Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Turning a Button Down Shirt into a Button Down Skirt

In my first two days home from Uganda, I completed a sewing project, from start to finish, each day. I think I may have missed my sewing machine while I was gone, so now I must make up for it.

On Instagram lately I've noticed an awful lot of gathered, button-fronted, skirts. I think like three different PDF pattern companies have recently released such a skirt pattern. The more I've seen of these skirts, the more the style has grown on me. 

A couple weeks ago I wore this dress I made out of men's button down shirts during The Refashioners series a few years back. A day or two after that I wore this tunic I made from a button down shirt at the same time. These garments got me thinking about how much fun refashioning shirts had been, and how I really ought to do more refashioning. 

Then I remembered a very large men's cambric button down which I had in my fabric stash, obtained from a thrift store by my mother, who thought I might like the fabric, over a year ago. Suddenly, I knew what that shirt was going to become - a gathered button up skirt like all those I'd been seeing on Instagram!

I have no idea what I'm doing with my hand here, but the picture shows off the skirt beautifully!

Thus, after letting the idea stew in the back of my mind for over two weeks, I decided to actually make it happen this past Sunday afternoon.

Out came the 4XL, long sleeve, blue cambric, button down from my refashion bin.

To begin, I carefully seam ripped the back yoke, and only the yoke, off of the rest of the shirt. The remainder of the back of the shirt would be the back of my skirt.

Next, I used the back of the shirt, newly freed from the yoke, as a guide to figure out where I would need to cut the front of the shirt to be the same length as the back of the shirt.

I then cut the front of the shirt straight across from button placket to sleeve seam, on either side, but I was careful not to cut into the sleeve. I seam ripped the sleeve off of the shoulder section I'd just cut off the shirt.

This more or less gave me a large rectangle of fabric with sleeves attached. 

I pushed the sleeves to the inside (wrong side?) of the rectangle-ish thing. They would become my skirt pockets.

I cut the sleeves off at what I considered a respectable pocket depth. (Though in hindsight, I could have made them a few inches longer.)

Then I sewed up the bottom of the newly cut sleeves turned pockets with french seams.

Pockets finished, I gathered up the top edge of the front and back of the skirt. I did not gather the top of the pocket section, as I figured the pockets themselves would add enough volume at the hips. I did not need to add more by gathering it.

Finally, I cut the yoke and yoke lining into the widest possible strips I could, and pieced those together, end to end, to make a strip of cloth long enough for a waistband.

I cut the waistband to the right length, interfaced it, then attached it to the skirt.

I sewed two button holes in the waistband, and used the buttons I'd pulled off the sleeve cuffs to finish it off. 

The skirt was done! And it was everything I'd wanted!

Moderately full and gathered for easy movement.

Tea length so I don't have to worry about any wardrobe malfunctions while chasing after children or animals.

Fabulously large pockets for storing all manner of things! Plus an extra pocket in the form of the original shirt pocket I didn't bother to remove. 

The only issue I found with the skirt upon completion was I'd apparently over estimated the length for the waistband. It was a tad loose. I fixed this by inserting a length of elastic into the back of the waistband only.

The elastic isn't tight enough to really gather up the back of the waistband and make it noticeable when worn, just tight enough to hold the waistband snug against the body, keeping the skirt from slipping down.

Now the skirt fits perfectly! I wore it yesterday, my first day back to work after my trip to Uganda, and the longer I wore it the more I liked it.

This is a super-duper comfortable skirt. 

Since I started with a shirt, the "hard parts" of the construction, the curved hem and button placket, were already done, so this skirt only took about two and a half hours to make. (Future versions could probably be made quicker, since I now know exactly how to make this skirt!)

The denim-like color is extremely versatile and will go with a large variety of the shirts in my closet.

For these pictures that I had my sister snap Sunday evening, I paired it with a scoop-neck t-shirt I made a couple weeks ago using the Winter Wear Designs Banded Tee Pattern

I hacked the pattern to have short, slightly puffed, sleeves, and I think the resulting top is a wonderful addition to my wardrobe. As is this button front, gathered skirt.

I really should play with refashioning more regularly - it often leads to excellent results!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Speedy Quick, Pale Pink, Linen Regency Shift

Yesterday afternoon was my sister's Pride and Prejudice themed birthday party. It was a lovely event.

Friday night, I arrived home after spending a week in Uganda. The decision to take that trip was made about a month before I left, so it was somewhat sudden compared to other trips I've taken. Before too long I'll try to write a blog post about the trip, but that's not what this is.

