Monday, August 02, 2010

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensbility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 5

This is the fifth part of a multi-part tutorial about making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions. If you missed the first four sections, you can read parts 1-4 here.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version.

Our job at this point in the process is to have Polly try on the bodice yet again, to sew up the back and create the closures, and to make up the skirt and waistband.

I found this last part rather fun, really.

When Polly tried on the petticoat, this was some months after her last fitting, and she had been exercising, and lo, she had lost weight! It was too big now.  I thought a few moments about what to do, attempting to put my 18th century hat on, and said to myself, back then, people gained and lost weight too, but with cloth so dear, it's likely they'd have had a system to accommodate weight fluctuations. Aha: lacing! Adjust the lacing tightness to adjust the fit.

Second, I thought the bodiced petticoat would be more supportive if it contained a few bones in back. Asking her about it, she said that her favorite undergarments have support in the back anyway, so voila, that decision was made, too.

First, I pulled the bodice tightly on her, and marked the spot where the fabric overlapped, from top to bottom, with chalk. The line was not vertical, because her back is wider at the top than at the bottom, near her waist, no surprise there.

Then I measured in about inch and a half on each side and cut off the excess fabric. I wanted to leave an inch or more open across the back for the lacing to cross, but needed about half an inch of fabric for a seam allowance.  In retrospect, I should have cut off more, for Polly continued to lose weight :}

Adding Bones

Next, I turned in a narrow seam allowance and pinned it.

Here it is pinned. If you look to the completed side to the left, you can see that the next step was to run a seam very close to the edge. It not only closed the back edge, but provided a line against which to place the first of two bones.

Here I have taken inexpensive plastic boning out of its black bias tape wrapping, have slide it up along the edge of the seam, and am marking a sewing line to the left of it. This line of stitching will hold the bone in place.
Therefore, after marking the sewing line, I removed the bone from the bodice, sewed up the channel seam, slid the bone up into place, with the top edge nestled against the top seam, and trimmed the bottom pretty flush with the bottom of the bodice.

Now I measured about an inch inwards from the first bone, and marked a parallel line for a second bone, stitched a seam from top to bottom, slid a second bone along its edge, marked the channel same as for the first bone, and completed this second bone in the same manner.

Sewing the Back Closure Eyelets

Now we are ready to sew the eyelets. Like the stays used during the high-waisted era, these lace with a single lace in a sprial pattern, not two laces.

How far apart should the eyelets be spaced such that they would hold well but not overdo the lacing thing? To answer this question, I looked at my Past Patterns transition stays, numbering the eyelets and measuring the distance between them. The Past Patterns bodice is taken from an actual example, so I felt comfortable with its lacing pattern.

For this bodice, I came up with six eyelets. I spaced the top and bottom eyelets as directed in the Past Patterns #30 stays directions. The eyelet positioning is such that the top and bottom eyelets on each side line up horizontally, but the rest of them are offset, to take account of the single lacing. Given the vertical distance to be covered, and the number of eyelet holes I had made, I ended up with a rather funny look…the top two holes on each side are rather close together, but I see that in period spiral-laced stays. Probably I should not have been so rigid in following an existing lacing pattern and should have just reset all of them except the top and bottom ones a little, but the end result works well, so, as they say, all’s well that ends well. Just think carefully when you do your eyelets, and you most likely will do better than I did.

I marked the eyelets with a pencil, placing them in the center of space between the two bones.

Then I created the eyelets.

Important: when you make an eyelet hole, you do not want to punch through the fabric, cutting the threads that make it up, as if you were setting a grommet. That only makes the equivalent of little tears in the fabric, and as everyone knows, little tears soon become big ones.

Instead, you want to spread the threads and nudge them aside into a hole shape without breaking them. Mantua makers used to have a special tool for this. I used a candy thermometer, which has a blunt-ended sharp point and the diameter of an eyelet hole.

First I used a great big crewel needle to find a space between the threads at the center of my eyelet hole mark. I put the needle through and slowly spread the threads apart. When I had a hole big enough for the end of the candy thermometer to go through, I put that through slowly, working the threads apart into a nice eyelet hole.

Then I overcast the edges to finish them. There are lots of tutorials out there for making eyelet holes, and some of them differ from each other. I used linen thread (that came with the Past Patterns kit and with which much of the work on the stays was done) to do the job. It’s strong and thicker than sewing thread. Basically, all I did was to overcast stitch all the way around the hole. I did NOT do button hole stitch. It’s decorative, but the horizontal edge created will wear off over time. Plain overcast was what was used during the period, so I understand.

My first eyelets are always a little wonky, until I get into a groove, and so it was here, but eventually they turned out evenly.

How many stitches to do all the way around? Looking at close-ups of stays and other laced items of the day shows a bit of variety: some are beautifully, neatly overcast, leaving not a hint of a raw edge all the way around, and all the stitches the same length. The vast majority, however, use just slightly more than enough stitches to make the eyelet strong, and the stitches are not always perfectly even, and in some cases, are downright sloppy. Depends partly on the quality of the original garment.

Finishing the Bodice Bottom

I decided to finish the bottom of the bodice with bias tape, for a neat, clean edge. That way if needed the bodice can be worn alone, but more importantly, the skirt can be changed out relatively fast. Very early Regency dresses (1790s) were quite full, but as the years passed, they became slimmer and narrower.

All I did was to take a length of white double-fold bias tape somewhat longer than the length of the bodice bottom, and pin the right side edge of it to the raw edge of the right side of the bodice.

