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:

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.

A gown for lounging and mornings

The event I finally made my gold/black dress for was a couple of days. And late nights and early evenings call for a more relaxed type of dress. One I did not have in my closet, as most of my events are just the outside day affairs or balls.

I finished my gold ensemble (at least to the point of being wearable) a week before I had to leave. So of course, I decided I probably could made a morning gown in that time, right?

What helped was that I already had the fabric, the pattern and the plan.

A couple of months ago, a friend decided some fabric from Fabriclore, an Indian fabric shop, selling a wide range of beautiful fabrics. I joined in with that order, and got a couple of beautiful cotton prints, including one I knew I wanted to use for a morning/tea gown.

It’s a light cream crinkled cotton with a distinct texture. It’s very drapey, not quite sheer but near to it, and it has a beautiful hand-block print of little blue and green flowers on it. Morning gowns are often quite full and flowy, without the normal Victorian structure, so I knew it’d be perfect for that.

Pattern wise, I had seen Cynthia from Redthreaded adapt this Wearing History pattern for a morning jacket into a full dress. She has a video about that process here. I was lucky enough that the original pattern (which only comes in the one, original, size) was pretty much my size, so I knew I wouldn’t have to do too much to make it fit me. And Cynthia’s method of lengthening the jacket worked so beautifully, that I knew this would be the perfect solution to getting a dress instead of a jacket out of an existing pattern.

E-Pattern Victorian 1890s 1897 Morning Jacket Bust 36 image 1

The pattern is late 1890’s, and I particularly love the back design with the pleats which are a historicism echoing 18th century Watteau pleats. You see this a lot in the 1890’s, and in informal gowns in particular. This dress is also unfitted at the front, with just a belt, which is perfect if you want to wear this both with and without a corset. Although some of these dresses are completely unfitted at the waist, I do appreciate the belt to ‘break’ the silhouette a little bit. Below is a beautiful period example showing the typical types of pleats in the back:

Dressing gown, wool, American or European
Dressing gown1880–90, MET Museum

I made very few pictures of the process of making this, as I was on a tight deadline and Cynthia already has a video about how she made it. I chose to line the top (basically the original jacket part) with a plain white cotton. I also followed her method of gathering the bottom front and stitching it down a little lower, to create a tiny little ruffle. For the back, I chose pleats instead of the gathering shown on the pattern envelope, to make it look more like the extant dresses with pleats that I like so much. The pleats are stitched down to the lining to help them stay in the back a bit.

The skirt of the dress is not lined, to help with the flowy-ness. As the fabric is a little sheer, I did wear it with a petticoat underneath. This helps give some volume without weighing down the actual skirt of the dress.

I didn’t have time for trim, which I still might add later on, but for now I was really happy to finish it on time. I even opted to machine-sew the button holes, because although I like hand-sewn ones, I just didn’t have the time. Sometimes it’s good to allow yourself shortcuts if you know it’ll save you on stress and sleep while finishing something on time. And I’m really happy I managed to get this done in time to wear it, as I got a lot of use out of it as both an easy gown for breakfast and one for some relaxing after the dancing had finished in the evening. It was a wonderful lounging garment at a wonderful event!

A picture on the last morning, by Timelight Photographic:

St Audries Wedding Anniversary October 2021 (320).jpg

And two more with my own camera, to show the back:

1880s Gold Bustle dress – Bodices

With the skirt post done, it’s time to move to the bodices of the gold 1880s dress! I started the evening bodice after making the train base, and worked on the skirt/bodice interchangeably. I also planned the ball bodice at that time, but as this project had a deadline, I did finish the full evening version of this outfit first before starting on the ball version. In the end, I had enough time to finish both!

I used the Truly Victorian TV462 tail bodice as my base. Interestingly, the current cover of this bodice includes a keyhole neckline exactly like my target dress, but my pattern doesn’t have that image on the front, and neither does it have the keyhole on the pattern. It might be that I have an older version, but it meant I ended up drawing the neckline on me by myself. I also changed the back, removing the pleats. As TV patterns tend to fit me reasonably well, I made the mock-up out of the black cotton I also planned to use for the lining. After fitting, I cut the silk, flatlined all the pieces, and did the main construction aside from darts and side seams. The darts I did while fitting another time. The side seams I waited with until after I finished the bottom. This way, it’s easier to let out in the future if I want to, a theatre trick I learned from one of Redthreaded’s videos.

