A Renaissance Couple, Re-done Thursday, May 29 2014 

Switching gears for a moment… Let’s go back to the Renaissance as summer- and the Renaissance festival season- approaches. I’ve made two sets of upper-class Renaissance costumes, one in red and one primarily in blue.  My very first post outlined the making of these two outfits, and promised details to come. The red set began with a lovely, heavy combed cotton and progressively became fancier as more details were added every year.  The blue set, with green and bronze accents, were designed and created as-is, with only a couple of additions over the last few years (such as a chain of office and a tooled leather mug strap). In this post I’ll review what I learned from making the red outfits, and how I applied that to the process of bottom-up construction of the blue set. PS- Yes, we are a couple, and our outfits go together, match, coordinate, whatever. Some people can’t seem to get over that. I made them at the same time and therefore you’ll get information on both women’s and men’s Renaissance clothing construction. Bonus. The red set-


Red Renaissance costumes

For my husband I made a long Germanic-style doublet and a floppy hat. The pants were being tucked into boots and he’s not much one for poufy pumpkin pants or slops so we went with adding some trim to a pair of black linen pants. Add a white shirt and we were set! My outfit consisted of a square-necked bodice that laced up the back and a cartridge pleated skirt with forepart.  A long chemise was the base, and I bought a Paloma hat and trimmed it myself. Both outfits had basic black gimp trim from the start and matching pouches with loops to keep them attached. The center of my bodice and the forepart were this beautiful black and red diamond patterned fabric. Additions: I added panels of the diamond fabric to the front of the doublet and added more ornate trim to jazz it up some, while my skirt got a couple more bands of trim. I also made a new hat for him using the same fabric (he would have needed one custom made anyway- big noggin), and I added tiny beads and “pearls” to the diamond fabric of my outfit. (bodice one year, forepart the next… I don’t love beading) I also hand embroidered/blackworked an authentic pomegranate pattern onto the front of our chemises and hand-stitched lace edging onto the pleats of our neck /collar ruffs (I used black lace for his and gold metallic lace for mine). One year I made an elaborate feather fan with black ostrich feathers, peacock feathers and a fancy dowel I spray-painted gold. My necklace was inspired by period pieces but handmade by me, in the double drape style at the front of the bodice.  I also made and beaded a snood for beneath my hat.

Picture by Pendragon Photography

Red Renaissance Costumes with many updates

Renaissance jewelry

Renaissance jewelry (I made it all), blackwork and embroidery (also done by me, by hand, omg).


My workspace

The new outfits: I decided to make a new set from scratch, from shirts to hats. Because, why not? But seriously- it had been several years of adding new things onto old outfits and I felt like I had made a lot of progress in my design skills. I wanted to see what I could do now, and I had the space (my sewing room at work) and time (2 months between the end of the school year and the beginning of the Faire season) to do it. I made a new shirt, pants,hat, pouch and doublet for his outfit and for mine a new hat, chemise, NEW CORSET, bodice, underskirt with forepart, overskirt with cartridge pleating, and little decorations on my shoes. And now, lots of pictures! (With (hopefully) interesting notations.   My outfit progression:

Renaissance corset

Three layers of fabric for the tabbed corset cut out from pattern

Renaissance chemise

Pleated antique lace for collar and cuffs of chemise

Renaissance undies

Chemise and corset on dressform

It was fun using vintage lace for the pleats on my chemise ruff and cuffs, despite some discoloration from age on the lace- I think the effect is worth it.

Cartridge pleated skirt

Cartridge pleating- the easy way!

Renaissance Cartridge pleats

Cartridge pleats- purchased from the drapery section at the fabric store.

A note on the cartridge pleats- using the drapery pleating trick not only saves you time and looks perfectly authentic, but it also saves some yardage because the sewn in fabric bulks up the pleats.

Forepart and underskirt

I made the forepart part of the underskirt, which goes over the petticoat and hoopskirt. I added a “peek-a-boo” panel of the forepart fabric at the bottom.

blue skirt front

After the cartridge pleating was done, I attached a waistband and measured the front opening to make sure it would lay flat

Cartridge pleats- done and DONE!

See, doesnt that pleating look great? And still plenty of fullness in back.

The front lower edges of the skirt should be rounded to avoid their flaring out. This can also be mitigated by making it possible to attach the overskirt to the underskirt. I did this by inserting grommets into both and then using ribbon bows to prettily line things up. But all along the length of the skirt, one good gust of wind would expose my white underskirt… so I created a folded panel of fabric which, when attached by means of hidden snaps to the overskirt, would give the impression that the green fabric just goes on and on, because I’m just that wealthy.

Renaissance skirt details

I decorated the forepart, finished the outside edges of the overskirt with trim.

Renaissance skirt modesty panel

For modesty- This folded fabric panel attaches the overskirt to underskirt by way of snaps, to avoid wind-induced fashion mishaps.

Check out my cute lil sketch

And a hat too.

Renaissance blue velvet riding hat

Blue velvet riding hat- before the trimming

Full disclosure, one of my students really wanted to help with this, so I let her do quite a bit of the shoe adornment herself :)

Prepping the shoes for adornment, complete with inspiration picture.

Renaissance booties

Gilded buttons and all.

blue renaissance bodice lining

And don’t forget the bodice itself, which was full of ambitious design ideas!

blue renaissance bodice fitting

And now reverse-engineered, with fashion fabric and piping, for a fitting (yes, the actual fitting moment included the blue skirt)

Hmm. It would appear that those are all the pictures I took of the bodice in progress. So without further ado, moving on to HIS outfit! I put boning in his doublet because it is period, and it helps the doublet to keep its shape. I also put in grommets at the waist of the pants and bottom f the doublet so the two can be laced together, keeping them in place even more securely.

but if you do, remember to add the seam allowances back in at each split point!

I decided to insert all sorts of piping into his doublet. It’s a pain, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Blue renaissance doublet

Looks easy, right? Ugh. Lining with boning and outside with piping. 

Blue renaissance doublet punishment

And then I added a REALLY big piece of piping. Just to punish my sewing machine.

Now I actually do have something to add here- I was torn on how to attach the velvet ribbon. I felt that machine stitching it would be heavy looking, and very difficult to keep even along the edges. But I’ve had issues with fabric glues discoloring and showing through on the surface. So I chose to add pearl beads… sewing them on at regular intervals is decorative, but actually attaches the ribbon to the doublet. I added some carefully chosen points for some fabric glue, and voila!

