It is done! HSF Challenge #16 Separates.

Done with 59 minutes to spare! The due date was this past Monday and I had it posted on Monday 11:01 pm!  I call this a separate because the skirt can be changed to a matching one (not made yet) or may be a black or silver…. I also made it so that it could be buttoned closed all the way to the bottom for a different look.


But the best part is the back….


I made it a bit longer in the back for some training effect but not quiet that much…my dress form keeps shrinking down.

The Challenge: 16 Separates

Fabric: a synthetic that is very much like silk

Pattern: Truly Victorian 410

Year: 1873

Notions: Twill tapes, buttons, beaded trim, buttons

How historically accurate is it? The colors, pattern and silhouette are as correct as I know how to do. The color and style would be appropriate for a woman my age, size and marital status.  It would be used for a semi formal to formal event.  But, I think its first time out will be a picnic.  I’ll just be that high maintenance woman who shows up at the camp grounds in heels and full make up (wink).The synthetic fabric, plastic beads, non silver metal in buttons and buckle, machine sewn button holes would drop the bodice down. I’d say it is about 60%.
Hours to complete: 25

First worn: not yet but aiming for a picnic next month.

Total cost: @$50

Another man’s junk….

I thank the Lord above when someone else decides to purge their stash and they bestow the goods on me.  Recently, I scored a HUGE bag full of laces and ribbons.  Oh, they are all poly something or others but most are good for small details on under things or hats.  Some are not blatantly poly and will do for trim on dresses.

SAM_1239They are all piled in a bag so you can’t really how much stuff there is!  It all has to be sorted in some fashion.  Length and color seem to be the logical system to me.  Dreamstress had a post where she used old greeting cards to wrap the ribbons and laces and she wrote the lengths on them so she’d know if she could use it for a project without unwinding it first.  I think I will do something like that.  Once it is sorted, I may bore you with a photo.

The biggest score is a roll of brown ribbon that is not desperately poly looking (at least to the untrained eye) and is not a wildly unusable color.SAM_1240Just look at all that ribbon!  I could trim miles of ruffles with all of that!

Ditto that!

I was going to do a cabinet card post today (my go to post when I don’t have anything new to share), but the lovely Dreamstress got my mind churning on another topic.  Costumes and Accuracy.

I wont quote back what she wrote because you can and should read the actual post.  In fact, you probably did read her post before wandering over here to read mine!  Rightly so!  I did want to share some of the  thoughts that have been running through my mind all evening since her post.

First of all…I agree with what she said totally.  And I’ve gleaned a new concept or two that will impact my choices (I hope) for future projects.  One was weave.  I really have no idea how many ways there are to create a fabric.  I understand knits.  I understand that denim is made differently from a brocade but beyond that….  I don’t know.  Perhaps, one day, I will take the time to learn different weaves for fabrics and more importantly, learn what was common during Victorian times and how to recognize if the fabrics I’m looking at are correct (or at least close enough).

Further to the topic of fabric, I was thinking about getting good fakes as far as color and pattern go.  I rely a lot on what I see in museums for what was available at the time.  Color and patterns terrify me.  I keep drifting towards plain browns for fear of picking a color that was simply not possible at the time.  I force myself buy color and pattern so I wont end up with 50 plain brown dresses and I tell myself it is a 50/50 crap shoot.  I may discover something is horribly wrong and then never be happy with the dress again (a good reason to not blow $400 on fabric for one gown) or I may stumble across an example that is a near perfect match and think I am the most gifted costumer.

You’ve already “heard” my rant on costumers who look down their nose at folks who choose to use synthetic fibers for costumes.  As I commented on Dreamstress’ post, I have laid a silk next to a fake and could not tell the difference…until I looked at the price.  If you have to set it on fire before you can tell if it is real or synthetic it is a good fake.  For me this is a hobby and not a career.  I’m not spending tons of money for a hobby when 95% of the people in the world could not tell the difference and 4% would have to set me on fire to know for sure. The 1% that could tell at a glance are not worth the money.

One day I will hand sew a whole costume, more as an exercise to prove to myself that I can be that disciplined and to learn what it feels like to do that task.  But for my purposes, at this time, I don’t feel I need to hand sew when no one will be looking close enough to see machine stitches.

My goal is not to create a counterfeit Victorian gown that will totally fool 95% of the world into believing it is a well-preserved dress from that era and force the other 5% to rely on chemical testing, x-rays and microscopic analysis to discover the fake!  Nor is my goal to get a museum to display my dress as a reproduction.  My goal is to feel pretty.  I kind of think of myself as more of a theatrical costumer than a museum curator or reenacted. My goal is to pretend for a few hours that I am a rich Victorian lady.  In reality I’m an actress, or more accurately, an 8-year-old in a middle-aged woman’s body and I am playing dress up with my other 8-year-old friends.  I want to have my “audience” suspend reality and allow themselves to imagine for just a moment I have stepped forward in time. They will not know enough/care enough/ get close enough to see the inaccuracies.

