Monday, December 11, 2017

The Working Woman's Ensemble, On a Strict Budget

I started out in Civil War reenacting in 2013. In reenacting years, that's not very long at all! Yet, somehow, there are always people around who are newer even than I, and therefore I've heard quite a few questions from those just starting out. The most common question I hear is "how can you afford XYZ for reenacting?? The whole hobby just seems so expensive!"

Full disclosure - I'm a (nearly full-time) college student working two part-time  jobs that don't exactly pay a fortune. I'm also saving for a wedding next year, so believe me when I say I don't have a ton of money to throw around. But with a lot of trial and error, a lot of pinching pennies, waiting for sales, finding coupons and combing through thrift stores, I was able to put together a period correct, comfortable, and even pretty working woman's impression for under $100.

And you can too!

I recently went through my circa-1863 young woman's work impression and broke the cost down by item.  Here's what I came up with.

Now, a few caveats: First of all, this post is geared toward those who sew. If you do not sew, you will find yourself immediately facing much larger costs in the form of the actual labor needed to produce nice historical garments. Don't despair! You can search for used items (many reenactors sell their old items online, though extreme caution must be exercised to ensure what you are buying is actually historically correct), ask a friend who sews if they might be willing to do an exchange of labor, or... well, you too can learn to sew but that's a topic for another day. ;)

Second, it is important to set your sights on an attainable impression. Just as a silk taffeta ball gown is expensive today, that kind of evening attire would have been costly in the 1860's too - so why not start with a solid working class ensemble? I made (either by hand or with the help of a very basic Singer sewing machine) everything that I am wearing in these photos, with the exception of my shoes and stockings. All fabrics are 100% cotton (yes, I checked and tested!).

Dress - Homespun fabric from JoAnn purchased with a 60% off coupon. 7 yards for $22.50.
(I will be posting a much more thorough breakdown of how I made this dress... sometime in the future. If you want.)

Neckerchief (alternative to a collar, though a collar can be easily made for the same price!) - Thrifted pillowcase from Goodwill, $2.00.

Chemise (not pictured) - Thrifted bedsheets from Goodwill, $2.50.

I'm not sure what I dropped here (maybe my bonnet?) but this photo made me laugh.
Corset fabric (also not pictured) - Thrifted (100% cotton percale) bedsheets from Goodwill, $2.50.
Corset boning and busk -, $15.00.

Brown leather laced boots - Goodwill, $7.00. (These, I will admit, are not quite as accurate as they could be.)

Green striped petticoat, dip-starched - Thrifted (100% cotton percale) bedsheets from Goodwill, $2.50.
White petticoat, dip-starched - Thrifted bedsheets from Goodwill, $2.50.

Split drawers (definitely not pictured) - Thrifted bedsheets from Goodwill, $2.50.
Cotton stockings - Abraham's Lady, $6.00

*empathy for Laura Ingalls increases*
Bonnets are hard, guys.
Corded sunbonnet fabric- Thrifted curtains from Goodwill, $2.50.
Cording - Peaches N' Cream cotton yarn, AC Moore (with coupon), $1.50.

Apron - 2 yards quilting cotton, purchased (though not by me) from JoAnn with a coupon, $6.00.
Thread for entire ensemble (estimated) - $10.00

The shawl thing in this photo is another project entirely and will be Dealt With accordingly in a future post.

GRAND TOTAL - $85.00
((Please note that this does not factor in the cost of patterns - I used the Past Patterns pleated bodice (#702) for my dress, the Laughing Moon Silverado pattern for my corset, and relied heavily on the free patterns in the Sewing Academy Compendium for my underpinnings and the basic shape of my bonnet & apron.))

Now, a caveat - I do understand that even $85 for a full reenacting ensemble is still a good chunk of change, and if you're operating on a $10 budget, I'm afraid this post won't be of much help. But you know what you can do when you have $10? RESEARCH! Spend your period of broke-ness reading everything you possibly can about clothing in the 1860's, and when you *do* have expendable dollars, you'll find yourself much better able to put them to good use. If you need some resources on where to start, let me know! I'm beginning to compile a list.

IN CONCLUSION - you too can do this. It just takes time, effort, penny-pinching, saving, thrift store scavenging, lots of work, lots of effort, lots of ripping things out and starting over, and a frigate-load of ironing. Gah. The ironing.

