The Pink Confection Gown

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There has always been something about a frothy pink Natural Form era gown that has caught my fancy. Any time I came across paintings of heavily trimmed pink Natural Form gowns on Tumblr I would fall in love all over again.

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The End of the Ball by Rogelio de Egusquiza

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Young Watercolorist in the Louvre by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret

When Prior Attire announced the date for their 2018 Victorian Ball in Bath, and that the theme would be Natural Form era, I decided it was time to finally make my pink confection, and to take a chance and go to the UK for the first time–for a costume event!

Very long, so please click to read more!

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Bijoux Pattern Co. Victorian Corset: A Review of Sorts

Well. It’s been a lot longer between posts than I meant for it to be. I’ve been drowning in a project that I started back in December and fought with right up to April 1st, and it took up so much of my time and caused me so much doubt and frustration, that although I meant to write a post about my Victorian corset, I haven’t been able to until now.

This corset gave me a bit of trouble, and in the middle of it last year it felt like it was weighing on me quite a bit (though now I know how much worse it could be, after the project I’ve just finished…). But it did turn out very well in the end, and once it got finished I was quite happy with it, and boy is it comfy to wear, too!

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The finished corset, on my duct tape dress form.

Sometime early last year I purchased a corset kit and a copy of the Bijoux Pattern Co. #1 Ladies Victorian Corset pattern from corsetmaking.com. You have the option of buying the Laughing Moon pattern with the corset kit, but I priced it out and realized it was less expensive to buy the Bijou Pattern, which is a division of Laughing Moon, separately, so that’s what I did. I’m not sure if that was the cause of my troubles, but as you’ll see, the Bijoux Pattern version left me slightly less than impressed.

One of the first things that I noticed as I began looking over the measurements and double checking which size I needed was that the instruction sheet referred to fitting instructions that were not included in my packet.

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There was no reference to the fitting instructions on the little “contents” page that listed things like the size chart, fabric and notions, and pattern piece illustrations. And the fact that the phrase finishes with those xx’s in place of a page number made it feel like the instruction sheet was hastily thrown together and someone didn’t take the time to make sure everything was accurate and included. (Also notice the misspelling of “coutil” next to the right-most pattern piece drawing.)

As I read through the instructions I noticed a few more typos that didn’t alleviate the feeling of haste and disorganization.

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In the end I had to simply trust that the measurements chart was pointing me in the right direction in order to choose a size to make. Luckily my proportions are pretty standard, so I can usually trust that patterns as printed will fit me okay. If I had an extra long or short torso, or a larger cup size, or was wider in the hip than the chest, I don’t know what I would have done without the fitting instructions. Assuming these mythical fitting instructions even include adjustments for things like that.

My mockup seemed to fit okay, so after testing it out I got to work in the real fabrics. Unfortunately I seem to have neglected to take photos of most of the progress on this! Or the photos were lost somewhere in the year it’s been since I started work on this corset. But basically I used plain white coutil that came with my corsetmaking.com kit and basted a thin pink indeterminate stash buster fabric over it.

When I got to the lacing grommets, as you do pretty quickly when corset-making, as they have to go in before much of the pieces are sewn together, thus ensued the Great Sewing Injury of 2017, which I wrote about in May of last year (tl;dr: grommet pliers are bad and can cause muscle stress injuries, don’t use them. Grommet anvil and die sets are infinitely better, and grommet presses better still). I’m actually still suffering effects of my grommet pliers injury, as the muscles in my hand will sometimes tense up or my knuckle will start twitching if I’ve strained it too much by say, carrying a heavy bag of groceries, or driving for 3 hours gripping the steering wheel anxiously. Anyway, at the time of the injury I had to put aside the corset for a few months to recuperate, and also because I didn’t have an alternative tool to put the other half of the grommets in with. I finally purchased a die and anvil kit and lo and behold, the grommets set much easier and much neater than with the pliers. And no injuries.

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Pliers-set on the right, die and anvil-set on the left. Seriously, step away from the pliers.

I’m now happy to announce that I received an amazing gift of a grommet press for Christmas after this whole debacle and I’ll never have to struggle with grommets again. (I cried a little bit, actually. My boyfriend’s mother was very confused that I was crying over getting a tool for Christmas).

After finishing the grommets, the rest of the corset proceeded almost astonishingly fast.

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All pieces sewn together, no bones or binding yet.

