I have had a horrible time trying to decide which of the endless and lovely options of this period to incorporate into my gown. My goal is for something fashionable but not "dressy". Something an upper middle class lady of Virginia would wear to town, perhaps shopping or for Sunday services. The gown will be made of cotton and cut in a closed-front robe à l'anglaise style. I am hoping to use some red striped cotton I bought years ago with an 18th century dress in mind but I'm not sure there will be enough. I only have 5.5 yards. I am tall, "curvy" and will have to match the stripes so it will be very close, if I can pull it off at all.
Most of my inspiration comes from KCI's Revolution in Fashion, a book I have been drooling over for years. Two gowns, in particular, have caught my imagination. The pink stripe on page 57 and the blue gown on page 62. My concept of this gown is constantly changing though and little details being tweaked. Nothing is finial until the fabric is cut!
October 19 2004
Now that the stays are complete I can begin work on the gown. I'm still recovering from a monster headache I had yesterday so I took lots of breaks today (attempting to taking it easy). I tried on my stays first thing this morning to take measurements for the gown toile.
Originally I was going to size up the Hunnisett pattern but that turned out to be confusing because of the sizing. So I decided to just drape the pattern myself, using Hunnisett as a guide. I also heavily referenced Costume in Detail, Janet Arnold and Revolution in Fashion as I worked. The gown on pages 56 & 57 of RIF is the outfit I'm most inspired by for this project, so I referenced that one a lot.
I stuffed Narcissa a bit, so she would have more of my curvy shape. I actually pulled that stuffing I'd tossed in the trash (from the false rump) and put it in a few plastic bags. I then placed the bags under the stays and laced it on tight. I can't wait until I'm at a stable weight and can make a duct-tape dummy!
Oh yes, don't you *love* the fabric I used? *hee hee* Well there is a reason it was in the toile fabric bin. Using the stripes was helpful though. Beyond the fact that it helped me to better visualize my finished gown, the stripes helped me be aware of the fabric grain and what it was doing as I worked. I may try and use stripes more often for toiles actually...
The draping of the back was pretty straight forward. It was the front that gave me fits. No matter what I did I ended up with gaping where the bust and shoulder meet. I had the same problem with my Rohan gown, which I eventually solved with a bust dart. I wasn't too happy with that "solution" though.
Hunnisett does address this problem in vol 2. She suggests swinging the front up, creating a dart at the neckline that will be cut out later. Essentially it's using the stretch of the grain right there to smooth the fabric. I experimented with that and it did work, rather clever actually, but I didn't like what it did to the stripes. Although I've seen examples of both vertical and diagonal stripes in front during this period, I really had my heart set on the vertical. Like the gown on page 56 (RIF).
I could have taken a tuck there at the shoulder or inserted a drawstring but in the end I cut a separate shoulder strap. That is the way the page 56 dress is constructed, along with several of the gowns in Costume in Detail. The seam there right in front it not my favorite, but it's period, better than a drawstring and the vertical stripes in front were important to me.
Once I puzzled that issue out, the rest was simple. I marked the pinned seam lines then took the pieces off Narcissa. I then trued the lines, added seam allowances and cut out the second half. The pieces are all ready to be sewn together for the first toile. Tomorrow I should really cut out the shift but I'm very tempted to work on the gown toile instead. I'm not sure I can resist the call of the stripes!
October 20 2004
I worked on the gown toile today after all.
I made a few little changes but nothing major. The biggest thing is probably the front. Instead of having a half inch seam all the way down the front, it angles something like 3/8" (top) to ¾" (bottom). That is the difference between Narcissa and I apparently. I love easy fixes! I have a few little changes to make (including raising the front ½") plus the sleeves to test, so I guess I'll do a second toile tomorrow.
October 21 2004
Ack! I knew I shouldn't sew when I wasn't feeling good.
I made the changes I'd marked yesterday, cut a new toile, sewed up the toile, tried it on and... well it's all wrong. I have NO stinking idea how I did it but I managed to screw up the front. Somehow I ended up with about 3½ inches extra fabric at the side seam bottom. I didn't even touch the side seam! Yeah.