Blue renaissance doublet back

MOAR stuff- how about pearls? Grea


blue renaissance doublet epaulets

And figured that I should really add more stuff to it, like individually piped graduated epaulet panels.

blue renaissance pants

I can’t forget his pants! Although I did up to this point with the camera. 😦 Well, they were basically plain breeches that I added piped and lined strips of blue to. Then of course the waistband and over-the-knee cuffs were banded in blue as well.

This was beyond dusty... I don't even want to know. Just- gross.

And a hat for him as well! Re-imagined from an old “pilgrim” hat.

blue pouches

New pouches to top things off…with belt straps the blue one has longer loops to hang from, as it attaches to a special waistband strap on my blue overskirt and I didn’t want it to interrupt the line of peplum on my bodice. )

The Grand Finale! Done with everything, and here are some pictures. I apologize for skimming over some items, like the snood, the bloomers, the finishing of the bodice, the men’s shirt (thought it’s really just like a women’s chemise but shorter)- when I chronicled the making of these items, this blog was still just a sparkle in my eye. **On the circular hand fan** This is a period style of hand fan… I found the tutorial (three years ago when it was made) online, and cannot find it to link to it now. If there IS interest, I’ll do a special post addressing its construction, and I’d probably add in the ostrich fan construction along with it.

Showin' ankle....

Blue Renaissance outfit details

Modesty panel will get made one year...

Blue Renaissance outfit details from the back

that brown ostrich plume was a lucky find!!

The two outfits together. A side note on my chemise- I ended up sewing a snap to the inside of the standing collar to keep my ruff widely parted. The cabochon on my bodice is new old stock, put into a frame from etsy.


Gothic Victorian Costume Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

This costume was quite cheap to make- the striped material was from the clearance rack at the fabric store, the jacket was a thrift-store find, and the other fabric and buttons were pulled from my extras bin or purchased on sale or with a coupon (40% off, just sign up for their mailers at JoAnne Fabrics).
It was inspired by the very first outfit we see Gillian Anderson wearing in “The House of Mirth”, stepping out of the mist, sihouetted by the steam hanging in the air of the train station.  It’s not a copy, but I wanted to capture the romance of the lace jabot, the drama of the tailored jacket with its tiny waist, the luxurious touch of velvet and the hint of mystery imparted by the net veil.

My black and grey striped material was synthetic, I believe a striped polyester, and was very easy to work with. I went back a couple weeks after buying it but was unable to find more.  The velvet jacket was probably from the 70’s, purchased at the thrift store, and had a nice sheen and a notched collar.  I added some darts to really curve it around my (corseted) waist, and I cut the hem in order to give it a more Victorian shape, finishing it with bias tape.  I added some fancy buttons and a couple bands of trim down the front, and that was done!

Gothic Victorian jacket

Gothic Victorian jacket

The lace jabot was purchased from the Victorian Trading Co., but I still needed to make adjustments- even pinned to the jacket at the base, it was too flimsy and tended to bunch up and move around on me. Not good if that is serving as your “blouse” beneath the jacket.  So I created a base from two layers of cotton duck and handstitched the lace over it….. wait, no, I was impatient, I used a fabric glue. Either way. Problem solved!  Honestly, this wouldn’t be difficult to make, if you can find some 2″-3″ lace that you like. All you need is an oval base large enough to cover your desired area, which is attached to a band of lace for the neck (even the store-bought one fastens with velcro at the back), and then stitch on overlapping layers of lace down the base, going from the top down.

The skirt was more involved. Again, I didn’t use a pattern. I had a dressform set to my measurements (corseted), and I draped a full-length A-line skirt. The back half I draped from some random black material I had- I wanted to conserve material and the entire back would be covered in rows of ruffles anyway.

I also made extra deep darts at the back of the skirt to make room for a cage bustle, and then I got to laying out myremaining striped fabric and measuring for a full row of hem ruffle and four evenly spaced rows of ruffles down the back. I cut them, finished the edges & then gathered them.

Now, this is before I purchased my ruffler foot so I gathered them all by making a line of large machine stitche along the top & pulling one thread to gather the material along the other thread. In this case, doing it by hand may have been best anyway, as my yardage was limited and it’s difficult to guage how much length you’ll lose with the automatic gathering of the ruffler foot. Once the rows were done I pinned them in place and sewed them in place (no-one will see the top of any of the rows, as the highest one is hidden under your bodice/jacket).

Gothic Victorian costume

Gothic Victorian costume

Oh, I made a hat too 🙂
There was a dumpy old pilgrim hat that had nothing to lose in a remodel, so I separated the crown from the brim as a first step. I re-cut the crown to be shorter, and added a sassy curve to the bottom. Then I reduced the width of the brim. I replaced the wire edgeing around the crown and brim, recovered them in a semi-matte black satin, and reattached (sewing and gluing) the brim to the crown.  The scraps of striped fabric remaining went into trimming the hat, along with an actual vintage milliner’s pair of raven wings (taxidermied, I’m assuming, though it’s not my forte) and a ridiculously big, sparkly, rhinestone vintage button (also a thrifting find).

For a costume with minimal expense, I’ve had a lot of good times in it already!

Gothic Victorian Hat

Gothic Victorian Hat


Creating Victorian and Edwardian Costumes- From thrifting to historical patterns Sunday, Jan 26 2014 

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.

teslacon2011 (1)

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!

The One Day Corset Tuesday, Dec 31 2013 

I promised myself I would write this post before the new year… and here it is, down to the wire…

SO… I set out to make a corset in one day. A good corset, a real corset, with a mockup and busc front and proper edging.   It was a success, though see the bottom of the post pictures for an alteration made a couple months later, and a warning against rushing through the mockup fitting. 🙂

I worked from 9am until about 11pm, excluding a break in the middle.

First step, the pattern.  I cut out the original pattern, marking the measurements of bust, waist and hip of each piece. Then I took my measurements (with desired corseted waist # rather than actual), and determined how many more inches would be needed at each section.  Then- the hard part- I divided the sections into percentages, and added that percentage of the total increase needed to each piece, halved for front and back. I drew up my new pattern pieces and added seam allowances of 5/8″.