I soon encountered another issue, though, when I went to put the bones in. The kit I had purchased came with pre-cut lengths of spiral steel. This being my first time boning with steel, I didn’t catch the fact that the items in the listing didn’t include any flat steel, which you need for the back opening at the very least. And because the spiral steel was pre-cut, it didn’t all quite fit the boning channels as I placed them, so I came up short. I ended up having to measure the channels I had left and place another order from the site. I also ordered additional pieces of flat steel to place in with my busk, because the busk I received with the kit was a bit bendier than I thought it should be, so I wanted to reinforce it.

Once I had that sorted out the rest of it went together very quickly. I lined it with map fabric left over from a dress that I made a couple years ago.

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The bit of lacing that came with the kit could have stood to be a bit longer, but I’m able to get it on and lace myself down just fine. And it is COMFY. I’ve already worn it for 10-12 hours at a time no problem, and I seem to be able to eat all I want (within reason) without it starting to feel pinched. Perhaps I got lucky and the pattern was basically drafted for someone proportioned just like me. Whatever it is, I hope this one lasts for a long time, because I don’t know if I’ll ever luck out and end up with this comfortable a corset again.

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So, in summary, this pattern is probably okay if you’re confident in your measurements or knowledgeable enough to make fitting adjustments on your own, but it’s probably not the best beginner corset pattern. I’ve never seen the instructions that come with the actual Laughing Moon branded version of this pattern, but for some reason the Bijou Pattern branded version is a bit lacking. Also, it’s probably safer to wait to get your steel bones until after your pattern pieces are assembled and you can get accurate measurements for exactly what you need. Kits sound tempting, but next time around I’d rather be able to choose the lengths myself. Also, I’ll say it again. Do not use grommet pliers. Just don’t.

And since I was going on a bit about it at the beginning of this post, here’s a teaser of the project I just finished. I will rant about this one a bit later, after I’ve recovered.

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Bliaut in the Snow

We’re in the middle of a nasty cold snap here in the northeast, and it made me remember that I never posted photos of my bliaut that we took way back in February during a snow storm.

You can see the construction notes for the bliaut in this post. It’s wool and linen and quite heavy, so it kept some of the chill out during this photoshoot… but not all. The wig I’m wearing is just a $10 ebay wig I bought years ago that I put on to give a fantasy/elven vibe. The photographer is my boyfriend, Dan, whose photo site you can see here.

Please enjoy the photos, and I hope you’re staying warm!

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What to Gift the Historical Costumer in Your Life.

If you’re a historical costumer, around the gift-giving season you may start getting questions from family about what you want for Christmas, and it can be hard to come up with a few ideas on the spot without feeling greedy. Conversely, if you have a friend or loved one who is a historical costumer, you might be trying to find some ideas of what to get them without them catching on.

With those things I mind, I thought I would put together this list of gift ideas that historical costumers would (probably) like. Of course, no two costumers are into the same eras or styles, so I tried to include a variety of useful as well as fun items at a variety of price points. I hope you find this list useful!

