Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Finishing Felicity's Birthday Dress

 Thank you to everyone who commented (either here or on Facebook or Instagram) on my post about Felicity's Birthday Dress, my birthday, and the infertility my husband and I have been experiencing the past two and a half years. Thank you for the messages of support, thank you to those who shared their own similar experiences with me, and most of all, thank you for the prayers.  I truly, truly, appreciate all of it.

As I mentioned, by my birthday, I had the gown and apron of Felicity's birthday ensemble done, or at least wearable. However, thanks to the awesome surprise party my husband threw me, I didn't get the chance on my actual birthday to wear the outfit. Instead, my friend and I decided to do afternoon tea at a local tea shop a few weeks later - and having an extra three weeks to finish the ensemble was perfect! It gave me time to make a new cap for the occasion, and add the finishing touches to the dress.

Actually, forget the finishing touches on the dress - first I needed to finish the petticoat!

Funnily enough, the petticoat was the first part of this dress I did any sewing on. I sewed up the side seams on a delightful June afternoon while I sat outside and watched my niece and goats play in the yard. And that is as far as the petticoat got.
Ok, so by my birthday I did have it hemmed, but I did not have it pleated, and I certainly didn't have it leveled over the false rump I would be wearing with the dress, (Frances rump, by Scroop Patterns, for anyone wondering.) Somehow, the opportunity hadn't presented itself for me to rope someone into sitting on the floor to measure the distance from hemline to floor while I stood very still wearing the rump and mostly finished petticoat.

Eventually I realized I could just put the rump and petticoat on a dress form and level the hem that way - so that's what I did! I pleated the petticoat (not as evenly as I would have liked, as it turns out I did not get the petticoat cut perfectly on-grain, and off-grain linen is hard to pleat prettily.), basted the pleats into place,  then put the petticoat on the dress form over the rump, and carefully pulled the petticoat up and down at the waistline until them hemline was even. It's a rather tedious task, but it sure feels good when it's done! Look at that even petticoat hem!

Petticoat done, I could finally move onto the more fun part of adding pretty little details to the gown!

First off - ruffles! Rather than make a new set of sleeve ruffles, I grabbed the linen ruffles I made several years ago to go with my silk caraco and basted those into my gown sleeves. 

Then there was the neckline ruffle, and that I had to make brand-new for this gown.

Felicity just had a ruffle go across the front of her neckline, rather than all the way around like the ruffle on her school jacket. So that's the way I wanted to trim my gown - and I had to make a new linen ruffle to do it.
I sewed the ruffle to a strip of twill tape the correct length, then basted it into one half of my gown neckline. Since the gown closes center front, the ruffle gets pinned into the other other half of the gown neckline once the front is done up.

Speaking of "doing up" the front, these gowns were usually done up with pins, but as I mentioned in one of my Strawberry Sacque posts, I do not enjoy pinning myself into gowns. Thus, I went with another, perfectly historically plausible, option - hooks and eyes down the front.

No complaints! This was definitely the way to do it! Easy and consistent to do up every time I wear the gown.

That said, looking at these pictures, I should probably add some boning to the front of the gown to keep it from bunching up between the hooks and eyes. Is it worth it though, since most of the time the gown is worn with an apron that hides the issue? I'll let you know if I ever decide to do something about it.

Petticoat, ruffles, hooks and eyes - the gown was definitely done now! But, the week before our tea, I decided to add one last little detail - twill tape in the skirt.

One of last year's Historical Sew Monthly themes was "Once upon a Time" ~ Make something inspired by a fairy tale or folk tale. As I contemplated my options for this challenge Little Bo Peep crossed my mind.

You know how the rhyme goes: 
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, and doesn't know where to find them
Leave them alone and they'll come home, wagging their tails behind them

As a goatherdess, I feel some affinity for the shepherdesses in stories - and as someone who currently has two "free range" goats, I can definitely relate to Little Bo Peep wondering where her animals are, and said animals running home with wagging tails and jingling bells (Ok, maybe if she had bells on her sheep they would have been harder to lose. Honestly, that's exactly why my goats got bells this fall, so I could hear where they were grazing when I couldn't see them!)

All that said, I thought it might be fun to make myself a Little Bow Peep outfit. I looked up vintage LBP images online, and what do you know? Most showed her wearing an 18th century inspired dress with the skirts looped up!

One even showed her in a pink gown similar to Felicity's birthday dress!

So, with this in mind, I decided Felicity's birthday dress could do double duty as a Little Bo Peep dress, and added ties to the inside of the skirt so it could be looped up as I wished.

 It's quite a fun look!

And the tea I wore the gown to?

That was great fun!

What the item is: English gown with a closed front, inverted back pleats, and a looped up skirt.