The One Day Corset

This book, “Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” contains corset patterns ranging 3 centuries, all at half size. I scanned them, made sure the scale was correct, then increased the size and had them printed. This was the only part done before the corset-making day.

What?? I know! The goal is to increase the measurements of your pattern pieces proportionately.

If you wanted to increase the overall corset size by 3″ and just added it to the center back, you would end up with hip curves that no longer line up and bust seams that are off and too small.

For example, take one side of a 28″ waist corset. (Both sides are identical)

If the waist measurement of the first pattern piece is 2.8″, or 20% of 14″, then you would need to add 20% of the total desired increase to that pattern piece. If you were increasing the waist size from 28″ to 31″, you would add 20% of 1.5″ to that piece.  Technically, you would add 10% to the left seam & 10% to the right, to keep it even.  It takes some work, but you only have to do it once!

One Day Corset

Laid out on the grainline of all three layers of fabric.

Note that I extended the front of the corset- I like the extra tummy control of a long front. Be sure to curve it back in towards the body just a tiny bit, so the bottom tip doesn’t jut out. And see that I eased the additional amount around the bottom hem, reducing it until it blended at the side hip.
Be very sure all your fabric is lying smoothly if you’re going to cut it this way!

One Day Corset

Champagne colored silk, a tea-dyed coutil and ivory twill.

In the end I used the twill for the interlining because the silk is so thin the darker color of the coutil showed through.

One Day Corset

I stitched a stabilizing line down the grainline of each piece in very large stitches to keep the pieces from sliding out of place as I worked on them.

While I would normally do a “sandwich style” corset, finishing with a nice smooth lining, I chose to make an all-in-one-layer corset to save a little time.

One Day Corset

The bone casing doesn’t have to be cut on the bias, but it makes it easier to ease around those hip & bust curves.

I made my own bone casing out of some of the coutil. I have pre-made casing on rolls, but I only have it in black and would normally be hidden behind the lining. For aesthetic purposes, I used the same interior fabric.

One Day Corset

Since I was sewing the boning channels before the pieces were joined to one another, I needed to plan out what size boning to use, and where.

After deciding on lengths, widths and placement, I marked out the channels to be sewn with chalk, following the natural curves of the pieces when necessary.

One Day Corset

Here are the center back corset pieces, with the center back turned under to create extra layers of stability and a separate bone channel sewn over the raw edge.

It is important to set bones onto both sides of your grommets, being as precise as possible- the less possible movement for the boning, the more use you’ll get out of your corset. Plus, the boning reduces bowing and pulling at this high-stress point.

One Day Corset

So, I took a break and got a pedicure. 🙂

One Day Corset

Make sure you give yourself enough room for the seams, for finishing the seams, or for adding more bone channels for finishing those seams.

One Day Corset

Once all the channels were in, it was time to sew the pieces together! I sew the section seams twice, with two different stitch lengths, for strength.

I sometimes trim up the top and bottom edges to smooth the transition between sections- if it’s more than 1/8″ off, I’d be a little concerned… otherwise, just make sure both sides of the corset end up even.

One Day Corset

Did I mention I decided to use some lace from a vintage slip on the top of the corset? A little measureing, placing, and there you go.

I opted for adding some some decoration to the top of the corset, so I took a half hour out to seamrip the lace off the slip, iron it and lay it out…. placement isn’t perfect, but I was working with a pretty small amount of lace.

One Day Corset

An overall view of the front and back before adding the busc and grommets.

The only step I skipped that I normally wouldn’t have is the insertion of a twill tape at the waist.  It can still be put in, it would just be have to be handstitched at the seams. I may decide to add one later, but it seems to be holding shape well. /shrug

One Day Corset

I get caught up, and I forget, but here is at least a picture of the placement for the knob side.

I always use an awl to make these holes, gently, to keep from cutting any threads and causing fraying down the road.  If it looks like that still may be a concern, sometimes I’ll add a drop of Fraycheck- be careful with this, as the drop can spread and darken the fabric it touches.  You may have to work the knobs through the holes- be patient, it’ll be worth it.

One Day Corset

Two part, quality grommets are *very* important…. these, with the flat edges, won’t cut into your fabric like some cheaper grommets can.

There is a school of thought that the more grommets you have the better. I have found that marking 1.25″ apart (making grommets approx. one inch apart) works just fine. I lace myself tightly, but I don’t “tightlace”, so use your own judgment… more grommets can’t hurt.  The last should be 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the top and bottom- you don’t want the grommet past the edge of the boning.

One Day Corset

Finished seam detail on the partial bust cup. Matching scalloped edges is a b****, by the way. Ah well.

One Day Corset

Add in another half hour to cut and iron some bias tape out of the silk, for the top and bottom edges of the corset.

One Day Corset

Here you can see the bias tape edging and the finished seam of the interior.

The bias tape I sew by machine, right sides together, then fold it over the back and handstitch it down. The seams were cut narrow and gone over twice with a zig-zag stitch.

One Day Corset

Note that the waist is a little short- If I had taken more time with the mockup (no, I didn’t even take pictures) I could’ve avoided that.

One Day Corset

Back view- I’m very pleased with the higher back, though the pattern had an option for a lower one and I was debating which to make. PS- You can see that you get plenty of support with 1.25″ spaced grommets, thanks to the boning on either side.

One Day Corset

Again, you can see the bust is too low. This is a common problem with vintage patterns- not just corsets- that they tend to be short waisted.

So, the corset served me sufficiently through Teslacon, but the issue with the bust bothered me, so a couple months later, I made an adjustment. I took the stitches out of the top bias tape, re-cut the bust to a slight underbust curve, below the problematic bust shaping, and restitched the bias tape on.  I’m quite happy with the results and it only took about an hour. The altered bust on the finished corset:

One Day corset

Corset with altered bustline

So I think my experiment was a success, but I’d add a caveat here- take your time with the mockup, because vintage patterns can have all sorts of idiosyncrasies!

Clothing Styles in Victorian Society, or Teslacon Dress Post 6 Wednesday, Oct 30 2013 

It’s true, I think it’s fun to either:

A. Look at an outfit and take cues from the details and fabrics to figure out who would wear it for what type of event.

B. When making an outfit, to plan out the details around a real or imagined person or event.

But then, I’m a costume geek, so I guess that’s one of my quirks.


