Sunday, January 31, 2010

Part 2 of the Regency Bodiced Petticoat, Edited with More Fitting Information

As promised, I added further fitting information to part 2 of the tutorial on making a bodiced petticoat from Jennie Chancey's first Regency dress pattern.

The added material shows the process of the first fitting: setting the trial darts on the bodice to shape it. We were lucky with Polly's bodice: it went together very well and she graciously allowed me to photograph the process for you.

Another note: we actually fitted her bodice a week or two after the first fitting session at our sewing circle meeting. By then I had fitted four other bodices, and so I was neater about pinning, but her figure also was perfect for fitting the bodice the way Jennie Chancey's example did.

To read the added information, please see A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 2.

A Snowstorm as a Goodbye to January

As last week wound on and the weathermen and the media wound themselves up, a big snowstorm wended its way from Texas, drifting slowly to the north and the east.

By Friday afternoon I had turned weather bug, dancing rapidly among's radar screen and our own windows and a very busy day at work. Dinnertime arrived and still no snow, belying the radar coverage: the flakes appeared to be hanging within the clouds. I'll give it to the media: we plugged in the old TV and watched reporters a bit further south in Kentucky, their breath coming out -- in dare I say, clouds of hot air? -- pointing to bare dustings on grass and roads and telling us that we were in the midst of a most dangerous situation. The back of my hand to all this! We have our bread and milk already. Six gallons of the liquid white stuff in the refrigerator, and the fixings for snowed-in lasagna, a massive pasta dish layered with bechamel faintly dashed with grated nutmeg, and of Bolognese sauce, sauteed zucchini, and browned mozzarella to adorn the crust.
Photo: whenever Noah puts on his coat, we call him Fur Person. He has to run away fast or I will scoop him up and rub noses with him over and over. I am glad he usually prefers rubs to running.

Bathtime and bedtime, and daddy, boys and I still were looking out the windows from time to time, but nothing seemed to show itself. Noah had a high fever, so our anticipation was mixing with worry about him.

Eleven p.m. and Christopher awoke, and Curte was padding back and forth between our bedroom and Noah's room, checking his fever, helping him sip his medicine, and we both independently peered out the window. Nada. The sharp line between storm and calm appeared to have chosen a southern boundary and we'd wake to boring dead browns outdoors.

Photo: a 2 1/2-year-old version of the Michelin man. Methinks his coat's too small.

One a.m., and more padding around. Ooh, old floors are nippy round about midnight. We have a bank of tall, mullioned windows at the back of the hall upstairs, and I leaned over the bench for a view. At last, smallish flakes falling, not too thick, but enough to coat the ground. Hooray! Snow enough to crowd out worry over our boy, so I stay awake to ruminate about snow forts past. Three a.m., and Noah had been crying on and off, and Christopher awoke again. Outdoors, the sky was blank. Oh, fiddle-faddle.

Yesterday morning, then, as we stirred to life around 7:30, was a gift to a tired-out family. Snow squalls outdoors, and appropriately gunmetal sky, a soft, deep blanket piling up and drifting against our big trees. If Noah was better, sledding and cocoa?

He wasn't better most of the day, so Curte had the morning to sleep and I drew stories for the tots on the easel and we made oatmeal with raisins and sang and I roughed out a pair of fleece chaps so Christopher could play cowboy.  The view outside was a comfort.

Later, a pleasurable if short trip to the YMCA and its sauna, where when I step inside and sit down in the heat, the indirect light always helps me to dream of the Salzburger Hof in Zell am Zee, and the mineral pools at Banff's Fairmont Hotel, and the heat and daydreams are bliss. We don't vacation often, but when we do, there has to be water, and if it's from a mineral spring, then... fiddle-faddle again. I worried about Curte shooing tired, pettish twins upstairs to a chorus of No! No! No!, and that was it for the daydream and the gym.

Photo: testing the depths. About four inches.

Late afternoon and after all that anticipation and worry, we bundled up, squeaking and squealing, and it was outdoors! Happy hopping, breathless snow depth tests, and Curte took them sledding. Happy, happy snow!

'Course, I was too pooped to take on a three-hour lasagna, but those fixings, they're still waiting, still whispering their creamy siren song.

Postscript: the weekend may have been pleasant for us and gentle on our Kentucky, I know that points further south were not as well treated, and remember unhappily how last year's ice storm brought lasting misery to so many people and to the landscape. Still, an Ithaca girl cannot but love her snow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

She Stooped...and Conquered: A Riding Habit and Quilted Petticoat

Once again, the seamstress and authoress behind the Rockin' the Rococo blog has produced detailed diaries documenting her creation of two complex and difficult-to-make eighteenth-century garments, a riding habit and a quilted petticoat.

