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Think Pink!

February 13, 2014

Ball dress with silk evening spencer c. 1815-1818

The Valentine’s Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge was also ball gown remake, part the second.

I have been mulling making a fancy/evening spencer since seeing all the lovely examples sported by the ever elegant Maggie Waterman at (the aptly named) Spencerville this summer.   This resolve was further strengthened by the very helpful post on the subject  by the inimitable Natalie Garbett.

An evening spencer really is the perfect way to jazz up an existing dress,  or in my case cover up the PLETHORA of issues with the bodice of a dress.  And as they take very little fabric to make – just a yard, sleeves and all – I could splurge on some lovely silk. Some very PINK silk.   Still not entirely sure what shade it is, as it seems to change depending on the lighting.  I was going for Cerise, but sometimes its more of a salmon or watermelon shade.  And lest you think that is an unreasonable shade for 1815, behold:

The pattern itself is just a modified version of the Period Impressions spencer.  To hide the faults in the gown bodice (the back sits MUCH lower then the front.  Damn boobs.)  I had to include the little tale, which I don’t like, and the pleats/gussets of which don’t sit properly, so at some point I will chop it off,  but the rest is fine, and I am happy enough for now.


Sleeve detail

The sleeves with their diamond cut outs are quite Gothic/Renaissance inspired, as was becoming increasingly common towards the end of the 1810’s.   It closes up the front with hooks, and the whole is embellished with some of the thread flowers leftover from decorating the skirt.

Here are a couple of my period inspirations:

Dinner dress, Ackerman’s Repository, 1818

The Challenge:  Pink!

Fabric: 1 yard silk shantung, cotton for lining.

Pattern: Customized version of the Period Impressions spencer pattern.

Year: 1815ish

Notions: Some little embroidered rosette appliques, hooks & eyes for the front closure.

How historically accurate is it? Mmm. Ish.  The materials are pretty correct, but a bit hazy on the techniques – the sleeve cut-outs probably should have been piped, rather than just turned under & stitched to the lining. I also machined seams where it wouldn’t show.  The design it also a bit hypothetical, though a reasonable extrapolation, I think.

Hours to complete:  40, mostly spent fiddling with the bloody sleeves.  I have no precision when I cut – this is why I do not quilt.

First worn: At the Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball held at Fort York in January.

And what a lovely event it was too, despite being waylaid by Highwaymen on the way there.  A delicious dinner, cheerful conversation and delightful dancing – not to mention the ginger ice at tea!

Total cost: Just the silk, which was about $40 after tax.


Make Do and Mend…Again

January 21, 2014

It’s alive!  The Frankendress lives!  And much thanks to the first challenge of the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly

The Challenge:  Make Do & Mend

Fabric: White cotton bed sheet (Ah, you saviour of the impecunious regency costumier!)

Pattern: Drafted by me, with a skirt & sleeves based on the 1816 evening dress in The Cut of Women’s Clothes and the bodice of the 1806 muslin dress in Patterns of Fashion

Year: 1815ish

Notions: Lots of pink nylon ribbon (the budget does not stretch to silk), and little embroidered rosette appliques.  The original dress was also decorated with two nylon lace ruffles, which I kept.

How historically accurate is it? The design is quite in keeping with the period, and I tried to hand sew as much as possible, but ran out of time so had to machine sew the top ribbon band.  On a period dress, of course,  the roses would have been embroidered right onto the dress.  The decorations are also not natural fibres, because a) I didn’t have time to source silk ribbon in the right colour & b) I am not made of money.

Hours to complete:  Too many. Including all the repairs needed on the dress, the whole project took about 18 hours spread over a week.

First worn: At the Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball held at Fort York.

