I’ve been trying- for the last two years or so- to keep better track of my process while creating new outfits by documenting it with pictures.  This blog is an extension of those efforts, published with the thought that someone, somewhere might be interested in knowing how or why they were put together.

I’ll spend a few posts reviewing some projects I’ve recently finished (the last couple of years), and they will include projects from scratch, from patterns, draped from inspiration pictures and created from reimagining existing clothing.

I hope you’ll find it interesting, and for contrast I’ll start with 2 outfits in this post- a very ornate costume built from scratch using historic patterns, and a simpler yet beautiful outfit created from two old dresses.

Victorian dress and Edwardian Tea Gown

Victorian dress and Edwardian tea gown. Image credit on left: Cloud Orchid Magazine.

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The humble beginnings of the tea gown.

First, the Edwardian Tea Gown. I found this old circa 1970’s dress- likely a bridesmaid dress-with long sheer sleeves and a frumpy ruched neckline. However, it was full length, the colors were right and the fabric was light and pretty, and it was a great fit without any alterations. Well worth $5. The primary adjustments I made to it were removing the sleeves and creating a square neckline.

Not long after, I rescued an old wedding dress from the same thrift store aisles, dejected and rejected because its masses of beautiful cotton-blend lace were stained and ripped in one section.

The rescue was brief though, as I just harvested all the lace and discarded the rest. I began draping these lace pieces over the dress.

I’d just like to say that the dress was feeling very pretty, and very familiar, but it was only at this point that I searched online for some Edwardian design inspiration, and discovered that this dress was well on its way to becoming a close relative of Rose’s (Titanic) “swim dress”. Which I was just fine with- I really admire the costuming work done in that film.

Swim gown

The “swim gown” would have been perfectly acceptable for an informal tea or as a dress for receiving daytime visitors at home.

After estimating the amount of lace at my disposal, I cut, pinned and hand-stitched     the pieces to the dress.  It was looking quite Edwardian, but it needed a wide belt. I       found a length of satin in a good accent color to make a wide sash for the waist.

(On a   side note, I am considering sewing the front half of the belt to the dress to keep it from shifting, BUT, if you decide to do this, you may want to cut the front portion on the bias to make it easier for the fabric to mold to a tight fitting bodice.)

And that was pretty much it- I went to Etsy to find some oval cabochon frames and purchased a few cameos separately to insert in them, and I put a cameo on the center of the belt and one on each shoe, like a shoe clip.

But you can do a lot with a couple of dresses and some inspiration!

Tea Gown for Teslacon 2012

The finished Tea Gown, minus a couple of accessories.


Look at those details! What a great pattern! If they were included, that is….

On the other side of the spectrum…. my next outfit was begun by laying out bolts of fabric into pleasing combinations, and mixing and matching them with various patterns I had bought myself for Christmas (I always know just what to get me!).  I settled on Ageless Patterns #1687. I tend to like simpler, tailored lines paired with highly detailed, clean decoration, so the wide band of pleating on the skirt as well as the double points on the polonaise and the bustle detailing really appealed to me, along with the notched collar styling on the bodice.

PLEASE note here: It is not stated when you purchase the pattern, but all you get is the basic shape pattern for the jacket- NOT the bustle detail, not the double pointed polonaise- and the basic pattern for a period skirt (not the shown skirt but one similar), NOT the pleating at the bottom, the trim around the edges of the whole thing, the trim around the cuffs, nothing. When I contacted the seller, she stated that Victorian clothing is all about decoration and those “decorative elements” are not included in the pattern. I’m sorry, but those are major aspects of this dress, not just decoration.

Additionally, for those of you that look to patterns for guidance (imagine that!)- BE WARNED- this is how the instructions for this pattern read:


In fact, here’s a pic of the “instructions”.

Ageless Patterns 1687 "Instructions"

“One peace each”, really? Really. Wow. Such effort.

Now, if you were searching patterns online and ended up on their page, you may purchase it thinking you’re getting a decent pattern with decent instructions.  However, if you (and why would you, really) go to the home page of the site you’ll see this caveat:
Seam allowances, markings, straight of grain and ORIGINAL sewing instructions have been added.  THE SEWING INSTRUCTIONS ARE AS THEY APPEARED ON THE PATTERN AND IS WHAT THE CUSTOMER GOT BACK THEN.  Sometimes the patterns have more description and are short on sewing instructions. I have done my best to include all pattern pieces.   Please read all instructions on the pattern before purchasing fabric and cutting of the pattern.  All patterns are sewable, just use your head, a little common sense and patience and your garment will turn out just fine.

So, now you can feel inadequate because you should be able to make sense of an all caps run-on paragraph if you just “use your head”. Well, I was able to figure it out (and actually informed her of a mistake on her pattern), but everyone has different levels of experience. And it was very annoying. “What the customer got back then”… well, times they have a-changed, how about updating the pattern to reflect 125 years of advancement? I mean, is it really so difficult to put a TINY bit of effort into this, after you’ve marked the grainline and seam allowances could you provide a few modern sewing hints or, heck, just PUNCTUATION to help us out a bit? After all, after the initial effort, you just run it through your printer & ship it off.

