August 25, 2014

Regency-era Underthings: More Adventures in Historical Sewing

Regency Outfit

Here's a sneak peak at my new Regency era outfit (with a poor attempt at a turban to cover up my lack of long hair).

If you remember I've been slowly working on historical costume sewing. I've made progress but until now no finished product has been blogged.

For those unfamiliar, the Regency time period in terms of fashion spanned about mid 1790-1820s. Think Napoleonic era or Jane Austen movies. Columnar skirts, very high waistlines, lots of white fabric, bonnets, "classically" inspired, ability to swoon over Mr. Darcy.

(novelist Jane Austen, 1775-1817)

(The cast of the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, aka, the best Pride and Prejudice evah!)

Of course if I'm sewing historical costumes this means that Dixie Victorian, my historical-sewing-accuracy-nazi alter ego, must reappear. *dun dun duuuunnnn*

She usually pops up while I'm making key decisions regarding garment design or construction...
Dixie Victorian: Wait, you're not going to sew that corset by machine are you? You know they wouldn't have had sewing machines for at least another FIFTY YEARS???

Dixie DIY: Yeah, but I don't have time to sew a bazillion yards of cording all by hand. It's just underwear, no one's ever going to see it.

Dixie VictorianYou will see it. You will know. And you will hate yourself for it.

A little bit later:

Dixie Victorian: Is that plastic boning you're using for those stays? You know they make synthetic whalebone nowadays and you can buy reed on the internet.

Dixie DIY: Yeah, but I don't want to wait a week for that stuff to be shipped. I want to finish it now and I already have this plastic stuff.

Dixie Victorian: So you are both lazy and impatient. You disgust me.

Jeez, woman! Calm down...

Besides, there's one thing so much more important than accuracy to worry about when sewing Regency garments: bewbs.

Allow me to explain: as a small busted, pear shaped lady attempting to dress in the soft, feminine, almost childlike fashions (actually, in the late 18th century this style was what little girls wore, and then their moms stole it from them) with that high empire waistline I run the risk of looking at best pregnant and at worst like a 12 year old girl. No, scratch that. At worst I look like a pregnant 12 year old girl. And no one wants that.

The solution? Up the bewbs! I once read that the idea was to put the chest "on a platter" as it were. For me that's a very small platter but I am determined to look like I at least have something, uh, to be served.

And how do we go about getting that... effect? Why, with the sexy sexy Regency underwear, of course!

Laughing Moon #115 Ladies' Regency and Romantic Era Corset

...Uh, or not... Yeah, that's not in any way sexy but it does the job, right? Yes? Maybe? I hope?

Let's begin with the shift - the undermost layer that just looks like a big long woven t-shirt with a drawstring at the neck.

I used the Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings Shift pattern with a pima cotton batiste from The Common Thread. I made a size M and machine sewed most of it. I machine flat felled all the seams (great instructions on how to do that with the sleeve gussets) and finished all hems by hand. There's a little ribbon that runs through the neck binding to adjust the shape.


Now for the "stays" - what they called a corset before corsets were a thing.

Normally when you imagine a corset you're thinking of the victorian style - cinched in waist that makes an hour glass shape. Laces in the back. Busk with hook and eyes opens at the front. Steel boning.

Regency corsets were much different. No steel (not invented yet). No opening bust (also not invented yet). Straps (which are just as annoying as bra straps that slip off your shoulders, even in 200 years no one's fixed that problem). And this style wasn't designed to make your waist smaller - it's all about THE LIFT! Which is the goal, right?

The stays I'm wearing in the previous photo were not my first attempt. I started with the "short stays" from Sense and Sensibility patterns. They're kind of like a lace up bra only even more uncomfortable.

For Short Stays Version 1 I cut (I think) a size 12 with b-cup bust inserts. Disaster. The girls kept sliding down into the depths of the stays never to be seen again. And digging your fists into your shirt to fish them out isn't very lady-like. Massively failing at the prime directive of Regency styling.

Sense and Sensibility Short Stays version 1
(Short Stays version 1, the case of the missing bust. I cut off the binding and took out the bones for version 2)

So I went for a different approach. Version 2 I cut two sizes smaller (to my under bust measurement) and cut d-cup inserts. More like modern bra sizing in which the band size is based on under bust. Better, but the cups were probably a bit too big (they lacing pulls too tight at the top).

