Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Accidental Dress

Only a week after The Mad Dress shenanigans, I ended up making another dress in an even shorter span of time!  But this was completely unintentional.  This dress was never meant to be made...  First, some backstory.  (Ok, a lot of backstory.  Bear with me.)

Brian the Engineer and I were going to a wedding at The Boathouse in Central Park, and the invitation requested "black tie optional" attire.  As of one week before the wedding, I had no idea yet what I was going to wear.  My plan was to make a dress from my stash, as I have several patterns and fabrics set aside for modern dresses that I never get around to sewing because I'm always working on historical costumes and/or clothes for Reptar.

Anyway, Brian surprised the heck out of me by suggesting that we just wear some of our Regency formal wear!  He even ran it by the groom, who told him that the bride was hoping that we would do just that.  So... my sewing plans for the coming week took a hard left turn.  Instead of making a new (modern) dress for me, I would instead be making a new pair of Regency trousers for Brian!  (His old pair was too small, and had been converted [poorly] into breeches.)

I also needed to finally add the tail pockets to his black wool tailcoat, since I had made it rather hurriedly for a ball four years ago and never actually finished it!  I got it to a wearable state for that ball, and added sleeve linings and properly finished the cuffs for the next ball - two years later.  The tail pockets were missing this whole time, and it felt really good to get those on at last!

In between that and making a new pair of trousers from scratch, I managed to find time to remove the sleeves from my Green Sari Open Robe so that I could enlarge them.  Here is what they looked like before:

Ignore my modern tank top underneath
They were very tight, which made the open robe very difficult to put on over my shift and Sheer Striped Gown without the sleeves of both of them getting bunched up around the top of my arm.  Also, I could only lift my arms this high:

Which made dancing rather difficult!  The sleeves were tight when I first made the gown four years ago, because I only had a very small amount of fabric with the edge trim, and I was determined that the sleeves would have the trim!  And they've only gotten tighter as I've steadily gained weight over the past three years.

When I wore the open robe at the Regency Ladies' Retreat, I could barely get it on - even with assistance.  So I was definitely going to expand the sleeves before I wore it again.  Fortunately, I kept ALL of the scraps from the sari when I made it in the first place, intending to use them to make a matching reticule someday.  I dug those out, and found that I had a couple of pieces of border trim that I could piece together with pieces of the main fabric and insert into the sleeve seam.  I planned to open up the armscye a bit, as well.

I was pleased to discover that not only did this pieced insert give me two extra inches in each sleeve, but I was also able to correct an issue that had bugged me when I first made the gown:

I perfectly matched the border motifs at the seam!!!  :D

With most of this important sewing done, I packed up my (backup) sewing machine and we left for New York.  We had a long drive, so I could do some hand sewing in the car.  I hemmed Brian's trousers and attached the buttons, so they were done.

Once we got to the hotel, I pulled out my machine to patch my stays over the busk pocket where it's starting to wear through, and I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to pack both my white bodiced petticoat and my Sheer Striped Gown!  So I had NOTHING to wear under my Open Robe!  We were  eight hours from home, in the middle of Manhattan, and the wedding was in 14 hours. 

Luckily, I had - on a whim - brought along a bolt of black cotton in case I got all of the essential sewing done and still had time to make Brian a new black cravat. 

By an amazing confluence of events, I had everything I needed to make myself a drawstring underdress! 

1. I had a little over 4 yards of fabric on the bolt, and I'd brought the entire thing rather than just cut off the length I needed for a cravat because I was short on time.
2. I could reverse-engineer the bodice pattern from the Open Robe, which happens to be the same pattern I had used when making two previous drawstring dresses, so I knew how to do it and - more importantly - I knew that I COULD do it.
3. The fact that I had removed the sleeves from the Open Robe and had not yet reattached them made the pattern drafting much easier!
4. I had brought along a roll of 1/4" twill tape so I could make the tie at the back of Brian's trousers.
5. I had the sewing machine, black thread, scissors, and pins.

Thankfully this dress didn't need sleeves, so that dramatically cut down on the construction time. I tried on the Open Robe and used the twill tape to measure how far up the front needed to come from the top edge of the front of the robe.  Then I used pins to outline the front piece: 

After that first picture, I ended up shifting the entire piece over to the very edge of the fabric, to maximize the amount of fullness at the front neckline and waistline. 