You’d think I was being unreasonable…. that is, unless you’ve ever seen instructions for a Truly Victorian pattern….gorgeous! Step by step, tips on resizing and trims, it gives you the information you need to tackle an advanced project, and the flexibility to customize it! (PS- I’m not getting paid by any company or group to do endorsements, but I’ve used three Truly Victorian patterns and it’s been a pleasure every time!)

Truly Victorian pattern instructions

They include detailed instructions on resizing vintage patterns, step by step methods for construction, and even instructions on various types of trim you may choose to add to your garment! Imagine that.

My recommendation is, if you haven’t fallen in love with a particular pattern from Ageless, STOP right there, and go to Truly Victorian (or buy a Truly Victorian from Ageless, as they somehow sell other people’s patterns on their site, but I would prefer my money go straight to the TV people who put an effort into making the pattern user friendly).

My 1880's skirt, lined, with box pleating

I used a steamer on the velvet to revive the crushed areas- it works, and improved the look 100%!

Well, that was a little off-topic rant!  Back to it-

The first step was the skirt- I had a decent amount of this beautiful tan (I think a silk blend) velvet, and I used that as a skirt base. I lined it with a midweight satin and sandwiched a reinforced waistband between the layers. I like to put 2-3 grommets in either side of the waistband back, as it allows the skirt to be adjustable (this outfit can actually be worn without a corset, though I’D never do THAT!).

Since a broad band of pleating was going on the bottom I didn’t worry too much about the hem, and sewed in some horsehair braid to help the hem hold the folds of the skirt away from the body a bit.

The pleats…. oh, the pleats. For some reason I decided to make box pleats. 4 yards of 18″ wide, 1.25″ deep box pleats, from a shimmery tan “silkessence” polyester material from JoAnne Fabrics. I cut the strips at the width I wanted, sewed them together lengthwise, finished the edges, and then started with the pinning and ironing.

My dear sweet husband assisted with pinning the finished length of pleating to the hem at the correct length with the corset, bustle and shoes I planned to assign to the completed outfit.  I hand stitched the hem on, to keep the meeting of the two fabrics totally smooth.

Box pleats

I love the box pleats, and I hate them. You understand.

* I also stitched the pleats closed by hand with very large stitches, and took the thread out just before the first time I wore it, to keep the pleats sharp.  I decided that I should also have a velvet covered button at each pleat. That was fun. (see my post here for a covered button pictorial)Another note- if you add a little dot of hot glue between the front and back of the covered button as you close it up, the chances of the cover falling off sometime in the future are greatly reduced. I hope.

Always hem while wearing the underwear and shoes you always plan to wear with it- it makes a difference!- My Renaissance outfit needs heels with the Elizabethan corset, while with the Victorian corset I must wear flats. Different corsets emphasize the resting waistline at differing heights.

1880's jacket

From the side

1800's jacket front

Front view of the jacket

Next was the hard part- the jacket. I did mockups for fit, and it’s a good thing- I lengthened the sleeves and the waist in back, and took up the length of those front polonaise points.

I didn’t want to cover as much of the skirt as the polonaise does on the pattern- not after all that pleating!  I created the jacket block and lined it. I used the velvet for the lapels and a band of trim down the buttoned front, and used covered buttons in the same fabric here as well.

This went well- I reinforced the front jacket band so I wouldn’t get any pulling or bowing from the individual buttons.

Vintage lace on 1880's jacket

I applied the vintage lace with a spray glue, then handstitched it on permanently.

The pattern comes with a cutout for a dickie, or false vest. I used the silkessence again, and some ridiculously beautiful vintage lace.

A spray glue adhered the lace to the fabric well enough for me to use a zig-zag stitch at key points to attach it permanently. (I tested the spray-on fabric glue first, of course) Handstitched the dickie to the inside of the jacket.

I cut the bottom points of the jacket front with some extra length on top, to create that double point seen on the pattern cover, and cut two rectangles big enough to span the distance from one side to the other.  I pinned, repinned, and marked where the pieces would be attached to the main jacket.

Ball trim at hem of 1880's jacket

The ball trim with the “less gold” band of trim.

Then it was all about planning the trimming- I splurged on a gold ball trim and matching band of trim for the jacket hem, but once done it all looked too gold next to the tan of the velvet, so I changed out the band of trim while keeping the balls… it looked much better.

My husband said he couldn’t see a difference.

The sleeve cuffs weren’t too difficult, I made some knife pleats for the edge and sandwiched them between the fashion fabric and the lining.

Pleating at cuffs

Just plain old knife pleats- and the buttons are decorative.

Trying it on when all was done, I felt like something was still missing. And my arms are really long (thanks dad!), so I still felt like the sleeves were short-ish.  My solution: $5 tuxedo shirt from the rummage room at the Miller & Campbell costume shop + scissors = a striking addition to the collar and cuffs of my outfit.


In the full outfit, misbehaving.

To finish the outfit off, I added a pair of mother of pearl opera glasses (online auction win) and a coordinating hat (found the velvet base resale, perfect color match, and had it trimmed at The Brass Rooster). Oh, and gloves, of course.

This costume, though just shy of garnering the Teslacon 3 “Best In Show” title, did attain the win for the “Historical Master” division and garnered me the cover and a 4 page spread with interview in Cloud Orchid Magazine’s 2-edition coverage of Teslacon 3.

I’m very happy with it, but it was a LOT of work!