Tuesday, February 18, 2020

My Sister's Elegant Pink Velvet Gown

Last night my little sister dressed up and went out with her home school co-op friends to have a formal dinner and see Swan Lake. She looked like a princess when she left the house for the evening. Her hair was done up, make-up was tastefully done, on her feet were sparkly high heels, and she wore her velvet Christmas dress with its matching floral velvet cape.

This pink velvet Christmas dress was of my sister's own design. I took her instructions and followed them.

About a year ago, I tested the Bloesem Dress pattern, by The Eli Monster, and made it up for my sister.

The Bloesem Dress is one of the most detailed knit dress patterns I've come across, and I was very impressed with it when I put it together for my sister during testing.

Pretty and comfortable, this dress quickly became one of my sister's favorites.

Thus, when it came time to discuss her Christmas dress, my sister requested it be made from this pattern - out of stretch velvet, and with a few minor alterations.

She wanted it floor-length and sleeveless. I tried to talk her out of this as it seemed impractical to me, but she was insistent so I followed her instructions - and the result is beautiful and elegant. Just the way she envisioned it.

I was at Joann's a few weeks before Christmas and found stretch velvet to be on sale, so I texted my sister and asked what color she wanted for her dress. There wasn't enough velvet left on the bolt of her first color choice, so I sent her pictures of all the options to choose from. After some back and forth, she decided on the pink velvet - but there was another fabric which caught her eye as well from the pictures I had sent.

She fell in love with a gold floral patterned stretch velvet - but she didn't want her whole dress to be made from it. No, she wanted her dress out of the pink, but asked if the gold could be used to make a a little cape to be worn with the dress. I said "maybe" and found myself buying both the pink velvet and one yard of the gold to take home to my sister.

So yes, the cape was happening.

For the little cape I used my go-to cape pattern - the Frozen one, McCall's 7000. I cut out just the shoulder cape portion of Anna's cloak, altering it to have a point at the back to match the pointed back waistline of the dress.

The cape is lined in a thin pink knit from my stash and the neckline is finished off with a binding rather than a collar.

The cape is finished off with a white frog closure, left over from my sister's last Christmas dress.

The cape was a quick and easy project - and the perfect finishing touch for this velvet Christmas outfit! 

As for the dress, I can't say it was a super quick make, thanks to the level of detail in this pattern, but it only took an evening or two to put together, so it wasn't too bad.

To make sure I cut the skirt panels the right length, I had my sister put on the blue dress I made her from this pattern and measured from the hem to the floor. I took note of the measurement and added that much to the bottom of all the skirt panels.

This made the skirt the perfect length! It goes all the way to the floor when worn with flats, and is slightly off the ground, to show off fabulous shoes, when worn with heals.

To make the dress sleeveless, I literally just left off the sleeves. The bodice is fully lined, so the arm holes were easily finished, no problem!

In hind sight, however, I probably should have raised the arm hole about half an inch, as it is almost too low for modesty as-is.

To finish off the sleeveless look, my sister requested the shoulder straps be gathered up, which I did by hand with several strands of strong thread, once the rest of the dress was done.

As a finishing touch, the neckline of the dress fastens with a fancy lone button, found in my stash. The button-loop is made from white elastic cord for easy fastening.

As a final embellishment, the bottom of the key-hole opening is ornamented with tiny faux pearl buttons, also found in my stash.

The finished dress is just what my sister wanted it to be!

She wore it proudly to our family Christmas gathering in December, and not being overly Christmasy, it was the ideal, amazingly comfortable, semi-formal dress for last night's dinner and ballet.

She tells me it was highly complimented at the event, so what more could a designer (her) and a personal seamstress (me) ask for?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

From the 1980's to the 1770's - The Red Wool Petticoat

I really wanted a red wool 1770's petticoat. Why? I'll go into that later. (Probably in a future post once I finish the rest of the outfit.) The important thing in this post is that I wanted a red wool petticoat. I have multiple cuts of red wool in my stash, so this shouldn't have been a problem. Grab a piece of fabric, cut a couple panels, sew up side seams, hem, pleat to waistband, done.