I used the twill tape again to measure the length of the skirt that I needed at the front, and cut out the front bodice and skirt in one piece.  I used pins again to outline the back bodice piece on the fold: 

And I cut a full width of the fabric to match the skirt front at the side seams.  This got gathered in to the back piece at the waist. 

Then I cut bias strips for the drawstring casings. 

I used the busk from my stays as a guide for the width to cut the strips: 

And that is the end of my construction photos!  I made the whole thing in just over four hours, then crashed for the night.  The wedding was at 11:30 the next morning, and I felt pretty amazing in my accidental dress: 

I even managed to make a quick reticule!

We got some photos of me in Central Park before the wedding began: 

You can see how much more room I have in the sleeves now!

Brian the Engineer and me, feeling fancy at the wedding:

The funny thing is that I've been wanting a black Regency dress for a while now!  I just haven't had an occasion to make one.  But I can always add sleeves to this one now that it exists.  :) 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Mad Dress

Right before the RSV Ladies' Regency Retreat the last weekend of September, I took inventory of my stock of Regency dresses.  Ideally, I would have a day dress and an evening gown for each of the two "dress up" days of the weekend - Friday and Saturday.  I have made several Regency dresses over the years, but not all of them still fit me!  Having a baby will do that, but of course it depended on the type of bodice each dress has:

Blue Day Dress:  back button closure - does not fit
Sheer Striped Overdress:  Back button closure - does not fit
White Apron-Front Dress:  Apron-front closure - adjustable fit!
Green Sari Open Robe:  Front pinned closure - adjustable fit
Yellow Sprigged Dress:  Back button closure, but made too big at the time - barely still fits
Dove Gray Dress:  Drawstring closure - super adjustable!
Sheet Striped Gown:  Drawstring closure - super adjustable!
So I had plenty of options for daywear, but only one evening gown that still fit!  And it simply wouldn't do to wear the same gown two evenings in a row.  What to do, what to do?

Oh wait, do I have a huge stash of fabrics, some of which are waiting specifically to be made up into Regency dresses?  Turns out I do!  Did I have the time to make one?  Well, it was Wednesday evening, and the retreat started on Thursday afternoon.  However, I would not be arriving until Friday morning because Brian the Engineer was away on a business trip until Thursday night, and I needed to wait until he was home to take over watching Reptar.  So that gave me all of Thursday to sew!  No problem, right?

Are you getting a sense of why I'm calling this The Mad Dress?  Here's another reason:

My inspiration
I saw this print after somebody posted it on Facebook, and took a screenshot with my phone.  It jumped out at me because I had JUST bought eight yards of a really nice tissue silk in that exact shade of bright sky blue!  So clearly I had to make it (the dress on the far left).  Could it be done?  It was 11:00 PM on Wednesday when I settled on starting this crazy project.  I planned to wear the completed gown on Saturday evening.  I could certainly finish it at the retreat, but I didn't want to spend the entire weekend sewing - like I did at the first retreat in 2015.

I started with a mockup, using my tried-and-true generic "Regency bodice" pattern that I drafted four years ago.  I've gotten a lot of use out of it since then!

Of course, the pattern is for a front-closing bodice, and I wanted this dress to be back-closing in keeping with the inspiration image.  Also, the bodice of the gown in the image does not end at the underbust line like most Regency dresses, so I extended it a bit when cutting out my mockup:

I zoomed in on the gown in the screenshot on my phone, and kept it handy while I worked.

I also grabbed some Dove chocolates to munch on while working, and this was the wrapper of the first one I ate!

I put on my stays in order to fit the mockup properly.  I had cut a generous center front allowance on both pieces, which I pinned together for the proper fit.  I had left the center back as a single piece cut on the fold, because I wanted to keep the same dimensions in the back when converting it to a center-back closure.  This mockup was just to get the front fitted properly.

Ignore my messy sewing room.
I marked the center front on the mockup and put this on the fold of my lining fabric:

I had forgotten to add extra length when I cut out the center back piece, so I measured how much I needed at the side back seams and added it when cutting out the lining.  I also added two inches at the center back, to account for the closure.

I also added about half an inch of height to the front neckline, to make sure it would cover my stays.