Sense and Sensibility Short Stays version 2
(Short Stays version 2, with dreaded under-bust poof)

There were more issues. The bottom of the stays dug into my sternum and the short-ness did nothing to curb the bulge of fabric at my waist created by my shift. Even with the over dresses that pouf of fabric didn't go away, only adding to the pregnancy vibe.

Defeated, I decided to try the more traditional "long stays."

Laughing Moon #115 Ladies' Regency and Romantic Era Corset
(no poof, yay!)

These are from Laughing Moon patterns and consist of straps that tie on in front, drawstring gathers over the bust for "containment," hip gussets, lacing in back, cording for support and wooden busk in front.

Laughing Moon #115 Ladies' Regency and Romantic Era Corset

My busk is actually a paint stir stick. It's there to support your front (no slouching, ladies!) and to "lift and separate." Seriously, they used to call this style a "divorce corset." Because in the year 1800 you couldn't divorce your man you could at least divorce your bust (can I get my right one to pay my left one alimony??). Now, I need my bewbs to stick together but at this point I'll take what I can get.

***Funny story - this corset uses cotton cording (the kind used inside piping) which produces a surprisingly firm result. Unfortunately it requires MILES of it.

I bought enough cording for the corset but then used some for piping on another project so I needed more. Then I used more of it, didn't have enough. Back to the store again.

In the span of a few weeks I had gone to Joann Fabrics so often for this stupid cording that the lady at the check out counter literally said to me, "More string? I hope your not tying up your sister or something with all this."

*deep breath*

The corset has twill on the outside and muslin inside with cording sandwiched in between. Machine sewn because sanity. There are more skilled and patient costumers than I who hand sew these things. There should be a shrine dedicated to them.

If you're wondering where Dixie Victorian is at this point, well, I think I scared her off because screw accuracy at this point. I just wanted to stop crying after sewing so much endless cord...

Oh, and then there's the two dozen eyelets sewn BY HAND. By now I've probably sewn near sixty eyelet on this and various other unblogged historical projects. Tiny blanket stitched holes haunt me in my dreams...

Laughing Moon #115 Ladies' Regency and Romantic Era Corset
(I could have tightened the stays more, they're kind of loose, but I was alone and didn't have anyone to help me)

In the end the stays do their job well enough and I'm proud of myself for sticking with it. AND no waist pouf! And no wandering bewbs! Success!

Well that's enough for one post. Next time I'll talk about the dress...

August 8, 2014

Jolie Marie Louise Lea Dress

Lea Dress from Jolie Marie Louise Patterns

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to test the new Lea Dress from Jolie Marie Louise Patterns. You might be familiar with the lady behind this new company - she's Anto, the incredible illustrator and sewist extrordinaire from Stardust and Soul. Her work is seriously beautiful.

Anyway, on to the details:

The Pattern: the Lea dress is a fitted, woven, sleeveless style button down dress with a cute little sweetheart neckline.

Lea Dress from Jolie Marie Louise Patterns

Since I was testing I decided to make the pattern as-is straight from the printer and I got a pretty good fit (I cut a size 2). My measurements are a little more curvy than the size chart so next time I'll bring it in a bit at the waist.

And when I make the dress again I'll take a little wedge out of the back armhole, it's a little roomy.

I didn't make a muslin 'cause I'm lazy but I'd definitely recommend you make a muslin of at least the bodice. What's nice is that with all the panels in this dress is it easy to take it in here and there for a good fit.

The Fabric: This is an Echino linen/cotton blend print from The Cloth Pocket. I liked the geometric style mixed with a nature motif (there are little birds here and there on the print). I carefully tried to match the pattern (or blend the pattern) where I could like on the pockets. But I accidentally switched the two center back pieces of the skirt, oh well.

With so many seamlines I think this dress would look great in a colorblock or mix of textures like one color for the sides and another for the center front button placket. You could even try out a chevron effect with stripes.

Jolie Marie Louise Patterns Lea Dress

The Changes: Just for fun I did hand topstitching in a gold-ish embroidery thread along the hem, pockets, sleeves and front. This print is already pretty wild, why not go crazy with it? And finally - shiny gold buttons.

Lea Dress from Jolie Marie Louise Patterns

Oh, and I kind of forgot to put in the kickpleat (got too excited while sewing up all the pieces, oops). I could get away without one because I could easily walk in the dress. Well, turns out I should have added it - when I sit down the bottom button strains and I'm pretty sure that's because there's no slit in the back of the skirt to balance the fabric pulling. I'm going to go back and put it in. Lesson learned.

