Costume Catch Up

I’m rearranging the steampunk sewing area, and adding a costume closet down there to free up space in the bedrooms they’ve previously been migrating between. There’s still a little extraneous stuff to find homes for (and I’m about to dump my fabric stash back in it for a while) but I think it’s coming along nicely. I won’t show you the double stacked clock and mirror though. Or especially all the chicken stuff. *sigh*

Since I’m writing anyway, I wanted to do a quick round up of the newer costumes (or just ones I haven’t shared photos of previously). As you can see, I already stuffed the dress form in a corner, so any shots I took specifically for the post are…a little limp.

Please note these are in no particular order. Well, I supposed by how they came out of the previous closet.

Princess Business – Pink pinstripe suit constructed in fall 2018. The pants ended up just slightly too small by the time I wore them to the symphony’s live Nightmare Before Christmas at Halloween. Lo and behold I was pregnant… My body is definitely a different shape now (no one mentions building out your shoulders and arms!) so I gave it away, but the highlights of the design were definitely the flowing peplum and lovely pearl buttons. The lining had a really nice feel to it, too.

Pelisse – Regency coat I made for myself in early 2019. Luckily I cut the pieces out a bit bigger the previous fall. I was so pleased that I was filling out the yellow dress I wore under it better but it turned out to be a very good thing I made the pelisse. I had to keep it on over the dress for the whole event when I popped a hook and eye! Even the very sedate dancing style (primarily walking) was fairly tiring at that stage too.

Regency waistcoats and tailcoat – Did you know that gentlemen often layered two waistcoats in the 1810s? Neither did I! But I found out when I finally broke down and ordered fancy patterns from a small seller online to make updated pieces for Jeff. For some reason they’re just not popular enough that big pattern companies sell them? Anyway, it meant I got to use two of my fanciest fabrics (augmented with broadcloth for the back). Very fun. We were running out of time for the same early 2019 event and intended to rent – but the local costume shop was out of stock due to a high school production of Les Mis. At least they had pants, so those are still on my to-do list. But I did bite the bullet and buy wool to make the tailcoat. Of course, the folks at the costume shop mentioned they let it drape for a couple months at some point early in the construction process, and that clearly wasn’t going to happen since I had about a week. Including my promised birthday gift to my sister of going to the symphony’s live Pirates of the Caribbean (you may be sensing a theme). After unsuccessful ticket trading shenanigans, I decided sleep was for the dead and did both. There’s still some fine tuning to do at the waist as well as adding the lining (I think?) but the wool was beautiful to work with and the coat looks much better than my previous attempts.

1950s (surprise maternity) coat – So before I got so excited about wool, I actually decided to try making myself a 1950s coat from some of our extra fleece blankets. This was another fall 2018 cut, spring 2019 construct. The wind tends to blow right through it, unfortunately, but there are enough panels that with my paranoid extra seam allowance there was actually plenty of girth for pregnant belly. Which is good, because by the tail end of spring it was the only thing that fit. I cheated on the buttons – they’re just for show and it actually closes with snaps. So it’ll be easy to give it a little adjustment for the fall.

Cinderella – I didn’t make this. I got it from a theatre group that got it from a dress shop that I can only assume was meant to be for a Quinceañera or something. I just barely squeezed into it for a Halloween party in 2018 (again, turns out I was pregnant). I’m so glad I had a chance to wear it before it moves to its next home.

Jaeger – Have you read Girl Genius? No? Check it out. Anyway, the jaegers are great. Their dialogue is written in dialect, they’re obsessed with hats, and they make for a great costume. I never figured out the makeup so never wore it fully assembled. I…when did I make this? I don’t know! Anyway, because the military jacket fastens with elastic straps that part still fits. I tried it on for a (literally) hot second in honor of watching Hamilton on Disney+.

Walkaway Dress – I don’t remember when I made this either, but it’s a project I’d been wanting to do for a while. I bought the pattern after finding a tutorial for it online. It’s just a gorgeous look, and I was looking forward to playing with contrasting colors of fabric and bias tape from my stash. Fairly quick and easy, though I prefer to wear it over another light colored dress. I really liked the button I picked…not that it shows.

