An Edwardian walking skirt

Hello readers, it’s been a while! Some sewing has happened since my last post, but no historical projects were actually finished, hence the lack of updates. However, in December I finially got around to some historical projects again, this time with a deadline. So sewing ensued, and stuff has been completed. (And of course, after that it took a little while to actually write the post).

I had an Edwardian weekend away with friends end of January, for which I aimed to make two things. Firstly, a black wool walking skirt for practical purposes. Secondly a lacy ball-gown. More about that one later, this post is about the wool skirt!

The black wool skirt was a practical choice. I wanted something that would be suitable for colder months, and which would match with a lot of different things. From sporting sweaters to blouses to bodices, in many different possible colors. Something like that didn’t really exist in my wardrobe yet.

I started by looking through the online Gracieuse archives. I picked 1905 as a year, and browsed through collecting the images which included a pattern reference. I wanted something walking length and simple that wouldn’t be too difficult to make. However, also something with visual interest somewhere, as a plain black skirt can also get too plain easily.

In the end, I settled on this design from the october 1905 edition. It is described as a ‘foot free costume skirt with pleated accent’. It has two pleated panels on the side for visual interest, and I figured I could also add some in-seam piping on the panel above the pleats. The skirt pattern is, as usual with de Gracieuse, absolutely tiny. However, it was enough to get basic shapes/proportions and to start a skirt draft.

My first step was to transfer the general style lines of the skirt patter to a grid, and to convert it to something that had the right length for me. Waist size was a little less important, mostly because there’s pleats in the back. But I did measure roughly how wide I wanted the front to be on me, and attempted to stick to that.

Honestly, there was no super clear method to this. I started mostly figuring out the length, angle of the circle, and waist measurement before pleating the back. And then I drew something which looked visually sort of similar, trying to retain the angles. I also decided I’d do the pleated panel last, based on the size of the ‘gap’ to fill in.

Drafting the full scale version was one of those moments where a big floor came in handy!

In the end, I think all my panels came out wider than in the inspiration, including the pleats. I had 4 pleats instead of 4, and my pattern for that piece was much more rectangular than the more square you see in the original. I don’t hate it, but it does mean the skirt has a slight tendency to ‘swing foreward’ a bit? I might experiment with inner ties to keep the pleats to the back a bit more.

Then it was time to cut! I got a black faux wool for this project. It’s fairly heavy, which I did want for this skirt. 100% wool is a bit harder to find around here, and there was enough of a price difference that I opted for a ‘good fake’ instead. That also made me feel a bit better about not making a mock up.

I piped the seams next to the top side panels with pre-made piping (another short-cut, as making piping out of wool is a pain, and I had a deadline). I next pleated the side bottom panel, and with a bit of fiddling and figuring out managed to attach that on 3 sides. To the front/back it’s seamed under a pleat to the front/back panels. Not actually in the pleating line itself, which would have been much easier and probably better, but I didn’t take that into account when patterning, so I managed.

At the top, I folded over the side top panel, laid the pleats underneath and then top stitched about 2mm from the edge. This actually gives a bit of a ‘fake piping’ effect because of the springy wool, which I was quite happy with.

The pleated panel was hemmed with bias tape before pleating, because I wanted to make sure the hem would hold the pleats as well. I eventually ended up just hemming the whole thing with bias tape. A wider cotton facing would probably be more accurate and better protect the hem, but in this case I don’t worry too much about that and just wanted a simple finish.

Final steps were to pleat the back, and attach the whole thing to a waistband. The rest of the skirt hemming was actually done then, and finally closures made it complete!

Some pictures on the dummy in my messy room

And some on me! Paired here with a cycling sweater by Emmy design, it makes for a great winter outfit. It’s warm, a practical length, can be paired with nearly everything and yet the pleats add a little interest. I was very happy to have a bit of snow for the perfect picture setting, thanks to Niklas @vintagebursche for these photos!

A smocked blouse

The first couple of months of this year were mostly spent on a project which I’d wanted to do for a long time, a reproduction of this lovely reform blouse in the Amsterdam museum:

Amsterdam Museum: Reform blouse

I’ve loved this blouse since I first saw it. In particular the smocking, which is the embroidery holding the pleats together. You often see this type of smocking in items of the ‘reform’ movement, as it gives garments a lot of flexibility, as well as this hand-embroidered touch which was so popular for the style.

A while ago, Michelle from Clockwork Faerie released her pattern for her version of this blouse. I immediately got it, because I’d been looking at this blouse for so long that anything to make the guess-work less was very welcome!

Michelle’s version, of which she released her pattern

The original blouse is described to be made out of crepe de chine. I’d never worked with that, but I figured that if I was going to spend the time smocking, I might as well use the best fabric I could find (it helps that the smaller yardage for a blouse than a dress makes it more affordable!). I ended up ordering black silk crepe de chine from Sartor fabrics, as well as silk embroidery floss. I decided to make my blouse in black, because at the end of the day, I know I’ll get more wear out of something black than something purple.

And then the project got put on hold for a bit, as other things came up. Beginning of this year, I finally started on it. First up was the mock-up. When I got the pattern it was a single size only (it has since been graded), so I wanted to check whether it would fit as-is. My measurements were fairly similar to those indicated and it’s a loose fitting garment, but still. I opted to use the template for the top to cut a separate piece, and to gather the bottom part to that, to check the fit. I put a belt on top to see how it would work tucked in. Although it looked odd made up like this (in old sheet fabric…) it worked quite well size-wise, so I went ahead with it. For those planning to use this method: know that the smocking will have quite a bit of stretch in it, which the template cut out of plain cotton does not, so using a stretch fabric for the smocked part might be even better to check fit.

