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Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Little Sister's Regency Dress

She asked me for a regency dress. My little sister read an adaption of Pride and Prejudice, after my family watched the movie together, and she told me she would love it if I made a regency dress for her sometime. So, I filed that bit of information away as a future birthday or Christmas present idea. 

Black Friday rolled around and I found myself at Joann's, buying fabric for making Christmas presents, when a pink on pink cotton calico caught my eye and I remembered my little sister's request. 3 yards of that calico came home with me. Christmas morning, my little sister unwrapped her regency dress.

I made this dress using a pattern my grandma used to make a pioneer dress for me, back when I was my sister's age, McCall's M4547 . The fit of this pattern is controlled by drawstrings at the waist and neckline - period correct for the regency era, and perfect for a growing girl. To make the pattern work for a regency dress, rather than a "pioneer dress" I had to make a few minor alterations.  I shortened the bodice a couple inches, so that the waistline hit right under the bust instead of at the natural waist, changed the dimensions of the skirt panels so that the back of the skirt would be more densely gathered than the front, and lengthened the skirt to ankle length rather than mid-calf length. For a little extra growing room, I also added a couple of tucks near the bottom of the skirt. 

Upon opening her dress, my sister immediately ran to change into it for Christmas dinner (so, of course, I wore my regency dress to that afternoon as well), but the dress really got worn a few months later, when my sister needed to dress up as a famous person from history for her homeschool co-op.
I happened to be in Peru when that occasion came around, so my sister had to figure out her costume on her own. She decided to write a paper about, and dress up as, Dolley Madison, the First Lady who saved important papers from the White House when it was burnt during the War of 1812. Thus, my little sister's regency dress was perfect for her costume.

Now, no proper woman in 1812 would be seen without a proper head covering, so my sister needed a regency bonnet of some sort. She did some research and decided to make herself a turban-type hat to complete her costume, using supplies she found in my sewing room; tulle, ribbon, a feather, and some faux grass and leaves. 

She did such a good job making herself this hat that I'm half-afraid I will have lost my job as her primary costumer when I return home in November!

Honestly, I think the best part of having a little sister is getting to share my interests with her: reading, history, sewing, and making costumes. 

What would I do without this girl? 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Story of the Regency Gown

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Alyssa who loved historical clothing and Jane Austen's books. So, of course, she decided to make a regency outfit for herself. She started this outfit rather out of order by making the outermost garment, a green velvet spencer jacket, first. Of course, Alyssa knew that she should have made the foundation layers, the corset, chemise, and petticoats, of her regency outfit first. Thus, after finishing the spencer jacket, she made a regency wrap corset, followed by a bodiced petticoat. Once those items were done, she was ready to make the dress. So, she found the perfect nearly shear, striped white cotton for  only $1.50 a yard at Wal-Mart, sized up a regency drop-front gown pattern from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion I, and started sewing. By hand. Yes, she did have a perfectly useful sewing machine, but she decided to sew this dress by hand, to make it as historically accurate as possible.

As the weeks went by Alyssa kept hand sewing (though she got distracted with other sewing projects occasionally), and eventually a dress began to take shape, until finally one day, months after she began sewing, it was nearly finished! There was only one thing left to do: add two buttons, one to each shoulder, to hold up the front bib section of the dress.

Alyssa selected two white linen-covered buttons from her vast button stash for this particular task. She tried on her dress, figured out exactly where the buttons needed to be, then sewed the buttons in place.

Thus, that day Alyssa finished her regency dress, modeled it for her family, rejoiced that it was finally finished, then proceeded to hang it up in her closet until she had an occasion to wear it.

That occasion came a couple of months later, in the form of her younger sister’s birthday tea party. Alyssa donned on her regency chemise, corset, petticoat, and gown for an afternoon of serving cake, ice cream, hot chocolate, and fruit to a group of young girls dressed up in fashions from the 1770’s through the 1910’s. The birthday tea came off beautifully! Once it was over and all the young ladies had gone home, Alyssa realized she still needed to get some pictures taken of her regency gown. So, with the birthday girl acting as a photographer for the evening, the beauty of the white gown against the deep greens of the plum tree in the front yard was captured on camera.

Once these pictures were taken, Alyssa fully intended to write about the making of her dress, but alas, her attention was instead diverted to another sewing project.