  1. Nice wooden hangers. Yes, seriously! Costumers need to have some way to store all of their frocks, and plastic hangers are often too weak, and we won’t even get into metal wire hangers. Nice wood suit hangers are usually the way to go, and there are even nice cedar ones to help keep the bugs away, and sometimes you can find ones with clips that can be used for petticoats or underskirts (just make sure the clips have rubber coated tips!). Here is a nice walnut set from Amazon.
  2. Neck kerchiefs from Burnley & Trowbridge. Sold mostly for 18th century reenactors, these large, fine, soft, and beautifully printed kerchiefs have become a favorite of costumers for other uses, like hiding a head full of curlers, wrapping up a Rosie the Riveter kind of hairdo, or just pairing with everyday outfits. With several different colors and patterns, it’s fun to collect a bunch! Find them here.
  3. Hat pins. Suitable for a variety of eras, hat pins can often be hard to find in modern stores, but they are a must with certain types of historical and vintage hats, and the fancier ones can make an excellent gift. Etsy has a good selection of both vintage and handmade hat pins.
  4. Hat boxes. Another item useful for storage, but one that can often be quite beautiful too, hat boxes are ideal for storing a costumer’s fanciest hats, but they can also be used to store ribbons and trim, gloves, fur muffs, reticules, and other small items that costumers always seem to have a lot of hanging around. You can sometimes find hat boxes in antique or vintage shops, but you can also find them on Amazon.
  5. Silk stockings from American Duchess. Suitable for 18th Century, but also fun to wear under Victorian and Edwardian gowns, silk stockings are a lush gift for any costumer looking to add an extra bit of fancy to their outfits. Find them here.
  6. Jewelry from Dames a la Mode. With a variety of earrings, necklaces, and rings from several eras, Dames a la Mode has something sparkly for everyone. Website here.
  7. Victorian Chatelaines. Vintage chatelaines are a highly sought after item, and the price for an intact piece is not for the faint of heart. But, there are some jewelry makers out there who are now making reproduction chatelaines for a fraction of the cost. Victorian costumers would love one of these to complete their kits. This seller on Etsy usually has a couple in stock.
  8. Fur muffs. Depending on the shape and style, muffs can be used with 18th century through mid-twentieth century styles. Ideal for cool weather outdoor events, some of them even have handy inner pockets that will fit a cell phone! Etsy has a variety of vintage real fur, as well as modern fake fur muffs, but keep an eye out at your local vintage store, too.
  9. Colonial Williamsburg tea chest. Most costumers I’ve met run on tea or coffee, so this fancy tea chest from historic Colonial Williamsburg would be a gorgeous and unusual addition to the costuming household. If you don’t keep tons of loose leaf tea stashed around the house, the chest could also be used to store jewelry or other precious items. Find it here.
  10. A season pass to your local historic site. Whether you live close to Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg historical sites, Fort Ticonderoga, if your costumer loves visiting the places where history happened, a season pass would be perfect for making sure you don’t miss any new exhibits, events, or reenactments.
  11. Tickets to historical events or conferences. There’s Jane Austen Fest in Louisville, Costume College in L.A., a garden party at Colonial Williamsbug, and Renaissance Faires all over the country. Immersive costume events like these are ideal for showing off outfits and meeting new friends. Keep an ear out (and keep an eye on social media) for events that your costumer might be interested in.
  12. A photoshoot. Costumers spend so much time perfecting their looks, and we don’t always get ideal documentation of them. A smart phone is still not a substitute for a professional camera. A photoshoot with a professional local photographer will make any costumer feel loved (unless of course he or she is known to be camera shy!). Or, take a few lessons and find a nice camera to rent/borrow and take the costumer out for a photoshoot yourself! That way you get together time, and beautiful outfit photos.
  13. Books of course! This one is a bit tricky, as you might have to scan your costumer’s shelf to see what they already own. Some of my personal favorite costuming resource books include The Tudor Tailor, Patterns of Fashion 1, 2, and 3, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, and Fashions of the Gilded Age. There are tons more out there, though, and some are more instructional and include patterns, while some are simply reprints of old Bloomingdales catalog or Harper’s illustrations which can be great for reference. All of these books can be found on Amazon.com, but I’ve also found useful books in a local used book store as well. You can see other titles that costumers are recommending here here and here.
  14. Lastly, there’s the old standby, Gift Cards. If there is one thing historical costumers can never get enough of, it’s fabric, so a gift card gives us the opportunity to shop without (or, with relatively little) guilt about how much that silk costs. Some of the best places to get historically-friendly fabric that offer gift cards are Burnley & Trowbridge, Wm. Booth, Draper, Renaissance Fabrics, Fabrics-Store.com (great source for linen), and Farthingales for corset and hoop/bustle making supplies. There’s also American Duchess gift certificates for shoes, Redthreaded gift certificates that can be used for corsets, corset patterns, or accessories, and gift cards to your local JoAnn Fabric, because costumers still need cutting boards, nice sewing shears, pins, fabric weights, and other supplies that might not be historically accurate, but sure make modern sewing a bit easier.

That exhausts my ideas for now. I hope this helps someone with their holiday shopping a little bit. If anyone else has good ideas, share them in the comments!

The Gryffindor Natural Form Gown

It’s finished! Time for a blog post!

I conceived of this gown almost a year ago when, with Rufflecon still on my mind, Lauren of American Duchess posted a photo on Intagram with a vintage sweater that had scarlet and gold Gryffindor-like stripes. I thought it would be super cool to try to get a group together at Rufflecon representing our Hogwarts houses through historical clothing. My own house is Gryffindor, and I’ve been wanting to try Natural Form era for a while, so I thought it was the perfect time to try!

I started by looking at tons of Natural Form era fashion plates as well as the patterns available from Truly Victorian, and then I started sketching.

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I decided to use TV428, the 1880 Jacket Bodice pattern and TV225, the 1878 Fantail Skirt pattern, and to draft my own overskirt based on some fashion plates. I decided to use silk for the scarlet and gold bits, and black cotton sateen for the base.

I started on the jacket at the end of August, and it progressed pretty quickly at first.

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I wasn’t 100% sure what parts were going to be scarlet and which gold when I first started, but I hoped that as the base parts started taking shape I would be able to visualize what would look best. I decided to make the lapels and sleeve cuffs scarlet with the edges piped in gold.