Lastly - the original pattern that I tested had small cap sleeves, the released pattern does not. So I carefully cut off my little sleeves to match the more recent version of the pattern. The binding method for the armhole is the same so I didn't even have to go back and sew anything up - just snipped the sleeves off, lol. I think I like it more as a sleeveless dress. Good choice.

Lea Dress from Jolie Marie Louise Patterns

The Result: Overall I think it's a pretty cute dress! I think I want to try it again in a nice wool suiting or something to make a sharp looking office dress. I love the button-down style, too, and the sweetheart neckline that isn't too low. Feminine and classic. Note to self for next time - grade down in the waist, remember the damn kickpleat.

As for the pattern PDF itself - very well done, clear illustrations, lots of information on preparation - including a whole page on how to do an FBA on the bodice!

The pattern is on sale now - go check it out! And thanks again to Jolie Marie Louise Patterns for asking me to help pattern test.

July 30, 2014

Interview with Andrea Schewe, Pattern Designer

Lately I've ventured into costume and historical sewing. It's proven more challenging than I've expected. One of these days I'm going to post about the things I've made (like all my half finished corsets, ugh). But with costume sewing in mine I'm quite excited about this post!

A few weeks ago I some how found myself at Andrea Schewe's incredible blog. She's a costume and craft pattern designer for Simplicity and on her blog she chronicles everything from her research to her design and sample making process to tutorials on how to create great costumes yourself.

If you peruse the costume or craft section of the Simplicity catalog you'll find her little logo appearing all over the place. She's made patterns ranging from fantasy hobbits to pirates to Elizabethan gowns to toddler animal Halloween costumes and more.

I was fascinated with the business side of designing for the big 4 and Andrea has such an informative an inspiring blog. Luckily she was kind enough to answer a few questions...

How did you get started working in pattern design?

I worked in the professional costume shops in New York for a number of years. Then in various other jobs in the fashion industry. I learned my sewing and patterning skills from my mother, who taught costume design and construction, then learned more at every job.

I wasn't completely happy in the fashion world so when a job for soft toy maker was advertised I applied and got it. That job was fun. I made all kinds of rag dolls and plush animals. So, between professional costumes, fashion and cloth toys I acquired the skills to make the various things I now make for Simplicity.

When Simplicity approaches you to design a pattern what information do they give to help you create your pattern? Or does Simplicity just let you make whatever you want?

Simplicity sometimes gives me free reign when working on a new design. So, they will ask for something in a specific category, I will then send in reference photos to give them an idea of what I'm thinking about.

Next step would be to email in sketches. After they are approved, I will start work on the mock up samples continuing to check in for lots of reasons including approval of construction issues such as how many pattern pieces and specific sewing techniques. I, also, usually need to get fabrics approved. Other times they will send me photos of what they want. But even then I will let them know what I think will work or not.

We have a very good "give and take" working relationship. And I sometimes make patterns for other licensees, such as Disney and Amy Brown.

How long does it take to design a pattern? Do some styles take more time than others?

Most patterns take about 2 weeks of solid work for me, (then much more time after it is sent to Simplicity’s workroom) once the design is settled on, although some do take longer.

The tudor gown with all the correct underwear probably took me at least a month and a half. I do have a few people I hire to sew when I get really busy.

How many iterations of a design do you make before you settle on a final? How many samples will you create to send back to Simplicity?

On average, I have to sketch things about 3 times for each pattern. When finished, I send to Simplicity one sample of each style ready for photography, all the patterns and any sewing instructions I operations I think should be done a certain way. They have instructions for most things stored in their computer system, so it would be silly for me to spend the time to write complete instructions.

Does Simplicity request you to make a certain size to fit their models?

I must make my samples in for each size range of patterns in Simplicity's sample size.  Again, their computer system is set up to work best from these certain sizes. For Misses it is their 10 (32 1/2” bust, 25” waist, 34 1/2” hips), for Women’s sizes it is Simplicity’s 22 (44” bust, 37” waist, 46” hips), for babies size 6 months, Child size is a 4, Girls size is a 10 and Men’s is a 40” chest. 

The children’s and Men’s sizes are the same as ready to wear and the same as they have been for decades, but the Misses and Women’s sizing have not kept up with the changes in modern ready to wear.  People really need to measure themselves and the tissue pattern when sewing for the best fit.  Don’t let the fact that you wear a size 8 in the store but need to cut a 16 when sewing bother you. How a garment fits is what is important.