Her garments were designed from extant examples, hand sewn by daylight or candlelight, in conditions she kept as close to the experience of an eighteenth-century mantua maker as she could manage, and with fabrics and methods as close as possible to those used in the period.

The results are astonishing, particularly the petticoat.

Further, the documentation is among the best-written and photographed I have ever encountered, and could be treated as a short course in creating eighteenth-century dress.

Photo: Carolyn's hand-sewn silk and wool petticoat, with wool batting.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hoopskirts Make Good Cat Beds

Well, there you have it. One cat, at least, finds happiness and security curling up on a hoopskirt.
Oh, Ladybug. I lay something down for just a moment, and you have to nap on it...

In other news, I am playing with the look of this blog. The header background is a photo of a fragment of real 18th century toile fabric from my collection. I will probably play around a bit more with the blog layout. It looks a little rough, but then, I am not a professional graphic artist.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 2

(Note: heavily edited with new information on January 31st)

This is the second 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 for a bodiced petticoat. If you missed the first part, you can read Part 1 here.)

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

In this post: fitting the bodice toile and then basting the darts, the second fitting, and then creating the final pattern.

Fitting the Bodice Toile with Darts

At the last meeting of our period sewing circle we did a first fitting of the bodice toiles, pinning them with darts to create the lifted-up Regency look. We followed Jennie's directions: see the section titled "Fitting the Bodice Toile". What we learned was really helpful.

When we fitted the bodices, we noticed that everyone's darts varied quite a bit in size and position, depending on each person's build and bust size and shape. For example, Caroline really didn't need three darts on each side, and one was angled strongly because she has a very slender build. The darts on my bodice were all strongly angled. The darts on Polly's bodice, by contrast, were very similar indeed to those Jennie shows in her notes. By then, I had fitted four other bodices, so by this point my darts were more neatly pinned and more confidently set, but still...

Anyhow, nota bene: your darts may vary!

Let's start with pinning up Polly's bodice, since hers went so well.

Note how loose the bodice is. Remember that we cut them from dress bodices, which are not tightly fitted, and then we added fabric in the bust that we will later gather with a drawstring.

Here are the very first darts I set. For details on just how the pins are set into the fabric, here is a photo that Jennie provided in her directions:

The darts are just under the bust point and set just to figure out where the bust point is. Polly also used blue chalk to lightly mark the bust point.

If you look at the shoulder straps, you will see that I have made little snips into the fabric. The straps are too wide, and the armscye is too tight underneath Polly's arm, so unless I snipped little cuts into the edges, I wouldn't be able to fit the bodice very well at all.

Then I fitted these darts up and over the bust point, as Jennie's directions ask us to do. See the image below. Do you see how the bodice fabric is beginning to pull in a little? As we set the second and third darts to the outside of the first darts, the fabric started to shape to the bust.

Here below are the second and third darts pinned into place. As Jennie's directions require, we are attempting to push up the bust and center it in.

Just as with the first darts, the second and third darts are just barely angled outwards. They shaped themselves naturally as I pinned them -- it suprised me just how naturally the process went.

Here below is the bodice darted, shown from the side. All that excess at the neckline will be taken in, and when the bodice is laid flat again, I shall also narrow the straps, cutting off the fabric at their outer edges to the depth of the little snips I made. More on that later.

In the photo below the bodice is removed and laid flat as it can go. With a pencil, I am marking the darts with a pencil. If you look carefully, you can see the shadow of the darted-out fabric layer underneath the top fabric layer. I am marking the edge of that shadow line. Just as I had hoped, the darts at the top had a very small curve in them. It was magical to see this happen. Funny: to think that some darts should please a person so much.

So there was Polly's bodice at its first fitting. It went very well.

The rest of us had a slightly tougher time. We'll use the experience with darting my bodice below as a guide to how everyone's darts are going to differ.

Basting the Darts -- and Refitting Them if Needed

Here below is what the bodice looked like after Jenni and I had fitted it -- on me -- with darts. Sure reminds me of an eighteenth century shape, all straight lines converging at the base. The top of the bodice was only a little poufed out, which is hard to see in this photo. I am smaller busted than Polly.


Jennie's picture, below.

Do you see how my darts are set on an angle, where Jennie's darts are set more vertically?  She writes that when you create the darts, that you will need at least three of them, and that they will vary. Well, when we pinned me, the darts seemed to do a better job when they were set on an angle.