Sideless Surcote – Fall 2018 again. I wanted something medieval, to use up the red from my stash, and finally put this awesome trim on something. So in my mass cut out of patterns, I cut this one too. I may even have finished it that fall, too, because it was about the easiest of the things I was prepping. Now I need a new kirtle to go underneath. Probably going to have to buy fabric for that though.

Cersei, complete (and Jaime too) – So I never actually wrapped up the story of Cersei and Jaime. Er…too soon? I ended up fairly pleased with the bodice and sleeve embroidery. The lions were, shall we say, an approximation. Jaime was interesting. I really just made the coat. Out of…vinyl? Pleather? It fed through the machine quite nicely, actually. The real trick here was buying lots of accessories, honestly. So once they were ready…

We took them out to the local Comic Con. Wandered the vendor area and the halls. Saw three versions of Daenerys. Attended a music panel. Followed a Daenerys into a restaurant across the street and made a silly post about it. Showed it to her before we left. She was amused.

And I think that’s that.


Well, despite my best intentions of making Jeff’s regency coat first, I was compelled to make my own spencer. It went much the same as the dress bodice, since I’d cut out a larger (particularly a higher neckline) version of that same pattern. Having learned about the intended gather under the bust, I instead removed quite a bit of width from the back edge of the front piece. Between that trim and the wider cut of the shoulders, the shoulder seam came out a bit farther than it should. I think that’s also part of why there’s some pull at the center of the bust (though the bottom edge still needed a dart).

I thought I might be able to fix it by throwing in a new seam, but I think it’s going to take entirely re-setting the sleeves at this point. Which I thought I was too lazy to do, but looking at this picture enough might change my mind… As far as the sleeves go, they got left ungathered (though with a fold in back since neither one went on straight).


Regency Dress

At last! I took my own sweet time figuring out how to make a franken-pattern out of Simplicity 4055 because even though the drawstring back is a valid option I wanted a bib front with a diamond (hexagonal?) back. I spent quite a while looking up images and figuring out how the dresses were constructed. Once I got out the pattern, I taped the bodice pieces together and cut them up to make the appropriate back shape. The rest I left as a single piece. I doubled the cuts for each piece of the bodice so that it would be fully lined, and also cut out two big flaps to be the bib front.

I put the bodice together first. I must be getting more patient, because the diagonal lines along the back came to points very nicely. I believe I basted the armholes and attached the liner to the bodice along the top hem. Then I checked for fit. Lo and behold the pattern intended lots of gathering under the bust. I folded it under the underarm instead. Lots of fiddling with the closure followed. Probably because I was supposed to insert boning. I tried grommets and lacing them up. They fell out. I considered a desperate run to the store for boning. I decided on hooks and bars. They’re in a sort of triangle pattern. Any additional description is gobbledygook. Should you want a picture of that specifically, ask.

Once I had the bodice almost all together, I added the sleeves. I decided to edge them in bias tape (hooray for Mom’s contribution to the stash) rather than hem them. I forgot they were meant to be gathered shut to arm circumference. So first I left them belled out, and probably with the tape on the wrong edge. Oops.

I did ultimately hit the thrift store for a couple of curtains to make the underskirt. One was apparently a valance, so the underskirt is of necessity rather short. But I didn’t have to hem it much, so there’s that. I did look back at the pattern when I got to the skirt. Attach front to back at side seams. Okay. Gather back. Nope. I decided to pleat. So I pinned! The pleats turned out pretty as a picture. Only I didn’t take a picture…

Anyway. I attached the back of the skirt (and underskirt) to the back of the bodice, turned under the liner and hand stitched it in place. Then I started mucking with the front. I tried a lot of things. I honestly couldn’t tell you in what order. I should have had a lot more width (6-8 inches) in the back and not pleated it all and brought it around to say the front of the hipbone (hanging from part of the closure of the bodice).  As it is, I left open, sewed shut, and reopened a six inch slit in skirt (and offset slit in underskirt) to get the dress over hips or shoulders.