Then I stitched perhaps a quarter inch from the edge...or conveniently on the first fold of the bias tape...cannot remember the exact measurement.

Then I folded the bias tape over the raw edge of the bodice, and hemmed it down. Or stitched. Cannot recall. Hemming would be neater, but we were in a hurry to finish.

Voila, a completed bodice, ready for any skirt to be put upon it.

Adding the Skirt and Finishing the Petticoat

I apologize for not having pictures of this section. Somehow the camera just wasn't in play...we were just counting down days to the event and I was flying :}

Since the dress that Polly was to wear was designed for a circa 1796 look, we went for a full look.

You do not want the petticoat to drag the floor and it should end above the hemline of the dress so it doesn't peek out. So Polly donned the bodice, and I measured from the bottom of the bodice to about her ankle bone.

I took two pieces of muslin, 45 inches wide, and the length needed, plus 1/2" for a bottom hem and 1/2" for a top seam allowance. Then I seamed them up the sides at their selvages. with a 1/4" seam allowance.

I slit the center of what would be the back piece down 9" for a placket, to open at the back at the bodice opening. I turned down one raw edge of the slit about 1/8", then turned it down again to make a tiny hem, and hand running-stitched it up to the top. I did the same thing to the other raw edge and voila, a placket done much as it would have been in the day.

Then I hemmed the bottom, using the same procedure as for the placket, but turning down 1/4" each time. Period hems would be even narrower, often, but this seemed right for her.

Then, 1/2" down from the top of the skirt, ran, by hand, gathering stitches of about 1/4" or less each, all the way around the skirt, in four separate sections. For speed, you can run just two sections of gathers, one for each skirt panel, but it's better practice to measure the skirt into quarters (center front to side, side to center back, center back to side, side to front) and run four sections, because you can distribute the gathers more evenly. Even better, run two rows of gathering stitches, and stroke them, like I did for the midcentury petticoat. In a hurry? Gather by machine. It's up to you.

I then divided the bottom of the bodice into sections and marked these sections with a pencil, thus:
  • After I marked the center front of the bodice with a pin, I placed a pencil mark about 3" to each side.
  • On the back of the bodice, I measured in about 3" from the edges and marked there, on each side.
These markings show where to gather heavily and where to gather minimally.

Then I pulled in the gathering stitches of each skirt section until the result fit the length of the bodice. I pinned the raw edge of the skirt to the finished edge of the bodice. In practice, this means laying the skirt on a table, raw edge nearest you, and with the center front lying right side up. Then you lay the bodice on top, with its bottom edge (finished with bias tape) aligned with the skirt's raw edge, and its center front touching the center front of the skirt.

Then you pin the skirt to the bodice pretty roughly, from the center front out to each side for an inch or two. Then lift up the skirt, and pin the edge of one placket to the edge of one end of the bodice, and do the same with the other edge. Add a few extra pins to hold the rest to the skirt.

Now you distribute the gathers. It's easiest to start at the back.

Early Regency skirts had the most gathers at the back. So at one placket edge, distribute the gathers most heavily from there to the first marking out from the placket edge of the bodice. Pin the skirt to the bodice as you go. Try to pin in the valleys of the gathers rather than on the peaks. Do the same for the other placket edge.

Flip the skirt over to the front. Distribute a good bit of the gathers front the center front to the marks that are three inches to either side of the center front. You don't want it as full as in the back, but not scanty.

At the sides between the marks front and back, use the most minimal of gathers.

Why do it this way? Why not go flat in front? Because in the 1790s, skirts were still fullish there! Why go skimpy at the sides? Because you still wanted to show a waist, and this looked less poofy.

Now, from here you have several choices.

If you are going by machine, you can sew down the gathers as they are. Go carefully, trying not to smoosh or bunch up the gathers. Sew just outside (towards the skirt's raw edge) of the gathering stitches, and sew them just up from the bottom of the bodice. You will have raw edges on the inside of the skirt.

I frankly prefer to whip the skirt to the bodice by hand, instead. To do this, I lay the the two edges to be attached together, and then whip stitch them to each other, using very small stitches just inside the edges of both pieces. Not sure how to whip stitch? It's an ancient stitch, and the tutorial at the Medieval Tailor is quite nice. Or you could try the "Attack Laurel" method of whip stitching, illustrated in her excellent article, "The Elizabethan Seam".

Why qhip stitches? The whip stitches act like little hinges and the skirt hangs beautifully, with no seam line, no bulk. In the mid-century petticoat I whipped every gather, but if you are in a hurry, you can whip every 1/8 inch or so and be just fine.

Feeling a little iffy about raw edges? Encase the gathers in bias tape, and stitch the tape down down by hand or by machine, again just outside of the gathering stitches.

Then either sew the tape to the bodice or whip it to the bodice.

Either way, you now have a completed bodiced petticoat. Polly said it was very comfortable. It provided good support and was cooler than something made of synthetics.

Our only remaining fitting issue: she continued to lose weight, so the petticoat meets at the back when laced and the cups are too big, so that we had to take in the straps a week. My advice? Make the thing at least a size too small!

Soon as I can get the petticoat back from Polly for a photo shoot, I will add pictures of it here.

Wearing the Petticoat

Wondering how to lace the petticoat? Again, I need to show pictures, but frankly, La Couturiere Parisienne shows how to do it best in a diagram in How to Make 18th Century Stays: Wear and Care. You can get more of the history at The Zen of Spiral Lacing.

At last, we are done.

On to finishing the documentation on Polly's block print robe and petticoat and my white silk robe and petticoat!

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