The Six-week 18th Century Set

About six weeks ago a costumer friend of mine announced that she was having a May Day party in a historic inn built in the 18th century. Since I don’t get enough opportunities to dress up, and since I had been planning on making an 18th century gown eventually, I decided I would finally make my gown–and stays and chemise–for the party. *cue stressed out sewing montage*

Armed with the Waverly Felicite curtain panels, the J.P. Ryan robe à l’anglaise pattern, and the Butterick stays pattern that I had bought on sale years ago, I got to work.

The stays took the longest. Even doing the boning channels on my sewing machine, it took me six hours to put boning channels, cut the reeds, and thread them through one half of the stays. And then I still had to do all of that on the second half. I stabbed my hands and arms with the pins in the stays so many times that I showed up to Easter Dinner looking like I’d had a fight with a porcupine. The reed boning came from corsetmaking.com. I bought the round reed, but I bought the smallest size, and each channel took so many reeds to make it stiff enough, I wish I had bought the bigger size reed, or just gone with the flat reed.

Once the boning was finished it was time for the binding. While I was pinning the binding on the stays to be sewn on by hand I promptly shoved a straight pin halfway up the bed of my thumbnail. The pin must have been clean though, because the injury didn’t turn scary like I feared. It just hurt when I had to use my thumb to pinch the binding to the stays for the rest of the week.

When I finished the binding (with minimal further injury), I put all the eyelets in by hand using an awl. I found this tutorial helpful, but I didn’t end up using the buttonhole stitch to finish the eyelets. They were taking long enough with one pass of stitching. I did cheat a bit–I had read and understood that using an awl for eyelets works best on natural fiber fabrics, because the threads will stretch instead of breaking, making the hole neater and stronger than if the threads break like synthetic fibers will. But the fabric for my stays came out of the remnants bin at JoAnn’s and was of questionable fiber content. Turns out there was quite a bit of synthetic fiber in it, so my eyelets did not stretch very neatly, but I was able to clean them up while stitching enough so that they came out pretty serviceable.

EyeletsI used spiral lacing to close both the front and back of the corset using this tutorial (I had to fiddle a bit with the front because of the placement of the boning channels). Unfortunately my commercial dress form is just incompatible with 18th century structural garments, so the stays don’t fit it nicely for a good photo, but here’s a couple to give you an idea what the finished stays look like:

staysfront

staysbackThe chemise was easy to throw together from this tutorial. I used a really nice, soft cotton-poly blend. I intended to use 100% cotton or a linen, but the cotton-poly had such a nice feel to it, and the price was right. No one sees the chemise anyway…

After all that was done, I only had about a week and a half before the event! Luckily the JP Ryan pattern is very easy to execute. I made a quick mock-up which fit nicely with a few adjustments to the shoulder strap length, and then cut the pieces out of my curtain fabric. The instructions made it very easy to put together the bodice and then gather the skirts to the correct width. I even got all the pleats right on the first try with just one minor adjustment!

pleats

004v2The sleeves caused a bit of a problem because the sleeve cap seems to be so much larger than the armscye, and the directions simply say to “make three small pleats” in the sleeve cap without being 100% clear where they’re supposed to go, and even with the pleats the sleeve cap seemed to big. The result was that my sleeves came out a bit messy, but I covered it up with my fichu and promised myself to fix them later, for future events. My costumer friend explained that I had put the pleats too far toward the back, instead of placing them more at the top of my shoulder. She also told me she tends to pull the bodice fabric across the bias when sewing in the sleeves, so that it stretches the bodice fabric and gives her more room for the sleeve caps. I’m nervous about ripping the bodice fabric, but I might have to try it carefully next time.

It also seems like I didn’t shorten the shoulder straps enough, because I get a bit of gappage at the shoulders of my bodice, exacerbated by the messy sleeves pulling the fabric back toward my shoulders. The fichu hid it for the night, but I can adjust that later when I go back to fix the sleeves. (I made the fichu in about an hour from the first cotton fabric I could find–at Walmart–so that’s also going to need a replacement for the next wear)

The front closure was also a bit of a puzzle because I had it in my head that the front pieces should overlap, but the directions were following the assumption that the front pieces would abut perfectly, but not overlap. Once I understood that, the front came out pretty good. I feel like it could be a bit tighter, but it looks perfectly fitted in the front, so I’m happy with the look it makes.

I finished the whole thing a full day before the event. I had been working on it and thinking about it non-stop for six weeks, so suddenly being finished with it left me a little lost. I just felt like I should be working on something. But I do have a couple projects that need to be started and progressed on in the next month or so, so I’m sure I’ll be stressed out about the next project soon enough.

Anyway, finished pictures! The one thing I didn’t get around to making was a cap, but it was a May Day party, so I threw on a flower crown and called it a night.

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gownback

At the historic inn.

At the historic inn.

