Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plugging Along

Well, I am still working on this gosh-darned costume! This was a very ambitious project for me, and while I don't regret embarking on it (on the contrary, I enjoy the challenge; it is nice to have a project that isn't done after a month or six weeks of work), I do feel rather down when I hit a snag. I was going pretty quickly for a couple of weeks there, but I have hit a few difficult sections and it isn't coming along as quickly. So, where exactly am I in this project? Good question!

I've finished my corset and my farthingale. I have a bumroll hiding somewhere. I've also made a petticoat, but  I don't want to hem that or add the fastening at the waist until I know exactly where on my waist I want it to sit, and how long my overgown will be. I have been making and ripping apart draft after draft of the bodice.

Ah, the bodice! Anybody out there reading this with more fitting/ tailoring experience than me? I've been on my own through this process with only my boyfriend to help provide an extra pair of hands, but he doesn't have any sewing expertise. The bodice fits relatively well, but of course you never can tell until it's made up with lining and interlining, and the seam allowances are eliminated (I-- naively-- added them a draft or two ago) and it's all laced up. The sleeves are what are giving me fits. I used Simplicity's sleeve pattern, since it looked relatively similar to the sleeve in The Tudor Tailor, it was already scaled up, and I am supremely lazy. As I type this out I realize why I may be having trouble: I used a sleeve several sizes smaller than the bodice back size, and the bodice front is not from the same pattern. Besides that, I changed up the strap quite a bit from the original pattern, so the armscye has very little in the way of a relationship with the sleeve.

The issue is that I'm getting these horrible wrinkles near the armpit, and the sleeve itself is really frumpy looking. I pinned out the folds and re-cut the sleeve with those changes, but I am still really unhappy with all of the gathers. My options seem to be to cut and slash the sleeve so the sleeve head isn't as full, to shave some width off at either side, or to try sizing the sleeve down significantly and cutting it on the bias rather than relying on gathers. I am really reluctant to do that since there will be so much weight on the sleeves; not only will the hanging portion of the sleeve be attached here, but I'll also be lacing the foresleeves onto this structure. That's a lot of weight to support, and I'm nervous that if I cut it on the bias, the sleeve will eventually deform. So I guess I keep fiddling with it until it looks nice.

I have to say, I know I should get the mock up to look perfect, but I am so tempted to just jump in and hope for the best. I may just be at the point where I don't have the skills to make the sleeves perfect, and it may take a few alterations once the darned thing is made up in the fashion fabric (which, invariably, will behave incredibly differently).

Aside from working on the bodice, I also bought some fabric for the foresleeves and forepart that I intend to dye. It is currently light gold; I would like for it to be deep red. The boyfriend nixed using our beautiful new washing machine to dye it with, so I am reduced to looking for a big pot that can forevermore be my dyeing pot and I guess I'll be trying to stuff some ungodly amount of fabric into a large vessel on top of the stove. I still haven't decided if I should just use Rit dye (it's easy and they have recipes for colors online) or iDye from Dharma Trading Company (which will probably be a "nicer" dye, but I have to order it online, I'll have to experiment with mixing the colors, etc...). I am probably over thinking this. I should probably just go down to Jo-Ann and buy some dye.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I am still sewing away! No pictures today, unfortunately; I've been working on a hodgepodge of things. I thought I would have my farthingale done by today, but unfortunately the vinyl tubing I bought to use as the hoops isn't holding its shape. I'd heard that some costumers had luck with it, and I thought it might be an inexpensive way to stiffen my first farthingale (I am anticipating making a nicer/ improved one at some point in the future...), but no dice. That's ok; I have some hoop steel, so I am planning on switching out two of my six hoops for the steel, and we'll see if that fixes it. If not, I'll keep on replacing the tubing with steel until it holds its shape.

I've also started my petticoat. Not very exciting; I used the farthingale pattern, plus widened the gores slightly and angled the center front and center back panels to get a fuller skirt than the farthingale has. That way I don't have to worry about it fitting over the farthingale, and I'll have a little bit of extra fabric to help conceal the hoops. I am planning on pinning my forepart to this petticoat, but we'll see; I may need to think of a "sturdier" solution.

Finally, I have started work on the bodice pattern. I am using the front half of my corset pattern, which I modified pretty severely to get the bodice shape that I wanted. However, as the corset pattern has no back or straps, I decided to use the back of the Simplicity Tudor bodice pattern as a starting point, and I kind of Frankensteined the two together, using the shape of the Tudor Tailor pattern pieces as a guide. The first mock up fit pretty well, and I was able to further modify the shape of the pattern pieces. I am on my second mock up now, and I believe if I can tweak the neckline shape in the back and perfect the shape of the armscye, I'll have a working pattern! Once I get to that point, my plan is to start fiddling with the sleeve pattern to make sure that the neckline will be the shape I want once the sleeves are interacting with it. Unfortunately, I know that the weight of the real sleeves and skirts will mess with everything, I just don't have a good idea of how much... I've been tugging on the bottom of the bodice like crazy and hoping that will at least give me an idea of how to compensate.