Knowing before I left that my sister's birthday party was going to take place less than 24 hours after I got back, I desperately tried to finish all the small regency era projects I had planned to accessorize my dress with before I left the country.There would be no sewing time once I got back.

Well, I almost met that goal. My turban cap was finished well in advance (as in, before the trip to Uganda was even finalized) The chemisette I chose to make was finished about a week before I left. The sleeveless spencer jacket thingy? That was partially sewn together by machine before I left, then taken with me and finished by hand on the trip. So far so good.

There was only one thing I was lacking when it came to getting dressed for this party. A very important layer - a shift. The undermost layer. The layer that's completely unseen beneath everything else. The layer which allows one to comfortably wear stays or a corset and protects one's dress from sweat and dirt on the skin. Not a layer which can be skipped.

Of course, at one point in time, I did have a shift which worked with my regency dress, but it seems to have disappeared. I've searched and searched yet have been unable to find it for months now! My Victorian chemises are easily found where they belong, but those have the wrong necklines to work under my regency dress. Likewise, my 18th century shift is right where it should be, but that has too much fabric in the sleeves to work with my regency dress. Thus, a new shift was definitely in order - and I knew this well in advance of both the party and my trip to Uganda, but I did not get around to sewing such a garment before I left the country.

What I did do however was order fabric for at least 3 different shifts/smocks/chemises - the necessary regency shift, a renaissance smock, and one more such undergarment from an undetermined era. That's right, at the end of July I ordered 6 yards of beautiful white lightweight linen. After wearing my 18th century shift, I've discovered linen undergarment are way more comfortable than cotton, so that's the material I plan on making all my shifts/smocks/chemises from here on out.

Upon receiving my 6 yards of pristine white linen in the mail, I pre-washed it with a bunch of petticoats which needed laundering. Unfortunately, my red 18th century petticoat wound up in that load of laundry with all the white petticoats and white linen. When I went to transfer the load of laundry to the dryer, my brand new, beautifully white, linen was no longer white. It was very, very pink. I may have shrieked. I removed the offending red petticoat from the washer, glared at at, got mad at myself for making this mistake, then rushed off into town to buy whatever dye removal and laundry whitening agents I could find. Two days, 4 trips through the washer, and one long soak in oxiclean later, my linen was nearly white again. It's still ever so slightly pink, but I decided it was good enough, so I went ahead and dried it and rolled it on a bolt, ready for undergarment making.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. After a nights sleep in my own bed, in my home country, for the first time in over a week, I enjoyed a cup of not instant coffee, talked to my family for a bit, then pulled out my bolt of pale pink linen and went to work making a shift as fast as I possibly could.

While my sister baked cupcakes for the party, I cut my shift according to the diagram in Costume Close Up. 

While my parents cleaned up the dinning room for the party, I went to my sewing machine with the collection of linen rectangles, triangles, and squares the shift would consist of, and began assembling it as fast as I possibly could with machine-sewn, flat-felled, seams.

Two hours later, my shift was hemmed and done! I went to finishing the preparations for the party craft as my sister's guests began to arrive and get dressed in the regency dresses we had available for them to borrow.

As the girls began to enjoy their tea, I disappeared to get myself dressed for the party.

On went the new shift. It fit beautifully!

This is the quickest shift or chemise I've ever made, and it's the best fitting shift or chemise I've ever made!

The pieces are all cut exactly according to the diagram in costume close up, with the exception of the sleeves, which I made a couple inches wider to fit my arms (I measured my bicep, then added an inch for wearing ease to figure out how wide to cut the sleeve), and a bit shorter to fit under the sleeves of my regency dress.

I'm honestly amazed by how well-fitting and comfortable this shift is! All my others have felt slightly "off" somehow, either too loose, or a bit too tight somewhere - but this one is perfect! It's so comfortable, I actually wore it as a night gown last night. I'll be using this pattern again! 

Over the shift I wore my pink corset (My regency corset was unbearably uncomfortable when I put it on for some reason, so, last minute I opted to wear the old Victorian corset instead. It has very similar bust gores to a regency corset, so I was hopeful it would hold my bust up at the right level for my regency dress - thankfully it did! And was very comfortable. Though I may need to actually make myself a new regency corset sometime soon.), my bodiced petticoat, my regency dress, and all the new accessories.

The birthday party came off splendidly! I helped my sister organize the different activities, and the girls all seemed to have fun!