Next up was figuring out how exactly to do the smocking… The pattern doesn’t include smocking instructions in detail (it’s ‘go smock now’) , so in the end I bought a book. The A-Z of smocking was pretty much the only one I could find in the Netherlands, but it turned out to be a great book. It describes all the stitches you see on the blouse and many more, in very detailed step-by-step pictures. If you want to do English smocking (pleat first, then embroider on top), I definitelly recommend it. It’s not a guide which will start with ‘step 1’, because the book is alphabetical, but if you want to look something up it’s great.

The only main question I had left was: how far apart should I space my gathering stitches? The book was frustratingly vague on this, just saying to ‘use your pleater’ (these machines go for 300 euros and up, so I didn’t get one), or ‘use dotting paper’ (impossible to get in the Netherlands), or ‘use the spacing as indicated on your pattern’ (I didn’t have one). In the end, I found the progress notes of Laurance Wen Yu-Li which she kindly shared via Facebook. She used a cotton fabric which is different from mine, but with the notes of 6mm wide 1cm high I at least had an indication of where to start experimenting. (Go check out her version of this blouse, it’s amazing, and there’s even a matching skirt)

I ended up making two samples to test the stitch spacing and practice smocking. The right example I did first and was 7mm wide stitches. Those were too wide, so I did another one in 4mm wide. This ended up just a little too narrow, so I opted for 5mm in the end. I also drew out completely how the different stitches would have to fit on my fabric, how high they would be corresponding to the ‘rows’ of the stitching, and how many of them I’d need where. I ended up doing 15 gathering lines 1cm apart, which fit well.

Knowing how to start, I cut my fabric, serged around the edges, and stitched the shoulder seams. Then, I could start the gathering. This involved a lot of drawing lines with my ruler, a lot of wobbly crepe de chine which moved all over the place (the stuff is beautifully drapey, and horrible to draw straight lines on), and in general just a lot of time. Just drawing the grid took me hours. I opted for a grid rather than dots, as this was quicker. After the drawing came the gathering. I did it in two parts, as otherwise my gathering threads needed to be insanely long. So I did all 15 threads untill I ran out of thread, gathered them all up enough to get some slack again, and then did the final part. All in all, this process took a couple of days at least. To give you some idea: the whole width of fabric did not fit on my living room table, nor on my ironing board. That little round shape in the right picture? That’s just the first armhole, so the ‘flat’ part on my ironing board is only about half of it.

I ended up doing most of the work over weekends, as I had to do it with the piece lying flat, and putting it away & picking it up again would mean re-ironing, re-starting and even the danger of the chalk fading. It did make for a good tv-watching activity! With the lockdown at the beginning of the year, I had the time…

When it was done, I could finally gather up the threads, following the template on the pattern. This was definitely one of the most satisfying moments of this project, as this is where it actually starts to look like something with shape!

I tried it on just in case, it still fit, and so I evened out the gathers, wrapped the thread around the needle at the end to anchor it in place, and started the embroidery!

In total I used 4 different types of stitches on this yoke. There’s a single chain stitch at the very top. Then two rows of honeycomb stitches just below to form the small triangles. The larger triangles are wave diamond stitches below each other, 6 for the top part, 7 for the bottom part. The more solid stitches in-between and at the bottom are each 4 rows of trellis stitches closely spaced together. It was sort of cool to find that I could directly find all of the stitches used on the blouse in my book.

The smocking took a while, but was also really fun to do. Once I had the stitches figured out it was quite meditative, and it made for light sewing. I started out using a thimble, but the one thing I found was that the silk embroidery thread snagged on absolutely everything, including the thimble (I have a plastic one, and it’s been used enough to be in a bit of a rough shape). So I ended up just ditching the thimble which worked fine with such thin fabric. I used a single strand of the thread for everything but the very first chain stitch, and this worked well with the embroidery thread I had. The one other thing to be careful of was the tension, as you don’t want to pull the pleats closer together than they are layed out to have it keep shape.

Fast-forward a couple of months during which I took my time, and the main smocking on the neckline was done! I took the pictures below before I removed the white gathering threads (as you can see I embroidered between thread 2 and 14), as that was a bit scary to do for the first time!

This was around the end of March, and I suddenly realized that I had two options to wear the blouse end of April and beginning of May. So it would be great if I could finish before then… Cue me speeding up a bit!

I’d decided fairly early on in the project to not use the sleeves in the pattern, but go for a look more similar to the original blouse. I ended up taking the sleeve pattern for my Edwardian lace blouse (which were in turn adapted from a Wearing History pattern), and widening that one to match the rough ratio of fabric-pleated down fabric that I wanted. The sleeves are basically straight down from the arm hole, with just armhole shaping. The lower arm is then gathered down to fit the lower arm snuggly.

Once I had the sleeve pattern figured out, it was back to drawing lines and gathering threads!

In-between working on the sleeves, I also did the collar. The original has this beautiful point detail which is also on the pattern. I ended up narrowing the collar a fair bit to fit my neck better, so my points ended up a little more to the outside than on the original (I took the width out of the center back after doing the stitching), but I’m pretty happy with how the stitching looks in the end!

To do the embroidery on the sleeves, I basically had the easter weekend. I spent time with family, but brought the smocking with me, as it’s a good activity while sitting on the couch. I finished the smocking beginning to end in a couple of days like this, and at the end of the weekend they were both done! I was really happy with that, as by that point I had about 9 days left to finish the blouse, all of which either included a full work day or day-long activities.

This is a look at the finished sleeves in the blouse. I ended up ‘hemming’ the blouse by turning over the bottom edge and including this in the gathering and smocking. I’d cut the sleeves with the selvedge at the bottom, and this was light enough for this to work beautifully. Can you spot the line of where the selvedge ends in the right picture?

I set the sleeves and added closures in the final evenings. The center back is sewn up to a point, and then attaches with snaps below the smocking. The collar has hooks and bars to stay put, as this is the only part which might receive some tension.

