Thursday, December 1, 2011

Long time, no see! And, a new project...

Hi All,

Ok, back on the sewing band-wagon! I haven't sewn since I finished costumes for my boyfriend and I for the Star Trek convention. I royally screwed up the back of my mini-dress, to the point where I don't even know how I could have done it according to the pattern. As a result, there is no back pleat, just a seam in the center back below the zipper all the way down to the hem. It doesn't look bad, it's just not *right*. What DOES look bad is the hem; I did this at 2am in a Vegas hotel room, by hand. I may or may not have been drinking. (Ok, ok, I wasn't... but I wish I could use that as my excuse!) I don't really feel like posting pictures of it, since there are enough things I'd go back and change in the future, but for something I made in 2 days, and for my first time working with knit fabrics...It could have gone worse.

Anyway, I've moved and am soon going to have a sewing room. But can I wait for that space to get cleared out (it's currently un-unpacked box storage)? Nope! I'm already planning to make a couple of throw pillows for the couch (that's easy-peasy, I'm just lazy!) and a corset for my perpetually-in-planning Tudor gown.

I have too many options! Do I want to do something that's more 1520's or more 1540's? Do I want to use a russet damask or brown velvet? If I choose brown velvet, do I use the cut velvet or the solid velvet? And don't even get me started on all of my underpinnings, the different options for corsetry still have me in a tizzy.

I am pretty much decided that I will use my russet damask, but conservatively. I have a huge amount of the stuff (I want to say 12 yards?) and if I cut carefully, I'm hoping I can still make an Elizabethan out of it at some point in the future. I'd already decided against a train and that I would make contrasting sleeve linings, so I think this may be feasible, but we'll see. I've also decided to go for a more 1540's silhouette as well, since I think that the damasks do better in the slightly later style, and I'm still planning on basing the gown off of the Simplicity pattern, which lends itself to that shape. I may try to draft my own skirt (again, to save on yardage... I'll have to take a look at what's going on with the Simplicity pattern), and I'll probably end up fiddling with the bodice, but it makes me feel safer to start with something familiar, and a commercial pattern (Simplicity, no less!) certainly fits the bill.

As for the kirtle/corset/pair of bodies debate... Well, I have decided not to use Simplicity's corset pattern, since corsets from commercial patterns tend to be a nightmare. At least with the gown bodice, I'll have my corseted measurements to go off of, but they never do a good job drafting patterns that squish you in the right ways and places. Besides, having a custom-fitted corset is kind of important for comfort. So, I'm drafting my own, with the help of numerous online tutorials and the ubiquitous Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator. I still don't know what to do about the boning, though. Do I stiffen it aggressively with some sort of buckram or pasted cloth? Or bone it with flat steel for a rigid, unrelenting line? I am thinking of using cable ties or something with a bit more give, since I tend to prefer the paintings where a bit of swell is visible in the general breast area. It looks more natural to me, and I feel like my eye always reads the perfectly conical torsos in paintings as either a liberty taken by the artist, or someone wearing their most unforgiving Sunday Best to be painted in, rather than something they could actually have a good time in. I've also always been partial to Holbein's portraits, and most of his show a bit of curve where the bosom is. AND (as if I needed another justification...), I think it will be more comfortable. As a bosomy girl, I don't think that something that flattens my breasts to roughly the same measurement as my ribcage could possibly be comfortable, nor do I think it will work very well. The ladies would probably just migrate south-wards and look and feel rather silly. Therefore, I am planning on building a bit of a backwards S-curve into the danged thing. This doesn't seem out of line to me; a couple of portraits show what appears to be a very very slight curve in this direction. Almost all of the Holbein sketches I've stumbled across that show women in profile or 3/4 tend to show a bit of this action happening in the bodice line.  Like these:

Thank you, Holbein! It's certainly not pronounced, but it's just enough to make things a bit more comfortable. I'm also planning on doing boned tabs, front lacing (possibly back as well!), and straps, though I haven't decided if I want to do Effigy Corset style straps or if I want to have a corset that is basically strapless and then lace on straps, in case I decide to use this corset with a variety of necklines in the future. I am rather inclined to make this as versatile as possible, even if it comes out less historically documentable. Obviously, this was never high on the list, since I'm considering using materials like cable ties. My goal is to have a garment that works, is practical, and has a period feel to it, whether or not it is as period as current scholarly research allows.

