Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Red Wool Dress

Wool is one of my favorite materials to work with. Yet, until a month or so ago, I never really considered making myself any modern, everyday, clothes out of wool. With the exception of the one pair of pants I made at the beginning of this year (and now wear regularly I might add), I tend to save any wool I acquire for one of two things:
  1. Historical clothing
  2. Coats

That changed this fall when the idea for a modern wool dress entered my mind.



As I may have mentioned, a while back my aunt gifted me a box of wool she picked up at an estate sale. A box full of wool - coat weight wools, dress weight wools, and in between weight wools. Larger yardages, and smaller yardages. Plaid wools and solid colored wools. Blue wools, gray wools, green wools, brown wools, and two yards of dress-weight red wool. Beautiful red wool. Really beautiful red wool. Red wool which needed to become a new winter dress for me.


A new winter dress to wear for the opening night of "A Christmas Carol" - the play my younger siblings are performing in, and I costumed.

So, there's the short version of how this dress came to be, now here's the long version:


As mentioned, I have this box full of wool. After admiring and petting all the different wools in the box multiple times, the thought entered my head that I could make myself a nice winter dress out of a piece of wool - why not?

A red wool dress to wear all winter long, it would be fabulous.


That's how the idea began. I wanted a dress out of that red wool, I just had to figure out what it would look like.

Now, I had only two yards of the red wool, which is enough for a dress, but not a crazy elaborate dress. Of course, the only designs I had in mind fell on the elaborate side of the scale, not the "two yards of fabric" side of the scale. Thus, the next time Joann's had a pattern sale, I went in and looked through the pattern book, hoping some fabric conservative dress design would catch my eye.


Inspiration struck when I came across Simplicity 8543. The curved waistband and sleeve flounces appealed to me - as did the fact this was a "perfect fit" pattern, meaning in included different bodice front pattern pieces for B, C, D, and even DD size cups.
What didn't appeal to me was the straight skirt, but I knew that would be an easy problem to fix!


So, I bought the pattern, brought it home, and there it sat, waiting to be used while I continued to work on Christmas Carol costumes. Would my red wool dress be done for me to wear opening night of the play? I didn't know. What I did know was all the costumes needed to be done by opening night, so my red wool dress would have to wait.


And, with Christmas right around the corner, and Christmas gifts to be made, the red wool dress might have waited indefinitely (even after I finished the costumes), had it not been for a post I happened to see on Facebook. A post mentioning the Little Red Dress Challenge - hosted by The Twilight Stitcher and Rosabella Angelica.


The point of this challenge? Make yourself a new red dress for the Christmas season and share it on instagram the week of December 1-9 using the hashtag #thelittlereddressproject. This was just the push I needed to actually make my red dress. The timing was perfect. The challenge ran from the first through the ninth, and opening night of A Christmas Carol happened to be the seventh. I had my fabric. I had my design. I would have my new red wool dress to wear opening night and share as part of the challenge. It was happening.


Once the play costumes themselves were done, I took a break to cut out my dress before beginning Christmas presents. I cut out bodice view B - the option with the flounced sleeves, then I took the rest of the fabric I had and squeezed a 6-panel, 3/4 circle skirt out of it - using the skirt pattern I drafted for this dress (also made from only 2 yards of fabric). Circle skirts are usually great fabric hogs, but this knee-length paneled skirt can actually be squeezed out of a relatively small amount of fabric!


Then I cut the dress lining out of a cotton/poly blend lawn I keep on hand for dress linings- it's lightweight, soft, and slippery. A bit of a pain to work with, but perfect for dress linings and much nicer than the all polyester lining fabric from Joann's.


Once both wool and lining were cut out, I quickly sewed up the bodice lining to check fit prior to sewing my wool. I tried the lining on, discovered a couple minor fitting changes I needed to make, and decided to add underarm gussets for a better range of motion in the sleeves. I implemented these changes and sewed up the dress.


Then I had to decide how I wanted to hem the skirt and the sleeve flounces. Turn up twice and stitch? face with bias tape? I was leaning toward the bias facing option when I remembered I had some silk crepe that exactly matched the color of the wool. I'd ordered it online for another project - and when it came it turned out to not be the right color for that project at all - it was much too bright of a red. However, the way it matched my red dress wool? Amazing! I couldn't have planned a match that great!