And then she was done! I opted not to finish the bottom beyond a serged edge. The original has a waistband, but I prefer the versatility of tucking it in, and arranging as I see fit. This way I can pull it out more for the 1905 edwardian blouse effect, or wear it more tightly if I want on other occasions.

To show a bit better what it looks like when worn, I pinned a tape on top in these pictures:

I really love how the smocking turned out. I had a lot of fun making this, and I can definitely see myself doing a project like this again in the future.

I’ve now worn the blouse twice. Once with my green sil 1895 skirt, and once with my 1905 high waisted wool tartan skirt. Two very different looks, but both I really liked!

With the green skirt (Thanks to Peryn for the picture), tucked in a bit more tightly.

And with the tartan skirt, tucked in so that it’s more ‘pigeon-breast-y’ (Thanks to Niklas for this picture):

A winter coat for grocery shopping

I’m a bit late blogging about this project as I finished it almost 5 months ago already, but better late than never! Last month we got snow on April 1st (no joke…), so I finally took some proper ‘finished’ pictures of me in the coat, taking advantage of the scenery. And then it took me a while to actually write this thing, but here we are!

This Christmas break, I decided I would finally make myself a black wool winter coat. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, but it was always a rather daunting project, as I’d never really made a coat before. The holidays were the perfect period to really dig into this project though.

What I wanted aside from wool+black, was to have a coat which would be very versatile. And honestly, it was mostly prompted by the fact I didn’t have a good winter coat for a quick trip to the grocery store. These past couple of years I’ve been wearing 3 coats during winter. One outdoor coat which is great in all weather, but profoundly practical and really too long+narrow to be worn over a wide skirt. Perfect for pant-wearing outdoor activities, but not so much for wearing over a regular skirt-wearing grocery trip. The second a very lovely burgundy red vintage-style coat from Collectif with faux fur around the shoulders and hem. Very fancy, perfect for a trip to the theatre, but a bit ‘much’ for grocery shopping, and not the most convenient to carry a heavy grocery bag with. The third a grey wool coat to the knee with some flair, which is really more an in-between coat as it’s a rather thin (probably fake) wool, so not great for the colder days.

What I wanted was something warm, with a fitted top and flared out bottom, which you can dress down or up depending on what you wear it with. Given how difficult finding a good flared wool coat can be, I decided to make my own.

I’d already bought McCalls M7442 a while ago, and decided to use this as a base. I planned to leave out the pepulm and lace overlay though. Although cute, it does make the coat a little less ‘classic’, and I want to be wearing this for years, so classic is good. I also loved that this pattern had a hood. Perfect for when a light drizzle starts on the way to the store!

I started by looking for fabric, which was a bit more challenging than expected. I wanted a really nice quality wool which was both smooth, densely woven and fairly heavy, yet under 40,00 euros per meter. Eventually I ended up ordering a whole bunch of swatches from Mahler Stoffe in Germany (because on a picture 5 black wools all look the same) and picked one for my coat. I also decided on a whim to order another one to make into a split skirt, which I then promptly made first.

I also ordered lining fabric from Mahler, and decided to go for a pretty patterned lining.

Finally, I wanted to have something to interline the coat with, and make it extra warm. The pattern dindn’t call for this, but I get cold easily, so extra insulation is always good. I ended up ordering the ‘thin’ thinsulate fabric from a Dutch store. This stuff is all polyester (to the point where it melts if you touch it with an iron), but has a reputation for being really good at adding warmth.

And then it was time for mock-ups! I used an old molton fabric which came from my grandfather’s workshop. I have no clue what exactly it is, but it was the heaviest I had for mock-ups in my stash.

In the end I made two main alterations. I took in the center back a little above the waist, as the pattern was a little wide in the shoulders. And I had some space above the bust, which I solved by taking a dart out of that spot and rotating that shut, which is possible given the horizontal seam accross the top.

And then it was time to cut the fabric! I don’t have a lot of pictures of the construction process as photographing black fabric in the middle of winter is a challenge in my room which doesn’t have perfect lighting. But the first thing after cutting was to interface the top body pieces with the thinsulate. The main body and sleeves were interlined, with the exception of the darts. Then the main body was constructed, and the seams pressed open very carefully with a pressing cloth, as the thinsulate melts as soon as you put an iron onto it. The long ‘tails’ you see in the second picture are the facing of the center front, which runs all the way down to provide an extra layer for the closures.

Then it was time for skirts! I ended up cutting the skirt just a little longer than the pattern originally called for, to give extra length and warmth. The skirt isn’t interlined though, as it would add stiffness and not be super helpful warmth wise anyway. At this point the hood was also made, lined and added.

And then I could add the lining! The whole coat is lined in the patterned lining fabric I got. I made a little mistake on the ‘edge’ between the bottom facing of the center front and the lining. The original coat only calls for a lining in the top, and I wanted to extend it down so the coat would not ‘stick’ to any layers on the skirts. However, I sewed the front facing shut before realizing I should have left that open. I ended up just stitching it on in the seam allowance, and it looks fine. (Plus, it’s the inside, so barely noticeable anyway.) I finished the bottom skirt lining by hand, leaving a bit of extra room at the bottom and folding the lining up, to create a bit of a ‘baggy’ effect. It’s probably not excactly how you should do it, but this extra space avoids the skirt pulling oddly because the lining is stretching differently than the outer fabric over time.

The final steps were buttons, button holes, a little loop in the neck, and the belt. I was a bit annoyed that the pattern didn’t tell me to add the loop when I stitched the hood onto the coat, as I could have hidden it neatly in the seam then. By the time I thought about adding a loop (it wasn’t in the pattern at all) I had to stitch it on top. Ah well, it works. As a belt buckle, I am using a plastic one I had lying around. It’s fairly tight, but that also means it stays shut nicely.

