Monday, November 26, 2012

Silk and Cashmere....Mmmmmmmmm...

It's cold outdoors today, and getting dim and dampish, and the forecasters are predicting a wintry mix late tonight. Better snuggle in and find warm, soft things to cuddle with.

I can look forward to two small boys in their footie pajamas, leaning in to each side while I read to them, and occasionally read to me, and later read with my husband nearby after the boys have gone to bed, while ueber-fluffy Muffin finds a spot on my lap. Those are all very good things to think about.

There are other soft and fluffy things though, less meaningful, but nice to handle and to look at. Take this little cashmere bag, made last evening and rapidly embroidered in 1950s-style lazy daisy stitches with silk filament and silk chenille, then closed with a silk ribbon run through the top.

It's out-and-out luxury, the gleam of the silk on the pettable fluff of the bag's sides. I'll put a little cotton bag of lavender inside and there we have a pretty little gift for someone to slide into a chest of drawers, or in among the sheets in the linen closet. So long as the moths don't get to it!

How It Was Made

I've had an old cashmere sweater I could no longer wear that wasn't in good enough condition to give away. I tried to unravel it but that didn't work well either...I can't seem to follow unravelling tutorials well enough.  In frustration, I looked at the end of a cut-open sleeve, and saw the shape of a little bag looking back at me.

Out with the fabric shears, and I cut the sleeve into three parts. The end with the cuff went into this bag. Then it was but a matter of turning it inside out, blanket-stitching up a side seam and bottom seam, and in a fit of fun, pulling out my best embroidery threads for a few minutes of on-the fly embroidery. I started embroidering little flowers with lazy-daisy stitches and knots in the centers, and when there seemed to be enough of them, scattered a few leaves around.

Then I took a needle with a big eye, threaded silk ribbon embroidery ribbon in it, and made a running stitch around the top, for a closure. That's it.

It's not perfect, naturally, and it looks very homemade, but that's the point. It's just a little loving hug to pass on to a friend.

Today I leave you with Noah and Christopher and their airplane on wheels. They took our dolley, plopped a box on it, and the driveway became the runway. Christopher is en route, below.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

*Still* the Steampunk Black Dress: Overskirt

Aren't we done with this dress yet? Goodness, no. Overskirt construction details and how the trim was done need documentation. Then we're done with describing the construction, at least.

Of course, the dod derned* dress itself isn't really complete, as already mentioned. The neckline trim needs redoing, and all the other trim needs what are called "bias folds" to finish them, and the flounce is missing an added puffing. I want to fuss  around with the overskirt: it needs more height and that might require more interior strings as well as a little built-in bustle pad. Then there's my entirely inadequate hairdo, all out of balance with the fluffy puffiness of the rest of the costume. That's the experimentiness of my blog coming out: as many fails as successes!

*straight from Mark Twain, and so of true 19th century flavor.
The Dreamstress
models her new

So if you yawn and stretch at the interminability of this steampunk beast, best go visit the Dreamstress: she about always has something new to show. Besides, her take on modern t-shirts is just great and I am itching to make one of my own. Only four seams and three hems! The free pattern from 3HoursPast’s Blank Canvas Tee.

Overskirt Documentation

You already met the overskirt when it was a-toiling.

Remember where the pattern came from -- January Peterson's Magazine, 1869, right figure. The pattern is right in the magazine, and it's available on Google books.

To make my toile, I displayed the pattern on my computer, laid out a large length of muslin, doubled in half, and drew the pattern pieces by eyeballing them. Peterson's gives some basic measurements in inches, and this helped me, but I also and checked the proportions by examining the fashion plate. As in: okay, the front wings come down to about to thigh level on the figure.

Note: I cut the back a little longer than the Peterson's pattern: I just wanted extra length to pull up for extra pouf, or to let down for a more flowing look.

Here are all the pieces for the toile all cut out, and lined up ready to sew together. There are two "wings" in front, two side pieces, and a very large back piece.

Ladybug tests the toile.
Look closely, now. Why do you suppose the little wings pieces, which will sit at the front over the tummy, have a curve that goes opposite to the shape of the pieces they sit next two? That's to help create some puff and drape in the front. I didn't care for the drape, when I finally wore the dress, even though I liked it on the dressform. Next time I'd make the wing pieces longer and pleat them into the side pieces with three small pleats. The finished length would be the same, but the pleats would add some shadowing interest.

Then I toiled up the pieces to test for fit, as per my past post. I followed the construction directions that came with the pattern. They included putting several sets of upward-facing pleats in the side pieces. What a neat way to create drapey poufs and shadow lines! An upwards-facing pleat pulls fabric up, not down, poufs it out, not smooths it. You can see the effect clearly in the photo below.

I also curved the front edge of the wings a little more than in the original pattern.

Once I had the toile the way I wanted it, I unpicked the seams, and recut and marked the pieces to reflect my alterations. Then I laid the pieces out on the fashion fabric, and cut the fashion fabric pieces. The toile pieces became a lining.