So clearly, I had to use the beautifully matching silk for something on my dress. Thus, I decided to bind the hems with bias strips of red silk.


The matching color and mixture of textures is absolutely fabulous!


Finally, to tie the whole look together, I also made a matching red silk belt, using a vintage covered belt kit, acquired at a thrift store several weeks ago.


I carefully followed the instructions on the back of the package for covering the belt and buckle, and was surprised by how easily it came together. And the finished result was just what I'd hoped it would be!


The silk bound hems and covered belt were just the finishing touches this dress needed!


My red wool dress was done in time to wear opening night, so wear it I did!


The play came off beautifully and Mr. Scrooge and Mrs. Fezziwig performed admirably! Two more performances to go, then I'll share a bit about the costume pieces I've made for this show and not yet blogged - such as Mrs. Fezziwig's wrapper and Scrooge's fabulous dressing gown! (and maybe even Marley's chain coat!)


Tonight, I'm going to go enjoy the play again (and hope no costuming emergencies arise!), and since I wore my new red wool dress last night, I'll be wearing my green silk circle skirt outfit tonight. Between this dress, and that outfit, I'd say I'm pretty well covered as far as festive winter clothes go!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - Finished!

I mentioned it in my last blog post, but just in case you missed it - It's done!!


My 1865 Pink and Lace ball gown, the project I've been dreaming about for years, and working on for over a month, is now actually, truly, really, done!


You know, it's a strange feeling when a project this big is finally, actually done. There's a feeling of excitement, yes, but also a bit of a feeling of let down.


After spending hours upon hours working on a project, it's suddenly done. Complete. Finished. The fun of making it is over. And you don't know what to do with yourself anymore. The ball gown no longer needs to be worked on. Weird feeling.


Ok, so actually I do know what I should be doing now - working on Christmas presents - but still, having completed this ball gown, having it done, is a very strange feeling!


And isn't the finished gown beautiful!! It turned out just as I'd hoped - and my sister more than does it justice!


Here's a painting of the original ball gown, worn by the original owner - Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyl.

I showed this picture to my sister when she was trying to decide what jewelry she would wear with the dress for the play (less than a week away now!). She took note of the jewelry Wilhelmina wore, then she and my mom went off to Hobby Lobby and found a similar brooch and necklace to compliment the gown.


A little bit of bling - the perfect finishing touch!


A day or two after the dress was finished and the jewelry was acquired, it snowed. A thick, beautiful, white, covers-everything-in-sight, snow. My sister and I decided it was the perfect backdrop for a few quick photos of the dress.


So, my sister dressed up and we trooped outside to freeze and snap some pictures. It was worth it. Despite the cold.


This dress spins beautifully! I love the way the lace flares straight out when spinning!


I can't wait to see my sister dance in it on stage this weekend!


The lines are all memorized, the costumes are all done (barring any last minute alterations), and A Christmas Carol is ready to be performed!


Just like this dress, it's been fun for me to see the play come together bit by bit over the last few months.


And I know, that just like with this dress, once it's all over Saturday night, there will be a lot of excitement, and a bit of let down. What next?


What next?


Now,  just in case you've missed any of my previous posts about this dress and have any questions on how it came to be:

You can find my introduction to the project here.

Discover how I tracked down the original ball gown here.

Read about the bodice construction here.

Learn about the bertha here.

And see the skirt come together here.

Friday, November 30, 2018

1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - The Skirt

The skirt. The ball gown skirt. It's huge, and pleated, and poofy, and lacy, and pretty. And it's done!


The skirt is made up of three straight panels of 50" wide fabric, pleated into a waistband and finished at the bottom with a wide hem facing.


By 1865 skirts could be cut one of two ways - all straight panels all the way around (Each panel is the same width at the top and bottom.), or with gored panels (Cut wider at the bottom and narrower at the top for less bulk at the waistline and more volume at the hem.). 
The 1864 ball gown in Patterns of Fashion II by Janet Arnold, which I referenced for bodice construction details, has a gored skirt. However, I knew that did not necessarily mean the 1865 ball gown I was recreating also had a gored skirt. I decided to read through the museum database description of the dress yet again to see if the cut of the skirt was referenced at all.