Total cost:  $25

First off I needed to reinforce all the weak spots on the dress such as the shoulders and side seams with twill tape.  I also altered the drawstring closure at the waist, with which I had never been happy (it never sat properly with the buttons above). Not content with just repairing the dress, I decided to fully retrim it.  Picking off the blue ribbon at the neck, sleeves and flounce was easy enough, but then I had to come up with a new trim scheme.  I wanted to get away from the blues and greens I usually use, so decided to go with pink – a tie in to the next challenge.  Since I don’t have masses of time, the trim needed to be something relatively simple (no hand-embroidered designs!) and light enough not to effect the flow of the skirt as I dance. Trolling though my Pinterest Page I came across this dress from the Met: Very cute!  I loved the lattice work idea, and though embroidery was out of the question, I thought I could achieve the same effect with ribbon aplique.  After reaching that conclusion, what should pop up on my Pinterest dash but a 1816 fashion plate of that very thing!

I am in love with this dress.  And I found some lovely rococo rosette trim that would allow me to reproduce it exactly…for $45 a m.  Yikes!  So, less ambitiously I settled for a discounted reel of pink satin 1/2 ribbon and two packets of  little thread work rosettes.  I simplified the lattice into a single row of X’s.  Much as I love the bodice, I decided just to trim the neck & sleeves as  for February’s challenge I have plans to make an evening spencer to perk up the bodice – the pink silk has already been purchased! Here’s what the dress looks like in process:

Hem Trim

Even with careful marking, positioning the ribbon correctly was a very fiddly job.  In order to get the it to stay in place while sewing it on, I resorted to a technique inspired by a cosplaying friend of mine.

Hem Trim 2

Look ma, not pins! Obviously glue stick isn’t going to be viable on all fabrics,  but on the cotton it worked a treat! And here is the finished dress and a close up of the decorations:P1000722


The whole outfit will be completed with my creation for February’s Pink challenge, a little silk evening spencer.  So stay tuned!

Half Marathons

January 7, 2014

So the saga of the ball dress continues.  The moment I started to cut into my saree it began to fray, and I realized this was going to be much fiddlier than anticipated – or had time for.  So, the white dress was going to have to survive for one more ball.  This, however, happened to dovetail perfectly with the first challenge of this year’s Historical Sew Fortnightly, which is Make Do & Mend.  So as not to be over ambitious I decided to do the “half marathon” this year, and do only every other challenge. One project a month seems doable, and once I get that under my belt maybe I can do the full marathon next year. 

Ebay fail.

December 13, 2013

Two years ago, I hastily slapped together a ball gown for the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, strictly as an emergency measure.  I had grand plans to make myself a lovely blue silk one when I had more time.  Two years down the road, my white gown is holding together on a wing and a prayer, while the five yards of Wedgwood blue silk taffeta languish in my fabric box because I am too terrified to cut into it.

Part of the reason my white ballgown is still in use is that, through Murphy’s law of sewing, it turned out quite well. It fits fine, flatters me, and I’ve gotten tons of compliments on it from some very august costumers.  However, fond of it was I am, the time has come to retire it, or at least shift it out of frequent rotation, before I split a seam in the middle of Auretti’s Dutch Skipper.

I am still too scared to use the silk (I need to be 100% certain my pattern will work before I cut into that costly stuff), so I needed to come up with an alternative, and preferably a cheap one.   The solution: a sari.  The danger with using a sari is that if you aren’t careful its obvious that you made your dress from a sari, wrecking the period look. But with some careful selection and some creativity in cutting, it can turn out wonderfully.  And the price couldn’t be beat! Where else can you get 6 yards of beautifully embroidered silk for under $20?

Scouring ebay I found a vintage sari of blue gauze decorated with lovely (not too eastern-looking) period correct silver bullion embroidery. It arrived from India faster than I expected, and I opened it eagerly.  While the embroidery was as lovely as it looked in the pictures, there was one big problem – it was most definitely not silk. The weft fibres were metallic, but I did a burn test on the warp threads, and sure enough it backed up my observation that the sellers mis-identified the fabric when they listed it as silk.