I've only tried on my corset twice, but so far I am liking it... It is really comfortable, which I hope means I got the fit right. I like the cable ties as a boning material as well; they are nicely flexible, but hold firmly enough for my standards. I would use them again in a heartbeat, although I recognize that they may not be the best choice for every project. That being said, I don't regret using them in this project... Yet! I'll reserve my final judgement until after the corset has been worn more!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Farthingale: Part 2

When I was approaching my farthingale project, I realized there wasn't a whole lot of information regarding Simplicity's Tudor Underpinning pattern (number 2621). So, I decided I'd be sure to try to take as many photographs as I could remember to, and to share my experiences with it.

For a more involved idea of my vision, please see my previous post. The short version is that I was really intimidated by the idea of making a farthingale, and so I decided to use Simplicity 2621 as the base for my farthingale, with the size of the hoops dictated by Melissa of's recommendations, based on her research on Alcega's period pattern layout for farthingales. That's a bad sentence. Basically, it is my understanding that I can reproduce the angle of Alcega's farthingale by using hoops of the lengths she has calculated, whether or not the waist and length of the farthingale match his original. There. The chart is here, if you'd like to have a look; she does a much better job of explaining what this is all about than I do.

You have to understand two things about me for the rest of this to make sense: I am really lazy when it comes to things people won't see (sure, let's just say it's only with those pieces...) but I also obsess unhealthily about the best way to do things, and getting the right silhouette to things. This means I am almost always working at cross-purposes, and this leads to all sorts of bad mix-ups that could be avoided by either adhering to the "quick and dirty" way or the "right" way of doing things, but usually works out in the end.

So, to start with, I found the three pattern pieces that make up the Simplicity pattern; unlike Alcega's farthingale pattern, which includes two front gores and two back gores, you cut four of the same gore in Simplicity's pattern. Ok, I can deal with this. It's a hoop skirt, I don't much care where the seams are (ok yes I do, I like how the Alcega farthingale puts more of the bulk in the back; but I've made my peace with this). As long as the angle is accurate to the Alcega pattern, I figure that will get me close enough. I immediately tossed aside the third pattern piece, which was the one for the waistband. Frankly, patterns for waistbands confuse me, and I always end up winging that part.

I added length to the pattern because when I held the front/back piece up to me, it seemed awfully short; because I ended up adding a bit of length through my waistband method and hemming method, I ended up cutting off all but about one inch of that extra length. For reference, I am not a tall girl; I am just under 5'4", with a waist-to-floor measurement of about 41" (give or take an inch for user error here), and I knew I would need an extra inch or two of length for the flare of the skirt. If you are making up this pattern, I highly recommend measuring and just making sure you have enough length to work with.

As for the sizing, I fell on the border of the 20 and 22 measurements, but chose to cut on the 20 line because (1) I didn't want extra bulk at the waist, and I knew this had plenty of ease to get over my hips and (2) I knew my hoops would be smaller than those called for by the pattern, so I really didn't need all of the width that had been drafted into Simplicity's pattern. The pattern called for four yards of fabric, and that's how much I used. Once again, I looked at the suggested pattern layout, shrugged my shoulders, and then did it my way. What was my way? Well, my synthetic taffeta was 50 inches wide, and so I was able to fit the gores butted up against one another to make a rectangle (the pattern was flipped with the wrong side of the paper up so it would fit this way; it helped that I had fabric that didn't have an obvious right side). I then used a yardstick and tailors chalk to mark my new cutting line that at the hem that would give me some more length, following the curve of the original hem line. The front and back are the same piece, cut on the fold. I folded my fabric in half with the selvage touching (like you usually do when you lay out patterns) to make my fold, then flipped it from cut edge to cut edge so I could cut both the front and the back on the fold at the same time. I know, I told you I was pretty lazy; this worked because my fabric was really thin, and I was very careful in how I folded it.

Then I sewed it up the way the pattern instructed me to. Once again, it was really nice having fabric with an identical "right" and "wrong" side, especially because of my creative cutting layout. I ended up with this:

I know, the front and back are shorter than the gores; this is because when I folded my fabric, I accidentally forgot to leave enough space for all of the extra length I'd originally added. I started cutting at the top and didn't remember to add the length until I got to the bottom. I think I was just too excited from what I thought was a clever way to cut both pieces out at the same time. At any rate, I added as much length as I could and called it good, knowing I'd been REALLY generous with my original addition.

Hey, I never recommended you do things my way; I'm just telling you how I did it.

