Robe à l’Anglaise Photoshoot

Two years ago I made a robe à l’anglaise out of the Waverly Indienne curtain fabric. I documented the project here, but I didn’t have a proper kerchief, cap, hat, or shoes at the time and wasn’t satisfied with the photos I was able to get of the gown. Since then I’ve acquired the rest of the accessories so I recently set up a meeting with a photographer to get better photos. We went to the local National Park where battles of the Revolutionary War were fought, and I love how everything came out!

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The amazing photographer is The Nerdy Monkey.

I’m hoping that in the future I can get nice photos like these of more of my gowns. They spend so much time just hanging in my closet, I’d love to be able to show them off more.

Thanks for looking!

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18th Century Pocket

While I was at Rufflecon wearing my polonaise I realized that I really needed a pocket to keep my phone and things in while I walked around the con. I had been teaching myself a little bit of embroidery since the Jamestown conference last year anyway, and I thought a pocket would be a good first project to work on. I looked up examples of extant pockets online and rather than copy anything exactly, I sketched out my own free-hand design.

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I stitched it on a scrap of linen left over from lining my bliaut. The embroidered face is backed with a second piece of linen so that I don’t catch the back of the embroidery as I put things in and out. The back of the pocket is muslin because I had run out of linen scraps that were big enough.

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The binding and ties are more linen scraps. I actually still have to finish sewing the ties, but since the pocket itself is done and it’s been a while since I posted, I thought I should upload it now. I’ve also finished my Tudor waistcoat that I started over the summer, but I can’t get the damn thing to photograph well, so I’m probably going to wait to post about that one until I finish my kirtle so I can post about them together.

The Yellow Polonaise

Several years ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out her fabric stash and gifted me a yellow upholstery fabric woven with a green and pink flower and stripe motif. I always intended to make a robe a la polonaise out of it, but between other projects and the fact that yellow isn’t always flattering on my skin tone, the fabric sat untouched for a long time.

Over the summer I learned that the founder of American Duchess would be coming to Rufflecon, an alternative fashion convention that I had already purchased my ticket for. American Duchess’ Bastille Day sale was still on, so I finally bought the Kensingtons that I had been wanting for years, and subsequently decided that if I were going to wear my Kensingtons to Rufflecon to meet the founder of American Duchess, I needed a new, fancier gown to wear them with.

I was inspired by this extant gown that I found posted on the Fripperies and Fobs Tumblr:

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The J.P. Ryan pattern would again be my base, and in August I began cutting out the pieces. I briefly looked at trying to acquire some green quilted fabric for the petticoat, but quickly decided to do a plain green petticoat with a flounced hem instead, like a polonaise in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1. That polonaise also had a self-fabric trim around the neckline and sleeve edges, so I decided to add those to mine as well. I also realized that I would need to finally make a bum pad and under petticoat because I never had for my earlier gowns, and the polonaise would really require one to get the proper effect.

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I cheated and bought kelly green polyester taffeta for the petticoat, and spent hours pinking the edges of the flounce and then box pleating it onto the hem.

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I was so busy in August and September that suddenly it was September 30 and I was running out of time. I still had to attach the skirt to the bodice, add the trim and closures, finish the lining, add the buttons for the polonaise, and add ties to the petticoat, and all of that had to be done by hand.

I finished the closures on the morning of the day I left for Rufflecon. I was originally going to add lace to the sleeve cuffs, but I ran out of time and motivation. I had just enough time to try the gown on with the closures for the first time (perfect fit, thank god!) before putting it away in my suitcase and hitting the road.

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With the skirt down.

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With the skirt worn à la polonaise.

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The slight gapping at the top of the bodice and the slightly messy spots where the edge of the skirt meets the bodice are the only things I’m not happy with on this gown.

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Trim at the neckline.

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Trim on the sleeve.

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Actually, I lied. The messy point at the back of the bodice bothers me a bit, too.

I haven’t gotten the best worn photos of it yet; I was having too much fun at Rufflecon to get anyone to take very good photos, but here’s one in the mirror in my hotel room:

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And here’s me with Lauren, of American Duchess, after her and Abby’s panel on draping:

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(This hairstyle gives me a fivehead.)

I’m extremely pleased that I was able to finish this in time for Rufflecon, and I’m very happy with the way it came out. I was quite sick of looking at it by the end, though. I think once I put it away for a while and have occasion to bring it out for something else fancy that I’m not stressing to get ready for I’ll realize how much I like it. For the moment I’m just happy to be done with it and go back to sewing my wool items.

Speaking of which, there’s now only two weekends left to finish my Halloween costume, which still needs a chemise, sleeves, fitting adjustments, and closures…

12th Century Bliaut

Way back in May or June I started this dress for a historical costuming demonstration at my library. I got caught up with other projects after the demonstration, but I’ve been slowly working on it bit by bit ever since. I was trying to get it 100% done by the end of December, but I finished the last couple of eyelets at the beginning of January, and I finally finished the sash today.

