to get $1 patterns at the pattern store, I got Simplicity #3644, the kids' Pirates of the Carribean knockoff costumes. I also got buttons and soutache braid, as per the supplies list on the pattern envelope. A friend of mine suggested getting jeans buttons for the smaller buttons needed for the pocket flaps and cuffs, because they would be easy to apply and would not come off easily, so I got those. For the fabric, I wanted something washable and easy to wear. The pattern envelope suggests velveteen or wool. Wool was definately out; one false move and it would shrink. Velveteen seemed a little pricey. I settled on pinwale courduroy in chocolate brown. It was only 45 inches wide, so I got 3.5 yards to make sure I could cut the entire jacket out of the same fabric.

While cutting the pieces I had to cut carefully because of the narrowness of the fabric. I could not cut the fronts or backs from fabric folded double lengthwise, and I could not fold it up and down the length to lay it out because of the nap. So, I had to cut each of the fronts and the backs separately and very carefully. Other than that, the cut and construction went pretty much as the directions specified. I cut the jacket to a child's size 8, even though he wears a 6. To size it down a little, I stitched tucks in the shoulders, taking in about an inch from neck-to-shoulder. I also stitched the cuffs half an inch up from the original stitching, in long stitches that his mom will be able to take out easily later. I then turned up the hem an inch and a half and stitched it in place with yellow thread.

This is a detail of the buttons:

This shows the shoulder tuck:

Here's what I did with the hem:

This is the stitching that holds the cuff in place:

And here's the finished jacket:

So that's what I've been doing lately. He'll get it tomorrow when I see his mom. Hope he likes it!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

the things that wow me.

I just ran across a blouse in costume storage that just floored me. It's a peach crepe silk blouse with shell buttons. It has a tiny label sewed onto the inside of the front left side seam. It simply says "Julius Garfinckle & Co. Washington D.C." The entire blouse is sewn by hand. The workmanship is gorgeous and very clean, the stitches miniscule, the details immaculate. The buttonholes are hand-stitched in 1/16 inch buttonhole stitches so regular you could set your watch to them. It's kind of wrinkled and there is a little place in the shoulder under the collar where it is starting to fray, but you know right when you see it that it's something special. It's obviously a couture blouse, and you start to wonder who owned it and how it ended up here, in costume storage for a school. I wonder who made it, how long it took to do. Did they like their work? When was this thing made? It doesn't speak it's era to me the way a hoopskirt or a frockcoat would. But that's the way with couture items; they are meant to last a lifetime, perhaps several, with their simple elegance and understated detail. The closer you stand to them, the more you see and the more you appreciate, but the further back you are, the more it looks like any other peach blouse. You can stand out to the people who know you, but to the rest of the world you are part of the background, just there like everyone else. Looking at it, I want to make one. I have made blouses before, but not with this much handwork. Not with 1/8 inch wide french seams. Not with row upon row of tiny little pintucks in the front and back. Not with that really neat self-trim of two rows of bias-cut tubing attached with hemstitching. I can do each one of those things, but I haven't put them together yet into one garment. And not having done it makes me wonder if I can and have it look this good. So I suppose I must try, and hope for the best.

How odd a feeling it is to be awed and humbled by a simple blouse.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Costumes on a budget: little time, little cash, few sewing skills

We've all been there; an event comes up and you decide last minute that you want to go in costume. Be it the new movie debut, the Ren Faire that creeps up on you unexpectedly, or the fancy-dress party you knew about 3 weeks ago but you've just been so busy... You're running short on time and cash, and you have to come up with something quick.

When you want to play a character and need a costume in a pinch, what you do is think of the two or three things that make that character stand out. Think of Indiana Jones, for instance. You have his picture in your head, right? What makes Harrison Ford look like Indiana Jones? Easy: the hat, the whip, and the brown leather jacket that looks like it's been dragged behind a semi (probably because it has:) ). Fine: go out and find those three things, put on a khaki shirt and pants underneath, then pull out some catch phrases about snakes and rats and have some fun with it. You may have a friend who has a suitable hat, you can find the jacket at a thrift store, and novelty shops or halloween stores carry short whips.

When you do this excercise, don't go running to Google Images and find a picture. One of the big secrets to costumes is to figure out what most people think a character looks like. Your average person on the street won't pull out their phone and start looking for detailed pictures of the character you're playing on the internet, and most won't be able to think of all the picky little details of the costume. Well, ok, reenactors and rabid sci-fi fans might, but most people won't, because they don't usually study a character's costume for long periods of time, and the picture they get in their head has few details. For most people, an approximation and the right attitude will do.