I marked the keyhole neckline first when fitting, and then used a silk facing piece in the exact shape. This was sewn on right sides together, the neckline was cut out (this was scary!), the facing flipped to the wrong side and stitched down. I have no clue if this is a period way to do it, but it worked for me. I decided on a facing rather than bias tape because of the sharp corner, and I like how that turned out.

The next step was finishing the bottom! I made my own piping by stitching a cord into a bias strip, and sewed this to the bottom fronts and back. After this was done, I could finally finish the side seam. It was a bit odd for me to use this order of sewing, as I’m so used to construction first, finishing edges second, but I do like the size flexibility it gives! The next step after this was to add the collar, and finish the neckline like that.

The original garment has a lot of self-fabric covered buttons, and I decided I wanted the smallest ones possible. Of course, this meant covering a lot of little buttons, which was fiddly at best… The official mold for these self-covered buttons didn’t work too well with this small size (I’ve used it for larger versions without problem). So I ended up running a gathering thread (by hand) around the edge of the fabric to pull it in tight around the button that way. I do really like the look of the finished buttons!

The final steps were button holes (sewn by hand, as I do really prefer that look), and to sew on the pearl trim. I decided to go with a plastic, pre-made pearl string. The original has very tiny pearls, and given the deadline I decided to not find individual pearl beads and string them. You can see the difference up really close, but I called this a ‘good enough’. I can always go and change the trim later if it does bother me in the future.

And then it was time for the ballgown bodice! I designed this in photoshop based on some originals. My main concerns were: have some black; but the black should be removable if I ever want to wear this with a different underskirt. I ended up deciding to do a ruched black panel on top of a gold base. If I really want to change it up, I need to unpick some trim, but not deconstruct the entire thing.

For the pattern, I went with the adapted version of the evening bodice. As I tend to make any adaptations directly on my mock-up, I just traced pattern pieces from the bodice directly. Then I could cut the flatlining (white cotton) and silk fabric! Again, I fitted it again after flatlining and basic construction, and pinned the darts directly on the body.

With the base done (I finished the neckline with bias tape), I could create the draped pieces. I did delay the center front and shoulder seams, as I wanted to make the trim disappear inside them. In the end, this didn’t actually work for the center front, as the ruched piece will go on top. I cut the basic shape for the draping out of cotton first, and then experimented with increasing the width to get the gathers. I cut two pieces of this, and draped it on the bodice, pinning it down in strategic places to get the folds to lay nicely.

For the black ruched piece, I followed a similar strategy, cutting it out of cotton first, widening it so it could be gathered up, and then cutting and gathering the black silk. This panel was finished by turning in all the edges, and stitched on top of the bodice beneath the gathered pieces. (I made the gathered pieces first to determine the size of the black panel, but I did stitch on the black panel first, as it goes below the other one)

To finish the bodice, I hand sewed eyelets around boning in the center back, and I finished the bottom with piping. There are a couple of boning pieces inside, the most important one which is in the front, as it keeps the center front point from flipping up. I also added very small gold sleeves (which I didn’t take pictures of…)

And then it was time for final touches, the bows! I found a tutorial for fabric bows here. Basically, you create one long ribbon strip, and loop this to get a bow with two loops on either side and tails. I ended up using a bit of organza ribbon to go around the bow and tie it together. I originally planned on just having bows on the sleeve heads, but I also added one to the bottom of the gathered pieces, and I am really happy with how that looked!

And then the whole ensemble was finished, with an evening version with long sleeves and train, and a ball version with short sleeves and train bustled up! Some pictures of the final ensemble on me and about the event will follow in a future post!

1880s Evening gown – Skirts

And then suddenly over 2 months have passed without a post!

I the meantime I have been working on the gold 1880s dress project that I talked about last time. In fact, I’ve now finished it, so time for some catching up. In this post, about the skirts!

I started this project with the train. Not because that made most sense per se, but because I knew it’d take the most fabric, and I wanted to make sure how much I’d have left.