I tried hemming with a fancy stitch (where you just catch a little bit of the skirt for an invisible hem). I don’t like the experience much more than visible hems, but I think it rolls less than usual. So there’s that.

Here’s the bib front gown with the bib open to show the bodice. Now with bonus cat!

The bib front was an adventure. I didn’t realize at first I had to gather it. Then I debated which parts needed bias tape to go with the sleeves. I must have taken it apart, added new seams, cut new seams, and changed it again…just about twice over. And that may not be counting the remaining adjustments needed to get it to fasten right, which I tried briefly to do with velcro and finally managed with hooks and bars.

Closed bib and cat face.

That bias tape used to go down the (wider) sides of the bib. Then I narrowed it to make the fastening work. Bye-bye bias tape. I did put a strip around the (empire) waist, though. Overall, I think it looks very elegant! …and will do more so once I’ve ironed it. *grumble* I should probably make Jeff’s jacket before my own accessories, too…

Regency Breeches

So this is me cheating again. Instead of finding a closer to period pattern, I planned to take some of the bagginess out of the renaissance trousers and just replicate the process I used before. Plus, you know, add the appropriate front closure and also some cuffs. Are they cuffs at the end of the leg? Anyway. I digress.

Yes, you’re probably saying to yourself, you digress quite a lot. Why am I making regency breeches? Let me tell you through dialogue:

Me: I have good news and bad news.
Jeff: What’s the good news?
Me: There’s a regency ball in Lansing on April 8.
Jeff: Ah, so the bad news is there’s a regency ball in Lansing on April 8? And you want to go?
Me: See, you’re getting better at this!

There you have it, folks, I need more than just a fun dress for me. I have to dress (er, let’s amend that to “put clothes on”) him too. Second pun notwithstanding. Sorry.

I got out a checked (houndstooth?) length of cotton from the stash, which was much easier to work with than the green stuff. The yoke only wobbled a little bit as I put it together. On the other hand, I learned some awkward lessons about precision cutting and piecing with patterned cloth. It looks fine from a distance, and probably even moderately close, but please don’t examine with a fine toothed comb! The other uncooperative aspect was my brain. Seriously, every piece that I could sew in the wrong direction – upside down, turned around – I did. So despite the easier sewing experience, I think it still took longer than the last version.

As for finishing touches, I actually fastened the waistband and front closure with snaps, with decorative buttons from my stash to merely give the illusion of usefulness.  The other two buttons are functional, with buttonholes and everything. Still a bit baggier than I’d like, but since I haven’t mastered trousers yet, it’ll do.


Making Tunics, Part 2

I started by sewing Jeff’s under tunic, the soft beige cotton (sacrificing the probable underskirt for the Regency dress). I mentally compared it to the vest I’d recently fitted, and knew I had a problem. Jeff couldn’t get it on. I added a triangular gusset under each arm. It was still too tight, so I added another, this time with the point up. Finally it was close enough.

I left the sides of the heavy red over tunic open through the torso. There just wasn’t enough fabric left to add back circumference. I hacked off the sleeves, put in the seams on the skirt, and called it a day. The rough, unhemmed look seemed like the best choice for this simple outfit – I guess we’ll have to hope that we won’t use them enough to need to wash them!

I moved on to the soft brown linen I wanted to be my own under tunic. As I started on the side seams, I realized I’d cut and/or sewn it at the wrong placement and rotation – I’d used the torso for the sleeves, and ended up needing center front and center back seams in addition to side seams. I started piecing it together, and added what I’d intended to be a skirt panel to the center front to get enough girth. The next panel became triangular gores on either side to widen out the hips. I added skirt panels horizontally instead of vertically, extending the length more slowly in order to get all the way around. The front was still shorter than the back by the time I was through, but it ended on the selvage so I could once again skip the hem. It was much shorter than I wanted.

