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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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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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!

Victorian Day Dress Finished

Whew. Well, I spent the entirety of the Thanksgiving weekend finishing my Victorian gown and sewing a jacket to wear over it in the cold weather. I used my Netflix activity log to add it up (I usually binge on shows while I sew), and figured out that I spent about 40 hours sewing this outfit over the course of four days (not counting the 30+ hours I had put into it prior to Thanksgiving weekend).

I’m so glad this is done. For some reason near the end I was really stressing myself out about finishing it. The one thing I ran out of time for was the front closures on the bodice. I was going to do covered buttons, but realized that I wasn’t going to have time to do all of those button holes on top of making a jacket (which I ended up desperately needing). Instead I used hook and eye closures, and I’m not really happy with the effect, so I plan to go back and do the buttons like I wanted (in theory, at least).

I’m going to do a separate post about the jacket that I made, because I sort of threw the thing together by drafting up a pattern from the TV bodice pattern. Here are photos of my finished gown, though:

The front of the gown.

The front of the gown.

The front/left 3/4 view.

The front/left 3/4 view.

From the right.

From the right.

Back view.

Back view.

Underneath the skirt is the Imperial Tournure that you can see in my last post. I draped the overskirt myself, because I wasn’t crazy about the options that I could have purchased patterns for.

The complete list of materials I used for this is as follows:

  • Truly Victorian Alexandra bodice, Imperial skirt, and Imperial Tournure patterns
  • 8 yards grey cotton twill
  • 1 yard burgundy velvet
  • 1 yard black cotton sateen
  • 2 yards lining fabric and 2 yards of interlining
  • 14 sets of hook and eye closures and three sets of skirt tab closures
  • 2.5 yards black cotton and the Imperial Tournure wire kit from Truly Victorian

After all the work, it was quite easy to wear, and I was excited to have something perfectly period-appropriate for the two Victorian events last week. Unfortunately, with it being so cold, I had to keep my jacket on all the time, so no one could see the top half of the dress. I have one decent worn photo so far, with the jacket that I will cover in a later post:

Day Dress WornThe hat and muff are vintage, from local antique stores. Hopefully I will be able to get some worn photos without the jacket sometime in the future. I’m hoping I can find someone’s fancy Victorian living room to use as a backdrop.

Quick Victorian Day Dress Update

I seem to have semi-successfully switched gears and started working on my Victorian Day Dress that I need for the first week of December. I’ve been watching the RDJ Sherlock Holmes and Ripper Street and reading Gail Carriger in order to get myself into a Victorian mood.

I got all the pieces cut out and started assembling things. I seem to have a bit of ADD with this dress though. I’m not really going about it in any sort of order. Last week I sewed the panels of the skirt together, then started basting the bodice interlining to the shell pieces. Yesterday I started sewing the shell of the bodice together, and then this morning I started the tournure/bustle and then started attaching the waist band to the skirt. Everything is sort of being assembled all at once instead of concentrating on one piece or the other first. I just keep telling myself that any little bit of progress I make gets me closer to the finished garment, but I really feel like I’m all over the place with this one.

Here’s some photos. Sorry they’re all from my cell phone.

Cutting and prepping the tournure pieces.

Cutting and prepping the tournure pieces.

Preparing to baste the interlining onto the shell.

Preparing to baste the interlining onto the shell.

Testing the skirt panels on my dress form.

Testing the skirt panels on my dress form.

Bodice progress.

Bodice progress.

 

I can already see I’m going to have to readjust the fit of the bodice. Even when I test a pattern in muslin first, I always seem to have problems getting the fit right.

For the curious, the gray twill shell is cotton, the black vest is cotton sateen, the interlining is some cotton/poly canvas-like stuff that I felt up in the store and was like “yup, this is strong enough!” The burgundy contrast fabric is (I think) cotton velvet. The fabric for the tournure is also cotton. I’m making it in black because all of the white cottons were either too expensive or too thin. I almost did a fun color like lavender or mint, but when in doubt I tend to gravitate toward black.