Besides, if I have car keys in my bag, deodorant on my body, fillings in my teeth and plastic boning in my dress I cannot be 100% accurate and I am not willing to leave the keys in the car, smell au natural, knock out my fillings and kill a whale for the sake of being authentic.  So why kill myself and wipe out my bank account trying to achieve the impossible.  I want to know what makes my dress different from a real Victorian dress so I can be more knowledgable about the time I am interested in.  I think it is a good thing to know that they didn’t have polyester blends and that they didn’t have sewing machines in 1840.  These are facts and facts are good.  Knowledge is good.  And one way to gain knowledge is to make a mistake.  Maybe I will discover that my Copper Penny dress is too vibrant a color for that era.  “Ooops.  I made a mistake.  I learned from that mistake.  Thank God I didn’t spend $40 a meter on real silk”.

And just like the Dreamstress says, you can hand sew a dress.  You can use only real silk.  You can use the perfect pattern and under garments.  And it can look more inaccurate than a machine sewn poly blend because the dyes available at that time did not make that color.

To put it short and sweet, my costume philosophy is “have fun learning and playing dress up.”

I bought my fabric.

Before I begin, let me wish all you love birds a Happy Valentines Day!

Back to my planned post for today….I need an 1840s dress by next May and I need it in striped material for Dreamstresses challenge at the end of March.

I was looking for a striped pattern that would look good on me and not be a too dramatic color as I’ve not seen many examples of strong colors in that decade.  I was also looking for something that might be a convincing fake that I could afford.  I’m not sure, but I think that striped and affordable were the only two goals I hit.SAM_0941This is definitely a bold color.  I’m a bit worried that it may be a bit on the orange side for me as well. A white collar will help with the coloring next to my face.  It also, may be a bit to shiny to convince anyone that it is anything but what it is…sythetic curtain material. Alas, I wish I could afford taffeta. But, ding dang doodly…I like it and I could afford it!  Just now it occurred to me the material might be the same color as a parasol that I had bought and was thinking of recovering. What do you think…pretty close eh?

Another thing, I need to not take myself to seriously.  I make COSTUMES FOR MYSELF.  Not museum pieces.  Not authentic replicas.  Not contest entries.  Not for customers paying good money for accurate pieces. And this cowboy can’t afford real taffeta for COSTUMES!  Wanda, relax and enjoy!

Two birds with one stone.

This coming Mother’s Day, we are hosting a Victorian Tea for our folks at the nursing home with dresses made by Shirley and myself.  We’d like a dress from each decade so we can show how the dresses changed in shape over time.  Neither of us have a dress from the 1840s so I plan on making one.  I also plan on doing it in a striped material so that I can get one of the future challenges from the Historical Sew Fortnightly done at the same time.  I found a photo at the Met Museum of a dress in a similar pattern from the one I bought at Truly Victorian and it is in stripes.  1845 dress afternoon a

I’m not wild about the colors.  But, I’m cool with the look of it.  The trick will be to avoid the bold colors I like so much as I don’t believe that was too common.  The other end of that spectrum is that just because dresses from the 1840s are muted in color NOW does not mean the colors were always muted.  Obviously, fading could be an issue.  1845 dress afternoon b

But, the real issues are finding a striped material that is in a color that does not make me look like poop and finding it in a price range I can afford AND having it be a material that is at least a believable fake in fiber content.  Ahhhh to be a quadrillionaire so I can move to Mexico in the winter and Victoria in the summer and sew real silk taffeta as much as my heart desires……

It is finished…I think

I have been stalled on a dress I have been making.   I have been trying to make this dress.scan0001It is from the Voice of Fashion book.  It has been a daunting task because it is my first attempt at enlarging a pattern to fit me…with scanty instructions on how to put it together.  I managed to get the skirt together…with the little pleats… so that it fit.  The hem edge was a weird length so I cut it shorter but ended up with an uneven hem and that threw me off and stalled me.  I feared it would end up too short once I straightened it and I was too frustrated to look at it.  Dreamstresses Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge was to finish something on the UFO pile.  This skirt was my UFO pile.  I had to face it.  But, now that I’ve carried on, I’ve decided it is not too bad.SAM_0290I have not ironed this so I’m hoping that it will improve with an ironing.  I also have not added the ribbon dangly bits as this fabric is so light sucking and drab that it might work for a first level of mourning dress.  I think the ribbon may be too cheery for first level mourning.  I have to do more research on mourning in the early 1900s if I’m going to make this a first level dress.  I could make it second or third level and then I wont have to worry as much about getting it wrong.  In which case, I may yet add the ribbon.

The pleats were an excercise in math let me tell you.  I had fabric this wide and I needed it to be that wide and I had this many places to pleat so the pleats had to be that deep.  Not fun.  SAM_0291The pleats are more or less straight except at the hip area where the fabric is curved in towards the hip.  That was tricky to get.  Also, I decided to sew down the seams between the gores so that they’d look like one of the pleats.  It looks great most of the length of the skirt but at the hip it looks like I was taking a swig of straight vodka while sewing.  Oh, well.  Like I said, this fabric is so light sucking that I doubt anyone will notice unless their nose is right at my hip.

