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!

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…

Sword Dress

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I took a detour from the 18th century for the past week or so to make myself a more modern dress. A friend of mine has a Spoonflower account and enjoys designing and uploading fabric prints in her spare time. One of her designs is this collection of 18th and 19th century swords, available in various sizes. Spoonflower recently had a sale on their cotton sateen, which is one of my favorite fabrics to work with, so I asked my friend to adjust the spacing on the print a bit to work better for the design I had in mind, and finally ordered the fabric after having the idea in my head for months.

Because the background of the print is all black, the printed fabric (Spoonflower prints their fabric, they don’t dye it) ended up feeling a bit like it was coated. However, the coated feeling works for the drape of fabric that I needed and the print did not run at ALL when I pre-washed it, so I’m not too bothered by it, though I know some people might be, which is why I mention it.

I used the pattern that I drafted for my map dress (that you can see buried in this post), but I second guessed myself on the seam allowances for some reason, and at first the fit of the bodice came out completely wonky and everything I did to try to adjust it just seemed to make it worse. Luckily I hadn’t trimmed anything down with scissors yet, so I just took out the seams where I had tried to “fix” things, went back to my original cuts and seam allowances, and magically, the fit was just fine. Little slivers of my gray lining fabric are visible here and there, but nothing too noticeable. I finished it off with an invisible zipper in the side seam.

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Front

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Back

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Bodice Back

I can’t wait to wear it! Especially with the new season of Game of Thrones starting soon. Now it’s back to my various 18th century projects…