So, for now, I am still busy scouring the web for tips, tricks, and research as I move towards drafting a pattern and trying it out. Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Starting is the Hardest Part

So, I still haven't started my Star Trek costumes. I just can't rally my enthusiasm for it; I don't have a good space to sew, I am working with the bare minimum of supplies, and even the very first step- tracing the pattern- is going to take longer and be more difficult than it would normally be, since I can't find pattern-sized tracing paper anywhere locally and my stash of it is in a box somewhere; I am reduced to using paper bags and wax transfer paper. Plus, my "workspace" (I am using this term loosely) is  covered up with mail, makeup, movies, books, dishes... It's become a storage area of sorts for the living room. So I guess technically cleaning the table off is the real first step! Mostly, I think I just don't want to be sewing this. It's funny, it's a costume I'd like to have, and I think it would be fun to wear. That doesn't mean I want to sew it; I don't anticipate it being a "fun" project, and it won't be pretty. I know, those are random criteria, but I enjoy sewing for the chance to wear long, beautiful gowns and elaborate styles that I don't get to wear in normal life. A mini-dress just isn't doing it for me. Historical costume is my first love, and making something that is closer to just a plain ol' costume isn't nearly as exciting. Honestly, I'd give up on the project except I already have all the fabric, and I do think it will be fun to have.

On that note, my goal for today is to clear off the table and get started tracing the pattern.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When it rains, it pours!

So, I've been faced with a minor setback.

 I can't find my sewing kit! If you knew the state of my life right now, you wouldn't be surprised; most of what I own is in boxes right now, split between my dad's place, my place, and my boyfriend's place. Both my boyfriend and I are in itsy bitsy apartments, and I'm spending most of my time at his place, so it's gotten pretty messy over here, despie the relative lack of boxes... So I assumed that my sewing basket was here! Under a pile of rarely-worn winter clothes. But I guess it's not. And it might be in a box. Somewhere.

At any rate, I'm frustrated to the point of thinking I may just buy whatever basics I need and then just have backups once I find my sewing kit. Honestly, it's not a bad idea to have a second "backup" sewing kit in case something breaks in the middle of a major project with a deadline, or I need to take a smaller sewing kit traveling with me. And of course, re-purchasing these tools is probably the fastest way to find the originals. Doesn't that always happen?

However, I did make it out to an awesome fabric store, Mill End Fabrics in Reno, and just about bought the whole place up before showing some restraint, and leaving with a cool 16.5 yards of fabric. I found cotton twill to line corsets and bodices with (only 3 yards though, boo!), a red knit for Star Trek TOS uniforms (11 yards, so I can self-line!), dusty eggplant cotton velvet (this is what I really wanted for my Tudor corset, so that pink silk is getting repurposed for something else), and a black and white herringbone wool that looks surprisingly light from a distance. I'm thinking I want to do a steampunky corset with this, but we'll see; I bought enough to make a skirt, if I change my mind!  They  had a bunch of really neat things, but also some glaring omissions. For instance, I couldn't find a basic black knit to save my life. Navy, yes, other very specific colors (they even had the TOS medic blue, but not enough!), yes, but no true black. I couldn't find a heavy twill fabric, either; what I bought was with the bottomweights, but is actually kind of medium weight. Oh well, I guess that's how it is with these fabric stores that get the bolt-ends from the textile industry; they have a ton of awesome-sauce things, but they might not have all the bases covered.

 Anyway, I guess I'm off to JoAnn to buy pins, thread, needles, a measuring tape, tracing paper, chalk...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Name Change! The Fabric Mistress has become The Petulant Needle

Hi Guys! I was never really happy with the first name I came up with for this blog, so I've changed it from The Fabric Mistress to The Petulant Needle. Update this mentally, in bookmarks, whatever! Hope this hasn't been a nuisance; I figured it was better to make a change like this sooner rather than later.

Star Trek: TOS?