The sunbonnet believes in you. Go forth and conquer.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Victorian Silverado Corset

A portion of this post originally appeared on Yet Another Period Drama Blog in September 2016.  

Otherwise entitled, In Which I Post Pictures of Underwear on a Public Blog, Thereby Scandalizing the Good Ladies of Cranford and Corrupting the Eyes of All Children Present.

So, backstory. (Yes. I do backstory.) I have an event coming up this fall (NOTE added in June 2017: that event was the Jane Austen Society of North America's Annual General Meeting and it was swellissimus) that requires at least one new dress, if not two, in a Regency style.  So what do I do? I decide that I would also like to have new underpinnings and a new dress for Civil War reenacting.

Because I am, clearly, out of my mind.

Cue the Laughing Moon Silverado corset.  (I tried the Simplicity corset pattern a couple of years ago.  UGH.  Do not recommend.) I did my research, read the reviews, sifted through sewing blogs that talked about Victorian undergarments. The clock started ticking, and I started sewing.

First came the busk.  You can't pick up a busk in a fabric or craft store.  I went to for this one.  Here it is, sewn into the mockup pieces, draped artfully across the ironing board.

You absolutely have to make a mockup for a corset.  I am generally lazy and do not wish to do the mockup step with a new pattern.  For a corset, though, it's essential.  As seen below.

Yeahhhhh, Laughing Moon patterns run large, turns out.  So I went down a size and actually followed the directions for 5/8ths-inch seam allowance instead of my usual skinflint 1/4-inch.  Much better.

Here it is pinned onto my trusty Mademoiselle.  Note the pins because Mademoiselle isn't quite humanly shaped and doesn't have the same... give and take that the actual Me is in possession of.  So the pins kept the mockup on Mam'selle for the picture.

The pattern book (yes, it's actually a book, not just a sheet of instructions- VERY thorough) suggested flatlining fashion fabric to a sturdier background for a little more support, so I took that advice and sewed a lightweight striped cotton to a patterned cream quilting calico.  I didn't have anything heavy like twill on hand and wanted to make this on a budget, so it was a good solution.

Close-up of the backing fabric. This got sandwiched between the outer fabric and the lining in the completed version, so that was my last glimpse of it.  Farewell, white flowers on a cream background.   You were cute, but not long for this world.  Hope you enjoy the rest of your life being purely functional with no decorative capacity. 

Once a few of the regular pieces were together, it was time to put in the bust gussets.  These are sewn normally with right sides together and then topstitched for additional reinforcement.  Yes, this was the fourth attempt.  It finally turned out all right. :P (Plain white fabric in the photo above is the lining.  I didn't bother taking photos of both the lining and outer layer, as the construction is exactly the same.) 

A longer shot of the middle busk piece as well as the side gussets.  This was the part that involved a lot of Fitting and Fussing and Fidgeting.  Eventually I just took a deep breath, made a wish, counted to three, and left it as it was, because it looked like it fit but I knew I was never going to be quite sure until the boning was in and the whole thing was laced up.  (And THAT, children, is called FORESHADOWING. Duhn duhn duhn.)

And speaking of lacing, it was time to make EYELETS.  The pattern suggest expensive metal grommets that you punch through the fabric with an expensive grommet awl thingy.  Why do that when you can have hand-sewn eyelets (period correct, to boot!) for a teensy fraction of the price?  The only cost? YOUR SANITY.  And fingertips repeatedly stabbed by the back end of a heavy duty needle.  (Not delightful.)  And several episodes of Call the Midwife, except that part was most definitely not a bad thing.

Close-up of the eyelets.  Difficult and painstaking (and pain-inflicting) as they may be, they do look pretty doggone good, and produce a feeling of accomplishment.  I MADE DAT.  

Okay, and then I didn't take any pictures for a while because I was too busy doing the actual construction. Oops. While this is conducive to making a garment, it is not terribly conducive to writing a blog post ten months after the fact.  