Of course, it wound up not being that simple. Like I said, I had multiple cuts of red wool in my fabric stash, however, not a single one was long enough to make a petticoat from. I need a minimum of 2 yards of 54" or 60" wide fabric to make an 18th century petticoat from, and all my cuts of red wool were between 1 and 1 1/2 yards long. Not quite enough to make a petticoat from. And they were all very different shades of red so combining two different pieces to make a petticoat wasn't an option. Improvisation was going to be required for this project.

At first I was tempted to just order two yards of new red wool fabric and be done with it. Then I decided that would be wasteful. As I did have red wool already in my stash, I needed to find a way to use what I already had.

So I went through my red wool yet again, trying to decide the best way to manage this. I decided my best option was going to be refashioning a pleated red wool skirt (which I picked up at either an estate sale or a thrift store at some point in time).

After some measuring I discovered the skirt had a 120" hem circumference, as it was comprised of two 60" wide panels of fabric, pleated into a waistband, with a side seam zipper. The skirt was about 30" long, so too short for a petticoat, but it did have a decently deep hem, which would help make up some of the missing length.

I began by disassembling the skirt with my seam ripper, ironed all the pieces flat, then  set about figuring out how to add length. I decided I could safely make my front and back panels a bit narrower than their current 60", so I started by trimming a 4" wide strip off the edge the panels. (I trimmed this off of the left hand side of the panels, because that edge already had some cuts into it, thanks to the way the zipper had been inserted.)

These strips of fabric would be pieced together and added to the bottom of the front panel of the petticoat.

For lengthening the back of the petticoat, I found a scrap of wool flannel the exact same shade of red as the skirt I was using. It was a slightly lighter weight fabric, with a different sheen than the skirt wool, but as it was the same exact color, I decided I would make it work.

I cut 4" wide strips from the flannel scrap, pieced them together, and sewed them to the top of the back panel.

The intention is to wear this petticoat with a jacket, which will cover the top of the back of the petticoat. Thus, when the full outfit is worn, this slightly different material pieced onto the back of the petticoat probably won't be seen.

The finished petticoat is completely hand sewn. I worked on the piecing during a mini road trip with my friends back in December, and on my trip to Uganda in January.

I sewed up the side seams with a mantua maker's seam and hemmed the petticoat on my family's trip to Florida.

After returning home from all my January travels, I pleated the top edge of the petticoat, bound it in a strip of wool (harvested from the original skirt's waistband, and added twill tape ties.

And with that the petticoat was done.

It could be argued this petticoat is still a bit on the short side, but I think it's long enough to work - and I'm thrilled that I was actually able to use my fabric stash to make it!

This petticoat is my first project for Historical Sew Monthly 2020 - Time Travel: Create a garment that works for more than one historical era.

Yes, I made this petticoat specifically for a 1770's ensemble I have planned, but red wool petticoats were also a common thing in the Victorian era, worn as an under layer for warmth, so this garment can time travel quite easily.

What the item is: Red Wool Petticoat
How it fits the challenge: I made this petticoat for a 1770's outfit, but red flannel petticoats are also mentioned throughout the 19th century so I can wear this for 18th century stuff and as a warmth layer underneath my Victorian things. Plus, as a bonus, this red wool came to me in the form of a 1980's wool skirt, which I disassembled and pieced together to make this petticoat, meaning the skirt "time traveled" from the 1980's to the 1770's.
Material: Red wool flannel, harvest from a thrifted skirt.
Pattern: None, just two rectangles pleated onto tapes.
Year: 1770's officially, but it will work for most of the 18th Century and as an under layer in the 19th century.
Notions: Twill tape and thread.
How historically accurate is it? It's all hand sewn using mostly accurate materials (with the exception of the polyester thread), and piecing is accurate, so probably about 90%
Hours to complete: I did it a little at a time as I had time while traveling, so I'm really not sure, but would guess 10 - 12. The piecing took a while!
First worn: Just for pictures 2/1/2020
Total cost: The skirt I used for fabric was $4 at an estate sale. the twill tape was $1.50, for the spool and I only used half a spool. The thread was stash. So approximately $5 total.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Design-it-as-You-Go Dress of Blue Striped Taffeta and Navy Crepe

I had approximately a day and a half at home between my trip to Uganda and my family's trip to Florida. During this time, I sewed. No surprise there, it's me we're talking about.