From the time you submit your pattern to the company how long does it take to then appear in stores?

The turnaround time after my samples arrive at Simplicity is about 6 months. They have to check my samples, make all the sizes, write the instructions, draw the technical illustrations, photograph the models, make the guide sheet layout, make the layout for all the pattern pieces on the tissue, make the envelope layout and create the catalog. And then, of course get it all printed. I think they work amazingly fast.

You sometimes talk about restrictions like only being able to fit a limited number of instruction sheets and tissue paper in a pattern envelope. Or using supplies for your samples garments that come from big box stores so they are easy for users to find. What are some other technical challenges you face when designing patterns?

The biggest thing I have to worry about that is unique to someone making home sewing patterns is figuring out how to reuse the pattern pieces on two, three or more different styles in one pattern envelope. It makes you think in a different way. I also am mindful about how much all the materials I'm asking the customer to buy are going to cost and try not to require tons of expensive trims or too much fabric. People can always add the more expensive stuff on their own creation.

When you design costumes do you have a specific user in mind or do you try to design something that will appeal to a wide audience? How do the needs and wants of different sewists (like community theatre costumers, historical reenactors, cosplayers, or even novices making Halloween costumes) play into your patterns and instructions?

I and Simplicity try to make patterns for a wide variety of customers. We do create some patterns specifically for certain people, making some things easier, some historic, some sexy, etc. And if a certain pattern sells well, I'll more make in the same category. So, the people who buy the most patterns will get more patterns made for them and one or two categories will predominate. Steampunk is really popular right now, for example.

I have a few of your historical patterns. What's your research process like for these designs compared to the obvious fantasy styles?

Whenever I get to work on an historical garment, and please note I said GET TO - it is a big commitment for Simplicity to do a period correct piece, I first spend time looking at books with patterns from the period. Find out what kind of undergarments were worn and anything else I can.

Now, over the last 15 years Simplicity has really stretched itself trying to provide patterns for really accurate historic clothing. It takes so much more time every step along in the process. But even then it’s not possible to make the pattern 100% perfect. Within their format things have to be simplified. Plus, Simplicity wants it easy enough to sew for most people. There are a lot of compromises that have to be made.

Simplicity doesn't have an opinion about historically accurate vs. modern interpretations. They go with what sells best. But, I think the people in the workroom prefer to work with modern sewing techniques, because that’s what they are used to and all their computer systems are set up for that.

On your blog you mentioned you were copying an extant dress for a museum in order to create a muslin used for fitting a display mannequin so that the original doesn't get damaged. Are you often asked to do projects like that? And how do you go about carefully copying delicate garments?

I've only been asked to work on a museum project two times. It is really interesting work and I'd like to do more. To make the copy, the museum first sent me a photo of the dress, I then could learn about the period and research similar patterns before getting to actually handle and measure the gown. I then spent a day with the dress taking multiple photos and taking every measurement I could think of,  So, with the pattern diagrams in my books and all my measurements and photos I was able to make a muslin sample for them to work with and paper pattern, just for the museum's reference. This muslin will be used as the manikin is built to display this very fragile garment.

You once made a comment on how kids costumes that feature lots of pink in the envelope deigns tend to sell well. Why do you think that is? Does it have something to do with "Princess Culture"? Because of this does Simplicity request pink samples from you?

Yes to everything you said about pink. Some day this will change, but it has been so drilled into everyone’s head that pink is for girls, people don’t even realize this only started to happen after the 1950s. My 1960’s Barbie only had one pink thing, her night gown!

What's the weirdest pattern you've ever had to make? The family size, lime green, fleece footie pajamas come to mind. (Even though they were color corrected on the envelopes they look pretty funny in their original color)

Years ago, over 20 to be exact, it was poplar to cover your vacuum cleaner with a stuffed animal with a big full skirt. I made a pattern that had a cow and a duck. I wonder what we are making now that will seem funny 20 years from now?

Thanks so much to Andrea for doing this little interview!

I really hope you check out her blog - so much information. Here's just a sampling of some of my fave posts of hers:

She also does a lot of fun clothing projects for herself and nearly every pattern she's developed in the past couple years have detailed tutorials to follow. It's like Wikipedia for creative sewing - you'll end up with 20 tabs open in your browser and four hours later you'll wonder where all the time went!

Do you own any of Andrea's patterns? Have you ever sewn a Halloween or threatrical costume? Feeling inspired to make one now?