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Using the Dritz Eyelet Plier Kit

Update 5/6/17: please see my new post about eyelet pliers and why I’ve become a hand-bound eyelet devotee.

I’ve been thinking about buying eyelet pliers for a while, and back around Christmas I had a 50% coupon for JoAnn Fabric (which is the only large-scale fabric store within a 3 hour drive of where I live) so I decided to buy the Dritz Eyelet Plier Kit.

When I was ready to put the eyelets in the Faire outfit that I was making for my friend, I carefully read the instructions on the back of the plier kit which… were not very descriptive:

002v2I did a quick Google search, hoping someone had created more descriptive instructions with photos or better illustrations, but I couldn’t find much. What confused me at first was the instruction to “Position fabric in pliers with mark centered over punch. Squeeze pliers to punch hole in fabric.” The accompanying drawing doesn’t really specify which part of the pliers is the “punch.” I couldn’t figure out if they meant the little knob protruding out of the top arm of the pliers in the picture up there. The knob has a rounded bulb on the end, and really doesn’t look as if it can punch a hole in anything except maybe paper. But I grabbed some scrap fabric and, certain that I was going to end up getting the pliers stuck together with the fabric in between, I started testing this “punching” ability.

Apparently the sharp part that actually creates the hole is on the anvil side of the pliers (on the bottom arm in my photo). The knob part (the punch) pushes the fabric through the sharp part of the anvil and creates a hole that is just big enough to work the eyelet through. Now that I understood, I grabbed my bodice pieces and marked out where the eyelets needed to go with a water-soluble marking pencil.

003v2Then I lined up the punch/knob thing on the pliers with my eyelet marks.

006v2Gave the pliers a quick squeeze, and ended up with nice, clean punched holes.

007v2Then I carefully worked the barrel side of the metal eyelets through the fabric from the good side. The flat end of the eyelets should be flush against the good side of the fabric.

010v2008v2Next I inserted the punch/knob through the eyelet from the good side of the fabric/flat side of the eyelet.

012v2I gave the pliers a firm squeeze to force the barrel end of the eyelet to split and curl down onto the fabric, flattening the eyelet and (hopefully) sealing the raw edges of the fabric in to keep the hole strong. One thing I noticed is that the anvil side of the pliers wobbles a little bit, because it has to move to adjust to the angle of the opposite arm of the tool. I realized after a couple of my eyelets came out a bit messy that I had to make sure the ends of the barrel side of the eyelet were sitting neatly in the ditch of the anvil before squeezing so that the pressure was even all the way around the barrel of the eyelet while I pressed down. It took a little bit of practice. I wish I had practiced a bit more on my scrap fabric before putting the eyelets in the bodice, but I didn’t want to waste the eyelets. :/

Here’s what a neatly done eyelet looks like from the back:

015v2And here’s the finished good-side of the front bodice panel with all of the eyelets in:

016v2I hope this was helpful! If anyone has more questions, or if you’ve also used these pliers and have more advice, tips, or tricks, please share in the comments!

Elizabethan Corset

One of the reasons it took me so long to start my Elizabethan court gown was that I first had to make a proper corset or set of stays. (Stays is the term that is historically used to describe the corsets that were worn during the Elizabethan period, but I am going to use the term corset here because that is the title of the pattern that I used to make mine.) I was originally going to use the Simplicity 2621 pattern, but had some concerns about sizing (and honestly at this point, I don’t remember what they were!). When I happened to mention it to a friend of mine in our local costuming group she directed me to a custom Elizabethan corset pattern generator that is free online from elizabethancostume.net.

The pattern generator is so easy to use! You just plug in your measurements (there is a diagram that shows how to take the measurements):

pattern generator

It walks you step by step through drafting up the pattern using your measurements:

pattern generator2

And then shows you how to sew a corset based on the pattern you just created:

pattern generator3

The directions have options for making a corset without tabs, a simple tabbed corset, or a corset that has tabs that are boned. I decided to make the simple tabbed corset, as I just liked the look of that one the best. I have a few in-progress pictures. This was after I had sewed the shell and lining together:

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I wish I had added a third layer on the inside for extra strength, but for some reason I didn’t think of it at the time.

Here is a photo of the boning channels:

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And photos of the finished product:

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Somehow the point in the front center came out a little crooked. I think it was caused by uneven seam allowance while using my sewing machine to go around the curving point. If I wanted it perfect, I would do that part by hand next time, but with it being an undergarment that most people won’t see, I wasn’t too worried about it. I also need to invest in a better tool for setting eyelets. I’m looking into how to use an awl to prepare holes before sewing them, but I’m also considering just getting a pair of eyelet pliers to just pop the eyelets in. I’ve been using an eyelet hammer, and my ability to set the eyelets in properly just seemed to get worse and worse the more I used it. I now have several items that have lost eyelets because they were set in wrong. When I decide which method I’m going to switch to, I’ll try to remember to post pictures of the process the next time I have to set eyelets.