Well, now, 11 months after the pictures were taken, at least 14 months after the dress was completed, and a full year and a half after the dress was begun, Alyssa is in Montenegro, separated from her sewing machine by the Atlantic ocean. So now, finally, not being distracted by other sewing projects, she has found the time to write about the making of this regency dress. Which she not only wore for her sister’s birthday tea, but for Christmas dinner as well. That however, is another story.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Dress I Sewed in Africa

A free afternoon, a hand-crank sewing machine, and a dress that resembles a sack. Put it all together and what do you get? One very happy Alyssa! I had a plan and it worked out better than I expected.

It started with the sewing machine I found at the pastor's house where I'm staying this month. These hand-crank sewing machines are quite popular here in Ghana. When the pastor's wife learned of my love of sewing, she offered me use of her daughter's sewing machine. So, all month I've been looking for an excuse to use it.

The perfect excuse came when I commented on some pretty fabric one of my squad-mates had in her stack of clean laundry. She told me it was a dress she'd been gifted last month, and I was welcome to it if I wanted it. She didn't want it any more. So, I grabbed the pretty "fabric" off the pile and this is what I found.

The creative wheels in my mind started turning, so I took the dress home. About a week later I had a free afternoon, so out came the sewing machine and the scissors.

I cut the dress apart right above the pockets (because of course I had to save those!), and right below the zipper (because I needed that too). The half with the pockets just needed to be gathered up and it would be my new skirt. The other half? Well, it needed some help.

First off, there was a zipper down the center front. So, the center front would become the center back. Second, clearly this "bodice" was way to big for me. To fix that out came the scissors again, along with a great fitting woven shirt I happen to have. 
I used the shirt as my pattern. I laid it out on top of the bodice and traced around it, then cut out my sew bodice. Next I pinned the bodice together and tried it on. It fit, but could use some adjustments. So, I stood in front of the mirror and pinned some darts in place until the fit was perfect. Then I took my new bodice to the sewing machine.

The hand-crank sewing machine proved easy to use as I sewed the darts, side seams, and arm hole facings. It wasn't long before I had a bodice ready to attach to the skirt!
So I gathered up the skirt, sewed it to the bodice and checked to make sure the zipper worked (it did!). After a new hem (done while I watched the new Beauty and the Beast movie with my team) my dress was done!

I wore it to church on Sunday, and the previous owner of the dress was quite impressed.

 I must say I'm pretty impressed too! Despite my lack of a pattern and an electric sewing machine, the dress turned out fabulous! And it was a ton of fun to make.

Now who would have thought I'd figure out a way to make myself a new dress while in Africa? Certainly not me!

* Huge thank yous to my squad-mate for the original dress, the pastor's wife for use of the sewing machine, and Katy Herder for taking pictures for me!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My African Princess Dress

Well, I did it. I bought the fabric, designed the dress, and let someone else sew it.

A couple weeks ago Mable, one of our translators here in Sunyani, Ghana, took a few of us World Racers to a fabric store. It was amazing! So many pretty fabrics to choose from! After admiring everything I left with only two pieces of fabric. . .

Six yards of this red fruit fabric. . .

And six yards of this green and burgundy fabric, covered in trees and flowers and little scrolls that say "dua kur gye enum a obu" (which approximately translates "A tree alone will fall, but if two trees stand together they will remain strong").

I decided to save the red fabric to take home (sometime next year, once I'm reunited with my sewing machine, it will be turned into something) and have the green tree fabric made into a dress.

Once everybody had picked out fabric, Mable took us to her dressmaker's shop. Here we sat down and were handed magazines showing us the latest Ghanaian styles to pick from.

After admiring the outfits in several of the magazines, I finally found exactly what I wanted.

This peplum top, lengthened into dress. I showed the picture to the head dressmaker and explained exactly what I wanted. "This shirt, lengthened into a maxi dress, with pockets." He then sketched out exactly what I described, took my measurements, and told me my dress would be ready in a week.

A week later I returned and tried on my dress. An under-seamstress was on hand to make minor adjustments until the dress fit just right.

I left that evening absolutely thrilled with my new dress, and very excited to wear it to church the following Sunday!

Wearing the dress, with new earrings and my hair all done up by my talented teammate, made me feel like a princess.

Which was fitting as I received quite a few compliments to the effect of, "You look like a princess this morning!"

I had so much fun going fabric shopping, designing, then getting to wear this dress!  And I even have fabric left over from it to take home and turn into something else as well!

As always, If you wanna see what else I've been up to in Ghana, and keep up with me over the next 6 months, check out my World Race blog!