But that means that a lot of thought and planning went into this outfit. There are limitless options when it comes to trimming a Victorian outfit, so it was hard to narrow it down to a few choices, let along decide on one.

For example, the collar and cuffs:

     Option 1– Yellow silk pleating banded along the outer two inches of the collar and cuffs. It would give a pop of color and reflect the pleating detail seen on the skirt. However, the pleats would need to be sized just right, or even angle pleated like those on the skirt. Plus the lapel is actually already yellow silk, so what would I even do there?- Additional yellow, but pleated? Pleat the entire collar? I made two rows of knife pleats for the cuffs but ended up feeling like they were too clunky for the cuffs.

     Option 2– Appliques. Drawing from my inspiration look, I considered doing some appliques on the collar and cuffs that would give the look of embroidery. I bought two types- one with some ribbon flowers in blues and yellows and one with actual embroidered flowers in pink on green curling vines. The blues match better but look kind of chunky. The pinks are pretty, delicate and might make a good accent color, but… there is no floral reference anywhere else on the dress- it’s all tabs, pleats, buttons and beading. Which brings me to…

    Option 3- Beading. As I cut into the vintage beaded top for my jacket, I harvested the beads and pearls from the scraps in case I needed to replace any missing bits. I had so many, I realized I could use them to create a beaded design on the collar and cuffs. (I swear, I didn’t choose this option just because it was the most time intensive! It just happened.)

blue yellow

The beaded hem I insanely decided to make after everything else was done.

The beading on the turned down cuff.

Beaded turned-down cuff on Teslacon dress

* My best collar and cuff advice is to check and re-check your stitching lines before clipping and pressing your seams.

Again, I would like to commend Truly Victorian on their clear, thorough and easy to follow instructions included in all their patterns. I have seen patterns supplied only with a single, all caps, run-on paragraph trying to pass as “instructions” and it makes things harder than they need to be. Truly Victorian patterns give you the information you need and the flexibility to make changes to achieve a truly custom fit. They’re not paying me to say this, it’s just the third pattern I’ve used from them and it’s a delight. IMHO

The Waterfall Back

*Note- there’s actually a waterfall draping style for bustles- this is not that, it’s just a convenient term for the back train on my gown. A true waterfall drape looks like this:


Waterfall Drape

There’s an additional decorative element that I added to my dress when I was forced to purchase twice as much silk as I needed (2 weeks after I was given a minimum purchase amount, I was told that, no, I actually needed to buy twice as much. Supreme Novelty Fabrics… avoid them- terrible dealing with them, but they had the same shade of silk as the vintage top, and I had a $200 gift card)

I decided to make a yellow silk pleated train coming down the back for the skirt, banded in by three V-shaped blue straps. I like to see an unexpected detail when someone turns around- a cutout back, a pop of color, etc. so I thought the waterfall style at the back would provide a Wow moment. Pleating the train was… interesting. I can’t say it turned out just how I imagined it, but one tip I can offer is to consider the benefits of tacking down your pleats to a certain point, to keep them where you want them.

Qualities of the 1880’s

I designed this dress with the late 1880’s in mind, and I was committed to the fabrics and the colors. Beyond that, the entire era was open to me. I like this time period for a few reasons:

1. The bustle was back! But it wasn’t a crazy big, rest-your-drink-on-it bustle above enormous hoops- I dislike how in some earlier decades some gowns resembled overwrought wedding cakes with doll torsos perched atop:

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Wedding Cakes

2. The waistline has returned to the the waist, and you even get to see some hip curve! It’s a somewhat body conscious look without the extreme limitation of movement incurred by the short-lived hobble dresses of 1879-1881. They were pretty, but I need to be able to walk, period:

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Sooo not happening.

3. Tailoring. The advent of tailoring slowly led to changes in fashion- The details of dress began to reflect the more tailored silhouette, the first of more to come in the jackets and graceful bell shapes of the Belle Epoch and the smooth simple lines of later Poirot. I enjoy using buttons, pleats, worked trims and tabs in my designs, so it seemed a natural match. Plus, I like that in the 1880’s sleeves were generally slim and plain, not the concoctions of frills from the 1870’s, nor the internally supported leg-of-mutton look from the 1890’s:

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Very nice

4. Aniline dyes. I am not a delicate flower. I do not want rose, or violet, or baby blue. I like a strong color palette. In 1856 Aniline dye was patented, and was on exhibition by 1862… this synthetic dye allowed the attainment of rich, vibrant colors, and the Victorians went mad for them. Monochromatic gowns done in entirely one shade of purple (one of the earliest colors available), blue, indigo, fuchsia, pink or yellow were de rigueur. Some –unusual- color/pattern combinations cropped up and the impact of vibrant colors on taste level was sometimes questioned:



I wanted a somewhat French inspired look without falling into the aniline trap of an in-your-face blue and yellow outfit, so I chose a deep royal blue that’s quite somber, though not navy. Paired with it is a very delicate pale yellow silk. It’s a good thing too, because as complementary colors, they still look more vibrant next to each other than others would. Plus, the blue fabric is completely matte, so the only shimmer is the soft characteristic sheen of the silk and the occasional sparkle from the beaded accents.

Society and Culture

This dress in particular: The style of this dress when paired with the color and fabric speaks of a very particular event and wearer:

The colors indicate a woman who is confident and stylish but not a slave to (aniline) trends. The hand-worked details on her dress, in conjunction with machine stitched tailoring, indicate an expensive purchase. The very nature of the trims hint at a practical nature, as they are primarily menswear-inspired buttons, tabs and pleats rather than the expected flowers, gathers and ruffles. And yet the beading and pearl trim keeps it classically feminine.

The simple lines and the sturdy fabric could indicate it is a day dress, but the neckline is very low for a walking dress and the beaded details and waterfall train are less than practical for something like a travelling suit.


Little silk purse, a re-covered resale find.

My choice of accessories is deliberate as well. A hat indicates an outing, whereas a ribbon or floral decoration in the hair would be more appropriate indoors, and I carry a purse instead of a parasol- a practical and “active” accessory indicating either possession of my own money or at least the authority to spend it independently.

Therefore, the lady who wears this is attending a fancy daytime event, undoubtedly with a chaperone but still wishing to stand out. It could be a shopping expedition in a progressive city like London, an art salon exhibiting the controversial art of Toulouse Lautrec or Dante Gabriel Rosetti, or perhaps a daytime activity at a high-profile event like the Congress of Vienna. Or even a House of Mirth style seasonal gathering at the estate of a gracious host, where the day dress may have to serve for several events before one could change for dinner.

