Monday, September 28, 2015

Swirling Thoughts

As you probably know by now, I get really excited about new projects. Right now, I am just bursting with excitement, and also a little anxiety. Anxiety, because I haven't figured out what to do next. The possibilities are just so overwhelming I don't know what to do.

My next personal goal with this new dress is that I want to reproduce something. Be it fashion plate, original, or CDV.

Here is what I have to work with:

Isn't it great? It's a very large scale green and cream silk plaid. Actually, it's more of a very large gingham, but I never think of gingham as anything other than tiny checks. At first I thought it might be a good opportunity to try a different era, but then I decided that the plaid was way too huge to work well with anything other than a hoop skirt. In terms of what to reproduce, well....I have a couple ideas. At the very least, the skirt will be worn with a fitted blouse, but I have enough to also make an actual dress. So....what kind of bodice?


 Even the colors and scale are pretty close! Well, not exactly; the original has a very small pink stripe worked in, but at a distance it's similar. This ball gown is in the MFA in Boston.

Now I'm stuck; we attend a Civil War ball once a year, and I already have a ball dress, so my first thought was that a ball dress was out of the question.  Except, it's made out of dark red polyester with a double skirt. The skirt is about the heaviest thing you've ever felt, and it was not made to go over a corset. I probably could modify it, but the thought of dealing with my early sloppiness makes me shudder. Also, my face gets pink when I dance a lot, especially in a heavy man-made textile dress that is dark red! So probably also not the best color choice.

After experimenting with dancing in my corset, it wasn't terrible; I was worried that during a ball, I would not handle dancing well. But it wasn't too bad; I couldn't be as crazy as I usually am, but that isn't exactly a bad thing. So a ball dress fitted over my corset is not out of the question.

Pinterest has proved to be excellent; so many dresses in almost the EXACT SAME COLOR. Not many have the same huge scale, but enough to give me some ideas. As a rule of thumb in my personal replicating goal, I'm not going to worry about the color being the same, but the plaid scale of the original should be at least a little similar; I've found that a lot of trim just doesn't work with large scale. It's almost too large to incorporate any bias-cut trim, although based on a lot of pictures I really like black contrast.

And then I had a thought: exactly how many day outfits do I need? I only attend between 3-4 events per year, and half of that has to be spent in a wash dress as a laundress.

So now I'm left with two options: MFA replicate, or a day bodice. I'm having a hard time finding a specific picture or original that I love for a day bodice, although I'm guessing that it'll probably be a picture because I've spent much time looking at other original plaid day dresses and none are popping out at me.

Which would you vote: ball gown, or day dress?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Corset 2.0

Yayyy!!! It's done!

It isn't as nice to look at yet as I would prefer, especially laying flat, but it is perfectly functional and will be hopefully long-lasting. Flossing is to come! I am also really excited about the multi-era shape it gives me, being just a little longer than your typical 1860's corsets.

I found that I really liked working with the coutil, but only once I handled it a lot. At first, even coming out of the washing machine and dryer it was really stiff, like canvas. But, by the time it was done, it was much more pliable. I'm also happy that I chose to line with twill instead of coutil, because now I have a lot of coutil left over. The twill did make me pretty angry, because I could have sworn it was stretching just by me handling it...

Moving on from unhappy thoughts. The time it took to rip apart my old corset, turn it into a pattern, and fiddle with the mockup was 15 hours, a lot of which was spent getting the back straight. It's pretty straight, even though it doesn't look so in the picture. Total time to completion was 32.5 hours.

One problem which was a little weird was that the front kept making a weird bubble. Let me show you what I mean; see that funny lump just to the left of the boning channel?

I'm not actually shaped like that. It took quite a lot of ripping out the boning channels and repositioning to fix it, until finally I just went in and shaved off that bit. That fixed it, mostly. I think what happened is I was really paranoid about making sure that it was tight enough right against my rib cage, and I went a little crazy with the cupped flare, making it go more out suddenly than it needed to be. It isn't perfect, but we're getting there.

There are a couple things which I may need to go in and fix; I'm not sure yet about the front length at the top, if it's too high or not. I'll be wearing it this weekend, so I'll get an idea of how practical the entire garment is.

I got a lot of good advice from Elizabeth Clark (HUGE thanks!), and I can't even say how helpful it was!

AAnnnnd.....just is a sneak peek at what I may or may not have just bought 6 yards of....

Historical Sew Monthly #9: Brown

Well, I had some awesome ideas for this month's challenge, but I couldn't make my current large project (a corset) fit in with it. I thought about flossing in brown to make it work, but looking at all those beautiful colorful embroidery flosses at the store, brown just seemed so.....boring. I choose blue instead.

So, I ditched that idea, but instead came up with something easy instead! I wanted something I could work on in the car for the road trip last weekend, but I ended up completing it upon arrival instead of en route. Anyway, it's just the right length, and I really like the fitted waistband. I was worried it would be too big, but over my dress and petticoats it works fine.