Yes, the overskirt is fully lined. My original 1870s dress, including the peplum or basques, is lined with e very light but crisp polished cotton. I felt that lining it would give the drape extra oomph as it did, sort of. In retrospect (fall 2020) I might have lined it with organdy or book muslin/tarlatan rather than cotton muslin. The muslin is quite heavy and body it gives is heavy, at odds with the puffiness of the era. Something feather-light but slightly stiff would work better.

Just as with the extant dress (which see the post "Building the Underskirt", the lining is a flat-lining: the lining and fashion fabric are treated as one, and seamed up that way. That means that the seams show on the underside, but that was normal. I finished the seams by overcasting them. Then I slipstitched the bottom and sides to hem them. The big stitches you see in the photo below? Those are the tacking stitiches that hold the trim in place. You would find that on extant dresses too.

Then it was time to add the waistband and finish it. Because an overskirt is drapey, it is 3-D, and so I pinned it together on the dressform, not flat, to make sure it would make up the way I wanted. Sure, I had a toile, but what if adding heavier fabric changed things?

First step: gathering the back piece tightly. Note that I matched the side back seam on the bodice with the side seam on the overskirt.

Here's the gathering, from the interior (after the overskirt has been sewn to the waistband):

Next, I pleated the sides of the overskirt. I set in very, very wide pleats. Look on the back side of the overskirt, and see that the pleats are inches wide, in some cases. My finger points them out in the photo below. Is this because the pattern was too big? No, I don't think so. It just took a lot of fabric to create such pouf on the overskirt, and all that fabric has to be pulled in tightly in order to pouf well.

The pleats are set on a backwards angle, as you see below. This will help pouf the fabric towards the back.

Then the overskirt sides were pleated with those upwards-facing pleats.

All the sets of side pleats added.

Half the overskirt pleated. Notice how the side pleats create a pannier pouf, that is, a pouf which sticks out at the sides, which was very popular that year. It was towards the middle of the 1870s that most of the bustle effect was concentrated in the back, leaving the sides slim. In 1869, width was still important -- a nod to 18th century pannier hoops and skirt polonaising.

Next I pinned the second side. Then the overskirt was carefully removed from the dressform, and all the pleats and gathering backstitched, by hand, into place. I used a spaced backstitch, with tiny stiches showing outside, as below.

Inside, the stitches look bigger: they are the vertical lines of black stitching below. If I want to redo the look of the draping, I can take out the stitching and redo it easily, without bothering the hems.

Then the first inch or so of the overskirt top was turned inwards and whipped to a waistband, just as for the underskirt. I built in about three extra inches at each end of the belt so I could add a real belt buckle if wanted, or just pin the band together, as desired. Here's the effect from the outside. I used strong quilting thread to do the whipping: unfortunately it's white and shows.

 However, that's the case on my extant dress, too: look at the little white whipstitches on the waistband of my extant 1870s skirt in the photo below.

Phewee, that's the end of the overskirt construction. Last bit? time. I am worn out, aren't you?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Steampunk Black Dress: Building the Underskirt

Edited September 8, 2020

In the rush to get the steampunk dress ready for the Halloween tea, I neglected to share with you several aspects of its construction, most of it based on my extant 1870s dress, and/or on Harper's Bazar instructions. So here they are, after the fact, in the next few posts.

Let's talk about the underskirt. Watch out: this is an image-heavy post.

A Late 1860s Extant Dress as a Model

I used a late 1860s dress as a model for many construction decisions in this dress. Recently a dress historian and costumer, Cassidy of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, analyzed the dress in detail in her video and post "Ca. 1866 Brown Gown - A Close-Up Look". I had sent the dress, along with many other antique garments, to her several years ago, believing she could analyze and conserve them better than I could. The analysis dates the dress to 1866-1867, probably altered for a first time in the early 1870s, and she walks viewers through a number of minute construction details and later alterations that I entirely missed, while confirming some of my findings. I hope you will view the video, because the construction certainly affects how the dress would look when worn.

The Underskirt Pattern and Seaming up the Pieces
The extant late 1860s dress that I used
as a model for construction methods.
This garment was straightforward: I used the TV201 pattern again, the same as for the petticoat, for the pattern pieces, except that I added a bit of a train...just adding some inches to the back piece. I did not, however, follow the Truly Victorian construction directions, but instead the construction of my extant dress. You'll see why in a bit.

The skirt is entirely lined in lightweight muslin. Why? Well, my extant dress is, and I wanted the solid effect that most non-summer 1870s skirts have. They drape crisply and a bit heavily. You can see that in the image of the extant dress here. That silk, by the way, is light as air, and backed by polished cotton and "book muslin" at the hem.

Had I been able to find polished cotton, it would have been great, because then I wouldn't worry it would cling to the petticoat. In the event, it didn't anyway, which is good. It would have been NOT good if the skirt had clung to the petticoat and crept out of alignment or pulled up or something.

After seaming up the skirt pieces, I overcast the seam allowances to finish them and keep them from fraying. In this skirt, the two allowances are placed together and overcast as one: the skirt is thick enough to do this without it showing on the right side.

The Placket

Next, the placket. It sits on the wearer's right side, just in front of the back piece. This makes the skirt a bit of a pain to put on, because the opening is so far back, but it's well hidden by the overskirt.