I admit I’m mostly wearing the coat without the belt, partly because it takes time to close it due to the tight buckle, but also as there are no belt loops in the coat. This is another strange pattern thing, no belt loops are included, and it means the belt doesn’t stay on the coat when untied. Not practical if you want to take the coat off somewhere. I might add belt loops later, but I definitely recommend adding them to the side seam when constructing the coat if you want a belt. That makes it so much neater…

And then she was done! I’ve already worn this coat quite a bit, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

Something I did do after wearing it a couple of times is to add two hook and eyes (the wide flat ones) between the buttons above the waist. I moved the buttons a little more to the edge than stated on the pattern, as with the layers the fit was still a bit tighter than planned in the mock-up stage. As the buttons on the pattern are spaced fairly widely, I got some gaping on wearing the coat. Next time, I’d definitely just use more buttons and space them closer together, to ensure it stays shut better.

As an overall conclusion, I really love my new coat, and I learned a lot while making this. I think this pattern has a lot of potential in terms of general shape. However, it also has some ‘shortcuts’ which I didn’t appreciate. No hanging loop, no belt loops, no lining in the skirt and very widely spaced buttons means it’s faster to sew, but much less practical to wear. I’d rather spend a bit more time to add things personally, and I’ll definitely keep that in mind the next time I make a coat. Also, even though I used a heavy mock-up fabric, it still ended up a bit tighter than planned, so next time I need to make even more room if I use heavy fabrics and/or multiple layers. I could fix it by moving the buttons this time, but that’s not an ideal solution.

As a bonus, snow in April did mean some pretty pictures of flowers in the snow:

2022 plans

I wrote this post right after the 2021 re-cap, and then waited until I’d got a picture of my latest finished project. As that still hasn’t happened yet, I’m just going ahead without.

Honestly, similarly to last year, my plans aren’t super concrete yet. I’ve got some events planned, but for most I could also wear something from my closet, so I have very little things that absolutely need to get done. Instead of planning far ahead, I’m making plans as I go along, based on what events come up and what I feel like doing.

The first project of the year I finished early january! During the holiday break, I finally made a winter coat for myself. It’s difficult to find nice wool coats which are both warm and have a flared skirt, so that was my goal.

I haven’t actually taken good pictures of the final result, but hopefully I’ll manage soon so I can actually write a post about it. It’s already seen quite some use, and I’m very happy with it so far.

Right now, I’m working on a project I tentatively started last year; a smocked late 19th century blouse. I’ve started the practice smocking last year, but I’ve now cut the blouse and marked the smocking lines. There’ll be quite a bit of hand-work on this, but it should be really nice when done! Mine will be based on the one below, though made in black silk.

After this, it becomes a bit vaguer already! I do want to continue on my stays. I don’t know how far I’ll get, but I do have an 18th century event in fall. Depending on the speed of the progress, I might be able to use that there. Since I don’t have recent pictures, here’s one from before it was fully stitched:

It might even be possible to make a dress to go over it. That would probably be the one I showed last year as well, a chemise based on this project. No promises though, it might take more time than expected! (it has done so far…)

Some other things that are on my wish list (and which I already actually have fabric for):

1830’s wardrobe additions. Most notably a white blouse, a cotton dress and a wool coat.

I really like the versatility of blouse/skirt combinations, and it’s something you start seeing in fashion plates around this time:

I have this cotton fabric for a dress. It’s very bold, but that fits the crazy 1830’s silhouette perfectly! Cotton dresses were very fashionable in the 1830’s, and can be a bit more practical than silk. So might be nice for day-events in particular.

And I’ve got fabric for two 19th century summer gowns, good for summer picnics! Something like these:

One black:

And one white:

This is the fabric I have. It’s lovely sheer cotton, you can see the print on the underlayers shining through.

As you see, nothing super specific yet! The events I have planned are a 1890’s ball (for which I made the green dress), a Victorian fancy dress event (for which I’ll probably either re-wear my fairy bustle, or adapt/accessorize the gold/black bustle gown to a ‘night/stars’ theme), and an 18th century event (for which I’ll either wear my silver dress, or make something new if my stays are finished). I’m enjoying sewing whatever I feel like in the moment, so I’ll probably keep doing this, especially as long as I can use my fabric stash. I’ve got quite a lot of options to pick from, so plenty of opportunities!

2021 year in review

It’s January, so time for the annual re-cap of the last year! I always like these re-caps because they typically show that I did more than I thought. The big projects always take over a bit in my mind, but with all the ‘smaller’ things the work adds up!

I started the year finishing some 1830’s accessories. I started the bonnet at the end of 2020, and finished the covering and trimming. The pelerine was actually started before I finished my gold 1830’s dress as I wanted to know how much fabric I had left. I left it just cut and not sewn, as I didn’t need it at that time. I finished it over the holidays, and although I haven’t worn it yet, it is nice to have another option to play with when wearing 1830’s things!

Next up were two other unfinished projects. These two dresses got thrown into the ‘naughty-basket’ at some point, and I finally took time to take them out again. The first is a winter dress with a lovely fabric of 17th century skaters on it. The other one is a 1940’s model I was happy to finally finish.

My next project was a quick, unplanned one. I joined in filming for a TV series in Febuary (it will actually start airing next week!). However, based on pictures they choose for me to wear my dark green ball gown, even though it was freezing that week, and it should be around 0 Celcius on the day of filming. Cue: me sewing a bodice in a weekend. I had enough fabric left to make something with a high collar and long sleeves to wear, which would actually work with extra warm layers underneath. The plus side: we got some very nice pictures in the snow when I finished it!

After this quick project, I went back to the other thing I had been working on, which was a late 1900’s vest to match my split skirt. This was a real tailoring project, the first time using canvas interfacing or pad stitching, and I’m still really happy with how it turned out. It took quite a bit of time for a ‘simple’ garment, but it was a lot of fun to learn new stuff. I finished it just in time for a photoshoot, so thanks to Martijn van Huffelen for the pictures!