Then I went back to the rough beige almost burlap that was left. With the sleeves and side seams stitched, it was a tight fit. And a bit scratchy. I cut off the sleeves and added them to the ends of the brown tunic as a decoy longer sleeve. That eased up the fit a bit, too, I expect. Rather than fine tune any further, I got out the minuscule bit of fake leather I was saving for Jaime (where it wouldn’t have been enough) and made belt pouches. The best bit? The belts themselves are just lengths of black cotton rope…because Lily’s a chewer, and we’d already bought a 100′ coil of it to avoid the $10 charge every time she wears one out.

If I get ambitious between now and April, I might try to make us caps…

Making Tunics

(Sing the title to the tune of “Making Christmas” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I dare ya.)

Remember the friends from out of town potentially going to an SCA event only a couple of hours away this spring? I thought we might want to have something to wear. Of our own. That isn’t completely anachronistic gauzy stuff like my renaissance lady.

So I started browsing tutorials. And found one that basically consisted of “fold material in half selvage to selvage. Fold material in half again the other way. Lay folded t-shirt on top (with neckline at double folded corner). Extend lines out from sleeve (straight) and bottom of shirt (diagonal). Cut. Sew seams. Hem.”

Friends, I ended up orienting three of my four cuts incorrectly. Also I had much less fabric than anticipated for most of them. I also grabbed a random t-shirt out of the costume closet which may or may not fit Jeff anymore, did not add seam allowances, and did not account for the t-shirt’s stretch. Even my own tunics were too small. 

So do yourself a favor and when you read the early part of the directions about measuring yourself…do that, and adjust the t-shirt guide accordingly. For the rest of the adventure, tune in next time!


Surprise Blouse

Since I’d cleaned out the costume closet to make and put away all the prop bags, I’d come across a green skirt that desperately needed a blouse. And since I’d been matching blues for the historical mash up fantasy dress, I found something of about the right formality level (though to be honest, I’m still a little dubious about the color coordination). I got out a 1940s blouse pattern (Simplicity 3688) and quickly found out that the yardage was going to be pretty scant on this project, too.

Tink is back to help once again!

My saving grace was the fact that I was not using the largest size of the pattern. I could nestle each piece right up to the next as I cut out just enough fabric. Plus, since it was a knee length skirt, I cut three quarter sleeves (and may take them shorter when it comes time to hem them). Even so, the sleeves are cut cross grain instead of directly on the grain.

Another One Bites The Dust

In all its glory, a split front gown with (store bought) underdress and elaborate sleeves.

So I finally finished my historical mash up gown, and if I’m going to be honest with myself it no longer qualifies as such. It’s just a fun fantasy piece – and there’s nothing wrong with that!

The long break was ideal for determining what trims and how much to use (the answer, as may be obvious from the image to the left, is “not much”). Sad as it was to skip the fichu, less is more.

I ultimately decided to reuse the beads from my 1920s necklace as a decorative touch along the neckline, plus a bracelet (and supporting hook and eye) for the center front closure. I hand-embroidered the sleeve hems with a complementary dark blue chain stitch (and a lighter blue on the back side of one sleeve, and a couple of french knots, when I ran out of thread. Twice). I got out the 18″ (I assume) embroidery hoop for that task, and it was encouraging to see how I was able to pick up the pace once I got the orientation right. Although as a lefty, I ended up working from left to right instead of vice versa! I was able to make the stitch do double duty, too, actually creating the sleeve hem, too.

I went back to the machine to add ribbon along the neckline and front hem of the underdress, though. It came out a bit sloppy, but after a couple of hours (admittedly, I’d put a movie on) with the chain stitch, I was ready to rush. The hem of the overdress was a bit of an adventure, too – I got out a grey thread that I thought coordinated well, but it turned out to be much too thick for the machine. I was lucky to get the thread out of both fabric and machine without too much trouble! I ended up folding right sides of lining and final fabric together (leap frogging the body of the dress) and stitching about 2/3rds of it by machine, before turning it right side out and hand finishing. All in all, a job well done!