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Just Gorgeous


The back of the Teslacon Dress- More pictures will be added after Teslacon!

Wherever the lady is going, the dress is done and I’ll be moving on to other creations in my posts- I hope you’ve enjoyed this little saga!

Next Post: The 1-Day 1860’s Corset!

*Sources include: Victoriana.com, Metmuseum.org, and around 13 years of general historical costuming research.

Victorian trim and decorations, or Teslacon Dress Post 5 Sunday, Oct 6 2013 

Now, as promised, The Fun Stuff.

The trims and decoration are what takes a well fitted jacket and a six gore skirt and transforms them into something that gets salivated over & repinned.

But trims *usually* also take a lot of planning. For example, most of the decoration on my outfit (that I’ll be referencing today) needs to be applied by hand and includes 2 different sizes of handmade silk piping.

What decoration techniques I’ll be using:

  • Beading- The shining star of my decoration will be the beaded and pearled perfection of a repurposed vintage shirt.  I cannot tell you the work and expense that recycling vintage finds has saved me… and it cuts down on waste.  The color of this shirt is really the inspiration for the outfit- this pale, gentle yellow paired with a deep, nearly navy, blue.  It says “French”, without screaming “FRENCH!!” If you know what I mean.
    I’m using the fabric as the center panel of the bodice and as an accent at the bottom of the flounce in back. The lines will echo the stripes and inverted V’s in the primary pleating and in yellow velvet ribbon accents on the sleeves.

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    Once the shirt was disassembled I could really see the size of the pieces I would have to work with.

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    After reinforcing all the pearls because they were chain stitched 😦 I backed everything with two layers of silk.

  • More Beading- I’m harvesting the beads and pearls from castoff bits of shirt and working it into the decoration on the lapels, cuffs, hem…. and purse and shoes.  To make a guide for beading the lapels and sleeves, I marked 3 evenly spaced right angles with chalk, and stitched on a bead every 1/3″ for a decorative look that echoes the lines of the dress without being too time intensive.

    The beading I did on the turned down cuff.


    The beading on the collar.

  • Even More Beading– So, after I had the box pleated hem made, I decided I needed to cover up the line of stitching that held the pleats down (and eventually the stitching that will attach it to the dress). I had allll these extra beads and pearls, so naturally I decided to hand bead the hem. (Oy) I found that a backstitch worked best, and feels pretty stable. Once the beading is done, the hem will be attached with stitches hidden along the beaded area.

    Box pleated hem (1/16" hem on the strips) starched and getting beaded. the pearl cluster is sewn in a circle beforehand, then the circle of beads attached at the intersection of each pleat.

    Box pleated hem (1/16″ hem on the strips) starched and getting beaded. The pearl cluster is sewn in a circle beforehand, then the circle of beads attached at the intersection of each pleat.

  • Pleating– The primary pleating, that I farmed out to my marvelously talented and patient friend Michelle, of Envy Rae Designs, is a 45 degree angle pleating running along the hem and up the back of the skirt on either side of the silk train. I knew what I wanted, I just really didn’t want to do it. And it turned out beautifully! I attached the larger piping to the edges and then stitched it onto the skirt.
    Large piping sewn at corner of angle pleats.

    Large piping sewn at corners of angle pleats.

    Corner of angle pleats.

    Corner of angle pleats.

    45 degree angled pleats, backed with yellow cotton.

    45 degree angled pleats, backed with yellow cotton.

    Large piping sewn to the angle pleats

    Large piping sewn to the angle pleats

    A view of the skirt pleating attached... and the attached beaded bits at the cuffs and jacket back.

    A view of the skirt pleating attached… and the attached beaded bits at the cuffs and jacket back.

  • More pleating– I also made a yellow silk box pleated hem which is undergoing surgery with beads and pearls. I had a knife pleat hem all ready to go and I was just…. whelmed…. by it.  So for all my groaning about last year’s box pleated hem, off I go again. (See picture under “Even more beading”)
  • Piping– I made 2 sizes of piping because I decided that a larger size would be too bulky round the neckline and cuffs, but a smaller size would get lost amid the larger skirt features.
    To make piping, I would suggest cutting a number of strips, maybe 2″ wide, of your fabric *at a 45 degree angle*. Then, you place the ends crosswise and pin them together, matching the grain-line, at a 45 angle to get the connected pieces to lay together correctly. (Hopefully the pictures will help with that description)

    Cutting out many bias strips at once (4 layers here)

    Cutting out many bias strips at once (4 layers here)

    Strips of bias cut silk, sewn together on a bias to make one long strip

    Strips of bias cut silk, sewn together on a bias to make one long strip

    Then when you have a very long strip of bias cut fabric, wrap it around the piping cord and use a zipper foot or something similar to sew as close to the cord as you can.

    Sewing the silk and cording together via zipper foot

    Sewing the silk and cording together via zipper foot

    Small piping when complete

    Small piping when complete

    *The bias cut is important, it allows your piping to move around corners and curves with ease, without distorting your fabric.To attach the piping to your outfit, it needs to be sandwiched between the lining and the fashion fabric. You’ll want to line it up pretty carefully- wavering lines will show here when you turn it all right-side out!
    I suggest using a thread color that matches your piping, and again you’ll want to get the needle as close to the edge of the cord as possible. Now, you could try sewing through the three layers, but what I usually do is to lay the piping on the right side of the fabric- with the cut edge of the piping facing the cut edge of the fabric- and stitch them together, adding the lining on top afterwards for another round of pinning and stitching. It takes a little more time, but it’s less stressful than trying to manipulate three layers at once, wondering if the piping is moving around in there where you can’t see it.

    Placement of piping for stitching before adding the lining.

    Placement of piping- the lining will be placed on top of this, sandwiching the piping in between, with the cord always toward the inside.