Then, in April, I joined as a pattern tester for the Selina blouse from Scroop Patterns. I’d had this pale blue fabric for a while with exactly such a blouse in mind, so it was nice timing. I haven’t worn this as much as I probably should, perhaps there’ll be some 1910’s events in the future to wear it also in a more historical setting?

After a spring of small projects, it was time for the long-term again. I had an event in October, and although I didn’t absolutely need a new dress, it was the perfect timing to finally use a gorgeous gold silk I’d had for a couple of years. I worked on this project for about four months, to make an underskirt, overskirt, train and two bodices. I really love how this fabric flows, and I loved wearing both the evening and the ball version.

The weekend before this same event, I decided to try to churn out a morning gown as well. It was an event with sleep-over, and there’s nothing better than a simple flowly gown for fancy breakfasts. I got this beautiful hand-print fabric from an Indian shop a bit before, and it made for a beautiful flowy gown. I might still go back and add some trim to this at some point, but I loved lounging around in it already.

Throughout the entire year, the thing I probably worked on most was actually not something historical, and not something for myself. In November 2020, I started on the wedding dress for my sister-in-law. This was such a lovely thing to work on. There were a lot of new things from me, from the tulle skirts to the mesh overlay on the bodice and the little pieces of lace. I took my time on this one, and finished it about 2 weeks before the wedding without needing to rush. It’s definitely one of the most neatly finished things I ever made, and one of the most special projects I’ve done. There’s posts on the skirt, bodice, lace, and the finished thing for who’s interested.

After the two big projects I finished in October, I took a little break. In November, I started sewing again and I made a second version of the split skirt, this time in black wool. This was a relatively simple project (I’d already made one before, which always helps), and something I think I’ll really enjoy wearing in daily life situations as well.

And that was it for finished projects in 2021!

Looking at what I planned at the beginning of the year, most of the concrete plans got done (there weren’t that many: the 1830s accessories, modern dresses, 1890s vest and wedding dress). The main thing which didn’t get finished are the hand-sewn 18th century stays. I did work on them, and I’m practically finished with the boning channels now, but I’ve been delaying the next step. I also didn’t do any of the ‘maybe’s’ I put in that post, but instead I did make the gold/black gown, which had also been on the wishlist for a while. And I made an 1890s bodice, a 1910’s blouse, a 1890’s wrapper and 1900 split skirt, none of which were planned. All in all it was a pretty good sewing year, especially considering the time that went into the wedding dress!

Split skirt – the second version

The last project of 2021 for me was a split skirt. I made a pair early in 2020, and after the gold bustle and wedding dress I was looking for a project which would need a little less figuring out. The great thing about making something a second time, is that you already have a finished version to look at when things get confusing. It also didn’t need a mock-up, which definitely speeds up the process.

The pattern is Truly Victorian TV299.

This version was made out of black wool. It’s just a little heavier than the wool I used for my brown version, so I chose not to line this one. It’s also wool which doesn’t fray, so no seam finishes necessary!

I got 3,5m of fabric for this project, as that’s what the pattern calls for. However, when laying out the pattern, I could get it out of more like 2m of 150cm wide fabric. It required a little piecing of the back panel, as that’s wider than 75cm (half the fabric width). However, this piecing is on the inner leg, so it’s nearly invisible when worn, and it was worth saving fabric for me. So if you’re looking at this pattern but want to save on fabric, it’s definitely possible, especially with the 1,5m width. I believe mine is a size D. Below is a picture of the pattern lay-out.

The pattern starts with pressing pleats. There’s few things as satisfying, nor as difficult to take pictures of, as pleats in black wool.

This pattern doesn’t include pockets. What looks like the pocket openings are actually the opening for the front fall closure. I’ve worn my 18th century separate pockets with my other split skirt, and that does work. So I decided to sew in similar pockets into the waistband for this skirt! I basically made 18th-century style pocket bags, and attached those such that the opening would be aligned with the fall front opening.

They don’t fit really large items, as that will show bulk under the fairly tight upper part of the split skirt. However, it’s definitely good to have the option to carry things!

I found beautiful buttons for the front, but the store didn’t quite have enough to also put buttons on the pocket flaps, as called for. So I decided to use some decorative stitching on the pockets instead, and close them with hooks. They have a hook middle center, and a snap at the bottom. However, there’s a little bit of gaping at the top right now, so I do want to back and add another hook between the middle and the top.

The pattern calls for doing the button holes very early on, but with the bicycle length the lowest button hole and button get in the way of hemming. So this time, I left off the bottom button until the end. At that point I decided I didn’t really need it any way, so I just left it off entirely.

It’s quite difficult to take pictures of the skirt, as the wool absorbs the light, but I tried! I’m wearing my Emmy Design cycling sweater, which goes perfectly with it. I’m looking forward to wearing this for both historical and daily stuff!

The Bridal dress Project – Reveal!

Time for some pictures of the finished dress! The wedding was last October, in a lovely little restaurant in the woods. The weather was nice as well, so quite a bit of time was spent outside, making for some lovely images.

To start with, some of the lovely couple!

The groom is wearing a little tulle flower I made of scraps from the hemming of the skirt. I made one for the witnesses as well, so we could all have a little flower and link to the bride.

I helped with the preparations. Aside from being master of ceremonies and witness, I helped the bride get into her dress and with her hair. The ‘backstage’ room was the storage room, in which we got ready so the arriving guests wouldn’t yet see the bride. I especially love this first picture of me arranging the train.

The other two pictures are the ones taken by the photographer of us together during the day!

I also took some ‘finished’ pictures of the dress on my dummy. Although it doesn’t fit quite as nicely (particularly the sheer overlay at the top, as my dummy’s shoulders are quite narrow in the back), this does allow for some good ‘dress’ pictures. I really love how you can see the layers of the train in these.

Some details of the top!

And of the back. I’m still very happy with how the back of the dress looked.

Details of the lace and sparkles.