So, as I mentioned in my first post, I'm going to a Star Trek convention in August and wanted to throw together a costume for it. I'm really torn, since part of me feels like I'd rather be putting my time toward the Tudor, but I also know that if I go to this thing and don't even make an effort, I'll be really sad and disappointed with myself. I'll feel like the kid who didn't get invited to the party. So, with that in mind, I am thinking I will try to make something quick to wear to this event. I have this pattern from and JoAnn had some acceptable fabric, but only in red. Darn! I'd really like a blue medical uniform, but oh well. I am going to try to approximate a tunic for my boyfriend as well, but I don't have the time or resources to wait for an "official" pattern to ship, so I found a weird raglan sleeve sweatshirt pattern that Simplicity puts out; I may try to make some simple modifications to that and push out something that approximates the look of the mens' TOS uniform. Time permitting, I'd like to modify a pair of black pants to give them the flared cuff, but we'll see.

Unfortunately, I don't have much experience sewing "modern" things, so I'm not sure how sewing on a knit fabric is going to go. I know I need a ballpoint needle, and other than that, I guess I'll just do some fabric tests to make sure the tension on my machine is correct and then go for it. Am I supposed to line knits? I didn't see anything about that in the pattern, and I believe some of the pieces are self-lined, but I may buy some extra fabric and self-line the entire thing. That might help for smoothing out any bumps and lumps, as well.

I must say, I'm kind of excited at the prospect of having a Star Trek uniform, even a poorly done one! It will be a great thing to have for costume parties and Halloween, since I don't have to worry about how much space I'll take up or having people step on skirts in close quarters. I think it will be fun to accessorize, too; the remastered TOS episodes are up on Netflix now, and they're gorgeous. The makeup the women wear is pretty awesome, so it will be fun to put together a look for that, and while I'm not fancy with the hair, I think one of those awful plastic bump-its may be in order!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


So, while doing some more research on The Bodies Issue, I remembered that making a kirtle really *is* the more period (and obvious) solution. It's what I had planned on doing with an earlier period Tudor I had planned (think 1520's), but I was going to just do the pair of bodies for this gown, in order to have a reusable and more flexible foundation garment for any future projects. However, having a boned kirtle would be really handy... I could make sleeves for it and wear it on its own to the Renaissance faire and have a kind of historical-ish pink princessy gown for faire before I'm even done with this gown. However, the down side of that plan is that I would have to wear the kirtle (and skirt!) with every single gown I make from here on out... Which isn't necessarily a problem, since it needn't always show through a split skirt. I could always wear another petticoat over it or pin a forepart to it to switch up the look. If I did the kirtle, it would definitely be side-lacing,which would be great for either front or back opening gowns. I guess I could just make a pair of bodies with a matching petticoat for a similar look, but the kirtle would look better on its own than those two pieces worn together, *and* be a more period undergarment... It would also give my pretty silk a chance to shine, since it would show under certain styles if I didn't pin on a forepart or wear another skirt over it.

I have a feeling I'll be going back to Jo Ann's to get some more of that pink silk!

(ten minutes later)
Nevermind. I got my hands on some paper and a pencil and realized that I'd have to build straps into a kirtle, whereas I'll just lace straps onto a pair of bodies, making it more versatile for different necklines. Oh well, it will be easier to stick to the pattern; the gown is drafted to go over the corset from the accompanying pattern, so hopefully that will mean fewer fitting issues. I'll play by the rules... This time!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Joys of (planned) Corsetry

So, I haven't even started my pair of bodies yet, and I'm already dreading it. For those of you who may not be familiar with 16th century terminology, a pair of bodies are basically a corset; they're meant to constrict and form the body into a fashionable shape, although in this time period they didn't reduce the waist in the way we tend to think of corsets doing. In fact, there's not a huge amount of evidence that corsets (or pairs of bodies) were even worn beneath clothing during this time period. Existing bodies are from about fifty years later, and while some paintings suggest a very rigid line under clothing, others allow for a degree of voluptuousness. Perhaps gowns were merely stiffened with buckram; perhaps a girlish figure was in vogue, and so women's curves were reduced when they were painted. Who knows. If you do accept that women wore stiffened foundation pieces, then you are faced with the problem of construction; what did they look like? What materials were used to stiffen them? Rope? Reeds? Whale bone?