While I am irked, I’ll make my dress up from it anyway – I’m not such a stickler for authenticity as to waste good fabric, and I’m in too much of a time crunch to figure out an alternative.  Fortunately there are enough non-reactors at Queen Charlotte’s that a little polyester should pass without comment…

Consistent in my Inconsistency

July 8, 2013

So I didn’t manage to do the Historical Sew Fortnightly (though I am still holding out hope for the rest of the year) not because I didn’t do the projects,  but because I inevitably forget to document them.  Woops.

It doesn’t help that between real life and the rush of prep for events there hasn’t been time for anything much aside from absolutely necessary maintenance.  So someday I will have a lovely silk ball gown, and a riding habit,  and a morning wrapper – just not this summer.  I console myself with the fact that, historically speaking,  unless I was truly wealthy,  I wouldn’t have had more than a couple of changes of clothes.  Certain nothing as extravagant as TWO ballgowns! 

Historical Sew Fortnightly

May 13, 2013

I’ve decided to try my hand at The Dreamstress’ Historical Sew Fortnightly – because obviously I don’t have enough sewing to do.  In a nut shell, every two weeks you produce a historical project on different themes: it’s up to you what you make and how you interpret the theme.   I’ve got a lot of sewing to get through for this summer (even if I have massive scaled back on my intended projects),  but it looks as if I should be able to fit most of my to-dos into the themes. More importantly,  I think the HSF will be a good prompt to get me blogging again, since clearly I have been sooo assiduous in my blogging.

As I’m in the middle of moving at the mo, the first challenge I will be taking part in is #11: Squares, Rectangles & Triangles.  It’s absolutely perfect, as I have the fabric for a shift (lots of lovely geometric shapes) all set and ready to go. Assuming, of course, that my sewing stuff makes it safely to Toronto!


Mantua Fail

December 8, 2011

So, after being so gung-ho to make up the mantua,  it all came to pieces.  I guess my sewing and math skills just aren’t there yet, especially when the pattern doesn’t actually appear to be to scale.  After much swearing and trying 3 different ways to enlarge it, I eventually had to give up, at least for the time being.  Maybe I can make it a winter project, especially if I get a dress dummy.

Not being able to finish the gown does leave me somewhat in the lurch as regards to an F&I wardrobe, since my one appropriate jacket was quite rubbish (hey, it was my first project).  I figured the easiest thing to do would be to whip up a bedgown.  It’s so hot these days, I’m sure I’ll be glad to keep my stays off as long as possible! After much dithering  I opted not to buy a pattern, but to try my hand at making a manteau-de-lit from Garsault’s L’art du tailleur, following  Marquise’s detailed instructions .  It took a  bit of fiddling, and the collar is the wrong way up so the (neatly finished) seams show, but everything looks alright and I am NOT redoing it (well, not any time soon at any rate).

My New Jacket

Not bad for four days!

While a bedgown is lovely for wearing while mucking about camp,  I blithely volunteered myselfto help with the period dance demos that the Ottawa ECD group are putting on, including the evening ball.  While I could get away with doing the demos in a bedgown,  my conscience simply won’t let me go to a ball in one.  Since a gown’s off the table – especially considering that I have four days to do it in – I decided to got with a jacket.   It’s one of the JP Ryan jacket patterns (view B I think) with the buttons as lacing posts inspired by one of the jackets in Janet Arnold.

This time I tried my hand at period technique, finishing each piece individually and then whipping everything together. I have to say it worked a treat; lining things smoothly has always been a weakness of my work, and this method neatly and easily sidesteps the whole problem, as well as the thorny issue of finishing ones seams.  For the ball I dressed it up with my peach linen petticoat worn over kidneys, and the embroidered stomacher I am working on the photo.  Although I was sewing right up until nearly the last minute, I think it turned out well.  I certainly got a lot of compliments, and several civilians learned the hard way that once you get a seamstress talking about her clothes she will never stop!

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