The Challenge: Once upon a time - I originally decided to make this gown to match Felicity’s in Happy Birthday Felicity, however that’s not exactly a fairy tale, so just that inspiration would make this gown a stretch for this challenge. Enter inspiration #2! As I was considering my project for this challenge, Little Bo Peep crossed my mind, and I decided to look up pictures online. A lot of vintage Little Bo Peep images featured her wearing an 18th century gown with the skirt looped up. Thus, I decided to loop up the skirt of this gown in a similar manner, despite Felicity’s dress having a plain skirt.

Material: Pink linen, with a white linen/cotton blend lining

Pattern: Larkin and Smith English gown, altered to get the closed front and inverted back pleats.

Year: Late 1770’s to early 1780’s

Notions: Twill tape, thread, and metal hooks.

How historically accurate is it? All hand sewn, using period techniques, out of appropriate fabrics, thought the lining would be more accurate if it were all linen rather than a blend. The pattern is also accurate. The hook and eye front closure isn’t inaccurate, but it’s less common than a pinned closure would be. The once concern I have with accuracy on this gown is the inverted back pleats and looped up skirt - I know these things were a thing in the era (though rare in the case of the inverted back pleats), but I haven’t seen evidence of linen gowns with these features, just silk gowns with the inverted back pleats and silk or printed cotton with the looped up skirt.

Hours to complete: About 2 weeks, but I’m not sure on the specific hours.

First worn: 7/29/23

Total cost: The linen was around $10 a yard, and I probably used about 6 yards for the dress and petticoat. Everything else was stash, so $60ish

If you missed any part of this series:

Making the dress

Making the apron

Making the cap

Wearing the Gown for a Sister Photoshoot

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A 1770's cap for Felicity

 Once my friend and I set our tea date for me to debut my Felicity birthday dress, I started contemplating my head gear for the occasion.

I had the dress. I had the apron. But what would I do with my hair? What would I wear on my head?

In the book Felicity didn't wear a cap with her dress, just a pretty ribbon tied around her head. 

I contemplated doing the same, but did I want to perfectly match Felicity, like a cosplay, or make a historical ensemble that resembled Felicity's closely?
I decided on the latter option. I'm making outfits that resemble 10 year-old Felicity's dresses, but I am a grown woman and I want my dresses to be close to something a grown woman would wear in 1775. 
That said, I'm fairly certain a woman in 1775 would wear a cap with her linen dress and apron, rather than going bareheaded. Thus, I would wear a cap with my outfit - and add a pretty pink ribbon as a nod to Felicity's head band.

So what cap would I wear? I've got a 1760's linen cap (made from the pattern in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking) and a 1780's silk, ribbon-trimmed, cap (made from another pattern in the same book). The 1780's cap is quite fancy and too floofy to work with Felicity's gowns, so the 1760's cap has seen a lot of wear over the past few years. That said, it's still not quite right for the 1770's, I've just used it because I've been too lazy to make another cap. 
Thus, with an occasion to wear my new birthday dress looming, I decided to make another cap - a proper 1770's linen cap. I went scouring Pinterest for 1770's portraits to get an idea of what I needed to make.

Something a bit bigger than a 1760's cap and less floofy than a 1780's cap. That was doable! I pulled out my 1760's cap pattern and 1780's cap pattern and sort of mashed them together to get something inbetween the two that looked about right.

I cut the cap out of the same cotton-linen blend as I used for my bodice lining - not perfectly historically accurate, but it looks perfectly fine for the era.

As with the previous two caps I roll hemmed all the pieces individually, then whipstitched them together. I pleated the ruffle to go on the brim, and trimmed the cap with some pretty pink vintage moire ribbon. (Given to me by Sewstine back when the Saint Louis Historical Sewing Society did a cap sewing workshop, before the world shut down in 2020)

The cap went together without issue - and was just the thing to throw on over my hastily done hair for the afternoon tea with my friend!

It was exactly what was needed to complete the ensemble - and it fulfils the requirements for Historical Sew Monthly's May challenge from last year: Hair Apparel - Make something in the hair or on the head.

What the item is: 1770's Cap

The Challenge: Hair Apparel, it goes on the hair.

Material: Linen/cotton blend

Pattern: A mash-up of the 1760's and 1780's cap patterns from The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

Year: 1770's

Notions: Thread and ribbon

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is good as far as I can tell, the construction is accurate (all hand sewn with what I know of period methods) and the overall look is right. The fabric should really be all linen, rather than a blend, and the ribbon should be silk not rayon. Let's give it 75% overall.

Hours to complete: I don't know

First worn: 7/29/23 for afternoon tea with a friend

Total cost: All just fabric scraps or gifted materials so essentially free!

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Felicity's Birthday Apron

 Alright, now that I've finally told the story of my "Happy Birthday Felicity" gown, let's talk about the rest of the ensemble - starting with the apron.