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I then had to start draping and layering to figure out what colors I wanted to make the underskirt and overskirt out of.

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I realized the red looked better over the black, but as I progressed I continued having trouble figuring out what the overskirt should actually look like. I started in on the underskirt at least, and spent a good week or two just hemming and pleating the flounce to go around the bottom. Once I got it on however, I realized that I really did need a petticoat. I was going to be lazy and try to get along without making one, but the underskirt was collapsing a bit near the bottom and I was very unhappy with it. One quick petticoat later and it looked loads better. Lesson learned.

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Once that was done, my experiments with the overskirt draping started to look way better, and I proceeded with a little bit more confidence. I took cues from an overskirt pattern in Fashions of the Gilded Age and shortened it a bit to get more of the look I wanted.

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You can also see the scarlet collar and sleeve cuffs in this photo.

There is also a hidden wand pocket in the seam on the right-hand side of the overskirt that perfectly fits my Ollivander’s hazel wand, but I didn’t get any photos that demonstrated it! Then it was time to Gryffindor it up by adding gold trim. I spent another good week or two hemming and pleating gold flounce. I was also originally convinced I was going to cover the jacket buttons in scarlet, but once I got the overskirt finished, I realized the outfit needed more gold to tie it together, so gold buttons it was. I did the button holes by hand, because I still don’t quite trust my machine not to ruin the button holes and therefore ruin the item. But the button holes still don’t look the best because not matter how many I do, they always seem to come out a bit messy.

Then I took some dark apartment shots (I really need to stop doing everything in dark fabrics so that they don’t photograph in my apartment).

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I wore it to Rufflecon this past Saturday. I was hoping to do a group photoshoot with other historical House outfits, but unfortunately no one else was able to get theirs together in time. So I took some worn shots in the famous selfie bathroom, and my friend Nina took a very dramatic photo in front of the hotel’s artwork backdrops.

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I tried to cobble together a “chatelaine” out of Hogwarts jewelry.

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I also made the hat, which I posted a bit about before. But here’s the finished product:

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I made the corset that I’m wearing underneath as well, but I will do a separate post about that later. Eventually I’d love to put together a nicer chatelaine, and I need to adjust the length of the petticoat because it was peeking out the bottom a bit. I’m also still a little unsure about the overskirt, but I’m quite happy with the fit of the jacket at least.

Rufflecon Harry Potter Challenge Update

Rufflecon is this coming weekend! If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen that I’ve been (anxiously) working on my Natural Form era, Gryffindor-inspired gown, and I’ve just finished! I will be wearing it on Saturday of Rufflecon, because the handmade contest is at noon that day. I hope to see some other people there in historical Harry Potter outfits! A sneak peek of my outfit is below.

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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!

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.

Rufflecon Harry Potter Challenge

I was scrolling through Instagram earlier this week when a post by Royal Vintage, the American Duchess vintage sister-brand, caught my eye. In it, Lauren made a comment referring to the fact that her 1930s-style sweater was in Gryffindor House colors. My mind made several leaps, and suddenly I was challenging Lauren and Abby to a Harry Potter-themed historical project which I now present to you, if anyone wishes to take up the challenge.

For Rufflecon this October I will be making a historically-accurate (as possible) Victorian Natural Form-era gown in the Gryffindor House colors. I’ve invited Lauren and Abby to make Natural Form-era gowns in their Ravenclaw House colors, and I’m opening this up to anyone who is planning on going to Rufflecon and is interested in historical costuming: make a historical outfit in your House Colors and come show it off!

While it would be fun to see a whole bunch of Natural Form gowns in House colors, I don’t want to limit it so much that people interested in other eras can’t participate. So if you’re into Regency or Renaissance or Georgian or Edwardian, this is open to you, too! When I brought this up to my Facebook friends I saw mention of German Renaissance Hufflepuffs and 18th Century menswear Slytherins, so what about Regency Ravenclaws or medieval menswear Gryffindors? It will be amazing to see what interpretations people come up with!

I don’t want to put too many rules on it, because this should be a fun project, but there are a few guidelines:

  • Your outfit should reflect your own Hogwarts House (you can be sorted on Pottermore if you haven’t already).
  • Try to make your outfit as historically accurate as possible! Since this is for fun, no one is going to exclude you if you use polyester taffeta for your Victorian outfit or machine stitch your medieval gown, but the special spin on this challenge is historical rather than steampunk, fantasy or lolita HP outfits, so try to make your outfit look as historical as possible!
  • Obviously anyone interested in this can make a historical Harry Potter themed outfit, but if you want to participate, I absolutely encourage you to look into attending Rufflecon. I want to get all the challenge participants together for a little meet and group photo at Rufflecon (details tbd once Rufflecon schedule is up) and it will be exciting to see how many participants we can get! (plus Rufflecon is a blast and such a welcoming, supportive environment for alt-fashion gurus, so come check it out)

So that’s it; my challenge has been issued. I’ve had gown and trim combinations turning over and over in my head for days now, and I want to throw all of my other projects aside to start working on this.