I didn’t use a pattern for this dress, but instead used this tutorial by Izabela of Prior Attire. The shell of the gown is made of navy blue wool. The lining and the kirtle are made of linen. I wanted silk for the sash, but the fabric options in my area are a bit limited, so I settled for a gray poly with a silk-like texture for now.

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Linen kirtle.

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Gown before lacing.

For some reason the gown is very hard to photograph, especially on the dress form. It doesn’t help that the navy is so dark that it always seem to show up black.

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Finished set.

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The trim around the neckline are just ribbons that I picked up at a trim store.

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The dress opens on the sides to allow it to slip over the wearer’s head. I put hand-bound eyelets in using an awl and used leather cord to lace up the openings.

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The long trailing sleeves are drapey and dramatic.

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I’m waiting for snow to try to take some worn photos of this. The giant storm that’s hitting the East Coast decided to give us a miss.

Next project is more wool and linen: an 18th century menswear set. I’ve got the waistcoat half done and the frock coat cut out, so hopefully it won’t be another two months before I have an update to post.

In which eyelets and buttonholes are the devil, but we persevere.

It’s been a busy two months, and I’ve definitely been all over the place. I feel like I have a lot to sum up, so forgive me if this post is less coherent than usual.

Firstly, I did finish the sleeves on my Renaissance Faire gown. There were yet more eyelets involved. I wanted to throw things.

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But I finished everything and it looked pretty, and then I got to wear it in the 85 degree weather, so I was happy, albeit slightly dead from the heat.

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Once again I had people thinking I worked at the Faire. On the final weekend that I went with some friends I kept getting asked for directions while I stood outside shops with my tea while my friends looked at merchandise. It’s flattering in a so-good-you-fit-in kind of way.

I also finished a pirate outfit for my dad, so I dressed up as a pirate with him for the Pirate themed weekend of the Faire.

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Looking at the photos, I feel like the fit of his outfit is off, though it’s not as obvious in person as it looks in the photos. I used the Simplicity Jack Sparrow pattern, and the vest sizing was basically for someone the size of The Rock, and while my dad is barrel-chested, The Rock he is not, so I had to fiddle with the vest quite a bit. I obviously need to practice menswear some more. The vest also involved buttonholes. I once again wanted to throw things.

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He spent a good half an hour picking out this hat at the faire while I held his IPA and threatened to drink it on him.

After I finished those two things that had been on my plate for a while I wanted to take a break and do some less-intense projects (with less eyelets and buttonholes) so I started out by making a new dress with this awesome map fabric that I stumbled upon at JoAnn’s!

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I get so many compliments on this dress when I wear it, even though I swear map-print dresses aren’t a new idea. I’ve definitely seem them somewhere before…

I also made a few ribbon cockades for some Faire people, and a sash to wear with an outfit for an alt-fashion conference this past weekend, but I didn’t get good photos of those.

The other project I completed was a headdress inspired by medieval icon paintings, and ones that I’ve seen on the runway. I made this out of a headband, some wooden dowels, gold spray paint, fake flowers, and lots of hot glue.

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Turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted one of these saintly crowns, because I saw at least two other people at the conference with similar headdresses. They must be in this season.

I think that’s most of what’s been going on for the past two months. It’s probably going to be another two months before I post again, because I’m going away for a week in November, and of course the holidays are right after, but I usually get a lot of sewing done around the holidays since I’m off work, so hopefully afterwards I’ll have something good to post! I hope to keep it to one project per post in the future.

For now I leave you with a photo of some of the supplies I picked up at the Rev War reenactment back in August. Can’t wait to play with these soon!

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Court Gown Update: It’s Wearable…

A year later (and several projects in between) I’ve been able to get my Elizabethan court gown in complete enough condition to wear it to the first Faire of the season.

I finally finished sewing the cartridge pleated skirt onto the waistband and added closures.

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I put eyelets in the bodice using an awl, and had a bit of trouble since the fabric is polyester (gasp!) and the bodice is several layers.

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I intended to add wings on the shoulders temporarily until I can get my shoulder rolls figured out, but I just started getting burned out, so I left the shoulder straps bare for the time being. I did have to add a privacy panel in the back, because somehow my bodice shrank as I sewed it. I swear it was just the right size when I first started this project (I’ve gained a little bit of weight, but no inches on my waist, so shrinkage is the only explanation).

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I also desperately needed a hat, and felt that if I didn’t have one, there would be no point in wearing the gown, since without a hat the outfit would look even more incomplete than it already is without the sleeves and shoulder rolls. So two days before the Faire, I drafted up a pattern using the Elizabethan bonnet instructions in The Tudor Tailor.

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I used the same fabric as the front panel of my skirt, and lined it in a heavy twill, as well as adding interfacing in the brim. I finished it off with a burgundy braid around the band, and an ostrich feather I’ve had hanging around waiting to go on an Elizabethan hat. Somehow I got the math wrong and the band came out shorter than the inside circumference of the brim. I didn’t have the time or energy to remake the brim, so I sort of forced it to fit, making the brim a little wavy in the back. Maybe I will redo it for the next Faire…

hat3Then it was wearing time!