One of these days, I'll share about the activities we did, my sister's dress she made herself, and finish blogging the accessories I made myself, but for now I'll leave you with the Historical Sew Monthly details on my speedy quick, super comfortable, brand new, regency shift:

Challenge #9: Everyday
What the item is: A Shift

How it fits the challenge: This is as everyday as it gets! Shifts were worn everyday, the first layer worn under all other clothes.
Material: Linen
Pattern: I based this off the diagram in Costume Close Up, and used those dimensions to cut my panels, gores, and gussets. I shortened the sleeves however as that pattern is for a slightly earlier era shift than I was going for.
Year: This will work from the mid 1790's through the 1840's.
Notions: Thread
How historically accurate is it? The material, linen, is accurate, though modern linen is a bit different than what they had back then. The pattern is accurate. It's constructed entirely with flat felled seams, which is accurate. However, it's entirely machine sewn, because I needed it in a hurry! So, 85% I think.
Hours to complete:About 2 hours sewing, 1/2 hour cutting out and getting the pattern from the book.
First worn: Today! 9/14/19, under my regency dress for my sister's Pride and Prejudice themed birthday party. I made it in a hurry this morning because my previous regency shift was no where to be found!
Total cost: the linen was $8.50 a yard and I used less than 2 yards, so around $15

Monday, September 2, 2019

Making the 1840's Black Wool Dress With a Complicated Skirt

I thought the skirt of my 1840's black wool dress was going to be the easy part. A large tube of fabric, cartridge pleated at the top, finished with a hem facing at the bottom, whip stitched to the bottom edge of the bodice. That's how I've made my previous skirts from this era. Easy.

However, with this project, when it came time to put together the skirt I decided to reference some of my costuming books rather than just make the skirt the way I've always done it. If I'd wanted this skirt to be done in the easy familiar way, pulling out my books was a mistake. These books quickly complicated matters.

Referencing Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold I discovered the early 1840's dress featured had a fully lined skirt. As I've not lined my 1840's skirts before this surprised me. Were all/most skirts of the era lined, or was this one unique in that way? To answer this new question I pulled out The Cut of Women's Clothes by Nora Waugh and Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield. After reading descriptions in each and looking at sketches in Costume in Detail, I discovered, indeed, most 1840's skirts were lined. With this new knowledge, I couldn't justify not attempting to line my skirt.

Knowledge in hand, actually constructing the skirt began. From my books, I knew the average skirt in the 1840's measured about 127" all the way around at the hem (Thankfully, I got this close to right at least on my previous dresses). My black wool was a full 60" wide from selvage to selvage. I decided to make my skirt from two widths of fabric, using the selvages as my side seams, for a finished hem measurement of about 118" once sewn together with 1/2" seam allowances. I figured 9" of width or so wasn't going to make a huge difference in how the finished skirt looked and wore. 

Once I knew what my skirt measurement was going to be and cut my black wool skirt panels, I constructed a lining to match out of the same striped polished cotton I used to line my bodice.

I pieced together the lining from just about all the striped polished cotton I had left. I sewed it together on the sewing machine, despite the fact the rest of the dress was hand sewn. I was already skeptical about this whole skirt lining thing and the amount of extra work and time it was going to require, so I was not going to hand sew it. I do not regret this decision in the slightest.

Once the lining was pieced together, I laid the black wool out on top of it to make sure the two layers matched exactly in size. They did not. Somehow, I'd made the lining about 8" too short. Dang. All I had left of the polished cotton were scraps. So, to fix the lining, I pieced together all those little scraps until the lining was the same size as the wool.

This was an evening's worth of work. And once it was done, well, I was very glad it was done! My skirt lining is very, ahhh, visually interesting.

With the skirt lining finally the same dimensions as the skirt itself, there was still one more thing I needed to do before I was ready to attach the two layers to each other. The early 1840's dress in Patterns of Fashion 1 had a rectangle of cotton wadding tacked to the lining in the back of the skirt for a little extra oomph. Since I was already lining the skirt I decided I might as well go all out and pad the back of it as well. So I picked up some thin cotton quilt batting on sale at Joann's, cut a rectangle of it the same dimensions as the one from the Janet Arnold pattern I was referencing, and tacked it to the inside of the back lining with some very large pad stitches.

Once that was done, the skirt and skirt lining were finally ready to be attached to each other. I pressed in 1/2 at the top and bottom of both the skirt and the lining then put the lining inside the wool, wrong sides together, and slip stitched the top.

The two layers were also to be slip stitched together at the hem - but there was one more detail to be added. More batting!

My reference dress had a 1" padded hem. Thus, continuing with my "let's make this skirt as complicated as possible" theme, I decided to do the same. I stitched a strip of cotton batting, a bit wider than 1" because I didn't bother to measure carefully, to both the lining and the wool at the bottom of my skirt.