From here, I stepped into it and eyeballed where I wanted the hem; I was aiming for it to hit my instep. I know, this is risky business, but I was by myself and don't really know anyone in the area who can sew, anyway; I love my boyfriend, but marking hems really isn't his forte. After I figured out how much fabric I needed to remove from the hem in the center front, I measured how much I wanted to keep, and with that number, measured down from the waist all around the skirt, using the pattern pieces to trace the shape of the curve of the hem in tailor's chalk, and then I cut! To be clear, I carefully laid it down just as you see it, with the front and back waist and hem lined up, and then just cut straight across the folded skirt, rather than trying to go around the entire circle. I'm no good at that, and without a helper, that's get tricky. I'll let you know once I finish inserting the hoops if I think this made the hem wonky; I was hoping that by using the curve of the pattern as a guide and measuring from the waist carefully, I'd get the right curve. So far, it looks alright.

I hadn't yet decided what to do about the waistband; I was really tempted to just fold over the top edge twice and do a self-casing for a drawstring, but I thought that would end up looking awful, in addition to taking too much of the length up. Then I thought about sandwiching the fabric between two pieces of ribbon and using the ribbon as the casing, but that would be very bulky. I finally just measured the top edge of the skirt and made a rectangle that long that was 4.5" wide. I ironed each raw edge over twice so no raw edges were showing, did the same on the end, and then folded the entire thing in half and ironed in that crease. To save some time, and because I hate threading drawstrings through casings, I pinned my ribbon drawstring into the waistband, since I knew I would have plenty of room on the bottom of the  Finally, I pinned it to the raw edge of the skirt, sandwiching the raw top edge in between the halves of the waistband. Then I sewed! Yes, this left a row of stitches on the front edge. No, it is not the most attractive waistband I have ever in my life seen. But it was fast, easy, and this won't show under my clothing. It looks neat, and that is all I was going for; I just want this to come out looking neat and solidly constructed. Or at least, something approximating that...

The ribbon pinned into the waistband 

I just folded the edges so that the raw edges were enclosed

Here's the opening; I folded the edges under twice to enclose the raw edge and sewed it in one go, pivoting at the bottom. For all of you who also follow my beauty blog, this is why I always wear nail polish; my poor discolored, wonky nails! 

Here's where the two halves of the waistband meet up on the inside

Another image of the opening at the waistband from the inside; I folded the open edge of the skirt under and sandwiched it like that between the waistband at the top edge. 

The attached waistband! And yes, the drawstring works... I didn't sew over it! 
I don't have any pictures for the next step, but that was marking the lines for the hoop casings. I got the pattern out again and used it to mark across the front and back of the skirt with tailors chalk. I just kind of scooted the appropriate edge of the appropriate pattern piece across the front and back, making sure to keep the angle from top to bottom align as much as I could to approximate the curve. Looking back, that may have been fruitless; those things kept wanting to sew straight as I put them through the machine. Oh well, I guess I'm glad I tried. The only thing I changed was that I played around with the bottom, adding a hoop between the hem-hoop and the next to the bottom hoop. To do this, I scooted the next-to-the-bottom hoop up two inches, and then put another hoop between that one and the base. I just wanted this thing to be a little sturdier, because I know my skirts are going to be very heavy. I will have six hoops in my farthingale, instead of the five that Simplicity suggests.  After these lines were marked in chalk, I pinned the ribbon down, making sure to place the pins in the right direction to take them out as I sewed. I only did a couple of casings at a time, because I didn't want to be wrestling this thing through the machine and getting stabbed by pins from another casing. Each casing is one continuous piece of ribbon that I left open on the side that the drawstring ties on; I actually ran out of ribbon when I got to my last casing, the middle one. That is why there is a big gap between the ribbons in the following photos. I will have ended up using 4 spools of Offray 7/8 inch grosgrain ribbon from JoAnn Fabric; I was able to get all but the middle casing out of three spools.

A tip on pinning the ribbon on; flat things and curves don't get along. Grosgrain ribbon does not like to be sewn to something that is bigger on the bottom edge than on the top edge. I made my peace with making tucks where I had to, and I found that holding my hand under where I was pinning, so that the ribbon and the fabric both stretched over a convex curve, really helped ease the process along. Likewise, as I sewed, I tried to hold the fabric relatively taught with a bit of a downwards bend over the edge of the machine to mimic this convex curve. If that makes any sense. The ribbon still manged to migrate a bit during the process, but it went relatively smoothly. I think there might just be a learning curve (heh, get it? get it?) for making these darn things. At any rate, here are some more photos of this process.

most of the casings sewn, one pinned; not perfectly straight, but I think this will do. They migrated as I sewed them! 

