September 15, 2014

Historical Sewing: Regency Dress

Regency Dress
A few weeks ago I showed you some of the undergarments that support this Regency Era outfit. Here's the finished dress (actually I'm wearing a petticoat under this, too, but didn't bother to take pics). This is in fact not my first completed Regency dress but I wasn't too excited about that one so decided to make another dress.


I started with a blue stripe cotton from Hancock Fabrics and Butterick 6074, blending bits from both versions A and B, but this dress you see now hardly resembles the original pattern at all so I don't think it fair to call this a pattern review.

I made so many changes and adjusted bits here and there throughout the sewing process.

My biggest problem was the method of closure. Often regency dresses had drawstrings in back to gather up the neckline and waistline. This pattern used drawstrings but it just wasn't working. The neckline pulled at weird angles, the drawstring binding crumpled up into a big pokey mess and it was difficult to put the dress on by myself. When I did manage to tie the strings together it would gape at the back waist no matter what.

So I ditched the drawstrings in favor of three hook and eyes but this caused a new problem. The string created the front gathers at the neck but without it I'd have to make a permanent way to keep the gathers together. I didn't want to add a lining to the bodice so instead I made self fabric piping and attached it to the gathered front. Problem solved.

Regency Dress

Originally the dress was much higher in front but as you know from my last post that just won't do so I cut the neckline down lower and lower and lower again.

(the original neckline and big sleeves)

The short sleeves were also especially poufy, something I wasn't comfortable with so I did a kind of hack job to them and now they have no pouf whatsoever.

And the entire dress was WAY too big around. I cut about 4in off the back of the dress and it's still probably a little too big.

It was incredibly frustrating to face one problem after another and still not be any closer to a finished, working dress. And every cut, trim, alteration decision was plagued by doubt from Dixie Victorian, my historical sewing alter ego who demanded accuracy perfection and who seemed determined to make me fail.

(Mid construction fit - with bonus commentary from Dixie Victorian: 
Shouldn't the waistline be higher in the back? Are buttons better than of hook and eyes? 
Those sleeves are too short. How wide to cut the neckline?)

Regency Dress

Over time the revisions took their toll and in my darkest hour I started thinking "why bother? It's never going to end. After I finish this dress I still need to make a hat, jackets, tuckers. I'll need shoes and stockings and garters and a shawl. Besides, I'm never going to be able to wear this outfit out anyway. There's no costuming group in Austin. There's no appropriate photoshoot backdrops. There's not a single building built before 1850 that's still standing in this whole city. Texas wasn't even settled by English speaking people until the 1830s, well before the regency era!"

Dixie Victorian had won.

Then later, while wallowing in sorrow over my sewing machine, I remembered The Oregon Regency Society, a very active group of enthusiastic men and women celebrating all things regency in a state of the union in which the population of white people residing there during the regency era was exactly none. Sure, Lewis and Clark trekked the area in 1804 but for some reason I don't think Sacagawea was traversing the continental divide in a velvet pelisse and a feather trimmed silk bonnet.

That revelation at least suppressed the idea that my historical costume accuracy had to extend to geographical location. If those Oregon folks could enjoy teas and croquet and playing the pianoforte in the great Northwest then I could wear my dresses here in Texas just as well.

...That's when Dixie Victorian reminded me that English and Russian ships did roam up and down the Pacific coast trading for furs with natives during the early 19th century.

To which I replied very politely that she should go die of typhus.

But I pressed on! I finished the dress and although there are mistakes and questionable decisions made while sewing I was relieved to be done with it. Dixie Victorian be damned because at this point the amount of f***s I give is proportionate to the population of regency era white people living in Oregon.

And if Dixie Victorian or anyone else wants to complain about it, well, I would kindly directly you to speak with Mr. Pemberly here:

(You know what's sad? I felt the need to search out a men's fashion plate from the same time period as my "Dixie Victorian" lady because even historical accuracy in stupid jokes is a necessity.)