Here's another; take Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, the Disney version. In your mind's eye, what does she look like? Blue dress with short sleeves, maybe a white Peter Pan collar, blonde hair, maybe a blue hair bow, blue shoes, and a white apron. Ok, so can you find a blue dress with short sleeves and a white apron? If you can find those in your own or your friends' wardrobes, or at a thrift store, then go around singing "I'm painting the roses red", people won't doubt that you are playing Alice.

So, the basics of budget costumes are:
-Half of the costume is Attitude. Have fun with your character!!!!
-Keep it simple. Two or three specific items will usually do the trick. The rest of the items you'll want to wear with it should not detract from your main items. Just have them quietly harmonize and play their appropriate background parts.
-Don't be too picky. You may never find the exact costume piece you desire, so be willing to look for things that could work in it's place. Heck, Harrison Ford had an 18 foot bullwhip to do the Indiana Jones movies, but if you learn to crack it right, a 6 foot whip can be just as fearsome! Or you can even get yourself a length of dark rope and just leave it coiled at your belt.
-Look for stuff you might already have in yours or your friends' closets. You might not find a dress for Alice, but if you come across a funky jacket and tophat, you could go as the Mad Hatter instead.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prince Caspian: Susan's Farewell dress part 2

Ok, so the underdress was fun, and it came out pretty much the way I wanted it, and almost like the one in the movie (except for the trim color being off and all those darn pleats that I refuse to iron in because the first time you wash this underdress they'll all fall out anyway). Now it's time for...

The Overdress

The original overdress is a lovely blue brocade with gold flowers and dots. It is a strapless, floorlength gown with distinctive front details: the top of the front is split, revealing a tiny peek at the top of the underdress. This split causes the front to poke up and out a little from the chest. The split goes down for perhaps 3 inches, then the two sides join until they get down to the hip, where they split again for the rest of the skirt length. The dress is trimmed across the top with two rows of the same trim from the underdress, the top line of which miters down to the center front on both sides of the split for the entire length. The gown has princess seams, and is probably boned. This is evident from the way the points in front stick up and away from the body instead of flopping down. The boning probaby extends to the waistline or a little past that point, which would account for the small creases that sometimes appear in the front of the original dress at the waist, while the portions above that remain smooth. The fabric itself has some body to it; it is obviously thicker and somewhat stiffer than the underdress fabric. The back is not clearly visible, except at distances when what looks like a button-and-loop closure might be visible. More careful viewing of the movie is needed on a large, high def screen to be more certain.

For my version of the overdress, I used Simplicity pattern #5561, dress B with a few modifications. This pattern has the simple, clean princess lines of the original dress, with a full skirt. I am not adding the ruffles to the inside of the dress as in the instructions, because I do not think the original had them. In terms of alterations to the pattern itself, I needed to cut the front as two pieces so it had a center seam, and then lengthen the dress to floor length. I also cut my pieces wider than the pattern, to give the skirt more fullness.

For my fabric, I used a remnant of silk dupioni purchased from JoAnn fabric. For about $25 I got a lovely piece of silk whose vertical threads were golden yellow, and whose horizontal threads were a lovely Wedgewood blue. It has some slubs natural to the weaving process of this particular fabric. It is a plain weave fabric with no embroidery or other embellishment, so I needed to add some details. It also had a faded mark on one edge of one side, since it had sat rolled up in its little bundle in the store for 2 1/2 years, which I would have to put on the inside of the dress. Also, the pattern envelope for this dress called for 2 5/8 yards of fabric (60" wide). I only had 2 3/4 yards for making a dress that I knew was going to be longer than the paper pattern, so I spent about 2 hours laying out this pattern, trying to get it all to fit with the most extra length. I managed to get it, I think, but it won't have much of a hem, if any. From various links posted on the Narniaweb costume site, it looks like the skirt didn't have much of a hem turned up anyway. Also, fortunately in this case, the girl who will wear it is average height (5'4").