What the item is: Pinner Apron

The Challenge: Brown

Fabric: 100% cotton fabric, about 2 yards

Pattern: Sewing Academy pattern, with the bib drafted myself.

Year: Mid-19th Century

Notions: Thread, 2 bone buttons

How historically accurate is it? Having not really done any research in this area, I only know that I didn't use any particularly modern techniques. Since no research has been done, let's say 70%, although it's basic enough that it could be 100% and I wouldn't know. I don't think the print is perfectly accurate.

Hours to complete: About 8, since I handsewed the entire thing.

First worn: Not yet

Total cost: $0, all from stash.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How to Calculate Fabric Width Differences

Jen, over at Historical Sewing, has a great article on how much yardage you would need for various garments in certain eras. I've always used the basic "5 yard skirt" method in my historical skirt calculations, but I've recently had an epiphany about amounts, and also discovering the wonderfulness of fabric that is 60''. I always never know how much to buy, and way overshoot and overspend. My very first dress I bought 11 yards!
A plaid in 60'' width fabric; I only needed 6 yards for an entire 1860's dress!

I love shopping fabric online. It's awesome. But comparing prices is sometimes tricky, because I forget to calculate the difference between 60'' fabric and 45'' fabric. If there are two different wools, and one is $8 a yard and the other is $10 a yard, I might choose the cheaper one being the cheapskate that I am. BUT...upon further research, you find out that the $10 a yard is actually 60'' wide and may even SAVE you money....if you know how to make the proper calculations as to how much you need. You won't be doing any saving at all if you buy the same amount as you would for 45'' fabric, even if you have gobs leftover.
1 yard pieces of 40'' silk taffeta

It is true that 5 yards is close to the amount you would need, but only for a 45'' fabric if you want 4 panels. Before even beginning to start fabric shopping on a budget, grab your measuring tape and pad of paper, and we'll calculate how much yardage you will need.

Start by figuring out how long your skirt needs to be. Take the longest measurement, and add enough for hem and turnover at the top, if you use that method. My finished skirt length at the longest measurement (in the back) is 43'', so I'll add 2'' for turnover at the top, and 1/2'' to attach the hem guard. Rounding up, my total cut panel length is 46''. That isn't going to change from width to width, so hang on to it!

Beginning with 45'' fabric, I'll need 4 panels. Here is the formula:

Cut Panel Length x Amount of Panels, Divided by 36'' = Skirt Yardage

This applies to 45'' and 60'' widths. So for me, I will need 5.111 yards for 45''. I'd probably round up to 5 1/4 yards. For 60'' fabric, I would only need 3.83 yards, round up to 4. That's considerably less! If I paid $8 a yard for the 45'' widths, I would be paying $42. For 60'' widths, I would be paying $40. I know, $2 isn't a huge difference, but it definitely makes some of the 60'' prices look much more affordable than you might think.

After that, calculating bodice design is pretty dicey. I've found that, a basic bodice with plain coat sleeves, you can probably get away with 2 yards even in 45'' fabric. You may even need to do a little bit of piecing, but I've had no trouble with 7 1/2 yards of that same style. For larger sleeves, you will definitely need more; 3 yards total should cover most styles. Huge pagoda or bishop style sleeves you may want to up it to 3 1/2.

For 60'' width fabric, I haven't really experimented with what the difference in yardage is, BUT...using a different way of comparing, we can figure out how much we will need. 45'' to 60'' is 3/4, or 75%. See what I did there? You will need 1/4 less fabric than in 45'' fabric. That makes a basic bodice (the 2.5 yard kind) being a little under 2 yards, with the most being 2 3/4 yards.

There you have it! I'm getting better at calculating in my head, and having the finished skirt measurement written down in my notebook makes a huge difference.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

5 Ways to Save Money in Corsetry

I am sooo excited to be on my way with my corset. The grommets are installed, the busk is in, and just fiddling with it more before I sew the boning chanels. I tried it on, and wow! The coutil behaves completely differently, and is much more firm. I could barely get it on, and completely laced has 3'' spring (before tightening the laces, there is about 5'' of spring, so you can imagine how tight it feels when first putting it on). The mockup only had 1 1/2'', so it makes it more difficult to get on. I'm afraid I have no pictures of what the corset looks now, and mockup pictures aren't so great. will be coming!

The coutil is way more stiff and thick than I thought it would be. Next time, maybe I will try the imported coutil from instead of the domestic coutil; there was only a $5 price difference. After a little debate, I decided to try making a single layer corset, but line with twill. After working with it, I think it was a good decision because my sewing machine couldn't make up it's mind going over some of the double layers, particularly over the seams.