When I arrived home Tuesday afternoon, I had a vague idea of possibly making myself a dress to wear to my cousin's wedding. However, it didn't take me long to abandon that idea. I decided I didn't need the pressure of making a new dress for a specific event (while jet lagged) when I had a closet full of perfectly good dresses which would work for the wedding.

Thus, I pulled this dress out of my closet, ironed it, and packed it for the wedding. That done, I went to the sewing room just to have fun. I went with no specific plan in mind, except that I wanted to make a dress. Not a dress I'd been planning for months, where the fabric was already earmarked for a specific pattern. No, more of a design it as you go dress. A play with fabric and see what happens dress. I was going into this with no fabric picked out. No pattern chosen. I was going into my sewing room just to see what I could come up with.

I went into my sewing room and began looking through my fabric bins to see what fabric appealed to me in the moment. Pretty quickly I was reminded of the sheer volume of fabric I own. I was going to need to narrow down my options or I'd be picking nothing! Thus, I decided "No Cottons". Now I love cotton, and the bulk of my fabric stash is cotton, so this rule both pushed me out of my comfort zone and narrowed down my choices considerably - just what I needed to actually get something done.

With the "no cotton" rule in effect, I still had several pieces of fabric calling to me, but finally I narrowed it down to one specific piece of blue striped polyester taffeta.

It was a remnant of fabric, less than a yard long, which I picked up at a thrift store last fall, just because it was pretty. When I pulled it out this time, I decided it would be perfect for the bodice of a dress. I just needed another fabric to pair with it for the skirt.

A bit more digging through fabric bins unearthed a piece of navy blue polyester crepe, just under two yards long, left over from making this skirt. This stuff is gorgeously flow-y and I knew it would make a fabulous skirt, contrasting perfectly with the stiff taffeta of the bodice. Now, what pattern would I be using to create this masterpiece with?

I went to my pattern dresser and opened up the top drawer - full to the brim of dress patterns, and began looking through the offerings. As it was January, and there was snow on the ground, I decided whatever dress I made needed to have sleeves, which narrowed down my choices a bit - as did the fact I had less than 3 yards of fabric to work with here. With these parameters in mind, Butterick B6484 - a Gertie Pattern with a dropped waist - appealed to me.

The pattern was pulled out of the drawer and the bodice was cut out of my blue taffeta.

The crepe was set aside for later and I proceeded to sew up the bodice while brainstorming ideas for the skirt.

I finished the bodice, tried it on, and ran into an issue. It fit, mostly, however I should have done some sort of a wide shoulder/broad back adjustment because it was most certainly too tight above the bust. Also, I had a very poor range of motion so something had to be done with the sleeves.

To "fix" the issues (aka, make the bodice wearable) I just cut the neckline lower all the way around until it sat flat and there was no more strange pulling, and changed the previously square neckline to a v-neck. To give myself a good range of motion I added underarm gussets, allowing me to move my arms in all directions and even raise them above my head without pulling the entire bodice up!

Bodice issues sorted out, it was on to the skirt! I decided I wanted a handkerchief hem so the skirt is basically one large square of fabric. The front is a triangle, the back is a triangle, and there are pockets in the side seams.

With the scraps left over from the skirt, I made sleeve ruffles.

I do love sleeve ruffles!

A lapped zipper in the back and the dress was done!

I liked it, but it felt like there was something missing.

I hung the finished dress on my sewing room door and headed off to Florida, figuring I'd address the "something missing" when I got home.

A few days after returning home, I was re-watching an episode of Downton Abby (either in season 3 or season 4, I don't remember now), admiring the 1920's fashion. The low sashes between the skirt and the bodice of the drop waist dresses really caught my eye, and it hit me - my dress needed a sash!

So, when I had a few extra moments in the sewing room I made a nice wide sash out of some gold silky-feeling fabric (left over from a commission years ago) and a slide buckle from my stash.

The sash was just the finishing touch the dress needed - suddenly I loved it!

This dress is different than anything else in my closet, and was so much fun to make!

It was a day in the sewing room, between trips, well spent. I should do creative, spontaneous, sewing projects more often!