And the inside! This is definitely one of the neatest finished garments I’ve ever made, and I’m really happy with how the inside looks. The little loops were added on the sides to support the dress when on the hanger. This way the sheer top doesn’t need to support the full dress.

Inside details of the eyelets in the back, and the lace on the sheer overlay.

And that was it for the wedding dress posts! This was definitely one of the most special projects I’ve ever done, as well as one of the biggest. I really loved working with new types of fabrics for this and trying out new things. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it was really special to be a part of the beautiful wedding in this way.

As an overview, the making-off posts:

The skirt base

The bodice base

All the lace

The Bridal gown project – Lace, lace lace!

With the base of the top and the tulle skirt finished it was finally time to start on the decorations! The plan was to have a full lace bodice, some lace on the sheer overlay at the top, and if time permitted some lace motifs sprinkled on the skirt.

We bought two types of lace for this project, both with a tulle base. The first (left) was a little finer and thinner, the second (right) had some sparkle on it. The plan was to make the base of a lace overlay for the bodice out of the left fabric, and to use the individual motifs from both laces on top to create a denser, detailed lace overlay.

To make the lace overlay, I started with the pattern pieces for the bodice. The reason for making a lace overlay instead of just flatlining the lace to the original bodice patterns is to avoid any visible seams in the lace. In this lace overlay, the pattern pieces are cut so that all lace motifs were kept intact. Whenever the motif overlays where the seam needs to be, it will be cut out around the edges and placed on top of the panel next to it so that the original seamlines meet. When the seam lies in a place without a motif there will be a 5mm overlap between the pieces of tulle base. This is then sewn down by hand, around the edge of the motifs, and any tulle underneath a motif going over a seam is cut away from underneath after. This basically creates an invisible seam except where it’s just tulle, which will be covered later.

I have very little pictures of actually sewing the panels together, but below is one. You can see how the pins sort of follow the shape of the one lace motif, which is placed over the other side. This was then stitched by hand all the way around the lace. Time consuming, but definitely worth it for the effect!

When I finished the base of the lace overlay in this way, I put it on the dress on my dress form to have a look. The lace placement was intentionally picked to not be symmetrical. On the back, I ended up with just the little leaf of one motif on one side of the base of the bodice, and the rest of the motif on top. I left this in initially because cutting it out would remove a little piece from the lace base. In the end, both the bride and me actually really liked how this motif looked on the sheer overlay of the back, so we kept it in!

The next step was to cut out lace. A lot of it. I cut out both the bigger motifs, and little pieces from the borders of the lace for some diversity in size and shape. I used a small scissor for this, and a lot of tv watching was done in the meantime, and for a while my room was full of little tulle scraps…

When I had a good collection of lace bits, we had another fitting to try out how we wanted to place the lace on the bodice. Below you see two versions we tried. The right side of the bodice (left picture) is a bit less densely covered in lace than the left side (right picture). In the end, we ended up deciding to have the top half more like the right picture (less dense), and the bottom a little more like the left picture (denser). This actually gives a nice balance. You can see the neckline a bit through the lace at the top, but the edge of the bodice is completely hidden at the bottom. When placing the lace, I played around a bit to get it to hide all the seams in the tulle, not be symmetrical, but still feel balanced.

And then I could go back to stitching! All the little lace pieces (you can see from the pins a little bit how many there were) were stitched on the lace overlay by hand one by one, all the way around the edge. Again, this was some work, but it’s really the only way to give this a nice invisible finish. The lace which would lie on top of the side seam I actually left pinned and not sewed on for this stage. Because we started the bodice quite far in advance, we wanted to be able to do a final fitting closer to the wedding date. Not stitching on the lace on the side seam meant it would be much easier to take in the side seam later if necessary without having to unpick all of the lace bits first, or stitching over them.

Then it was time for the lace on the top half! Again, I used little lace cut outs, and played around with it. I ended up with a bit of the illusion of straps on the front out of little flowers, and a larger motif on each side on the back. This too took some pinning and re-pinning to design as I didn’t want symmetry, but it still needed to feel the same on both sides. Once these bits were pinned in place, I sewed on the lace overlay along the top and bottom edge of the bodice base, and then all the little lace pieces at the top over it one by one.

With the lace on, it really started to look finished, and I could finally work on closures. We’d been fitting with a canvas strip with lacing eyelets I was pinning into the back temporarily (with a red ribbon, because that’s what I happened to have laying around). I played around with the eyelets first, because I wanted to see what different sizes would do when placed on top of the lace, which is not quite flat. Both the 5mm and 4mm eyelets worked, so I let the bride pick a size, who went with the 4mm. I used prym two-piece 4mm silver eyelets for this. I’ve used one-piece before, and those tend to split, leaving sharp edges on the inside. That’s definitely not what you want, so the two-piece ones are much better. The 4mm ones have a little bit of an edge on the inside, but after trying it on this wasn’t feelable for the bride, so we ended up not placing anything underneath.

For the lacing, I used a white organza ribbon. I really love how this works very well with the lace an tulle of the dress. The dress criss-cross laces with this ribbon. As you can see, there’s a bone in the center back (sewn into the bodice base) which keeps the lacing straight. It was designed to have a small V shape when laced closed.

Then it was time to turn to the skirt! For the skirt, I cut out all remaining ‘smaller’ motifs on the softer lace, and sprinkled them around the skirt. Then I sewed them onto the top tulle layer, again by hand all the way around the edge, using an embroidery hoop to make sure it would lay nicely on the tulle layer.

This is one of the few things that I timed doing. Sewing on one motif took about 1 hour, and the skirt has 18 of them.

The very final step was to do the final fitting! At this step, I did indeed end up taking in the sides just a smidge to ensure a snug fit. I removed the bone casing from the side seam, sewed a new seam in the base layers only, re-trimmed the seam allowances and sewed on the boning channel again. Then I put a very small fold in the base layer of the lace overlay on top of this, to also take out the width in that layer. The lace motifs which I hadn’t sewed on yet were then pinned and sewed on top of that little fold. This way, it’s nearly impossible to tell it has been taken in a little bit!