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We had nasty storms the night before the Faire, so when we showed up there were scary mud puddles everywhere. Luckily the sun was out and it quickly dried the puddles. I had just enough time to be grateful before the heat set in and I started to regret wearing a dress entirely made of polyester.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

But we got to watch the always enchanting Vixens en Garde, take in the joust, watch a pirate brawl, and listen to Three Pints Shy before I tossed in the hat, surrendered to the heat, and sent my driver for the car so that we could limp home in the air conditioning.

Bonus photos!

I was the victim of severe derp face.

I was the victim of severe derp face.

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you're like...

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you’re like…

Hopefully I will have sleeves and shoulder rolls for the next Faire in August!

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:

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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!

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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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At the historic inn.

At the historic inn.

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Further evidence that I am crazy

A costumer friend of mine just announced an 18th century-themed event for May Day on May 2nd. So I, in my infinite wisdom, have decided to throw all other projects to the wayside and will be attempting to make a robe à l’anglaise in about a month and a half. Totally doable, right? Did I mention that I need stays and a chemise, too? Luckily I already have a passable pattern for the stays, and I already have one panel of the Waverly Indienne print curtains, though I’m going to need to get a second panel. I just ordered the robe à l’anglaise pattern from J.P. Ryan, and I’ll have to order reed bones for the stays. I was already planning a fabric shopping trip on Sunday, so I can pick up fabric for the petticoat, stays, and lining then. Wish me luck!

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Purple Cotillion Gown of Doom

Just over a year ago a costumer friend of mine decided to have a fancy 1860s cotillion for her 30th birthday, complete with catered food, dances (with an instructor), and ball gowns, all in a Victorian B&B up in the Adirondacks. At the time she announced this, I was working three jobs, one of them a retail job, and the Christmas shopping season was just gearing up. At first I thought there was no way I’d be able to make a suitable gown to be able to attend this fancy cotillion.

But after a strong latte in a coffee shop one day, my creative impulses kicked in, as they are wont to do when I’ve had caffeine, and I decided that I was going, and that I would somehow make a dress. That very day I dragged my boifurendo to JoAnn fabric to see what I could get on a meager budget. Luck was on my side, and the Simplicity patterns were on sale. I picked up Simplicity 2881, even though, honestly, the example dress looked kind of awful. Yellow cotton gingham for a ball gown? But I decided the shape underneath all that extra trim was what I needed, so I could leave the trim off and use a more luxurious fabric. Silk was unfortunately out of my budget. I was hoping for a dark, rich green, but JoAnn’s was not forthcoming in that department. So I picked up a purple polyester shantung with very minor slubbing that did a fair imitation of silk.

Now, the reason I call this the gown of DOOM is that from here on out, it seemed like everything that could go wrong with this dress did go wrong. I bought boning from ebay and when it arrived it was very weak sew-through boning which was not at all what the photo in the listing said. I ran out of time to make a proper hoop skirt, and so had to buy one from ebay that unfortunately doesn’t quite have the circumference necessary.

Then I made a mock up of the bodice, noticed that it was a little big, and I adjusted the size of all of the pattern pieces. Once I cut the pattern pieces out of my fashion fabric and started sewing the bodice together, I noticed the bust was a bit loose, but I kept tricking myself into thinking that the bust was loose because I couldn’t hold it closed in the back properly at the top. It wasn’t until I finished the edges and put in the eyelets and laced it all the way closed that I realized the bust was huge. I could fit snacks down the bust of my bodice in case I got hungry on the dance floor if I wanted to. That was when I went back to the pattern and noticed for the first time this message:

Thanks for being upfront about the fact that your pattern is basically unusable, I guess?

Thanks for being upfront about the fact that your pattern is basically unusable, I guess?

The pattern specifically allows for six inches of ease in the bust. Six. Inches. For what is supposed to be a fitted bodice worn over a corset. I was furious. And panicked.

In a time crunch, and because it was just a fun dress for a friend’s party and not anything that I’d be like, taking to reenactments and trying to pass off as accurate, I ended up putting darts in the bodice starting at the bust line, going down toward the waistline. Not the best option for a well-fitting garment (or probably any garment), but once I added a v-shaped band and a bit of lace at the neckline, inspired by extant garments like this one, it hid the fit issues and came out looking acceptable. Then some of my eyelets started popping out, which is when I decided never to use the stupid eyelet anvil setup again, but at that point I had no time left to worry about the construction, it was time to dance.

The finished dress:

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Moral of the story: don’t use commercial patterns for historical costumes.

What I did learn from this dress, though, is that cartridge pleats are fun and not nearly as scary as I was thinking they were. I don’t know where I got the idea that cartridge pleats are scary. But they’re not. They’re fun. And they look awesome. The party was also a blast, and it was so awesome to have a fancy dress to hang out in. Now I’m thinking I need to do something fancy for my 30th…

Anyway, back to the present. I’ve returned to working on my Renaissance court gown, with the intention of getting it done for a new little local Ren Faire that is in three months, or at the latest, for the New York Renaissance Faire that starts the first weekend in August. So hopefully I will have some productive court gown updates soon!

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!