  • Self covered buttons– Buttons covered in the same fabric you’re using look professional and are useful if you want a subtle look on your closures or decorative bits. I put together a multi-step pictorial:

    Process for making self-covered buttons

    Process for making self-covered buttons

  • Turned down tabs-These are relatively easy, I planned to take the squared corners of the jacket and cuffs and turn them out at 45 degrees to show off the lining and to echo that chevron shape again. The only extra consideration I had (after I had the collar all put together!) was that the silk lining would have to be doubled because you could see through a single thickness.  So I cut 4 lining pieces for the cuffs, lapels and a couple of 5″x 5″ squares for the lower corners of the jacket. I placed a covered button at the center of the flap, and it makes for a nice, period look! I echoed the turned down tabs at a few points on the outfit.

    The tabs on the skirt (not shown) and at the bottom of the jacket are "held down" by covered buttons.

    The tabs on the skirt (not shown) and at the bottom of the jacket are “held down” by covered buttons.

  • Chevron velvet ribbon accents on the upper sleeves:
    Challenge 1: I want the Vs placed on the outside of the arms, but that isn’t centered on the two sleeve pattern pieces.  What I did was pin the ribbon where I wanted it on the mock-up (another bonus to making one) and mark the lines of ribbon in chalk.  Then I took the sleeve off, took out one seam and cut slits along the marked lines. Then, placing the mock-up over the actual sleeve- with only one seam stitched- I used a chalk pencil to mark on the good fabric along the slits in the mock-up.  Then I had exact placement for the ribbon.

    1. Mark the top of the shoulder on the sleeve, then remove the sleeve from the mock-up. 2. Leave the outer seam in place, seam-rip the inside seam and lay it flat. 3. Mark the desired line placement in chalk. 4. Make some slits along your lines. 5. Lay the mockup on top of your sleeves (cut out in good fabric and sewn up the outer seam). Mark through the slits to get exact placement of your lines. Lay your trim along the marked lines and pin. 6. Attach. I tested machine stitching on a scrap and liked it... good to go.

    1. Mark the top of the shoulder on the sleeve, then remove the sleeve from the mock-up. 2. Leave the outer seam in place, seam-rip the inside seam and lay it flat. 3. Mark the desired line placement in chalk. 4. Make some slits along your lines. 5. Lay the mock-up on top of your sleeves (cut out in good fabric and sewn up the outer seam). Mark through the slits to get exact placement of your lines. Lay your trim along the marked lines and pin. 6. Attach. I tested machine stitching on a scrap and liked it… good to go.

    Challenge 2: How to attach the 3/8″ ribbon to the fabric. Fabric glue, in the past, sometimes can leave dark spots if you don’t get the amount precisely right, so gluing was out.  I considered 2-sided interfacing & ironing, but cutting strips that narrow and keeping the interfacing from getting all over would be a mess, and the velvet would have to be ironed from the opposite side, making the task nearly impossible.  I – briefly- considered doing tiny little baby hand-stitching up and down each side of each ribbon, but decided I’d rather stick something sharp in my eye.  So I did a test sample to see what machine stitching along the 1/16 edges would look like.  It was a success, but I’ll point out here that a machine with an adjustable stitch speed was very helpful here!

The very last aspect of decoration I did- the waterfall pleated train- is really more of an overall design choice, so it will be covered in the next post, where I’ll talk about the style choices, and who would be wearing this dress, and where, in the Victorian Era.

I swear I will write it before Teslacon!

Victorian Gowns featured in Milwaukee’s “Paleontology of a Woman” Fashion Show! Wednesday, Oct 2 2013 

Exciting News

Two weeks ago in Milwaukee at the Public Museum I was thrilled to be a part of a fashion show… one that was probably unlike any other you’ve seen!

Paleontology of a Woman“, hosted by Timothy Westbrook, was a dinosaur-inspired fashion show, and held in the rain forest section of the museum with an exclusive 200 seats available (plus some standing room only spots opened up due to demand).  You can check out Timothy’s sustainability-driven message and aesthetic at his link above, and get info on all the other collaborators on the POAW website while it’s up.

And among the 14 total looks shown, three of them were my Victorian inspired designs! An additional look was featured at the point of entry for guests, posed with a Velociraptor skeleton.

I was only one of many collaborators involved in the show, and I have to say I had a fantastic time seeing so many people come together for such a unique show.

I’ll post a couple photos below, but there’s no point in reinventing the wheel when there have been multiple articles, a very thorough blog, and even two videos posted on the show.

Thanks to Timothy for the opportunity, to the other collaborators for being wonderful, to my models for having the class to carry off these gowns, and to my assistant Lina Pashkova for being at the ready all night!


A back view of The Duchess gown


My award-winning burgundy and bronze gown. And a Velociraptor.


My lovely models, looking lovely in my gowns. Left to Right: Courtney, Anu, (me) and Marissa.

PS- Yes, my next blog post on the Teslacon Dress is coming, it’s mostly written & really just needs pictures!

The Necessities, or Teslacon Dress Post 4 Friday, Aug 2 2013 

Lining.  Interlining.  Flatting.  Stay-stitching .  Clipping and pressing seams.  Not glamorous, but often these things are the difference between a beautiful, fitted piece of clothing….  and a slouchy, home-decor-reject-pile hot mess.  I’ve seen all too many hot messes lately, so I’m going to devote a post to the important basics of advanced sewing. (Not an oxymoron?)

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All the seams, pressed and neat

So, to begin. This next phase of making my Victorian gown consists of preparing the pieces to be sewn together.

The preparation has 2 aspects- the necessities, as mentioned above, and decoration.  Much of the Victorian look is in the decoration and fabric manipulation, and much of that decoration is hard, if not impossible, to do once your pieces are sewn together.

  • Lining- The lining will be on the inside of your outfit. It will probably not be next to your skin in most cases, if you’re wearing period undergarments, but it will still make a difference in your comfort level. If you’ve gone to great lengths, for instance, to find a great fashion fabric in a cotton, choosing a polyester lining fabric will kill the ability of the cotton to keep you cool.  Life will also be easier if your lining doesn’t stretch more or less than your fashion fabric.  * If your fashion fabric is a pale color or on the thin side, a brightly colored or patterned lining fabric may show through.
  • Interlining- Interlining, as the name implies, goes between your fashion fabric and your lining. This should be a somewhat more substantial fabric because the whole point of it is to give more strength and structure to your finished product.  Again, choose an interlining similar to your fashion fabric, and I’d recommend a similar color too, because they’re going to be very close….
  • Flatting- Flatting is an important step in creating that period look. It is the process of laying your fashion fabric and interlining pattern pieces down, wrong sides together, and stitching a big running stitch around all the edges. You’re connecting them, and they are treated as one piece of fabric after this point.  Flatting gives substance and support to your fashion fabric, provides a strong base for the addition of boning (usually), and helps hide the transition line from corset to skin (Victorian VPL).
  • Stay-stitching & pressing- Confession time; I was not always on board with pressing seams. Or stay-stitching. Or even pinning, for that matter, if it could be avoided. But the first time I did a super-fancy outfit I decided to follow every single instruction and wow, what a difference all the pressing & prepping made! I’m a true convert- when I sit down for a bout of sewing I plug in my iron.  