I used the TV Butterfly Train pattern, in the shorter version. I cut the fabric on my living room floor, as it’s the biggest in the house and actually allowed me to lay out the pattern fully. I chose to slightly piece it to save on fabric. With the pleating in the train, it will be nearly impossible to spot when it is worn anyway.

Cutting on the floor (spot the cut lines!) and piecing in the corner

I cut the silk, and seamed all the pieces together. Then I did the same thing with the lining. I chose to line it out of plain black cotton. While black isn’t the most historical lining fabric, I knew I’d wear this with a black underskirt and I wanted it to be the same in case the train flips over and you see the inside. It’s a bit less conspicuous this way.

Construction was extremely simple. It’s bag lined, so lining and silk sewn right sides together and flipped inside out. Then the two sides were pleated up, and the top left and top right part were attached to the waistband. The top center is finished by turning the edges in, and then it is pleated up from the center and attached to the center of the waistband. This creates the ‘butterfly’ effect like poof that the train is named after.

Laying the silk on the cotton lining to pin it in place for the bag lining & a top view of the pleats attached to the little waistband piece.

The train has its own waistband which hooks unto the overskirt (as that needs to close center back, so under the train). I also tried out some methods to bustle up the train, as I also want to be able to dance in this dress. Eventually, I settled on attaching one ribbon center back, with two button holes. There are buttons lower on the train to button it up. Then on the sides, I attached ties, as well as a bit further down towards the center. These tie to each-other to bring up the sides. It shows a little bit of the black lining when bustled up, but I don’t really find that bothersome as the underskirt is the same color.

Trying out how to bustle up the train with the lining fabric only & the train waistband which hooks onto the overskirt waistband in the back.

The front overskirt is of the same gold, and I patterned myself with a little help from examples in Izabella Prior’s the Victorian Dressmaker books. I mocked it up from a sheet, and basically played around with pleats and length until I got the look that I wanted. It’s a basic rectangle type shape which is pleated up the sides. I ended up pulling the bottom side points of the rectangle over the back of the bustle and attaching a hook to keep them in place there. This makes sure that the overskirt has the feeling of volume and pleats without hanging down too low. The overskirt is attached to a black waistband ribbon, closing center back, with eyes to hook the train over. The back looks a little funny on its own (and I have no clue if it resembles period patterns), but with the train on top it looks like I meant to!

Patterning the overskirt out of an old sheet – the handstitched hem – the sides are pleated up and sewn down by machine (they won’t be visible), attachment to the twill tape waistband – the finished overskirt from the front – the finished overskirt in the back, this is covered by the train.

Then, finally, there was the black underskirt. The base was really quick to make, using the TV1880’s underskirt pattern, but of course adding a pocket. It’s made out of black twill cotton, as I wanted a solid base. Base, because the skirt is almost entirely covered in trim! I ended up taking inspiration from an other original 1880s dress, and settled on one row of knife pleats, two rows of stacked box pleats and a large ruched panel.

To try out the design, I copied the underskirt of the original dress I liked and pasted it on top of my picture, painting it black. Then I could measure the height of the pleats and the ruching.

The pleats took a little time to make and prepare, and various calculations were done and re-done to ensure I had enough silk (I’m still not sure I did it right, but I had enough fabric, so it’s okay). The pleats were all hand pleated, pinned in place, sprayed with a vinegar/water mix to set the pleats, steamed, and taped in place with painter’s tape. This last step ensures that the pleats can fully dry and won’t be distorted when handling them later. The ruched panel is one large piece with gathering stitches running horizontally. I ended up not giving my piece a lot of extra length, so the ‘poofs’ aren’t quite as poofy as in the example, but I actually quite like this slightly flatter look. The entire panel was then stitched on the skirt, together with the pleats. Only after doing this, did I finish the side-seam, so I could include the ruched panel in the seam. It took some fiddling to then make the pleats match over the seam, and if you look closely you can see that the pleats aren’t quite the same there. It’s not noticeable if you don’t look closely though, so I really don’t mind.

Pleating the knife pleats, stitching down the stacked box pleats, and gathering the ruched panel on the base skirt. This is why I didn’t sew the final seam yet, makes it a lot easier to lay it out flat!

And that completes the whole lower part of the outfit! I’m really happy with how luxurious the gold and black work together so far!