Once securely whip-stitched in place, the padded section was then folded up for the hem. No hem facing in this dress.

After lining, padding, and hemming my skirt panels, I was down to the final step before cartridge pleating and stitching the skirt to the bodice - adding pockets! When I sewed up the side seams on the black wool, I left openings for the pockets. When I put the lining in the skirt, I cut slashes in the lining to match up with my pocket openings, turned the edges under, and whip stitched the lining to the wool.

Referencing my books, it appeared dresses in the 1840's generally had pocket slits in the side seams and were worn over separate pockets tied around the waist like those in the 18th century. Personally, however, I wanted permanent pockets in the dress itself. Thus, I decided to do a kind of hybrid between separate pockets and my standard inseam pockets.

I made a set of pockets, shaped somewhat, but not entirely, like those from the 18th century out of a very historically inaccurate black and tan floral batik. I completely machine sewed these so they really have no claims to historically accuracy what-so-ever, but they do the job!

I lined up the opening on the pocket itself with the pocket slits in the side seams of my skirt, then stitched the top of the pocket bag to the top of the skirt. I did not stitch together the openings at all.

On the finished dress, the pockets hang freely inside the skirt. This isn't exactly convenient as the pockets don't always lay perfectly aligned with the slits, so I may go back later and stitch together the pocket opening and the slit in the skirt. The whole pocket system was rather experimental, and I definitely think it was worth a try, even though I'm not thrilled with it as is.

Though the fact I can pull my pockets through the slits to the outside of the skirt is kind of cool!

Pockets added, it was finally time to actually set the skirt! To regulate the length of my skirt, I had my mom help me try a method I've read about in several different sources. (Can I remember what those sources are right at this moment? no.)

I put on the bodice and then we tied the skirt around my waist with a piece of string. We tugged and shifted the skirt until the center front of the skirt and the center front of the bodice matched up, the side seams matched up, and the center backs matched up.

Then we made sure the string holding the skirt around my waist was perfectly aligned with the bottom of the bodice and pulled and tugged some more until the hem was level on the ground all the way around.

Once that was done, my mom took a piece of chalk and marked on the skirt where the string was all the way around. This would show me where I needed to fold down the top of the skirt for cartridge pleating.

Once the skirt was untied from me, I pressed down the upper edge along the chalk marking and I was finally ready to cartridge pleat the skirt and attach it to the bodice! The end was in sight!

I figured it would take a couple hours to cartridge pleat the skirt and whip stitch it to the bodice, but it actually took an entire day.

It turns out it takes considerably longer to cartridge pleat a lined and padded skirt than it does to cartridge pleat a single layer skirt. 

I set myself up on the back porch with curtains tied up for shade and my lap top set up so I could binge watch The Crown on Netflix, and sewed the day away.

Sewing, sewing, sewing! I was very tankful for my thimble! The wool, polished cotton, and cotton batting were a lot to sew through!

Finally though, after two months of work - it was done!

I finished it just in time for the 52 week sewing challenge "Hand Sew Something" week! So that worked out well!

I'd meant to finish this dress for the Historical Sew Monthly June Challenge, "Favorite Technique" because I do love piping and cartridge pleating, but clearly that didn't happen.

So then I thought I'd finish it for July's "Unexpected Feature" challenge, as I'd call the striped lining, lined and padded skirt, and floral pockets, "Unexpected", but that didn't happen as it was August before I had the skirt attached to the bodice.

This dress doesn't really fit either the August, or September challenges, so now I plan to use it for the October challenge - "Details". This dress really does have a lot of little details in it!

"Wait a moment, Alyssa", you might be thinking. Wasn't this dress done a bit too early to qualify for the October challenge. Yes, that would be accurate. To qualify for a HSM challenge, the item must be finished no more than one month in advance of the challenge opening. So for the October challenge,  the item can't be finished before September 1st. As is, this dress was "finished" the first week of August. But, after wearing it for pictures, I've discovered a few things I need to fix.

Currently the sleeves are uncomfortably tight in the forearms. Before I wear this dress for an extended amount of time, I've got to let those out!

As I'd like to wear this dress for a couple different occasions in October, that alteration will need to be made in either September or October - and then it will definitely qualify for the October challenge!

For the moment, however, this dress is getting set aside. I have other projects I need to get done for things I'm doing in September - And, after all the complications I added to this skirt, I think I need a break from black wool!

That said, the more I look at this dress, the more I like it! It is beautifully, fantastically, quintessentially, 1840's gothic. A dress perfectly suited to Jane Eyre!