Here is my second mockup/lining tried on for fit:

I pinned darts under the bust, as that seemed the simplest way to deal with the excess fabric transitioning to the waist.  To get a smooth line for the waist seam, I tied a ribbon sash around my underbust and marked the lower edge with a fabric marker:

I evened out this line while it was laid flat:

I took the lining apart, transferred the markings to the first mockup, and trimmed away the extra fabric on both.  Then I used the front mockup piece and the back lining pieces for the pattern when cutting out my silk:

(The silk was in two pieces - one approximately 3 yards and one approximately 5 yards.  I used the 3-yard piece for this project, setting aside the larger piece for another ballgown I will make someday.)

After this I went to bed.  I think it was 1:00 AM.  Next day, I started working on the skirt(s).  I didn't have a petticoat that would work under this dress, so I decided to build in the white underskirt.  To get a sense of how long it needed to be, I stood on my measuring tape at the 2" mark to give me the distance from my waist seam line to the floor.  (Simply subtract those two inches from the measurement given, and you have your finished skirt length.)

Then I needed to do some math.  I had one length of a white cotton/poly blend that I had taken from the lining of a curtain that I had cut up for another project, and I wanted to get the underskirt with a ruffle from it.

I had previously overlocked the raw edges and washed this fabric, so it was all ready to go.  I measured down 45" from one edge, snipped and ripped the full length, which gave me an 8" strip:

I used that strip to measure and rip a second strip:

This gave me a ruffle that I could gather in a 2:1 ratio to the main skirt, which was now 35.5" long:

I wanted the blue silk skirt to cover the seam of the ruffle, so I measured up 36" from the selvedge of my remaining nearly three yard piece - this way I wouldn't have to hem it:

I tried to snip and rip the silk, but it didn't want to rip!  At least not in the direction I wanted.

Irritating.  I ended up pulling threads and cutting to get the length, instead.

Back to the bodice.  I attached the fronts to the backs at the shoulder seams, then pinned the lining and the fashion fabric together along the neckline and armholes:

I stitched them together, including the center back edges:

I clipped curves, pressed, and turned the bodice right side out.  Then I pinned and sewed the front pieces - treating the lining and fashion fabric as one - to JUST the fashion fabric at the side back seams:

Leaving the back lining piece out of the way:

Then I tucked the little point of the seam allowances:

Up into the interior of the bodice at the shoulder seam/side back seam point:

On the outside, I smoothed and pressed the seam.  Then on the inside, I smoothed the back lining over the seam:

Clipped curves:

Turned the seam allowance under and pinned in place:

Then I whipp-stitched this down over the seam.  With the bodice finished (as much as it could be without a proper fitting, for which I would need another person), it was time to get back to the skirt.

I found the center of my length of fabric, snipped the selvedge (hem) and pulled threads up the the cut edge (waist).

This gave me a straight line to build the center front decorations on.

According to the reference image:

I wanted five segments of gold and white trim that met at center front, with the fifth one open at the bottom.  My finished skirt length would be just over 35", so I wanted each segment to be 7" long.  I decided to do this as appliques instead of applying trim to cut edges that would meet in front.  This way I could be sure that my two sides were even.

I marked a scrap of white polished cotton (leftover from the bodice lining) at 7" increments along the fold:

Brought the marks together:

Then cut the oval to the size I wanted:

Four closed segments and one open one:

I lined them up along the pulled thread line on the skirt, then marked my stitching line 3/4" in from the outer edges:

Here's how they all look, stitched down:

Counter-intuitively, this is the wrong side of the fabric.  You'll see why in a minute.  Here's how the right side looked:

After pressing to set the seams, I cut out the interior ovals:

I had left approximately 1/2" between one stitched oval and the next, so that the front still functioned as a whole:

Then turned the skirt over and pressed the appliques out over the seam allowances:

Then turned them fully out over the right side of the skirt, and pressed again:

I clipped the seam allowances at the curve to help them lay smoothly:

Here is how the appliques looked, all pressed nicely to the outside:

Now it was time to add the trim!  I had sorted through all of my metallic gold trim before starting this project, and figured out which of each kind of trim I had enough of to go around the outside of the front segments, around the inside of the segments, and around the hem edge.  They would be three different kinds of trim, but all worked well together.