But just for kicks let's list all the accuracy discrepancies once and for all so I can be done with it:
  • Since the original sleeves were so gigantic I cut them down from the same pattern piece (I didn't have big enough scraps to cut new sleeves) but the sleeve cap is very tall and the sleeves are pretty tight. Sleeves of this era would have had a very low cap and set into the dress at almost a 90 degree angle. Mine on the other hand keep me from lifting my arms.
  • The sleeves also aren't gathered which means the dress would probably be from earlier in the period (like pre-1805) but in that case it means that the back bodice is too wide. Earlier dresses had narrow backs with the sleeve caps extending back over the shoulder blades.
  • My sleeves also conflict with my skirt - pre-1805ish you'd have gathers all around the skirt, only later did they start moving the fullness to the back to have a flat front skirt.
  • I've only seen piped necklines on a couple extant dresses and only ball gowns, not day dresses. It probably wasn't very popular and I'm probably doing it wrong.
  • I've read conflicting reports on when hook and eyes were used. I know button back dresses were middle to late Regency but I didn't want to mess with hand bound buttonholes anyway.
  • Oh, and with such a low cut front my neckline should also be wider, my shoulder strap area is probably too thick but if I made it any thinner you'd see all my undergarments.
Basically my dress is a hodge podge of eras which no one will notice except Dixie Victorian. And I'm fine with that. Mostly... My next dress will be much better and it's all about learning, right?

This dress marks my second attempt at using a costume pattern from a Big 4 company and both had similar problems (like having waaaaaayyy too much ease). I've learned my lesson and will now only use patterns from indie companies devoted to historical garments.

Regency Dress Close Up

On the positive side I've improved my sewing skills quite a bit. My hand sewing is neater, more even, and I can sew more quickly by hand as well. That's carried over into my modern sewing, too. I hand blind hem almost everything and I'm more diligent about pressing and finishing seams. I even spend more time on little details like interfacing zippers.

It seams my little experiment is proving beneficial - which is good because I have a bunch of plans for more historical sewing. I just got a kit to make a cute little regency bonnet! Who knew I'd ever be so excited about making a bonnet!??

September 6, 2014

Simplicity 1371 - Cynthia Rowley meets Vlisco

Simplicity 1371

This is probably the craziest outfit I've ever sewn...

The Goal: Let me back track for a second - I think we all have our limits to personal style, what we will or won't make and feel comfortable wearing. For me I usually draw the line at loud, bold, high fashion styles and tend to stick to something more casual, classic, low key.

What was I to do when I saw this Cynthia Rowley design staring back at me from the pattern catalog? Something in me demanded that I make it even though I'd probably never be caught wearing a halter-style crop top with matching high waist pleated pants. I mean, the shirt even has an under-bewb window. I know some ladies would totally rock this look no problem, for me it's more daring than I'd normally try.

But I loved it! And I figured, if I was going to sew, for me, an outrageous outfit I had better double down, go all in, and totally commit - so naturally I paired the pattern with a huge all over print that screams "look at meeeeeeeeee!!!!"

So this is my experiment in out-of-my-comfort-zone sewing, a fashion challenge to myself, and I think I might have succeeded.

The Pattern: #1371 is one of the more recent releases from Cynthia Rowley and Simplicity. Sewing her designs reminds me of when I first started making clothes using Built By Wendy patterns. The regular Simplicity offerings bored me but the BBW collection was much more my style. Any time there was a sale I'd snatch up all the patterns just to collect as inspiration. And now there's a new designer who makes me want to collect every single pattern she makes.

I made views A and C just like on the model on the envelope (but without the frill on the crop top).

Simplicity 1371

The Fabric: Leftover Vlisco wax print from this dress. Even after making this outfit I still have nearly THREE YARDS left! If anyone has any Vlisco of her own and maybe wants to trade a yard or two leave me a comment.

This light weight, crisp cotton was the perfect fabric for this style.

The Changes: Since this was more of a "fun" project I didn't make a muslin or many changes at all.

Simplicity 1371

I made a size 12 for top and bottom and both have a tiny bit too much ease. The only thing I changed for the top was making the neck straps tighter in back.