The edges I left open

I used the hemming method advocated on Sempstress' farthingale tutorialthe ribbon hem . This hem appealed to me because it is nice and finished, and it forms the casing for your bottom hoop.There is a very good tutorial if you follow the link above, which is what I used, but here are the basics. I put the top edge of the ribbon near the raw edge of the fabric on the wrong side, since I wanted to keep the hem fairly long, so that the better part of the ribbon hung over the edge of the skirt, and I sewed close to the edge of the ribbon.

Here it is sewn down and ironed; I forgot to take a picture when it was just pinned, so I unfolded it to show you what it looks like. For reference, this is the wrong side of the skirt; the ribbon covers the edge of the fabric and hangs over the edge.

After you've sewn it from the wrong side, you iron it over to the right side, so the raw edge of your hem ends up encased by the ribbon. I ironed a bit of the fashion fabric forward because it laid nice and flat this way; the curve of the hem was on the bias and ironed out nicely, and I thought it looked pretty.

Here is the ribbon ironed to the front, before I sewed the top edge down.

Then you just sew the free edge of the ribbon down to your fashion fabric from the right side, right along the edge. I didn't even need to pin it after I ironed it, and it went smoothly. Once again, I left a bit of a gap on the side of the skirt for the hoop to go into.

That's all I've done so far, since I need to get more ribbon and a boning material for the hoops, but I will keep you guys updated on my progress. Expect a more concise summary on my thoughts on the pattern once I finish the farthingale!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Farthingale Construction: Part 1

Hi guys! Sorry I haven't been very good at updating my progress. I've finished my corset, but haven't worked up the nerve to try it on yet! I just wanted to ride on the high of finishing something! I'll save the rest of the corset project for another post... But for now, I'll dive right into the farthingale.

I did way more research than I probably needed to on the farthingale, but I'm compulsive like that. I looked at paintings and stared at skirt diameters, questioned whether or not I need one (I still haven't decided what year my finished gown will most closely reflect, but something between 1530-1540 most likely; right in the transition from no-farthingale to likely-farthingale), and to be honest I probably could have gone either way. To be really honest, I may still wear my gown without a farthingale, depending on what it all looks like together. However, I reeaaaally didn't want to be tripping over my skirts and getting layers of skirt wrapped around my leg, and my fabric is so pretty and patterned that I wanted some of that to be held out to show off the fabric, so farthingale it was!

From there, I stared at the Alcega pattern layout until it made sense, and then thought about it some more until it didn't make any sense anymore, and decided not to use it for the draft of the skirt. I have more copies of Simplicity's Tudor Underpinnings set (pattern number 2621) than you can shake a stick at, and this is going to be under my clothes, and honestly, I was really, really scared of making my farthingale, so I figured I'd just use the pattern this time around. But of course, being the way I am, I can't just follow the pattern. That's too easy. Also too boring? My brain doesn't like pattern instructions anyway; I mostly only ever use the pattern pieces, referring to the directions only for "advice".

I found indispensable. Melissa's way of explaining things makes sense to me, and she tends to write on the subjects I need help on. So, if you're reading this... THANK YOU. THANK YOU SO MUCH. She used all sorts of math-magic to figure out the angle that the sides of the Alcega farthingale are, and also to tell you what length your hoops should be if you want to maintain that angle, but on whatever scale your farthingale happens to be. The handy dandy chart is located here.

I originally planned on using one of those horrible polyester taffetas in a mauvey-flesh tone with dark brown grosgrain ribbon for the casings, but after I ironed it, I realized I couldn't condemn it to live underneath other skirts. The color looked gorgeous against my skin and hair, so I set it aside (and promptly ran back to JoAnn and bought the 1.75 yards left on the bolt- it was a flat-fold clearance fabric) and pulled out a DIFFERENT horrible polyester taffeta. This one was blue shot with pink that I'd intended to use as a skirt for an 18th century shepherdess costume based on a few Fragonard paintings. I remember it being very inexpensive, and it was much brighter than I remembered it being when I bought it; honestly I couldn't see myself using it for anything else. I ended up still using the kind of clashy brown ribbon (it's a yellow-brown; not a rich chocolate brown with a red undertone). You know, it doesn't look as bad as I thought it was going to! The brown looks pretty bold against the blue.

Unfortunately, it really does clash against my corset. This is a bright blue shot with bubblegum pink; the corset is a kind of light indigo shot with gold.


Oh well. It could be worse, and beggars can't be choosers. As long as both pieces end up being functional, I can't complain.

So, there you have it: the plan, outlined. Of course, like I said, I can never leave well enough alone; aside from changing the fabric last minute, I also messed with the pattern. That being said, I couldn't for the life of me find a good review/ tutorial of Simplicity's farthingale from the 2621 set, and so I decided to keep track of what my progress and write a little bit about it, which takes us to Part 2.