The trim for the outer edges of the segments was in the form of 10" long ribbons that I probably saved from wrapped Christmas gifts years and years ago.  I really don't remember, but I had twelve total ribbons.  I used ten to cover the outside edges, which I did in one step that also tacked the white appliques down:

I used the darning stitch on my machine, which is basically a zigzag but with multiple stitches across both ways.

This made it easy to attach the ribbon in one step, instead of stitching down one side and then going back down the other side.  And it helped me to gently curve the ribbon around the edge of the applique to make it lay smoothly.

If I were doing this project with less of a time crunch, I would have stitched down the edges of the applique first, then covered that stitching with the gold trim.  I probably also would have sewn the gold trim by hand.  But I did not have the luxury of time with this project!  This was already nearly midnight on Thursday night, and I was leaving Friday morning for the retreat.

But I did get all of the gold trim attached to the outer edges of the front segments before I went to bed.

I even tried it on with the underskirt, to see how well it would work:

Pretty well, I think!
One final piece was missing, though.  I needed the medallions that covered the junctures of the segments.  In my mind I was picturing something beaded, but I did not have that much time.  Fortunately, I had spent the past week cleaning and organizing my sewing room (it was a disaster area where I could get nothing done) and one of the things I found in that process was this bag of lace motifs:

And hey!  I have gold tempera paint!  

One lace motif hides the junctures (and the raw edges of the appliques) quite nicely:

I cut four motifs from the chain:

Oh, I also added the gold trim at the hem edge.
And the last thing I did before bed was dip them in tempera paint, blot off the excess, and leave them to dry overnight:

Friday morning, I packed up all of my Regency clothes, shoes, and accessories, along with everything I needed to finish The Mad Dress.  I also brought my backup sewing machine, which is much more lightweight (and much more basic) than my good old Bernina.  I knew I would need to do some handsewing at the retreat, but I wanted to do as much by machine as possible.

After I arrived at the retreat, settled into my room, and changed into appropriate attire, I had my friend Kathleen help me fit the bodice.  She pinned the back closed, and I pinned the funny darts in the front:

I stitched down the darts from just below the bust to the waist, leaving them free on the bust itself.

The center back overlapped like this, initially:

So I opened up the center back on the left side, and folded it in to make a more centered line:

I made hand-sewn buttonholes and attached the buttons after we had our afternoon tea.  (Which was delicious!)  Then I set up my sewing machine and finished attaching gold trim.  I had a spool of ribbon that was very similar to the pieces I used for the outer edges, but narrower and a slightly lighter gold color.

On the inner edges, it was easy to attach it in one long piece, switching sides at every juncture.  Then I went back and did the opposite sides in the same manner.

Finally, I tacked the gold lace medallions in place by hand.

Now it was time to attach the skirts!  I treated them separately, starting with the blue silk.  I added a placket to the back skirt seam and pleated the skirt to the bodice:

Attaching the skirt by machine was so much faster!

And it's finally looking like a dress!

I left it for the night, as it was time to dress for dinner.  After dinner I was scheduled for cleanup duty, so I knew I wouldn't be doing any more sewing until the next morning.  But there was only one thing left to do - attach the underskirt.  I pleated it and pinned it in place along the opposite side of the bodice seam allowance as the blue skirt.  This would encase all of the seam allowances between the two skirts, and give me the option of removing the white underskirt for cleaning if need be.

Slight flaw in my plan, though - I forgot that the blue skirt was open in the front, and the seam allowance now showed through!

Rather than remove the entire skirt, I clipped into the seam allowance on either side of the center front:

And simply turned the seam allowances inward:

Then I flipped the whole thing inside out and re-seamed this section:

Now the dress was finished!  And I know you're dying to see me wear it - as was I and everyone else who had watched me working on it!  So without further ado, I give you The Mad Dress:


I did not do The Mad Hairstyle to match, but perhaps someday.  I do want to make the sheer long-sleeved chemisette that the image appears to show her wearing, however.  And I would like to add more volume to the underskirt - I have more curtains I can disembowel!

But in the meantime, more pics:

The buttons were selected by committee.

Practicing tambour in evening wear, as you do:

I borrowed the tiara from my friend Megan for the evening.  And I was quite pleased to pair my gorgeous aquamarine Dames a la Mode collet necklace and earrings with this gown - it's as if they were made for it!