The pants are interesting, the waistband extends above your natural waist. The problem with that was the pants were slightly too big so they kept sliding down to make the waistband sit lower, this made the waistband pouf out at the top so I had to do some after sewing hijinks to wrangle the waistband to be more snug.

And the sliding down waistband in turn caused the crotch line to drop lower. You can't really tell with the busy print but next time I think I'll lop off a few inches from the top of the pants and attach the waistband on so that it sits more normally.

Simplicity 1371

Also with that very tall waistband the crop top hardly seems cropped at all. If I slouch there's not really a gap at the midriff, in fact it kind of looks like a fancy jumpsuit when the shirt overlaps the pants. I'm sure the envelope model was taller than me.

Even with the waistband shenanigans the pants fit surprisingly well for a big 4 pattern. Pockets don't stick out, legs aren't too wide, this pattern might work well for some regular dress pants.

The assembly for the pants was your standard fare but for the top the instructions have you put together all the pieces in a very specific order. I did quite a bit of hand stitching because I wasn't paying attention to the directions, ooops.

The Results: Ok, I have to admit I will probably never wear this matchy matchy outfit in public. It's just too strong of a look for me but if I pair the garments separately with something less vivid I think I could pass for normal.

Here's how I'd probably wear these pieces:

Simplicity 1371

This is my hi-low circle skirt (rather wrinkled). It's high waist and a solid color making this a not bad choice for say, hanging out at a concert in the park on a hot summer night.

Simplicity 1371

And with a plain t-shirt and maybe a couple accessories I could make these my "party pants." In case I have to go downtown to see a concert. Let's face it, in Austin, if you're getting dressed up you're probably going to a concert somewhere...

Looks like my daring outfit might actually be wardrobe friendly, who would have thought?

So, I ask you, readers, what's the most crazy, out there, attention grabbing garment you've ever made? Have you ever tried sewing something you couldn't imagine wearing? What styles or prints make you wonder if you could pull them off with confidence?

September 1, 2014

Big Stripe Emery Dress

Emery Dress

Taking a break from historical sewing for some regular additions to my wardrobe...

The Pattern: The Emery Dress by Christine Haynes, a classic fit-and-flare style with gathered skirt and darted bodice. It has options of longer sleeves and a collar as well. I decided to keep it simple.

Partially inspired by Lauren of Rosie Wednesday who has been quite prolific in sewing Emery's lately, she's probably made at least half a dozen.

Emery Dress

I cut a size six and it fits pretty well with no alterations but I'm wondering if I need to alter the upper chest area, it pulls across my front if I move my arms back even a little but when I stand normally it's almost like there's too much fabric there. It's weird, not totally sure what to do about it. Thoughts?

The Fabric: A big stripe shirting from Form and Fabric, an online store that recently opened a storefront. I love this fabric so much! It's so soft and light, perfect for Texas summers.

Lisa from Notes from a Mad Housewife bought some, too, while she was in Austin visiting and made a Scout.

The Changes: I made some self bias tape and used it as a neck facing rather than line the bodice, something I do when I can because when it's so hot you usually don't want an extra layer of fabric.

Emery Dress

I finished all hems by hand, including the neck binding. And I did a lapped zip instead of a regular or invisible one. I've done lapped zips before in practice but never on an actual garment.

But my zipper was too short. I have to put the dress on over my head rather than stepping into it because of that little detail. I just used a zip I had in my stash because I was too lazy to drive to the store and buy a longer zipper yet I some how perfectly fine about sewing all the hems and picking a zip in by hand. Priorities.

Emery Dress

The Results: Overall I'm very pleased. I've already gotten a few compliments on it. It's an easy dress to throw on and look cute and I've already worn it several times in the last week or so. Win!

Only change I'd probably do next time - I think the waist is a tad too loose or like half an inch too low, or both, or neither. I don't know, if nothing else I'd probably raise the skirt up a bit at the back waist 'cause it's not even from the side. But this is just a minor thing and won't prevent me from wearing the dress.

On the other hand I loved the addition of the back shoulder darts, they worked great to give a smooth shape in the back and most patterns don't include them.

Emery Dress
(Peanut photobombed me!)

I already have plans for my second Emery!