But anyway, once I'd put the main structural pieces together (that is, all pieces except the two back ends, which had been sewn together - fashion fabric and lining - and then had the eyelets put in), I added bias tape along the natural waist line for additional reinforcement. Since the waist is the portion of the corset that takes the most stress, the Laughing Moon pattern advocates the addition of waist tape to take some of the tug-and-pull off of the fashion fabric.  This tape is "stitched in the ditch" of the lining fabric seams.  If you're not familiar with that term (I find it a rather fun one :D), it means that you hand-stitch the fabric in place in the tiny line between seams, so that it doesn't show on the outside. It's almost like interlocking pieces of a chain, weaving the new thread in and out and around the original stitches holding the (perpendicular) original fabric together.

That probably makes no sense but maybe a picture will help. 

As you may be able to tell if you squint at the below image hard enough, no stitching shows through on the right side of the corset. 

I bound the bottom edge of the corset with the same white bias tape. Um, this would probably be a good place to admit that it's not 100% cotton. This is a historical accuracy FAIL. And yes, I didn't have to actually tell you that. I could have just kept it to myself and probably most of you would have been none the wiser, BUUUUUUUT, for the sake of anyone who might be reading this and would know the difference, I felt I ought to 'fess up.  I am a cheapskate and this was some kind of rayon/nylon blend of whatever was on sale at JoAnn Fabrics. Please hold the witch-burning until the end of the post. Thank you.

Accurate or not, it served its purpose. I stitched the right sides of the tape and the corset together along the top and bottom raw edges, flipped the tape around so it gripped the edge, and slip-stitched it to the wrong side.  See, it ended up giving a very nice finished look to the bottom and top of the corset!  Notice my uneven hand stitching along the inner edge of the busk. *high-fives self* Ma Ingalls would be mortified.

And behold, the garment was complete, and was laid out on a summer-weight patchwork quilt because that looked like a vaguely old-fashioned background, despite the fact that said quilt had come from Bed, Bath and Beyond in 2004.  But anyway.

And behold, the garment was furthermore placed upon a dressmaker's form, and then taken off and put on again, this time over a still-unfinished chemise so it would look better.  (This photo was taken in September. The chemise has since been finished and worn many times.)

Looking at the corset ten months later (ouch, okay, I should have completed this post a LOOOOONG time ago), I can see a lot of things I would change.  The top is not quite as even as it could be. The waist-to-hip flare ratio could be better. (After a long day of wearing it, if I've laced it sufficiently tightly in the back, the right side begins to dig into my hip somewhat.)  It creates more of a straight-up-and-down silhouette than the hourglass figure coveted for the 1860's (although it helps TREMENDOUSLY with achieving the proper historical silhouette when compared with modern undergarments - seriously, a comparison is almost ridiculous because wearing a corset makes a huge difference in fit, feel, and appearance for historical garments).  

I lost some weight between making the corset and now, and since these photos were taken I've added a narrow edging of lace along the top for prettiness, taken up the inside edge of the top bias tape and run a ribbon underneath it before tacking it back down again, so that I can slightly gather the top and pull it in tighter along the bust line.  Because nothing looks more ill-fitting than a corset gapping forward at the top and creating a pocket underneath your dress. Nopety nope to the nope. (I would include a photo of the corset on me to illustrate, but.... it's underwear and I feel skeevy about putting that on a public blog. Photos on Mademoiselle, my dummy, are one thing. Photos of me in 1860's unmentionables are another. Y'all ought to be grateful I'm even letting you see any part of this scandalousness in my sewing room.)

All in all, though, I'm happy with how this project turned out.  Is it perfect? No. Was it fun to make? Yes.  Is it reasonably historically accurate? Yes.  Is it functional for its intended purpose? Yes.  Well, then, there you have it.  (Will I make another corset somewhere down the road, one that maybe fits better and is more historically accurate and possibly purtier?  Well, yeah, probably, but that'll be another post for another time.)

So! What are you sewing these days?  (If you sew, that is.  If not, tell me a good joke so as to have something to say in the comments.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Blue Checked 1860's Evening Gown

The dress I made last fall, mentioned in the previous post, was specifically designed to be two different pieces so I could wear it for different occasions.  Well, three different pieces, strictly speaking - two bodices for daytime and evening wear, and one skirt that could be worn with both. The illusion is of a one-piece dress, no matter how it's worn, since all pieces are made of the same fabric.  