I stopped the pleats before the hem so I’d get the flair.  That worked out.SAM_0292I considered hand sewing the hem but figured it would be under the lace…who would know so I machine sewed that.  Then I was going to hand sew the lace on but was going blind trying to hand sew black on light sucking black with black.  And there was just so much of it! Then I figured…it will be on the floor.  No one will know unless they have their nose at my feet.  It is so freaking black you can’t even tell there is lace there…never mind being able to see how it was sewed on.  (So minus points on historical accuracy.  Since I’m using curtain material of questionable fiber content, I’m obviously not working towards creating a dress for museum guides.  I’m going for impression rather than accuracy.)

I guess, if I sew the ribbon on, I’m going to have to hand sew that.  Machine sewing along the length of ribbon WOULD be visible.  I’m not looking forward to that.  Hey, wait!  There is a cheat I could use one of my embroidery stitches on my sewing machine and embroider all that ribbon down……hmmmm.


1850s Victoria Day Tea Party Dress Done!

After another productive day. I got the undersleeves…

and the collar done.

I’m a bit aggravated because the collar looks crooked when the ribbon isn’t over top of it.  The only thing I can think of is there is too much over lap in the front bodice closure and that must be because I have picked one size to big for the front pieces.  I have been thinking the closure looks a little off to one side thus making the collar look crooked.  May be my “girls” are not as over sized as I thought! Anyway, it is done!  I will file that information about the bodice for the next dress and consider it “live and learn”.

I promised a faux tutorial on the shawl.  I found a huge piece of fabric at a second-hand store.  It is obviously meant for home decor but I was attracted to the pattern and to the weight of the material.  It looked believable as shawl material.  I have no idea of fiber content.  Being home decor, it would be safe to bet it has synthetic fibers.   (Shhhh, keep my secret!)

The fabric was too long and the edges were cut ragged.  I wanted to have a perfectly straight edge so I pulled threads out where I wanted the cuts to happen.  The space left by the threads provided a perfectly straight line to follow with my scissors.

Can you see the line across the middle?

Then I cut.  Pretty idiot proof.  About 1 1/2 inches in from the cut edge I sewed a line to prevent the fabric from unraveling to far.  And then I commenced unraveling the threads up to the sewing line.

Note the white sewing line and the unraveling.

That’s it.  Ta Da!

There is the fringe along the bottom.

All in all a productive weekend.  I finished the dress a month ahead of time.  This will give me time to practice wearing it.  (ie Getting in and out of car with hoops on!)


Historical Accuracy meets my costuming philosophy

When I first considered getting back into this hobby I promptly dismissed the idea.  My thinking was if I couldn’t do it in a historically accurate manner I wasn’t going to do it.  I got hung up on the idea that I couldn’t afford 12 meters of pure silk taffeta so there was no point.  I just was not too interested in what the poor ladies were wearing.  I was looking at Worth dresses and the like and drooling over them.  I didn’t want to be making cotton shifts that the maid would wear. 

1877 dress worth dinner dress The Met

Then I started to think in details. 

I would have to use modern materials if the original material is illegal to own.  An example of that is ivory.

1868 ivory parasol The Met

If I was replicating something with fur on it, I would likely use fake fur as I’m not in favor of an animal dying for my hobby, it is too expensive to buy and I’m not skilled enough to not ruin the fur and make that animal’s death an even bigger waste. 

1916 cape The Met

 And real jet and diamonds is simply not an option.  What if one fell off!

I had no moral or ethical issues over using modern substitutes for these items.  Once I agreed with myself that these substitutes would be OK I asked myself why a synthetic fiber would be considered wrong.  True, polyester would not be an accurate fiber but if I can’t afford the real stuff polyester would be an affordable option.  Also, synthetic fibers wash better.  I would be wearing these outfits as a costume, not as a museum piece and not as a contest entry (at least not at this point).  As costumes, they would get dirty and  I’d have to be able to wash them without worrying that I ruined 3 days worth of pay in the wash tub!  This started me into thinking of perspective.  I wanted to look like a lady from the 1800’s but I don’t have her money or her maids.  IT IS A COSTUME!  If I’m a fake lady I can have fake fabric. 

Don’t get me wrong!  If by some miracle I find 12 meters of silk at $2 a meter I’m snapping that up and making me a dress.  But, I’m not going to sit around waiting for that to happen!

So what will be accurate?  I want to match styles to the era.  If I’m wearing an 1880s dress I will wear lace up boots (granted they are pleather and not real leather) and not strappy stilettos.  The correct sleeve style will go with the correct skirt style.  If I make a dress that would be dated pre sewing machine then I’d like to think I’d hand sew that puppy.  (No plans for pre machine dresses.  I’m chronically lazy.)  I’d also try to use colors that were available.  No hot pink 1840s numbers unless I can find proof that there was such a creature.

How do the rest of you balance authenticity, expense, skills and availability of materials?