I started by making a mock-up out of muslin to check for fit. I cut 4 layers of muslin for each panel, stopping at the hipline. I serged two pieces together at the sides for each panel, machine basted them together, and fitted them to my friend to check for fit. With some minor modification, they worked well, so I interfaced them on one side, sewed them together permenantly, then chopped it off at the waist. I sewed boning chanels into it at the side seams and one on each side of the center front. I basted the top closed, inserted bones, and sewed a band of non-roll elastic around the bottom, stretching it a little as I zig-zagged it down. I hand-sewed a skirt hook and bar to the ends of the elastic to close it at the center back. This became my understructure. I decided to do this instead of following the directions in the pattern for sewing boning channels in the lining because in my opinion, it stays up better; you have a fitted structure that hugs around the body from chest to natural waist, ending in a sort-of bra band arrangement. Since it hugs the narrowest part of your torso, in theory it shouldn't slip down. I have a dress from Ann Taylor with this type of arrangement inside it, and it tends to stay put.
If you want a pattern that includes an understructure so you can see what I'm talking about, find McCalls #4995. If you don't want to do an understructure, I would suggest following the directions in your pattern for boning the lining, and then adding a band of elastic at the waist. The concept is simple, works well as long as you fit the elastic right, and simple to install: just get about a yard of non-roll elastic, tack the middle securely to the inside of the dress at the center front seam, and then sew some little beltloops also on the inside of the dress, at the side seams and side back seams. Trim the elastic to a length that will keep it snug on you and then sew a skirt hook and bar onto it.

After cutting out the silk as long and full as I could, I cut out the lining (from JoAnn fabric, 6 yards for $14.36, and I didn't use the entire yardage) as well as an interlining. Silk dupioni has a wonderful sculptable quality, but is not terribly strong, especially down its length. I also wanted to give it some more body, especially since I knew I wanted to embellish it with some machine stitching. I knew I wanted to keep it very lightweight as well. Some of the best lightweight interlining is silk organza-- it is very strong, lightweight, and can withstand very high temperatures from a steam iron. When used as an interlining, it helps keep the seam allowances from showing due to overpressing. The torn-off selvedge edge can be used to help stay a seam without adding a lot of bulk in the way that a piece of twill tape might. It also makes a dandy press cloth. Unfortunately, it retails in stores for at least $10/yard. The least expensive source I have found is for plain, undyed silk organza from , and it still costs about $6/yard plus shipping. Right now, I'm trying to find less expensive alternatives. I ended up using some poly organza I got at Wal-mart for $7.31 ( 4 7/8 yards total, I didn't use the whole yardage). After cutting each of the body pieces, I serged each piece of silk to a piece of organza along all sides. I did not cut the two facing pieces from the pattern, as my understructure will take that place. Then I started to embellish each panel.

The first step in embellishing the panels was to draw out lines where I wanted to strait-stitch with the sewing machine. I wanted the embellishment to look something like vines and flowers, so I started drawing freeform lines on the panels with a soft-lead pencil. I then took the panels to the sewing machine and stitched over the lines using a chocolate brown thread and a long machine stitch. The thing to remember if you do this is to keep the fabric flat as it goes through the machine and not to stretch it, or it will tend to bubble up in places when laid flat. This is hard to do, and I was not entirely successful in all places. But, the overall effect was approximately what I wanted. I then sewed the panels together at the seams, remembering to sew the center front seam between the bottom of the split and the hip.

The second step in embellishing the panels was to get some fabric paint. For less than $2 I got a 1oz bottle of SoSoft, metallics, Glorious Gold, from Hancock fabrics. Using a small, soft paintbrush I made small leaf, flower and dot designs at random points and the terminal ends of my "vines" from the previous step. I let these dry. I would have preferred to embroider the designs rather than paint them, because I'm not sure if the paint can be dry-cleaned. It can be washed in soap and water, but if I do that, there's a good chance the colors of the silk will run. I fought with the decision for a good long while, and finally felt I should just go ahead and do it this way, because I'd never end up finishing the dress if I decided to embroider it.

I put the lining together pretty much as outlined in the pattern instructions, except for the references to the boning channels. I sewed the lining to the dress at the front splits, right sides together, then turned it right side out, as if bagging out a vest. This finished off the sides of the front splits. I then sewed the dress and lining at the center back seam from the bottom to the notch. Above the notch, I basted the seam allowances together on each side to give me a place to sew the facings.
Sewing the lining into the dress at the front split...

For the facings, I cut two pieces of heavyweight interfacing as long as the back opening and about 2.25 inches wide. I then heat fused them to some scraps of the silk and cut them out with about a 3/8 inch seam allowance, which I folded over and pressed. I then sewed them to the back opening and topstitched them down.