The above photo is of the first version of the evening bodice - taken just before the Remembrance Day ball in Gettysburg.  The back is laced with satin ribbon through hand-sewn eyelets (not shown), so the front will lie smooth. I have yet to find a photo of an original front-lacing evening gown; I hesitate to say it was "never" done (just because your research didn't turn it up doesn't mean it didn't exist!) but back lacing seems to have been the norm.  This means someone else always has to help you get dressed - and not having maids lying about means I have to rely on a sister. Not a bad deal. :) 

You may notice that this bodice is darted, not pleated as the last one was.  I have to admit this is not fully historically accurate.  Cotton dresses were rarely made with darted bodices, as the fabric did not hold up very well to the strain caused by darting (see previous post).  This bodice is made of pima cotton, which is similar to the poplin sometimes used for evening gowns in the 1860's (most notably mentioned in Little Women where Jo reassures Meg that their poplin dresses look like silk and will not be too shabby at an evening party), so I fudged it and got by, but from a distance... well, it doesn't really look like silk.  Someday when a rich uncle I barely know dies and leaves me a million bucks, I'll shell out for some real silk and make a fantastic ball gown, but for now I'm making poplins/cottons work.  The March girls taught me well. 

Here's the dress in action at the Remembrance Day Ball in Gettysburg.  As mentioned in my last post, I hadn't quite mastered the bell-shaped hoop silhouette just yet, so my skirt appears a little flat in this photo. Oh well - it was a fun evening and the dress twirled nicely!  The bodice, by the way, is finished with self-fabric bias piping, and held to the skirt with hooks and eyes on the underside.  It didn't slip once, not even after an entire evening of energetic dancing, so I'd call that a win.  (Photo by David Sosnowski.) 

The neckline of this bodice was also piped, but I became dissatisfied with the way it fit.  (The above photo is not actually of me being dissatisfied with the fit, but "looking candid" for the photo at the Christmas/New Year's ball in the Marietta Union Meeting House. Unfortunately my candid face and my dissatisfied face are, apparently, one and the same.)  I had originally cut a V neck, but studying fashion plates of the era convinced me that ball gowns or evening dresses with V necks were few and far between.  So I decided to re-do the neckline with more of a scooped shape - and while I was at it, those rinky-dink puffed sleeves had to go.  They looked like they belonged on a 1950's little girl's dress, with smocking.  (Served me right for rushing through the sleeves and taking the quickest way out!) 

So I did what a good historian does - I researched a bit and found some poofy sleeve examples.  (The above illustration is from La Mode Illustree.)  I used Sarah Jane's fabulous tutorial from Romantic History (yay for fitted sleeve linings!) and they ended up being a great deal of fun to make.  I was concerned that the effect was a little *too* poufy, and that the sleeves would look more 1830's than 1860's, but in the end I was pretty happy with the result.  Anne Shirley would be proud of those puffs.

I also reworked the neckline to cut it wider across the shoulders to eliminate the original V shape.  It still doesn't lie as smooth as I would like it to do, but it looks much more period correct, and the lace edging underneath gives it a little more of a fancy flair than it had before. This is a dancing dress, after all, not a sit-at-home-and-sew dress!

Here it is, post-dancing, at the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Ball in the Pennsylvania state capitol.  A fabulous evening and I'm sure I enjoyed it more because I loved my dress. ;) It's still not perfect and I'll probably tweak it a few more times before I'm fully satisfied with it (and will probably make a lower chemise that doesn't ride up on my shoulder under the dress neckline-- eek!) but it was comfortable to wear, it felt like a job well done, and it coordinated nicely with 62nd PVI corporal stripes.  See photo above. :) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Blue Checked 1860's Day Dress

Instead of writing a whole introduction post which most people will skip over if they aren't reading this blog from its Day One inception, I figured it would be quicker to just write a brief introduction at the beginning of this one, and then launch right into actual blog content.  I'd been thinking for a while about branching off from my original blog in order to write about sewing, but kept lacking the motivation to actually do so.  But now, one of my college classes set an assignment that involves creating a blog, and I thought... why not just do it?

So here we are.  If you're visiting this page for the first time and want to know a little more about me, you can visit the link to my original blog, Yet Another Period Drama Blog (in operation since 2011.... which is strange to think about!) in the paragraph above, and if you're a YAPDB reader from the olden days, don't worry - I'm not deleting that one. I can't promise I'll write on it faithfully, ha, but... I do have a few posts in draft, if that's of any interest.