Irene’s Corset, Part 1

I actually decided to get a jump start on the corset right after I finished the drawers, which turned out to be a very good decision since I only completed two additional steps of the process yesterday. First, I skimmed the instructions since I hadn’t yet acquired the appropriate hardware and wasn’t sure whether or how I wanted to adapt their placement for decades’ distant silhouettes. I still haven’t and don’t, for that matter, but I figured I could at least assemble the soft goods.

So I put in stitching lines as instructed for the bust gussets, remembered I’d cut the (larger) size appropriate for my hip measurement, and opted not to add any circumference up top for the time being. I skipped on down to the stitching lines for the hip gussets, and again not being sure I’d need the whole addition, went on to putting in the side seams. By this point I knew I’d chosen material that was much easier to work with than the last two pieces!

Still bereft of specialty hardware, I skipped most of the boning and carefully determined the anticipated overlap of the front sections. That let me baste them together and make it easy to play with the fit of the whole garment.  I then moved directly to the rear closure – folding over the back edge, leaving pockets to insert boning, and inserting grommet after grommet after grommet. As I started lacing it up, a couple of grommets fell out – and when I put it on and tightened it up with Jeff’s help, a couple more pulled loose from the cord’s friction and dangled from the web like an out-of-place bead.

In any case, we learned I’d been right about the bust gussets, but that I would need the hip gussets. I put in one set that night – one of which was wrong-side-out – and the other set yesterday. The second fitting and final boning plan are, of course, yet to be arranged.



Irene’s Drawers

Even compared to the chemise, which was no walk in the park, making Irene’s drawers yesterday (again from Simplicity 2890) was just awful.

I started improvising right away. Using a thinner lace than recommended was, I think, the right choice; it matched the fabric much better. Honestly I’m not sure how they intended the hem to work, but I think folding it over itself to hide the ragged edge worked nicely. Though I did end up using a zigzag stitch for the first time in ages to get it to adhere properly and still missed a spot. Actually, the zigzag stitch was a lot more compatible with the fabric as far as preventing inadvertent gathers, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate to use throughout the construction process.

I ended up making three tucks at the bottom of each pant leg instead of five because (surprise) I didn’t mark my folding lines and I thought I’d reached the point in the curve where one should stop making tucks anyway. I think I could have done more, but they didn’t come out very well so I don’t mind not having continued.

Putting the inside seam into each leg went fairly smoothly, but I seem to have made two right legs, because when you line them up the seam goes to the front for one and the back for the other. Of course this may trace back as far as choosing which side to put the lace on… Ah, well, no one will see. Of course it was at this point as well that I realized the instructions called for hemming the crotch seam before putting in the inside seams.

And then I charged on ahead with stitching the two legs together before it became clear that there was only supposed to be a very short seam…leaving the rather practical opening that I’d previously read was extant during the Regency but hadn’t realized carried through to the 1860s. So at least this piece will carry over to that other costume.

I barely remembered to gather the waistline, but at least I thought the waistband went together pretty nicely. Its facing did, too. Then I tried attaching the waistband to the facing. They immediately failed to line up. As I started putting the waistband onto the waistline, I oriented it wrong; ripped stitches (only a few!); started over. I stitched from the center front, which worked nicely on the “right” side, but then when I got to the wrong side, the fabric just would not cooperate! Now granted, I wasn’t pinning, I probably went too fast, and all that jazz, but I’d be willing to be that it was the flimsiness of the fabric that was my downfall.

Irene’s very sheer drawers! Probably worth rebuilding in a lightweight cotton or linen someday…

Of course the two sides of the waistband didn’t line up either (it’s supposed to come to a point at the center front, not that you can tell). Overall, the waistband certainly achieves the requirement of being functional, but it isn’t lay prettily flat while it does it. It didn’t feel worth it to put the extra seams along the finished waistband, and I used a hook and eye instead of a button to close it at the back. I’d call the darn thing done!