Repinning Darts: Do If Needed

I needed to set my pins more neatly: they did pin down the fabric approximately where it needed to go, but didn't create neat darts that stuck out. Jennie's picture, by contrast, shows pins that outline and create darts neatly. If you're experienced, you probably won't have to do repin your darts after the fitting, but all of us had some trouble pinning the bust neatly, because -- erm-- things move around. It took me fitting the bodices of four different women before I was able to create neat dart lines during the actual fitting. is a method that worked for me to pin proper darts after the fitting.
First I laid the bodice as flat as it would go, and smoothed all the darts, creating what almost look like pleats across the bodice.

Then I pinched the fabric carefully between my fingers and inserted pins horizontally at the depth I wanted the dart to go. The pins outlined the seam line where I would baste. I repinned all of the darts.

Then I basted up the darts (see below for details on the basting process), and went to try on the bodice again.

Oops, I didn't make the darts long enough. I had looked at Jennie's pictures and the seams didn't look long, and for that first fitting they seemed right.

However, Jennie's directions say: "(the darts are not meant to behave like conventional darts (which basically come to just under the bust point). Instead, they are intended to go over the bust point to force the bosom inward and upward. As a result, they need to be quite snug."

Aha. My darts did not go over the bust point.

So, back to the bathroom to try on the bodice.

Tip: to see how the thing fits you either have to have a helper hold the back closed, or you can close the back with a plastic hair clip. You cannot pin the back closed unless you are very slim indeed, for the snug fit won't allow you to slip the bodice on and off.

Here is a photo of the kind of clip I used.

So, I refitted the bodice to myself, by myself. Here is how it was done:

Rather than take the basting out and start from scratch, I took the top of each basted dart in hand and pinched more fabric above the top of each dart and pinned it in place. I made sure that the two darts closest to the center of the bodice went over the bust point. There was no way I could take a photo of this process, but it was less frustrating than one might believe.

I laid out the bodice flat again and smoothed everything to see the curvature of what I had. Remember, the bodice won't lay entirely flat, because you've made darts to shape the fabric into a three-dimensional form. Then I  pinned the new upper parts of the darts neatly, noting that there was a curvature at the top of each one, and drew curved dart lines with a pencil. Jennie says that there is indeed a bit of a curve in each dart. If you click on the image to see the larger version, you can make out the pencil markings.

Note: you might not want to make sure large curves as I did: they just seemed to work best for my particular bust line.

You may not choose to baste the lower and upper parts of the darts separately. That was me just being cautious, because I didn't want to have to rip out entire seams once again, only the top parts if I had to.

Here are the new tops of the darts, pinned.

Next step: time to baste the darts again.

Here's an easy way to show how it can be done.

First, pinch the fabric at the top of the dart, lifting your fabric up off your table.

Then fold the fabric together into two on the dart fold and lay it flat.

Now you have the fabric ready to baste: baste up the line you drew to the edge of the fabric, and take three backstitches to really fix the thread tightly in place, and snip of the thread end. Do this for each dart.

Here are the completed darts. Note the curves in the darts.

Then I tried it on for fit. Not bad: the fit did achieve the lift and centering of the bust that I looked for.

Making Other Adjustments from the First Fitting

At the first fitting we had discovered that  all of us had way too much fabric under the arms, like a very loose shirt, not a snug bra-like bodice. What to do?

We'll use my bodice as an example. I pinched out fabric with my fingers at the side seams, and pinned it. Then I basted a new seam at the new depth. If you look at the second-to-last picture in the section above, you will see the first, too-loose seam, and the second, tighter seam.

The bodice straps were also too wide on all of us. Once again, we'll use my bodice as an example. The bodice hung off my shoulder, as you can see in the photo above, and the armscye was very tight, so that it bunched up under my arm. So I drew a wider armscye with a pencil, and cut it. Below you see the line, ready to cut.

Preparing Final Pattern Pieces

At this point I was happy with the fit.

Remember that the final bodice is in two layers, a lining layer and an outer layer. In Jennie's instructions she assumes that this toile we have made will just be saved as a pattern, and that we'll cut fresh fabric for the real bodice. Because I do not expect to make another bodiced petticoat, I am using the toile pieces as the actual lining.

No matter what the case, we still need to take the toile apart so that we can cut the pieces for the outer layer (or new lining and outer layer).

First, I marked all seams, on both sides, with a pencil.

Then I trimmed off the bottom of the bodice to about an inch and a half below the waistline of my real dress. Jennie's directions have you do this early on, before basting the toile, but again, I am cautious. I wanted to make sure that I had the thing fitted right first.

Tip: when cutting across seams, lay the seam flat and just cut both seam and fabric together.

Then I ripped the seams open. Here is where taking three big back stitches to end a seam pays off. You snip the backstitches and you're ready to pull out the thread. Here below, snip!

Then pull the thread out from the knotted end. It should just slip right out.

Here are all the pieces ready to be used as a pattern to cut the final pieces.

Next up: constructing the final bodice.