I think that in order for me to get the right shape under one of these gowns, I need to make a corset. I could stiffen the heck out of the gown itself, but that's a lot of stress on the fabric, so the bodice would break down faster, and that also means that I would have to do this every single time I make a new gown. With a pair of bodies, I can just build all of my garments over the same foundation garment and not have to go through this step each time I want a new outfit. I also plan on costuming later in the period as well, so if I make something that will work under an Elizabethan gown (because really, most of our evidence on how to make these comes from then anyway) it can do double duty and work for that period as well.

Now, my corsetry experience is modest at best. However, I've learned from my duds. I've learned that compressing the bust too much isn't attractive. I've learned that if these are too flimsy, they'll fall apart after your first wearing, but if they're too bulky they won't work right, either. I've also learned that coutil is too dang expensive to mess around with when I don't really know what I'm doing. Because of this last point, I went to Jo Ann's on a mission to find a sturdy but flexible fabric with a little bit of slip and not a lot of stretch. Behold: canvas twill! Yay for twill; it's extra strong, and hopefully will keep my bones from poking out through the fabric. I've also read that cutting one layer on the grain and one layer across the grain will help make these stronger. I don't know if I believe that it will be stronger, but I do believe that it won't stretch as much. And when you're making a corset, a little stretching is to be expected, but a lot is bad news. I'll just have to be careful to baste and top stitch a little extra, because if these pieces do stretch despite that, they'll stretch differently, which is no bueno. I am also doing a layer of silk that was a red tag fabric at Jo Ann from the home decorating section; it's a dusky pink with woven, raised stripes on it. I figure the silk will breathe better than a synthetic, and even though I know it doesn't really matter whether this layer is pretty or not, I love the idea of having beautiful underthings.

Here is a picture of the pattern I am using (Simplicity 2621), as well as the materials!

With flash

Without flash
The color is somewhere between the flash/ no flash results in the pictures above, although everyone's moniter is different, so I guess you won't have a great idea of what color it really is, anyway. I bought a lot extra of the fabrics, partially to allow myself room to experiment (read: mess up), and also because I have some of the pink fabric already, which I bought as a remnant awhile ago, and figured having a little bit extra to go towards another project wouldn't be a bad idea. That would be beautiful for sleeves and an underskirt for an upper- middle class Elizabethan with a length of wine-colored wool I have... The grey underneath the pink silk is the cotton poly blend twill I am using, and I have lighter grey binding to use with it. I think the dove grey will look pretty sharp with the pink!

One thing about the pink silk that makes me nervous are the stripes. On the one hand, it may help to conceal some of the stitching for the bones, or at least act as a guide for me to sew them more precisely. On the other hand, if my casings aren't stitched perfectly straight, it will be more obvious with those stripes to compare to. I'll have to be especially careful about cutting EXACTLY on the grain and stitching really precisely!

The one material I don't have yet is boning. I'm not sure if I want to use flat steel, like I usually do, or try something like cable ties. Cable ties are more economical, but aren't as supportive. I am also concerned with them warping and holding my shape and not springing back the way steel will. I also haven't decided if I want to include a busk or not. If I don't use a busk, I could make this front lacing, which would be really nice and convenient. However, I don't want the lacing to show through the gown; I have seen front laced corsets that don't show at all through layers of fabric, but I'd hate to risk it.Then again, having a back laced corset AND a back laced gown might not be great, either. Side lacing? I feel like that would warp the shape of the corset a little bit... Instead of pushing things in, it might smash them out, instead. If that makes any sense.  Frankly, I'm just not convinced that a corset for this period needs a busk; lots  of paintings show a slight swell at the breast under garments, suggesting to me that whatever support garments were being used were at least a little flexible. And not that costuming is about comfort, but I think not having a busk would be more comfortable, which in turn helps make an historical costume look more like clothing when worn. One thought I had was just to put extra bones in the center front, and perhaps use 1/2 inch wide steel instead of the narrower kind.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Late Tudor Project

...And so it begins!