I stitched boning channels at the center back and at the edge of the facing, to accomodate my polyboning. I set grommets between the bones at 1 5/8 inch intervals. I got my grommets at Ace Hardware, $10.99 for 48 brass grommets and the punching and setting kit. The grommets themselves are quite good, as they are heavier duty than the ones in the fabric store. The punch that came with them was not sharp, though, so I punched the holes with an eyelet punch and widened them with the tip of my scissors.

After pounding grommets in for half an hour, and putting boning in the boning channels on the dress itself, I sewed the understructure to the top of the dress. I set them right sides together, then stitched a seam around just the top part of the dress. After that was pressed and ready, I stitched the understructure to the v in front.

This is the understructure sewn onto the dress, with seams trimmed...

I know that many people are speculating on exactly what is keeping the dress together in the back. The best guess is that it is some sort of button and loop closure, but the best pictures of it are rather small and grainy, and this makes it hard to get a good look at it. But, since this is for a friend, and she will have to put this thing on herself with no help, I thought lacings would be a good idea. She can get those on and off behind her back with no help. I suppose for people who want to do the loop and button closure, you could take cording or make bias-covered cord, sew it in loops into the center back seam, sew buttons to the other side, and stitch a small modesty panel to the inside without too much fiddling. You would have to make sure the dress fits well if you do this, and that the wearer is not going to fluctuate in size very much.

This is the back...

After the basic dress was done, I sewed the trim on, by hand as on the underdress with two strands of silk thread doubled on the needle. I did not stitch the trim to the hemline, because I don't see it in the photos.

Because the piece of silk was so short, and because I wanted to give the hem some body, I sewed a piece of 1 inch wide horsehair braid to the bottom along the serged edge, and turned it up and stitched the braid to the lining. I enclosed the ends with twill tape to keep them from catching on anything, and then it was basically done!

This is the inside of the hem...

This is the finished overdress on the dressform...

This is the finished dress on my friend, with the underdress...

Overall, I'm fairly happy with the structure of the dress and how it came together. I think it does need a petticoat so it doesn't fold left-side-over-right in the front. It did end up being slightly short; the original goes to the floor and mine sits about 2 inches above the floor, but my friend is happy with the length. This may be more convenient for walking around the ren faire in a few weeks, as it tends to be rather dusty there. On the whole I think it's the best I can do without breaking the bank to get more accurate trim and fabric, and without ironing all those funny little pleats into the underdress. I think the overdress took about 25 hours to do because of the fact that I sewed the trim on by hand. Again, I'm not sure if this is the method used on the original dress, but it makes a pretty decent facsimilie.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prince Caspian: Susan's Farewell Dress

So, I love sewing things. Mostly costumes. I tend to sew a lot in my spare time. And sometimes I only need the mearest suggestion that someone wants something unique for me to start rummaging through my pattern collection, my fabric stash, or popping out to the fabric store, "just for one thing". So when a friend of mine went and saw Prince Caspian and absolutely fell in love with Susan's farewell dress, I started pondering how their costumer made the thing...

Ok, I like a challenge.

It looks like and underdress and overdress arrangement. Of course many people on the various costume forums have been looking for pictures of it from all angles, trying to figure out patterns to use, sources for fabric, trims, etc. So if you look around, there's a lot of interesting information and suggestions out there. It doesn't seem to be all in one place, though. So I figured if I was going to make this thing, I'd take pictures and copious notes and put them all in one spot. I don't know if this is how the original costumers did it, and obviously others will have their own opinions and preferences, and that's fine. This is just my own interpretation for my own enjoyment. So, here goes...

The Underdress
Whenever you start making a costume, you start from the inside out. So, the underdress has to be made first. The underdress has distinctive sleeves, fitted from the shoulder to elbow, and then poofed out from there to gather again into a cuff. There is a distinctive "wing" that sits just above the sleeve, which seems to be folded out of the neck binding. The neckline is off-the-shoulder, not revealing too much cleavage, if any. The closure of the underdress cannot be clearly identified, as it is underneath the overdress. The skirt looks very full, and is floor length. The underdress sports two lines of trim at the upper arm, elbow and cuff. The trim is a medium brown with what looks like lighter brown contrast stitching or beading. The whole of the dress is an off-white or ivory color. The fabric has some body and a little stiffness to it; the poofy part of the sleeves does not collapse totally under its own weight.