All right.  Down to brass tacks.

Well, actually, a bit more brief background.  I got into Civil War reenacting in 2013, and began sewing my own dresses at that time, but didn't start really seriously researching mid-Victorian clothing until early 2016.  Since then it's become my favorite hobby and I have more sewing projects than time to do them! But the more I learned about actual extant clothing from the Civil War era (and the less I based my impressions on costumes seen in movies and things I saw other reenactors wearing), the more I wanted to start from scratch and make a whole new ensemble to wear to living history events, since the first dress I ever made... while fun... was not really very historically accurate at all.

Enter the Blue Plaid Day Dress.  I was (and still am!) very excited about and proud of the fact that I made this dress for under $25.  Civil War reenacting is not a cheap hobby, and whenever I get a chance to do something inexpensively, I take it and run with it. This material was on sale for $2.67 per yard from Fashion Fabrics Club, and it's 100% pima cotton so I snapped it up.  I used Past Patterns #702, which is a pleated bodice, and gauged the skirt by hand to fit.  It was a fun, somewhat time-consuming project, and I wish I'd taken a few more photos of the construction, but here's what I've got.

Day dresses in the 1860's (by "day dress" I mean an outfit that could be worn by a middle-class woman around the house for everyday tasks, out in town for shopping, or to a nice event in the evening that didn't require formal attire - not a work dress, and not an elegant evening gown) could be made of silk, wool, or cotton.  Since I, being cheap, chose cotton, my options for this bodice were a little more limited than if I had used wool or silk.  Cotton dresses were generally made with pleated or gathered bodices, as this method of controlling fabric at the waistline put less strain on the fabric.  (Wool and silk tend to be hardier than cotton, in most cases.) The checked fabric makes the pleats a bit difficult to see in the photo above, but if you look closely, they angle to the left on the right side and to the right on the left side.  The waistband was finished along the bottom with a contrasting strip of fabric, and the bodice was completely finished as a separate piece from the skirt.

I don't have a photo of the skirt by itself (yes, I probably should have taken one) but it also has a finished waistband, and can be connected to the bodice with hooks and eyes.  From what I could find in my research (mainly looking at museum photos of extant garments from the 1860's), this wasn't a very common method of construction for a day dress, but it did exist.  I chose this method so that I could change out the day bodice for an evening-appropriate, short-sleeved bodice to wear to dances.  (More on that in a later post.)

Here's the whole dress, full-length.  Note that my skirt shape isn't quite as authentically 1860's as it could be.  I'm wearing a bridal hoop and one petticoat underneath - the silhouette is much better when worn with two petticoats to help smooth the boning lines in the hoop skirt. Plus, a modern bridal hoop isn't quite the same shape as a mid-Victorian hoop (generally called a cage or cage crinoline) would be.  As you can see, the skirt moves down and outward in a triangle, rather than a bell shape.  I've managed to improve this a bit since that photo was taken by resizing the rungs of the hoop, but that is a temporary fix until I can purchase or make a cage crinoline

The belt I'm wearing is made of vintage petersham ribbon (slightly ribbed texture) and a reproduction silver-plated belt buckle.  It closes in the back with hooks and eyes, and is a replica of a very popular ladies' style from the Civil War era.  Plus, it helps with covering up the fact that the bodice and skirt are two separate pieces, if any gapping should happen. ;)  

The gloves I'm wearing are 100% cotton, though kid leather would be more authentic (too expensive!), and the bonnet is a lightweight summer piece, appropriate for a young woman not doing outdoor work, a hand-me-down from a friend who has been doing Civil War reenacting much longer than I have.  (Underneath I have a chemise, corset, cotton stockings and lace-up boots... not pictured.)


Same dress, different day, with the addition of my handsome beau (and a sepia tone, just for fun).  This picture was taken after I reshaped the hoop, but unfortunately you can't see it too well in this shot.  There are still some fixes I'd like to make to this dress (including taking the bodice in so it's more closely fitted, and making a muslin collar with a rolled hem rather than the pre-made lace collar that's currently there), but overall I'm very pleased with it.

Do you sew at all? What are you currently working on?