All of the fabulous dress pictures are thanks to my talented teammate Katy Herder

Monday, May 29, 2017

African Easter Dresses

Oh the dresses here in Africa, they're just so fun! Bright colors, bold patterns, and fun designs - I just love them!
These are the styles commonly worn here - so much fun!
My team arrived in West Africa, Cote d'Ivoire to be exact, the week before Easter. We saw the fabulous clothing, fell in love and wanted our own African dresses for Easter. Then we encountered a slight problem. You see here in Africa you don't just go to the store to buy a new outfit. Oh, no. You buy fabric, take it to the seamstress or tailor, and have your new outfit made. This knowledge left me with the desire to go fabric shopping, acquire a sewing machine, and make my entire team new dresses for Easter. Unfortunately that wasn't a practical idea. So, on the Friday before Easter one of our fantastic hosts, named Zebedee, took us to a stand in the market where we could buy slightly less fabulous, but still fun and colorful, pre-made dresses for Easter.

After much hemming and hawing we each picked out a pretty new Easter dress. Then Sunday morning we put them on for Easter Service.

photo credit: Haylee Butler
It was so fun to still get to observe the tradition of new Easter dresses despite the fact we're half way around the world from home!

This has been one of my favorite things to wear ever since I got it! It's quite comfortable in the African heat, has a pocket (yes! I was able to find a dress to buy that already had a pocket!), and makes me feel pretty! Especially when I wear it with a belt to give it some shape.

African Easter dress? Check! It (and the second dress I acquired from a teammate) have been my most worn garments over the past two weeks. They work for sharing the Gospel,

Doing children's ministry,

 Learning how to make traditional African foods,

Visiting with seamstresses,

And catching goats!

Yes! I finally succeeded in catching a baby goat! Now I have a second goal for this month - to go fabric shopping and have a "real" African dress made! (And, you know, buy extra fabric to bring home to sew into dresses myself when I'm re-united with my sewing machine in about 6 months!)

To keep up with what else I'm up to in here in Africa check out my World Race blog!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

My Sister's Much Worn Pink Plaid 1890's Dress

Last August I was in the middle of planning my 1890's dress. I was re-watching Tales of Avonlea for some costuming inspiration, and my sister's birthday was coming up. Due to this combination of things, I really wanted to make my sister an 1890's dress. So, I paid special attention to the tween girls' dresses in Tales of Avonlea and started browsing Pinterest for 12 year old girls' dresses from the 1890's.

1890's silk girls'  dress, Philadelphia Museum of Art
As I looked at dress after dress I began to see that while the materials and trimmings of the dresses varied from cotton, to wool, to silk, most of the dresses were very similar in cut. More gathers toward the back of the skirt, full sleeves, some pleating or gathering on the bodice, maybe a bodice yoke, and typically a high collar.

1890's girl's dress, Wisconsin History Museum
So, I pulled a few patterns out of my stash, mixed them together and adapted them until I had what I wanted, then I went fabric shopping in my stash.

 In my stash I found yards upon yards of pink plaid homespun that I'd picked up at a thrift store once upon a time. Perfect. I sat down one weekend and turned that pink plaid into a lacy, ruffled, 1890's dress for my little sister.

She unwrapped it on her 12th birthday about a week later and was thrilled! She immediately ran to change into it before cake and ice cream! 

Then a week later she wore it for her American Girl Tea Party themed birthday party, where she received a bunch of fun hats as gifts. . .

. . . made flower crowns with her friends. . .

. . . and led her friends in the fun activity of bottle-feeding baby goats and gathering chicken eggs. (what else would you do at a tea party?)

And that was not the last of the activities this dress saw. In September my sister, mom, and I dressed up (all in different eras) to go to the "Walk Back in Time" Festival.

I took this opportunity to wear my fan-front 1840's dress, my mom wore a "prairie dress" she'd made when my sister was a baby (How can that really be over 12 years ago now?), and my sister donned on her birthday dress and the bonnet we'd made her the year before.

Then in November my sister auditioned for the Church Christmas play, set in the 1890's, got a roll, and was delighted to tell the director that she already had a costume! Only one issue, she was playing the part of an old woman and her dress was clearly a girl's dress. 

This was fact was most evident by the short length of the dress. So, since my sister really wanted to wear this dress, I just added an extra ruffle to the hem, making this tea length dress ankle length. 

She looked pretty grown up in it, especially when the gray hairspray was added to complete the outfit.

Thankfully, the gray hairspray wasn't permanent.


Though I think the dress will keep its new longer length, as my sister was pretty darned pleased with it.

Personally, I love how this dress turned out, both in the original length and with the extra ruffle.

I'm incredibly pleased with all the opportunities my sister has had to wear it.

It's just been a lot of fun for my little sister and I to have dresses from the same era! I'm so glad I've got a sister who enjoys dressing up in historical clothing as much as I do!