I decided to use McCalls pattern #4490, view A, with modifications. With this pattern I could draw in a new neckline without crossing over the seams of the armsceye. The drop-shoulder sleeves leave a seamline at the upper arm that is the perfect placement line for trim. The fitted sleeves can be chopped off above the elbow to put on the lower, poofy part of the sleeve. The princess lines leave little bulk in the torso area to build up under the overdress. Also, the fullness of the skirt should negate the necessity for a whopping great petticoat (perhaps only a long slip will be needed to keep it from bunching between the legs). While view C/D of the same pattern shows a very open neckline, I rejected this because it is not off the shoulder, and if pulled that way would create unsightly wrinkles near the underarms, and would tend to want to creep back up anyway if the weight of the sleeves did not pull it inexorably down.

I got my fabric from WalMart. Yes, we still have one that carries fabric. I got Cotton Percale, 4.5 yards of 90" wide. The whole piece cost $21.02. I would do silk taffeta if I could get my hands on it for $5/yard or less, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. They had bright white cotton instead of ivory, but you can't argue with the price. I also got a $.99 package of lightweight fusible interfacing and a half-yard remnant of silk from Hancock fabric for $5 to make the trim.

Construction of the underdress went pretty much as described in the packaged instructions, omitting references to the neck gathering and binding, since I knew I would cut that off anyway. I worked the eyelets on my sewing machine so they would be soft (or, softer than metal eyelets). As I cut the pieces out I finished the edges on my serger. This ensures I can wash it without fear of ravelling, and I only have to sew it with one line of stitching, so I can alter it easily if I have to. I left it unhemmed for the time being.

Not bad as an underdress, but by itself looks a bit like a cult dress...

Back view...
After I got that together, I slipped it on and got out my water-erasable pen. I marked it in the back a little above where my bra came up, and I marked a not-too-revealing neckline position in the front, as well as the proper point for an off-the-shoulder neckline at the sides. This ended up being 3.5 inches down from the original neckline at center front, 2.5 inches down at the shoulder, and 7 inches down from the original center back. After drawing a nice, symmetrical line, I cut off the excess.

To get the wing around the neckline, I cut a very long strip of bias cut fabric 6.25 inches wide, folded it double, and basted it to the neckline. I then gather-stitched through all the layers, pulled it up a few inches and distributed the fullness mostly to the center front and center back. I thought once the dress was on a person, the fullness would naturally curve and fold, making it look like the wing was floating. I then bound the neck edge using a 2 inch strip of bias cut fabric. When I tried it on again, though, the wing didn't float, and didn't quite look like the picture. So, I took it to my iron and fooled with it a bit. I figured out that if you fold the wing back up on itself from a point about .75 inches from the bound edge and then repress the bottom, you get that floating effect. I would suggest doing this to the fabric before you sew it onto the neckline, possibly gathering the wing by itself and heat-shrinking in some of the fullness along the edge.

Pinning the wing in place.

The wing sewn on, with the binding done. Doesn't quite look right.

Here I've folded and pressed the wing so it "floats" above the arm.

Compared to this, the sleeves were a piece of cake. I again slipped on the dress and marked the sleeve just above my elbow (above the inside crease of my arm). I then cut it off with a seam allowance, which turn out to be 5.75 inches below the drop-shoulder seam, when it is sewn.
You can just see the pencil mark in this shot...

For the puffed portion, I cut pieces of fabric14.25 inches long by 30 inches wide. I seamed them to about 3 inches before the cuff end, gathered both ends, attached a cuff and attached the other end to the original fitted sleeve. For each cuff I cut a piece of cloth 5.25 inches long and 10.75 inches wide. I interfaced it lightly, folded it in half, sewed the ends, sewed it to the bottom of the sleeve and put in a buttonhole, just like a regular shirt cuff.

For the trim, I took my little piece of silk and dyed it in a pot. The silk started out an ivory color, and when I was fininshed it came out a honey-wheat color. I had hoped I would get a darker color (it looked about as dark as the original publicity photo when I took it out of the pot), but I liked the color, so I left it as is.

this is the final color.

I cut it in bias strips 1.5 inches wide, folded and pressed in the 3/8 inch seam allowances, and stitched them into the appropriate spots with a simple running stitch. I had double-threaded the needle with two strands of brown silk.
All in all, this wasn't too hard in terms of construction. I think this took 25 hours to complete, mostly because I made the trim myself and applied it by hand. The only part I was not completely satisfied with was the wing at the top, mostly because I hadn't figured it out beforehand. Overall, though, it looks pretty good, and is good-looking by itself.

Here's a pic of it (sorry, without trim)

And with trim...