I've been wanting an Elizabethan gown for ten years now, but always felt like my skill level wasn't up to snuff, or that I haven't had time to do such a large project. More often than not, I end up doing quickie projects for a specific event, and then coming up with a laundry list of things I'd do differently next time. Now, I don't expect that last part to change, but I'm finally in a place where I want to spend a significant amount of time on one project. The last couple of things I've made have been few and far between, but I did them the way I wanted to (or at least close to!) and spent more time on them, and it's been much more rewarding. Now, my love of Elizabethan gowns has not abated, but I have decided that I like the romance and elegance of the Tudor silhouette, and I've decided that my first big 16th century project will be a late Tudor. Luckily, since I made that decision (ouch, now you know how long I've been sitting on this idea, inactive!), Simplicity has come out with a couple of pretty decent Tudor patterns, making my job a lot easier. I do know how to draft patterns, but my skills are awfully rusty. In a pinch, I'd get by, but I would much rather work from an already scaled-up, sized pattern than try to scale something up from a book, drape it, or draft it myself. And as much as I love The Tudor Tailor, the thought of trying to fit those patterns gives me a headache! Working from Simplicity's patterns will bring its own special set of headaches, I'm sure, but at least it puts me a step or two ahead, and I feel like I have a bit of a safety net in the step-by-step instructions and other existing dress diaries chronicling experiences with these patterns.

So, my first steps have been to sketch out what I want, and to start seriously planning the underpinnings.

Here's my sketch:

I have some lovely russet-orange damask with a bird-and-crown pattern on it (hope I'm remembering that correctly!) that I plan on using for the skirt, bodice, and oversleeves. I'm thinking about dying it a brighter orangey red, since it's rather muted and that just screams "I'M A HOME DECORATING FABRIC" (it is) to me, but it is nice the way it is, and I may do better to play it safe and leave it as-is. Especially since I don't have a bath tub OR a washing machine to dye 10 yards of fabric in.

I also have some really ornate, textured goldenrod/mustard yellow fabric for the forepart and foresleeves. In a perfect world, I'd spangle that up to move it further away from the home-decorating zone, but as much as I love hand work, that takes a LOT of time. And that's something I could always go back and do at some other point.

I do not have fabric for the turnbacks yet, but I'm thinking scarlet silk/rayon velvet would be beautiful. I want something that will drape elegantly, and I think the red might bring and unexpected pop of color the the ensemble. Chocolate brown would also be lovely and restrained, but since when were the Tudors lovely and restrained in their fashion choices? I still might do chocolate brown satin for the pipings and linings that will show.

One of my main pieces of inspiration is the Princess Elizabeth Portrait (attributed to the Flemish school), from about 1546. The color scheme of my gown will be very close to this, although I bought the orange fabric intending it to be an Elizabethan.

Thank you! 

The other portrait I'm drawing heavy influence from is the portrait thought to be of Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, from 1545:

Thanks again,! 
So, I have a plan! I will hopefully end with the gown that I've sketched, an English Tudor style fit for a Queen (or Princess!) from the mid 1540's. Sumptuary laws are SO overrated.


Hello All!

I am very excited to start this blog; I have been working on, my makeup blog, for awhile, but it's really a complete surprise that I started a makeup blog before a costuming blog; I've been fascinated with costume since I was very young (dress up was always my favorite game!), and when I was 11 I went to my first Renaissance Faire and discovered that costuming was an acceptable hobby for adults, too! I promptly took it upon myself to learn how to sew, and the rest, as they say, is history! Maybe more literally in this case, since I already had a healthy love of history, and sewing magnified it. I almost think I enjoy researching my projects as much as I enjoy sewing them. And while I love the history end of things, that doesn't mean that I always work in a strictly historically accurate mode; I think it's fun to break the rules and create fantasy "what if" versions of things. First as an inexperienced seamstress, and now as a student, my ability and time have always been constraints in doing things "just so"; however, as I age I am learning patience, and have been inching my way closer and closer to more historical projects.

In any case, welcome to my blog, and I hope you'll follow me on my adventures in sewing! I have a lot of projects planned, although I can't promise I'll get to all of them in the near future. Past projects have included Steampunk, Vampire Victorian, Regency, fantasy, and sci-fi costumes; in the near future, I am planning to embark upon a much-anticipated Late Tudor gown and quickie his-and-hers costumes for an upcoming Star Trek convention. I'll be using this blog for much-needed support, organization of thought, and of course to hold myself accountable for making progress!

Thanks for reading,