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    Flatted pattern pieces

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    Flatted fashion fabric and interlining

You might feel like all these steps aren’t worth the extra time, but I figure if I’m already spending hours upon hours on an outfit, I can take one more to guarantee that I’ll get more wear out of it.  And another note, be sure to always pre-wash your fabrics, as it reduces the chance of shrinkage, warping and color bleeding after you’ve put all this time and effort in!

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Mock-up jacket and the skirt (lined but not hemmed) on the dress-form, with silk inset down the back to show the general plan.

Once the pieces are stay-stitched and flatted and sewn and pressed…. throw them on the dress-form to see how they look!

And I promise my next post will be fun…. we’ll get into some Victorian decoration techniques, including the ones I’m planning for my dress!

My First Time (Dyeing Fabric), or Teslacon Dress Post 3 Sunday, Jun 9 2013 

Have you tried dyeing fabric?

I (finally) have, and of course it was for a big project that I absolutely could not mess up on!
(Disclaimer: I did have a budget set aside for fabric just in case I did ruin it somehow.)

So, quite a few years ago I purchased 10 yards of a “french brey” (blue-grey) in a 3 dimensional stripe on Ebay. When it arrived, it was more of a pastel than it had looked in the pictures, and so it sat.  Based on the inspiration for my Teslacon dress, as mentioned in an earlier post , I thought I could have a use for a monochromatic stripe, if only it were a different color.  I could dye it (in theory), but I wasn’t sure of the fabric content.  A cotton blend… that’s what I remembered, and what a “burn test” indicated.

For those first entering this area: the fiber content of your fabric will determine what type of dye you’ll use & how well it will work.
*Natural fibers generally take dye more easily-  it soaks into the fibers. The most common natural fibers include cotton, wool, linen, bamboo and (surprisingly) rayon. Rayon is a reprocessed cellulose fiber (wood) so it takes dye as well as cotton. *However* it requires careful handling; when it’s wet it is very vulnerable to tearing and abrading.
*Synthetic fibers are generally more difficult to dye because the dye must stain the surface of the fibers. The most common synthetic dyes are polyester, nylon, spandex and acrylic.  dye baths with dyes for synthetic fibers (like iDye Poly) may require the fabric to be boiled with the dye.  This is why it’s important to know your fiber content- some fabrics would be completely ruined if you tried boiling them, and some will barely be affected by a dye not made for their fiber content. (You definitely don’t want to spend $50 on deep purple dye to end up with pale lilac colored fabric!)

So, once you know what type of fabric you have (if you buy it at the fabric store, write down the information on the bolt for later reference) and what dye you’ll use, you need to figure out *how much* dye to use to get the color you want on your fabric. This is sometimes referred to as a recipe. RIT29L_1

RIT Dye (disclaimer: I am not affiliated with nor receiving compensation from any company, website or product mentioned in this post) has a pretty extensive chart of formulas listing combinations and color results.
Generally, dyeing natural fiber fabric requires adding dye and salt to hot water, wetting your fabric thoroughly, immersing it in the dye bath and stirring it constantly for at least 45 minutes to two hours… the longer it soaks, the more vibrant your color will be.

I did 3 tests with squares of fabric in a cup of hot water, varying amounts of dye, and using my Kitchen Aid to mix it for an hour.  kitchenaid_standMixer

* SALT. Salt will help your fabric to accept the dye more easily. General consensus is 1 cup of salt per gallon of water.
I ended up with three swatches which gave me a pretty good idea of what my baseline results would be.

My burn tests indicated that there was a higher cotton content in the raised fuzzy stripes than in the background weave, so the stripes absorbed a little more of the dye.  The fabric would be slightly two-toned, but still monochromatic. My hope was that this would lend some depth to the color & actually be a good thing.

I did my research on how to dye large amounts of fabric:
* In large plastic bins
* In stationary tubs
* In washing machines

rpms++4-17-2012-14-43-17I chose to dye the fabric in 2 bunches in the stationary tub in my basement. Why two bunches? I read that if the fabric is cramped & doesn’t have the room to move freely as you stir, you can end up with uneven spots.  Because there was so much fabric, I pre-washed my fabric (you should always wash it to remove any sizing left from the manufacturer that could affect the dye, but also so that any shrinking is done *before* you cut out your pattern pieces) and cut out the pattern pieces before dyeing.  The result is less fabric to dye, but I’ll add a note here that, if your fabric frays a great deal, you’ll want to serge or zig-zag the edges of those cut pieces so you don’t lose your seam allowances during the whole dyeing and drying process.

For my outfit, the skirt of course included much more material than the jacket- and my dye amount calculations were based on fabric weight- so I put the center skirt pattern piece in with the jacket to even out the weight between the two batches.
*Note*You know, this makes less sense every time I go over it.  Benefit from my mistakes: If at all possible, do all your fabric in one load. You’ll be greatly reducing the risk of batches with slightly different colors.  As long as you keep the fabric moving around in the dye bath, it will be even. 

I used liquid dye to avoid the chance of powdered granules not dissolving, although I really have no idea if that is usually a problem with powders, but I had put so much time and effort into it already…

Some things to know:
– You need to wet your fabric thoroughly before putting it into the dye bath
– You need to use the hottest water you can get out of your tap- I turned the water heater up for several hours before starting, just so I could get more heat.
This also helps the salt dissolve into the water.

– You NEED to keep your fabric moving during that 1-2 hour stirring session. I turned on a movie & kept the fabric going with a long wooden spoon.
– You need heavy vinyl/rubber gloves. The dye will stain your hands faster than cotton!
– You need to rinse the dye out of your fabric at the end of the dye bath until it runs clear, or very close to clear. This WILL take a long time, but you don’t want your fabric staining other clothing or your skin the first time you wear it.