Each side of the placket opening was turned inwards into a hem, and the lining ditto: then the lining and fashion fabric were slip-stitched closed. Easy peasy.

How the 1870s extant skirt did the placket was a little different. Here below is the placket from the outside. See the big running stitches where the lining and the placket are sewn together. No slip stitches here.

On one side of the placket, the fashion fabric is brought inwards, and hemmed down. Note the tobacco-colored polished cotton lining. Pretty color, isn't it?

On the other side of the placket, the lining is brought out to the edge, turned in, and sewn together. Note the old repair at the bottom of the placket. This dress has layers and layers of repair; at one point it may have been used as a costume.

Skirt Hem and Facing

Then the bottom hem was completed. As with any mid-century skirt, the skirt is "balanced" so the hem is made even by adjusting the waist, not the bottom hem. This makes finishing the bottom hem infinitely easier.  You just turn it up and sew it. Plus you have the extra fabric handy in case you want to make the skirt longer in the future.

Harper's Bazar recommendas and my extant dress features a deep facing at the skirt hem. It makes the skirt hang better. I simply followed the extant dress as closely as I could. The skirt's fashion fabric was turned in about a half inch and pressed flat.

A wide facing -- about 9 inches -- was cut in black muslin, following the bottom of the pattern pieces, and seamed together.

Facing seamed up.
The facing was placed on the outside of the skirt, right side to right side, and sewn. Then the skirt was turned inside out, and the facing was turned inwards, and pressed so that the fashion fabric shows a little on the interior.This prevents the facing from ever showing on the outside of the skirt. Then the top of the facing was turned down into a hem and was slip-stitched to the skirt lining. This was kind of a pain, because sometimes the needle would go all the way through to the outside of the skirt, and I'd have to take it out, or hope that the trim would cover up the stitches that showed :)

Facing pinned in place.
Completed facing. (The black fabric showing on the ouside of the skirt is actually flounce trim.)
Skirt Waistband

Big fun, this part :} Really? Well, maybe. Depends on your point of view.

Let's look at the extant 1870s dress and see what it tells us. When I first bought the thing, I was a bit flummoxed, because it seemed to have a petersham waistband. You can see it clearly in this image below...the big ribbon-like band at the top of the photo.

It turns out that the original waistband was either worn out or fragile or didn't fit the new wearer, because the petersham waistband is a later addition, made in a hurry with a combination of machine and hand stitching.

The next picture might tell the story better. I've marked where the petersham band begins: we're looking at the inside of the skirt at the waistband level. The petersham band was sewn to the outside of the skirt. The original skirt features a wide-ish waistband. The skirt was leveled at the hem, probably while on the wearer, with the raw top edge turned inward and pulled down until at the floor level the skirt hem was positioned where it was wanted. The raw edges were loosely overcast to protect them from raveling. Then the skirt was pleated as needed until it fitted the wearer's waist, pinned in place, most likely. Then, probably while off the wearer, the waistband was whipped to the skirt with thick, strong thread. You can see all of this below, with my annotations.

The original skirt wasn't pleated all the way around, of course, since fashion required a nice flat front. Instead, a very few wide pleats were taken at front and sides, and then the back of the skirt, where all the fullness lies, was cartridge pleated, and then sort of whipped to the waistband so that the pleats would swing clear of the band and stand out in back, helping the bustle pouf. You can see that below. Note that the lining goes right up to the top of the skirt fabric! This gives the pleating more strength, of course, but also helps to make the pleats stand out more.

When the skirt was redone the seamstress just sewed the cartridge pleats flat.

The Truly Victorian pattern directions ask that the skirt pleating or gathering be fitted inside, encased, in the waistband, and this is easy to do, of course. Yet it makes for a thicker waistband, and forces the skirt fabric downwards. When you want a bustle pouf, you want that skirt going outwards at the first available opportunity, so cartridge pleating is a better bet for that effect.

Now, what did I do? What the extant skirt did. I just put a few fitting pleats at the sides and front, and then cartridge pleated the skirt in back until it fit tightly at the waist. This is key: you can make the cartridge pleats bigger or smaller, so do that part last: get the smooth parts in place first. I set each pleat while on my mannequin, pinning it in place. It's all eyeballed, not measured.

Memo to file: it took two tries to get a good fit. The first time round I box-pleated the back of the skirt, but didn't like the effect.

Then I whipped the skirt to a waistband. The waistband was made of a tube of both muslin lining and fashion fabric, sewn right sides to right sides, turned, and then one long edge topstitched so that the tube laid perfectly flat.

I made the waistband about two inches longer than needed, not being sure if I might need to make it bigger down the road. To wear the skirt, I just pinned the waistband ends together with straight pins, like an 18th century garment would be. That way the skirt will always fit pretty well, whether I lose weight or, please not, gain any.

So that's it for the underskirt construction. No one sees much of the underskirt when it's worn, so it's not that exciting a garment, but the shot below gives you an idea.

Next up, overskirt and trim notes. Then it's on to the small finishes that will make this a better dress, and lastly, better hair!