As I mentioned in my last post, the apron was actually the first part of the ensemble that I began. It was a great handsewing project to bring along to work!

That said, the apron, or more specifically the fabric for the apron, delayed my starting on this outfit for a while, possibly a couple years. I found the pink linen for the gown at Joann's several years and snapped up a whole bolt of it for this project when it went on sale for an acceptable price. Then I started keeping my eyes open for the perfect apron fabric.

Felicity's apron features a beautiful block print of flowers in multiple colors. I found an extant 18th century apron on Pinterest with a very similar print - which made me very excited!

So for years, I've been looking for a similar fabric to make my apron from. And I've struck out. (Yes, I know you can get custom printed fabric, but that's expensive and I prefer to find fabric "in the wild")

Well, mostly struck out. In my stash I happened to have a block printed cotton of a similar style which seemed passible for the era. It just wasn't as colorful as Felicity's apron. And all the flowers looked the same. To put it simply, the fabric from my stash just wasn't as "fun" as Felicity's.

Last spring, however, I decided the fabric was good enough and I might as well make an apron from it. If I happen across a better fabric in the future (that fits into my budget), I can always make a second apron. So, back in June, after I finished my 1910's and 1920's dresses, I made the apron.

I used the pinner apron pattern from Costume Close-up, and I figured out what I found to be a very easy way to size up patterns from that book!

I marked the scale from the edge of the pattern onto the edge of a piece of paper. (Yes, I just used a piece of junk mail that happened to be on the table. No time to find better paper when you come up with a great idea!)

Then I was able to use the scale marked on the scrap paper as a ruler to measure the pattern pieces in the book. Using a yard stick and big paper I was then able to draw out my pattern pieces at full size quite easily! The process was very similar to drawing full size patterns with apportioning rulers, and made enlarging the patterns in this book way less daunting to me! (This method would also work for the patterns in Cut of Women's Clothes. It's opened up a world of possibilities!)

That said, the apron pattern was pretty straight forward. I just had to finagle things a bit to get the apron, with 2 full widths of fabric in the skirt, out of my 2 yard cut of cotton.

Due to the slight fabric shortage, the bodice of my apron is pieced together - but piecing is period!

The three pieces of my bodice are seamed together with a mantua maker's seam, then all the edges of the bodice were hemmed.

The skirt panels were likewise sewn together with a mantua maker's seam, then the bottom of the apron was hemmed. the sides had a really nice selvedge edge, so they required no hemming.

The top edge of the skirt was then gathered up.

And sewn onto a narrow waistband cut from the fabric.

Twill tape waist ties were sewn on, then the bodice and skirt were whipped stitched together.

The apron was done!

The top gets pinned onto my gown with straight pins.

And the waist ties get threaded through the pocket slits of the gown so as not to interrupt the beautiful back pleats!

I love it! Over the dress it gives the perfect impression of Felicity's birthday outfit - despite the "less fun" fabric!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Making Felicity's Birthday Dress

*note: This is a post I wrote 6 months ago but have held off sharing because it shares some personal stuff. I've considered scrapping it entirely and re-writing the story of this dress differently, but, I've decided to share it. So, I've updated it a touch, and here goes:

 I was not looking forward to my birthday this year. In fact I was rather dreading it.

It was a milestone birthday, and yes, age is just a number. For the most part I don’t think much about my age, I have no fear of getting older. But.

I thought I would be a mother by this birthday. For sure. This was definitely the age I would be a mother by. And yet, after over 2 years of hoping and praying for a child, my arms were still empty. Are still empty.


I know they won’t be empty forever. We have hopes and plans for moving forward. 

But hitting this particular birthday without a baby still hurt.

So, about 2 weeks before my birthday I decided I was going to do what I could to make my birthday the best it could be. 

I decided to make my self the American Girl Felicity’s Birthday Dress.

If I can’t have a child right now, atleast I can live out my childhood dream of having Felicity’s dresses for myself.

I’d actually already started on Felicity’s birthday apron when I needed a hand sewing project to work on at work a few weeks earlier, so that portion of the project was underway. (I'll share about the apron in another post to keep this one from getting too long) 

It was time to really commit to this thing and begin the dress.

Thus, I pulled out the bolt of pink linen I bought on sale at Joann’s several years ago, specifically for this project, and got to work.

I decided I would used the Larkin and Smith English Gown pattern, making a few adjustments so it would be a slightly different style from Felicity’s work dress (which I made for myself almost 3 years ago)

With the work dress I made the bodice with a stomacher, as the pattern was written, but changed up the skirt to make it a round gown since I didn't have time to make a separate petticoat. This time I planned to basically flip that around. I would make the skirt open, as the pattern was designed, and make that separate petticoat, but, I would make the bodice close center front - a new design choice that was becoming popular right around the time Felicity would have turned 10 in 1775, when "Happy Birthday Felicity" is set.