With each corset, the price gets lower and lower. Here is some of the breakdown of what my costs are, and some comparison of how you can plan ahead and save money on your next corset by making wise purchases now. No matter how much you hate making corsets (which I don't, it's growing on me), or how long you think your corset will last, you will eventually have to make another one.

My first corset was:

$15 busk
$10 Boning
$25 grommet setting kit
$10 Cotton twill (the mockup became the finished product)

All in all, shipping is expensive, so the total was around $70-$75.

The second corset:

$15 busk
$8 boning
$25 1 yard cotton coutil
$6 cotton twill (I bought it for the mockup, but it'll also be used for the finished product)

I ordered 4 dozen grommets for a different project and used 2 dozen, so I'll have enough for this particular one and be able to consider it stash. Also, there are a couple different boning sizes I have from my last corset to use in this one that will fit somewhere in the side and back. The front in this new one is considerably longer, 2'', plus more flare vs. straight up and down. Total cost = $65

With potential preparations for a corset for someone else, I will have enough for one layer to be coutil, which is a huge savings, and I may be able to use my original busk which doesn't fit my new corset. Grommets, once you have the kit, are inexpensive in bulk. I ordered 4 dozen on Amazon last time for $8, and it's nice to have enough for more than one project.

Here are what the price is looking for the next one:

Re-Used Busk - free
Stash Coutil - free
$6 cotton twill mockup
$8 boning
$8 Grommets is a great resource, but their shipping is expensive for even small orders. For something like this, I will probably try The Button Baron; each boning piece is a little more expensive, but the shipping is way better on smaller orders. So, the total we're looking at for the next corset is between $25-$40, depending on whether the old 11'' busk works or not.

All in all, here is the breakdown of ways to save money:

1. One thing that I haven't had to buy is plastic zip ties for the mockup. I keep reusing it over and over, and very rarely does it get put in a finished project. That is kind of a one-time buy, if you hang on to them once you're done with the mockup. Another thing you can use for each project is a set of grommet tape; I bought eyelets from Joanns for a different project, and they were so cruddy that they are now only used for mockups. However, after tearing apart my old corset, I decided to not recycle the back panels with grommets because of the stretching and have upgraded my mockup just by switching to something I can put boning in.

2. If you and your friends are looking to make corsets, order from Richard the Thread. You must buy at least 5 yards, but the breakdown is $15 a yard all in all.
Also, I just discoverd this Etsy seller has very affordable fabric, but the shipping can be expensive for people outside the UK like me.

3. Making single-layer corsets or double layer with the inner layer being some other stable fabric is another way to stretch one yard. I also recommend that any bias strips you use to bind or make boning casings with you use something other than coutil; it has no bias stretch whatsoever and could be more of a headache than it's worth.

4. You don't need any fancy grommet setting kits, but after buying the simple kit for $25 and using the grommets from that, buy in bulk enough to make 2 or 3 corsets. You'll save on shipping, and the more you buy the less expensive they are by the dozen.

Grommets available at Vogue Fabrics

5. As far as busks go, there isn't really any place to get them for less than $15, and the best bet is buy from either the same place you buy boning or fabric. If you have an old corset, reuse it if you can. My friend Tiana over at Adventures in Costuming found an old corset at a thrift shop and reused the busk. I go thrifting all the time, but I never think to look for sewing supplies.

If you buy boning, it never hurts to buy a couple extra bones in case you want more. If you don't use them, they can be used either in a mockup or in the next corset.

Know of any other good tips to save money in corsetry? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Inspiration for Brown Challenge

While watching Pride and Prejudice, we took a five minute break for various reasons. I popped onto Ebay, my head swimming with fabrics and wishes. I typed in silk taffeta. The very first fabric that came up was....yellow silk taffeta....for....THREE DOLLARS A YARD? I almost needed to call for my smelling salts (can you tell I've watched that show way too many times?)! Don't worry, I didn't lose my head but....I did buy the fabric. Not exactly at that price, but that particular seller was having a sale on several one-yard pieces. The other piece that I bought was a beautiful brown. Now, I'm struggling with what to do with it.

I started a new apron made from stash fabric that happens to be brown, although I doubt it'll last until September unfinished. So, this brown will become something. I'm dreaming of covering my current corset project in this stuff, I just am undecided on how practical this is within our reenacting impression. It must work beneath my white dress under a corset cover, and still not be seen through. That might be the deciding point.

I would absolutely LOVE to own a silk-covered corset, but....alas, I would be afraid that it would show through my corset cover. It was a bit risque for 1860's, as well, but that isn't really any consolation.

Here are a couple other ideas with what it may be used for:

Decorative apron:

Belt, with a rosette in the middle. I can't believe I still don't even have a wearable belt of any kind, even though I've been talking about it for forever!

Lastly: I love silk hoods. Particularly, this style which is called a Pumpkin bonnet. A friend of mine knows how to make them; I may just need to contact her!