And then she was, really, finally, done! I finished a couple of weeks before the wedding, after starting almost 10 months earlier. I really loved making this dress, and although I’m glad to free up some time for other sewing again, this was a very special project to work on. I learned so much, was able to make something that actually looks pretty inside and out, and take my time to do things well. And it was really lovely to make something for something that would mean so much to them.

Stay tuned for finished full reveal pictures in the next post!

The Bridal gown project – The top

In my previous post about this wedding dress project, I showed the skirt base. For this post, we’ll turn towards the base for the bodice!

The basic idea for the bodice was a sweetheart neckline with a low back, and a sheer layer above both, closing high in the front and in a v in the back.

This bodice started from a Truly Victorian late 19th century bodice pattern. I chose a Victorian bodice specifically because these are meant to have very little ease, so to fit closely to the body without much extra space. For this bodice, it was important that it fit fairly closely as there should be no weight on the sheer top part. So basically, it needs to hold itself up without straps. This only works if it fits closely, and has boning to stop it from collapsing.

Below is the pattern I started with, which had a front, side and back panel. I basically used the front dart to split the front pattern into two parts, and the top was eventually removed. I made about 3 mock-ups first to fit the pattern. The first two were out of an old sheet. The first with the top of the pattern still attached, with the only alteration being to shorten the length of the pattern, as the bride has a shorter torso than the pattern counts on. Then a second one the top cut off and boning taped in, as not having this top really changes the fit on the top edge. And a third one to check if the changes worked and for some final tweaks. This final one is shown below, and was made out of canvas, as the final bodice would be made of sturdier material than the sheet fabric I’d used so far. This final mock-up also had the bra-cups which I would use for the eventual dress, as this too changes the bust shape a bit.

And then it was time to start with the actual bodice! The bodice base is made out of two layers. The first is a sturdy plain white cotton. The second is a cotton bobbinet. Bobbinet is a very strong mesh fabric, which when doubled can even be used for corsets. It’s best known for being used in 1950’s couture bodices as structural layer. I wanted to use it as it is both very light and very sturdy, so it allows for a closer fitting bodice with some tension on it, without adding a lot of bulk.

I cut my pattern pieces out of both the cotton and the bobbinet, and then flatlined the layers. So basically, I put them on top of each other and treated them as one layer. The pattern pieces were then sewn together. The little red lines you see on the constructed bodice are the outlines of where the bra cups need to go. I used a magic marker for this project, which means that the pen lines disappear with time, which is good, but inconvenient if you need to know where to put something a week later.

The raw seams on the inside were covered with boning channels. I used the tape which is also used in bras, which is good because it’s soft and meant so sit next to the body. We actually did double check if the bobbinet wouldn’t feel scratchy on the inside as well, but because it’s made out of cotton it is much softer than the polyester tulle that it looks a bit like, so this was fine as an inner layer. As boning, I used 5mm wide synthetic whalebone.

Then came binding! I made my own bias tape out of the cotton fabric to bind both the top and the bottom of the bodice for a nice finish. I was particularly happy with the little v center front, which was made by sewing the binding into this shape before attaching it. A bit fiddly, but it looks pretty neat when done! The binding was sewn to the outside by machine, flipped inside, and finished by hand. The little prick-stitches will disappear later underneath the lace overlay.

As you can see on the picture on the dummy, the boning lines over the seams in the front flatten the chest a bit. To help with general support and comfort, I sewed two bra cups into the dress on the top and inside. This helps the bodice keep a nice shape as well.

And that was the base of the lower half of the bodice done! The back closures were done later, as that required the lace to be put on first. For now, it was time to sew the skirt onto the dress. I sewed it on such that the seam allowance of the tulle is hidden inside underneath the lining layer. Basically, under my sewing machine, I had the tulle part of the skirt on top of the bodice right sides together, and then underneath that the skirt lining right side to the wrong side of the bodice. This also makes sure the seams of the lining are to the outside, which seems odd, until you realize that it’s actually the inside of the lining which will be most visible.

I stitched the skirt to the waistline of the bodice, so not actually to the bottom edge, as you can see below. It’s just machine stitched on, there’s no need to hide this seam as it won’t show through the lace later on.

Then it was time for the top! I used a ‘body tulle’ fabric for this which is extremely sheer and light. I patterned this on the body, as the bride has roughly the same size, as my dummy, but not the same proportions. Most notably, my dummy has the shoulders/arms very far back, and the shoulder slope is different, so it looks a bit odd on her. In the end, this draping on the body meant I ended up with a slightly unsymmetrical shape which I didn’t like. So I ended up removing the whole thing, and taking one side, and using that as a base to pattern both sides. I re-cut it, and re-sewed it on, tried it on the bride again, and this worked better.

This sheer mesh is just stitched by hand to the top edge of the bodice, raw edge to the outside. It doesn’t fray (I did cut it a little shorter than shown in these pictures), and the edge doesn’t show under a layer of lace. Along the neckline and sleeve holes, I stitched a thin line with nylon invisible thread, just to protect the edges a bit. This fabric warps out of shape when pulled, and when the wearer is moving (the arms in particular) it can get stretched out of shape a bit. This isn’t the most durable solution (it will still stretch a bit), but for a bridal gown which will not see a ton of wearing, it is fine. The alternative would be to have a more visible edge (with a small seam or stretch lace or something similar), so we opted for this method.

And then the whole base of the dress was finished. In the next post: lace lace lace! This really was just the base for the dress, and all the decoration was still to come.

The Bridal gown project – A story of a lot of tule

A couple of years ago, after they got engaged, my brother’s fiancée asked me if I would be willing to make her wedding dress. As a rule, I don’t sew for others, but for this request I didn’t have to think long to say yes. One of the things which really helped, was that she also asked how long in advance I would like to start, to which I replied ‘about a year’. That meant that fall 2020 became the starting point of this special project. As the wedding is now done, it’s time to finally share the process!