I was in luck! The (translated from Swedish) description read "Skirt: Consisting of eight straight lengths, seams machine sewn". My dream ball gown's skirt was cut with straight panels, so my reproduction would be cut the same.

In the 1860's fabric widths were narrower than they are today, thus the reason the original dress' skirt was comprised of eight panels to get the necessary fullness. After looking at the skirt dimensions (also shared in the museum database's description), I determined, due to the width of the fabric I was using, my skirt only needed to be comprised of three straight cut panels.

So, after determining how long the skirt would need to be to go over the hoop skirt and reach the floor, I cut three panels of fabric, and seamed together the selvedges.


This gave me one big loop of fabric, which I then hemmed with an extra deep (probably deeper than it needed to be) hem facing of green and white polished cotton. (I actually have about 6 yards of this polished cotton, so you can expect to see it used for an awful lot of hem facings in the coming years.)


Once the fabric "loop" that would become my skirt was hemmed, it was time to adjust the skirt to the exact length it needed to be. To do this, I measured up from the hem and marked the correct length at the top of the skirt. (1860's skirt length was adjusted from the waist, not the hem.) 44" in the front, and slightly longer in the back.


Once the length was marked all the way around, I folded the excess fabric at the top down to the inside of the skirt and pressed that top fold in place.


Then I threw the gigantic loop of fabric on my dress form, over the hoop skirt. (I stuck my dress form on top of the dining room table at this point to (hopefully) keep the skirt free of dog hair, which quickly accumulates on the floor despite regular sweeping.) It was time to begin pleating.


Yet again, I examined the pictures of the original dress to figure out the exact pleat arrangement. Then I did my best to replicate it. There are 8 box pleats in total around the top of the skirt. At the center front these are single pleats. All the other pleats are double pleats.


Once the skirt was pleated, I whip stitched it onto the waistband.


The black cat (Susie Q) "helped" by laying on top of the skirt in my lap the whole time.


Once the skirt was attached to the waistband, my sister tried it on over the corset and hoop skirt just to make sure it fit properly. It did! (Since the finished dress will more or less be shared by my sister and I, half the fittings during construction were done on her, and half on me. I am pleased to say the finished dress fits us both - just as intended!!)

Now it was time to add the crowning glory of the whole dress - the lace swags - to the skirt!


 Back onto the dress form on the table the skirt went, and out came the lace.


First, I trimmed the excess netting off the scalloped border of the lace.


Then I folded the lace in half lengthwise, lining up the borders, figured out how deep I wanted the lace to be, and cut the folded edge off. This gave me two strips of lace with a border on one edge.


I overlapped the ends of the strips of lace, lined up the motiefs, and top stitched the ends together using clear/invisible thread on the sewing machine. 

Yes, clear plastic thread is in no way, shape, or form, historically accurate, but neither is sequined lace. With this dress I'm aiming more for "correct overall look and construction", not "perfectly historically accurate materials". Perfectly historically accurate materials were way out of my price range for this project.

Once the ends were sewn together, I had a 6 yard "loop" of lace (made from 3 yards of double-bordered lace), ready to attach to the skirt. 



I marked the "quarter points" of the lace, and pinned those to the "quarter points" of the skirt, inbetween the box pleats, about 20" up from the hem.


Then I went around and pinned the "eighth points" of the lace to the "eighth points" of the skirt - between the remaining box pleats.


Finally, I tacked all the points with a few small stitches, and I was ready to make the last part of the skirt - the bows!


For the bows, I cut eight 20" long, 6" wide strips of moire. Then I did little hand-rolled hems at the top and bottom of each strip. Next, I fringed the ends by pulling out about a centimeter's worth of weft threads. 


The hemming and fringing was tedious and took a while.


Once that was done, I folded each strip into a bow shape and tightly wrapped a 1" wide strip of moire around the middle of the "bow".


Finally, I sewed the bows onto the skirt where the lace was tacked in place, and the skirt was done. 


Not only was the skirt done, the whole dress was done!


This pink and lace ball gown, that I'd been dreaming of making for years, was finally, actually, amazingly, done!!


All done, and ready for my sister to wear on stage as Mrs. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol next weekend!