At the moment I am just not going to worry about it. I'm sure there is a simple answer and a simple solution but I'm not going to touch anything right now. I'm going to pack everything away until after the weekend is over. I think I just need a few days break and I need to get well.
The new toile did show me one thing at least, that I don't like the higher neckline. Maybe I just need to reshape it a bit. I'm tempted to go with the original neck and just stuff the neckerchief down there for modesty, instead of tying it in front. We'll see...
Mreh... this frustrating! I want to sew! *stamps foot*
November 15 2004
I started out my sewing evening by ripping toile v2 apart and comparing the pieces to toile v1 (which fits). Sure enough I managed to add some fabric to the front's side seam. I honestly have NO idea how I did that. None whatsoever. *giggles* My mistakes amuse me way too much...
Using toile v1 as my guide, I cut off the excess fabric and sewed the toile up again, inserting a zipper in the front this time. I wanted to get a feel for the finial fit, something that I can't seem to replicate accurately with pins. I tried it on (no pics sorry) and it looks pretty good. I need to 'workshop" that neckline a bit. I'm just not hip on the shape... or something...
I pinned in a sleeve (Hunnisett pattern) but that was as far as I got. Tomorrow's project is to sew the sleeve on and fit it. I foresee a lot of work with this sleeve. Oy.
November 16 2004
May I start out by saying that I hate dealing with sleeves? I really do. *sigh* Today didn't go too badly, it was just very tedious.
The first sleeve needed a lot of work, as I had anticipated. For once I had the placement in the armhole on target the first time so that was good. The back of the sleeve puffed out a lot for some reason and it took me three tries to get that wretched thing fixed.
I took the sleeve out, took the fabric in ½" at the puffy part and moved the back pleats up onto the shoulder a bit more. I also added elbow darts and took the front bodice in a bit more (at the strap seam).
The second toile looked pretty darn perfect in front. The bottom sleeve dart was a little snug but the three little elbow darts were perfect. The back was still puffy.
Mom had some very good suggestions this time around. The first was to take in the back strap seam in a bit, 3/8 on the sleeve side. I then used larger (¼") pleats, changing the direction so that they faced the back. I again took the fabric in ½" at the puffy part.
The finial fitting looked pretty good. I've noticed that these type of sleeves tend to "puff" at that spot, I think it's just part of the design. I'm afraid that if I take any more fullness out of the sleeves, they will be too restrictive or uncomfortable. So, even though I haven't eliminated that darned puff completely, I have it to a size I can live with...
November 17 2004
I've decided to put the robe a l'Anglaise on hold for a few weeks. With the Thanksgiving holiday, company and a wedding coming up my sewing time is going to be fairy sporadic in the near future. I'm going to wait on the 18th century until I have some solid time to devote to it. Besides there are a few other costuming projects i want to work on at the moment. *wink*
December 31 2004
Well my little sabbatical from this costume has turned out to be longer than I thought! Since it's been languishing in my project box this long it might as well wait a little longer. It'll be on hold until after the draping class in February. I think I may combine those two projects (the red stripe and the draped gown), rather than making two separate outfits.
February 6 2005
The draping class yesterday was excellent! If any of you have an opportunity to take one of Mara Riley's classes I would recommend it. It was well worth the cost and effort. The class really helped me understand all those un-intelligible construction techniques in Costume Close Up. I had many "ah ha!" moments yesterday. It was so helpful to have an instructor to ask questions of and double check my progress as I worked as well. I wish we could have gotten a bit further so I could have had that expertise on my sleeves (my enemy in sewing) but we ran out of time.
Casey and I got as far as basting down the back pleats and cutting the back skirt section correctly. Here are a few pics of me as we fitted lining at class and where the dress is right now. We had all the other steps demonstrated so I daresay I can fudge and figure it all out though, with the help of Costume Close Up and my class notes.
I think that the most valuable thing I learned was the importance of the lining. The dress is really built on the lining, built from the inside out rather than modern garments that are more from the outside in. Eighteenth century construction is a totally different way of thinking than modern sewing. I can see now why it's so hard to find a commercial pattern that looks right.