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!