The first thing we did, was to go to a bridal store to try some things on. She had an image in her head (and pictures via pinterest) of roughly what she wanted: a tulle/lace skirt, lace bodice and sheer top with lace on it. However, she is also decidedly shorter than the average bridal model, and she wanted to see how certain dresses looked on her. I would really recommend everyone who wants to make their own wedding dress to also do this, you cannot try on a dress which is being made for you, and it can really help to get a feel for what you like. The only important thing to remember is that if you want exactly the dress you tried on, you should probably just get that. A dress made for you can incorporate the same elements, but will always be a little bit different in the end.

After this excursion, the dress she liked most on herself was this one below, by Modeca. So this was the rough inspiration we started with. The main things which I changed already in my initial design was to slightly raise the dip in the front neckline, changing the back buttons to lacing (that’s more versatile size-wise) and removing the round lace on the train, as this would be very difficult to achieve with lace not created for this shape.

Next up was fabric shopping! In the end, we bought two types of tulle for the skirt, two types of lace, sheer fabric for the top, cotton for the base of the bodice and lining fabric for the skirt. In the rest of this post, I’ll take you with me on the base skirt construction in particular.

To make sure that a skirt has volume, there are several solutions. The first is layering. Historically, this is what petticoats do. The second is support structures, such as hoops. What happens mostly in current bridal fashion is a variant on layering which does not use separate skirts, but layers of ruffles attached to a base skirt. This helps to create more of an A-line shape where the top is still narrower, rather than the more bell-shaped version you see in historical silhouettes with many petticoats. In modern wear, this is typically done with very light fabrics, and in particular tulle.

For this skirt, I used two types of tulle. The first is the common, stiff tulle you can find cheaply in many colors. This has the advantage of being both stiff (less fabric creates more volume) and cheap (which is good, because you need a lot). However, it doesn’t look very luxurious. So on top, I used a softer, much nicer and finer bridal tulle. In total, the skirt has about 26m of tulle in it.

The base is a half circle of the stiff tulle. I temporarily attached this to a waistband elastic to be able to put it on the dummy and for fitting, and stitched some horizontal lines on it. The plan was that these would be the placement lines of rows of ruffles. Starting from the bottom, each row up would have an increasingly tightly gathered strip of ruffled tulle. In the end, I didn’t exactly follow my own stitch lines, but used them as a guide to stitch the ruffles on straight.

Then it was time for many, many, many strips of tulle. The strips were cut off, seamed together (with a narrow zigzag), a gathering stitch run through one end, gathered up, and pinned to the base skirt using stitch markers for knitting/crochet. These are basically non-sharp plastic safety pins, and perfect for a fabric which absolutely won’t hold pins. Then the whole thing was put under the machine, and stitched on.

As you can see, the monster slowly became bigger under my machine, and with the additional layers, you see that the skirt starts to stand out more. Although I planned the amount of layers and yardage per layer and length per layer and how much yardage I had in total, I did change this planning a few times throughout. Because maths. And also because I had never done this before, so I was going by eye on how big the skirt should become and how much fabric I had.

Somewhere half way through, I made the skirt lining. Made out of lining fabric (a little less than half a circle), this exists basically to make sure it feels nice against your legs. The stiff tulle isn’t very soft, and this makes it much more comfortable to wear. The hem on this is basically just a zig-zag, because it’s easier on a round edge, and you will never actually see this layer.

And then I went back to more layers. I stitched on a total of 5 layers of this stiff tulle, increasing how tightly gathered the strip was. As the base was a half circle, the skirt became narrower going to the top, so the area the strips covered did become smaller, but the ruffle-per-base cm ratio did increase a little bit every time.

The hard tulle stops a little while before the top of the skirt, because I wanted it to narrow out and not have too much of a bell shape. From this point, I added the soft tulle. The soft tulle was very wide (I believe 3m), so each layer has a fold at the top and basically has half the width as the length. I added one layer like this about 10cm below the waist, and then two more at the waistline. These layers aren’t gathered, but pleated as they would be more visible, and the pleats look nicer coming down from the bodice. I did knife pleats, with a box pleat center front, so the pleats all run towards the back.

The seam of the soft tulle is at the side. This means I had to cut a slit center back for the opening, but as the center back is also the middle part of the train, I didn’t want a seam coming down the whole length from there. To seam the soft tulle, I used a sheer nylon thread, and stitched down two edges on top of each-other by hand, for each of the six layers. You can see the seams if you look closely, but from a distance it’s completely invisible this way.

The final step was hemming! The train is basically formed by the half width (1,5cm) of the fabric falling down from the waist all the way at the back. Because the bride is fairly short, this creates a small train. To hem the skirt, I first cut all of the stiff tulle layers to the right length. Starting from the inner layer, and ensuring that each consecutive layer was just a little bit longer. This took a little while sitting on the floor because I did it layer by layer, but it worked well.

For the soft tulle, I safety-pinned it to the right length, we did another fitting to check, and then I cut off the layers one by one, shaping it into the train at the back. The one very big advantage of tulle: it doesn’t fray, so no need for any hemming aside from cutting it to length!

I have some of the soft tulle left over, but only from cutting a little of the length off at the front, all the rest was used up!

Hemming was the last stage of the base of the skirt. Between finishing the layers and hemming, I did also work on the bodice part, so the length could be checked with the full base of the dress on, and not just the skirt. This is helpful as this way, we’d know exactly how high the skirt would sit. In the next post, more about constructing the base for the bodice!

In the end, the skirt ended up a little fuller and slightly less pure A-line than the example skirt. However, I took pictures throughout, and we fitted the skirt shape a couple of time, and both the bride and me really liked the shape we ended up with.