If you want to participate and if you have any questions, please contact me on Instagram or Tumblr @mylittlewolfie. I’d like to try to keep track of people who are participating so that I can let people know where and when we’ll meet up at Rufflecon.

Good luck!

Second October Project: Merida

I don’t quite remember when I got the idea, but for at least a year or two now I’ve been wanting to make a Merida costume that I could use for Halloween, comic/anime cons, and any other event that seemed like it needed a kick-ass Disney princess. If you’re not familiar with Merida, she’s this awesome Scottish lass from Brave who don’t care about no marriage traditions, she just wants to shoot her bow and explore the majesty that is Scotland in the 15th(ish) century:

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Photo from disney.wikia.com

I’ve been slow to get started on this costume because I’ve been under this sort of Halloween curse for the past 5 years or so, where I really want to dress up in costume for work but it always somehow turns out that I have the day of Halloween off. Sometimes it’s because of the way my work schedule worked out, or like last year, because Halloween is on the weekend. When I realized back in the spring that Halloween 2016 would be on a Monday I finally purchased the fabric from fabric.com to start my costume.

My goal was to make it semi-historically accurate, but still accurate to the character. On the historically accurate side I used 5 yards of wool from fabric.com, since that’s what a Scottish lass would wear; I planned on using hand-bound eyelets for all of the closures; and I used a pattern that is similar to a cotehardie for the dress body. I referenced the cotehardie instructions from The Fashionable Past’s blog post, but I reused the pattern pieces from my 12th century bliaut since the basic dress body shapes are very similar.

To keep the dress looking movie-accurate I used stormy colored wool (it’s sort of a navy-gray-green mix); drafted my own pattern for the segmented sleeves; added the laced cut out to the front neckline; and closed it with lacing up the back so that the front would have the solid look of the movie dress.

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The white chemise underneath is a separate garment, for ease of washing, that I threw together from white linen that I found in my stash (and couldn’t remember what it was originally purchased for). The body is two simple rectangles sewn together at the shoulders with a wide-cut neck, and the sleeves are two very wide trapezoid shapes sewn to the body with gussets.

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I started the wool gown over the summer, but halted construction to work on my polonaise for Rufflecon, while hoping I could still get both gowns finished in time for their respective events. By the time I got home from Rufflecon I had only two weekends left to make the chemise, do fitting adjustments on the gown, hem it, make the sleeves, and put about 4 dozen hand-bound eyelets into it to be ready for Halloween. Work was very busy at the same time, and I actually worked myself so hard that I wasn’t sleeping much and ended up having to take a sick day because my exhaustion got to me and I felt like I was coming down with the flu or something. That gave me a day to sit on the couch and hand-sew, which helped me finish it. But luckily I didn’t end up actually getting sick. I was excited that I was finally going to get to dress up for Halloween!

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In the staff room at work.

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Photo from one of my coworkers.

The wig was a $13 ebay find. It’s a little short and a tad top-heavy, but for $13 I was happy with it. For people that knew Merida, it left no doubt as to who I was dressed up as. One patron asked to take my photo so he could show his daughter who is a huge Brave fan. Other people thought I was Fiona from Shrek (in human form), despite Fiona’s lack of curly, unruly hair.

There are a few adjustments I’d like to make before I wear this again. The chemise sleeves need to be shortened a bit, and I’d like to gather them and/or add a cuff at the wrist, because these kind of billowy sleeve hems are no good for an archer. I also need to acquire a bow and quiver, especially before I cosplay with this. Because I threw this together so fast at the end, my eyelets in the back are a bit messy and uneven. I wish I had just done side-lacing because, as I found Halloween morning, this is impossible to get into by myself. I had to put it on backward and then try to turn it around after I had loosely laced it and ended up getting a bit stuck in it at one point. I had to ask one of my coworkers to help me tighten it and do up the last few eyelets once I got to work. I can’t change the eyelets at this point, but at least I’ve learned for next time. No more back lacing gowns!

I’m taking November off from sewing to participate in NaNoWriMo, and to let myself recover from the marathon of October. Once December rolls around I already have plans for a few small things I’d like to work on before the year is over, but you may not hear from me again until then!