And resist the urge to toss in that last bit of dye in the bottle because you don’t want to waste it, or because this load is a little bit bigger, or for whatever reason; if you did your calculations the dye amount you use should be correct & more dye will just alter your results. That was my skirt load, which really wouldn’t matter except for the fact that my center skirt panel was actually in the other, lighter jacket load. Whoops.

So, I’m sure I’m being oversensitive to the color difference but I could just kick myself for not just doing one load, or keeping all the skirt pieces together. Other than that, it turned out beautifully, even and ever so slightly two-toned between the stripes.  I made a slight redesign on the front of the skirt to minimize the color difference, and it actually solves a design issue I was struggling with.

Final fabric results, before and after with the pale yellow silk that will be the accent color.

This will be my Teslacon dress

Before and after- from grey to deep blue.

* One more note: On using washing machines to dye fabric. If you’d like to use a wash machine you’ll have to be present to continually reset it to the agitation mode- you don’t want it going to “rinse cycle” after 20 minutes! You may need to scrub/bleach the inside of your machine afterwards as well.

Any questions?

In my next post We’ll start putting together the jacket & looking at flatting, linings and handmade piping!

Victorian Underthings, or Teslacon Dress Post 2 Wednesday, May 8 2013 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- It’s all about the underwear!

You could have the Bestest and Most Beautiful reproduction Victorian gown or Steampunk garb and it won’t look right unless you have the right underpinnings.

That means, most likely, a corset, a bustle (always depending on era) and petticoats.

Now, believe it or not, I’m still learning with every piece I make…. my big learning moment last year came when I discovered waltzing in a full length gown with a half length bustle is nearly impossible. With every step back I took (while trying to do that elegant sweeping dip), I was in imminent danger of stepping on the back of my skirt.

So. Before continuing on the blue and yellow dress, I took a detour to make a “Long Bustle With Train” and a flat-front petticoat.

I used Laughing Moon #112 for the bustle-a different view from the same pattern I used last year for the “long bustle” that didn’t work out so well for dancing.

Truly Victorian #170 was the pattern for the flat front petticoat.


First: the petticoat.  I used the flat-front version because these new underthings are for my Victorian ballgown, which I used this pattern to make:

dressSo, a lot of petticoat bulk in front is bad.

I found the pattern very easy to follow and understand- every once in a while with these “modernized” Victorian patterns you’ll find a mystery marking that you just don’t know what to do with, but not here.

If there is one purchase that I can recommend, that I am so happy that I finally made, it is the ruffler foot.  Find a coupon for your local fabric store if you will, but it’s worth the (approx.) $30…. 9 out of 10 of my students agree it’s a major time saver!


(Play with it on a variety of scrap fabrics first, to get a feel for the speed, the settings, etc,) On this pattern there is a mid-height ruffle and one that spans the bottom. Took me 20 minutes. And trust me, it’s not my mad skills, it’s the ruffler foot!
Okay, moving on… I (of course) did the version with the cute little pintucks.
And of course I didn’t bother to iron the folds, or really measure them. It’s not necessary to do them, you can cut your pattern piece the 5 or 6 inches shorter & skip them, but I had saved allll this time (with the ruffler foot!), so I figured why not.

Do as I say, not as I do!


I’m sure if I had, they would have turned out perfectly; as it is, the pintucks, although even widths, are not evenly spaced, by about a quarter to an eighth of an inch. But my reasoning was, “No-one will ever see that, and now I’ve done pintucks!”  There are bigger fish to fry.
The length was good for me, and I am 5’6″ with an average of a 2″-3″ heeled shoe with any dress, so keep that in mind when cutting your pattern- it’s easy enough to add or subtract length. (More on that when I get to the bustle!!!)

So, that was good. The waistband: I hate a drawstring waist & I closed mine off.  I’m reconsidering now, bacause when it’s Semi-Corseted Days vs Total Corseted Days, an inch or two makes all the difference.

Let’s move along to what this lovely petticoat will be placed over… the bustle.


If you go back up and look carefully at that bottom left pattern image, the description says “long bustle with train”, but it doesn’t look that long.  It appears to go a bit past her knickers, which go a bit past her knees, which means your dress will be hanging off your bustle around shin-height?? Oh noooo, I don’t think so.

I went online & did some research into blogs (possibly like you are now) to see if anyone had issues with the length. And sure enough, a costumer said it was about 6″ off the ground on her, and she only hits 5’2″.  Now, I do know that the weight of the skirts and petticoats will lower the height some, but that’s *quite* a ways off the ground.

So I added 6″ right off the bat. If you’re unsure, add more because, again, it’s very easy to take a couple inches up from that straight portion right in the middle.  I ran into no patterning issues after extending it.

When I put the boning and grommets in the lacing section of the last bustle, I put a piece of boning on either side of the grommets. A habit from making corsets but not necessary so I skipped it this time.

BUSTLE (6)For the last bustle I used a lightweight cotton which I fear is just not up for the long-term strain of the metal boning, so I chose a heavier grey and black striped material this time.

When you’re ready to attach the lacing panels to the exterior portion of the bustle, take a moment to re-check the drawings. It can be confusing, but you want to attach the panels so that the raw edges are facing the innermost part of the bustle… this ensures that any fabric resting on your bum will not rub you the wrong way!

Speaking of metal boning, I went ahead and purchased buckram wrapped hoop boning instead of using the by-the-yard spring steel! Cheaper, yes…. BUT. Oh, but!

… If you’re going to use buckram covered hoop steel (and I assume this is not an issue with plastic covered hoop steel) MAKE SURE you give yourself a little extra room in your boning channels! Because, you see, the fabrics don’t slide so well against one another.  Dear god, it took so long to shove them through those channels. If you use boning channels, as I did, use the 1/2″ and just sew on the inside edge of the channel sides. If you use bias tape, give yourself some wiggle room- you’ll thank yourself later.

Seriously, all that ruffler foot time I saved, just wasted.

Once you get past the length issue, it’s pretty straightforward. Your boning channel lines should be a gentle arc without much curve at all. I’d use chalk to mark them, and if *I* would use chalk…. well, that says something.

I finished my bustle with a semi-sheer taffeta ruffle from an old skirt, to further soften the lines of a skirt draped over it.   Finished pictures of both the bustle and the petticoat over it:


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