One more thing I was flipping around? The back pleats! But I'll get into those details later. First I had to make my pattern alterations for the closed front bodice.

Then I cut out my bodice lining from a cotton/linen blend I snagged at Joann's at some point in the past.

I basted my lining pieces together and tried them on for a fit check. I needed to lower the neckline a bit and I'd definitely added too much to the center front - but hey, too much is better than too little, right?

I marked where I would need to trim off the excess fabric, then turned my attention to the sleeves. As I discovered with my Golden Rose Pet en L'air, the Larkin and Smith sleeves are just a bit too small for me. So for this dress I slightly enlarged them and fussed with the fit until I was satisfied. (and yes, this altered pattern is the sleeve pattern I eventually used for my Strawberry Sacque)

Once I decided the fit was as good as it was going to get, I took off the lining, took out my basting stitches, and trimmed off the excess fabric. Then, I began sewing it together again - this time by hand with sturdy back stitches.

Once the center back seam of the bodice lining was sewn, I had to abandon my comfy hand sewing station outside under the shade trees and retreat to the house, I needed a table for the next step.

I cut out the center back, neck to floor, panel from my pink linen, according to the directions and dimensions in the Larkin and Smith sewing instructions, and I sewed the middle bodice seam, from neckline to waistline, also according to the directions.

Once that was done, I pressed the seam open as instructed and was ready to start pleating the back. Now most English gowns have the back pleats facing out, away from the center back seam. But there are a few English gowns with the pleats facing in, toward the center back seam. And I decided I wanted to try the pleats like that on this gown.

I started by using the Larkin and Smith pleat template and just reversing the pleats. Then I studied the pictures of gowns with these pleats in Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield and in 18th Century Fashion in Detail by Susan North. The pleats on those dresses were very narrow, and mine weren't.

So I finagled the pleats a bit more until they better resembled those on the extant gowns in the books.

 Once I liked the way the pleats lay, I sewed them down to the bodice lining with a prick stitch.

Once that was done I trimmed the back panel above the waistline to match the shape of the bodice lining, then attached the bodice fronts at the side seams, and did the same with the front skirt panels.

I cut and hemmed the pocket slits on the skirt panels, then it was time to pleat the skirt onto the bodice.

I started at the center back. 

The inverted center back pleats made it a little complicated to keep all the raw edges contained properly, but I think I managed it alright.

After the first few pleats it certainly got easier! 

When the pleats were all pinned down, I sewed them to the bodice with a slip-stitch.

After that I finished sewing the bodice and making the sleeves while I planned a little birthday party for myself. 
A new dress to cheer myself up was all well and good, but I thought having some company would also help me dread my birthday less, and hopefully not cry on the actual day. So I invited a few friends and  female members of my family over for a birthday picnic at my house. I told them to dress up in something fun - I would be wearing my Felicity Birthday Dress!

Life got busy then, and I slowed down a bit on gown construction. Two days before my birthday I trimmed up the hem, then got busy hemming the gown and attaching the sleeves and shoulder straps. 
I would have this gown wearable for my birthday!

And it was. The day before my birthday the gown was basically done, there were a few more details I wanted to add, but it was wearable. The apron was also done. The matching petticoat? Was not done. But it would be ok, I could just wear my cotton metalasse petticoat, it would be mostly covered by the gown skirt and apron anyway!

The night before my birthday my two best friends, my sister-in-law, and my niece, came over to stay. The morning of my birthday the group of us went out to explore the local thrift shops together. My husband waved us off and said not to worry about hurrying back - he'd get everything set up for our picnic that afternoon. He wanted my birthday to be perfect and for me to enjoy the time with my friends.
Several hours later, we returned with some thrifted treasures and a very tired toddler. We pulled into my driveway, and there were a lot more cars there than just the other guests I'd invited for the picnic!

My husband had thrown me a surprise party! He had everybody there! My parents, my siblings, my grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, the family I used the nanny for, the family I currently nanny for, old friends, new friends - everybody!
It was the most amazing thing and made me feel so loved! I'm in awe of what my husband pulled off with the assistance of my mom and best friends! Never did I expect this!
The only time I cried that day was tears of joy when I got to see someone I'd been missing greatly and hadn't been able to see in over a year. It was an amazing afternoon!

That said, in all the joy and busy-ness of enjoying my birthday party, I didn't get a chance to put on my new gown! Instead I wore my watermelon sundress, since that's the cheerful dress I'd put on that morning to go thrifting in.

And not wearing my dress that day was ok. But, since I'd made it, a local friend and I planned an afternoon at a tea shop for later that month. Tea would be an acceptable time to debut my new gown - and this would give me a bit more time to add the finishing details to the gown and make the matching petticoat!