Summer Dress Parade 2016 – Ivory/Coral/Aqua mini print cotton lawn

So now that summer is officially over, let me start catching up on posting my summer sewing! Ha.


This is a luverly lightweight cotton lawn in a small coral & aqua floral print on an ivory background. The perfect fabric for DC summers – I want a whole closet full of cotton lawn dresses for summer here!


The bodice is a hack from this vintage pattern in my collection – altered to be sleeveless, the front cut on the fold and have a waistband:


The skirt has three sets of double box pleats in both the front and backs


Which reminds me that the dress is also a mash-up of two vintage patterns. I used this one for the skirt, only I used the front piece for both front and back – the actual pattern has a plain, A-line piece for the backs and I wanted pleats all round:


I did an exposed zipper at the back both to try and cut down on the sucrose level of this dress just a teensy bit and because I’m lazy.


I’m wearing a white cotton lawn petticoat I made earlier underneath to give the skirt just a little more fullness.



The necklace is my coral bead one with matching earrings from Dames a la Mode.


Necklace and little accent bow close-up!



And a couple of interior shots to finish off showing my (now) usual technique of lining the bodice only and with cotton lawn to keep it lightweight and cool

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And that’s about it!

An Afternoon at Ft McHenry aka Dress-Up Fun!

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to kill several overdue birds with one stone: finally wear my blue silk spencer and olive green shako hat in a proper ensemble, get some proper photos of me wearing them and visit a new-to-me historical site. All of this courtesy of the lovely and wonderful Taylor of Dames a la Mode who invited me for an afternoon at Ft McHenry in Baltimore the Sunday of the July 4th long weekend!

With us came the delightful young Melissa, in her beyond charming blue dress and accessories. Melissa had been interning at the DAR museum for a month and I’m so glad timing worked out that she was still in town for this (or maybe Taylor planned it that way, I was actually away most the time Melissa was in DC, so I don’t know these things).

We met up with Taylor’s friend (Taylor – remind me of her name so I can put it in here!) who works for the fort as a living historian and she took us on a little behind the scenes tour before we went wandering the grounds on our own.

Taylor brought her awesome DSLR and so lots of photos were taken mostly by Taylor (although I’ve done some editing to the ones she sent me), here are just a few. Admittedly, they are mostly sort of me-centred, but you get some of Melissa and Taylor too!


My outfit is, unfortunately, a bit of a mish-mash of dates. The dress is my 1797 gown, the spencer more late teens/early twenties even and the Shako I guess anywhere from c.1800-1815. However, I think they all look pretty nice together anyway.

My hair was a challenge. I had made the Shako to fit over a wig, and didn’t think about how hairstyles were largely close to the head during the period they were most fashionable. I also didn’t have a wig or time to fashion one into a proper hairstyle for the 1805-1815 period. So, I dug around and around on pinterest for any indication of big/long hair worn with a Shako and found this one image:


It’s a bit tough to see as the image is on the small size and doesn’t enlarge well, but she does have long curls hanging down her chest on either side of her neck. So, this is sort of what I tried going for, using the wig I usually wear with the 1797 gown and the open robes. I’m probably stretching credibility with this but I’m calling it close enough!




Taylor’s awesome hat is from Shocking Bad Hats and has actually been named the Miss Taylor in her honour!




Do you think I should crop the above photo to remove the unfortunately positioned high-rise behind our heads?




I cannot get over how cute Melissa was.



Showing off some of my own Dames a la Mode jewellery.







So, just a few fun photos! It was wonderful to finally wear the spencer and hat, and thankfully it was mild enough that day that it wasn’t too hot for them!

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Pistachio & Ivory

Next up in my Summer Frock Parade is this little number in a cute pistachio and ivory print cotton (probably a quilting cotton). It also continues with the mint/aqua and coral theme I’ve got going on this year – yes, I know, I haven’t posted anything coral yet, I’ll get there!


It’s largely inspired by this vintage dress, especially the buttoned tabs on the shoulder, although mine have the back overlapping the front rather than the reverse seen here:

1950's Floral Print Sun Dress:

I used this pattern from my vintage stash and just modified the shoulders of the bodice pieces to get the overlapping tabs. Oh, and I also modified the neck to be a little less wide/boaty:

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These photos were spontaneously taken one day – incidentally, one day after the photos of the mint dress, so how appropriate that the pistachio dress post is one day after its’, lol – so you’re seeing me sans makeup as I normally wear little to none, totally out of laziness.


I opted out of the little bows at the waist seen on the vintage inspiration dress for fear they might be a little too twee. What do you think? Should I add them?


My husband was so not into taking photos for me at this time so I kept it quick and didn’t ask for a shot of the back, so here it is on Maddy instead:

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The zipper is hand-picked, though perhaps not my best job of it ever.

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A detail of the button-tab shoulders. The buttons are non-functional, just sewn through all layers:

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I did notice that they tended to pull a little when wearing, so yesterday before putting it on (since it’s what I decided to wear yesterday) I quickly hand-stitched-in-the-ditch around the front tab:

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A couple shots of the interior:

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More and more I think I’m preferring pockets that extend up into the waist seam. They just stay put a lot better.

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And we’re done!

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Minty Fresh!

Some months ago I pinned this vintage dress to my “Sewing Ideas” board:

1950s dress:

And I fell completely in love with it! A big part is the striped fabric, which I didn’t have, oh well. But I did my best with a solid mint stretch cotton poplin and it’s still become one of my favourite dresses!

I used vintage Simplicity 5059 from my stash for this, just modifying the neckline a little to add the tie collar and skipping the sleeves, obvs:

And here’s how it came out, I’m so happy with it and it’s really very comfy!


You also get to see a little of our wee backyard/garden – at least how it looked at the end of May, when these were taken (I’m less than 2 months behind on posting this, woot!)


So, a kinda funny thing happened with my summer sewing this year. I’ve ended up sewing a mostly pretty specific palette of mint/pale aqua and coral. I don’t know what it is, but I’m just all about those colours this year – individually, each with white/ivory, or best yet, together! So this dress is part of that. I’ve now made an additional 3 or 4 dresses that’s some combination of this theme and have plans for at least a couple more. Fortunately, I’m already good to go with matching/co-ordinating shoes for this, lol.


There’s not a whole heck of a lot to say about this one construction-wise. Probably the most interesting bit is the closure, which is actually up the front. I may have mentioned this before, but I HATE side zippers and avoid them whenever possible.


And whoever first designed/drafted this pattern must have had some psychic link to me in the future because it’s designed to open down the front even though it only buttons down to the waist.


Below the waist is just a slit in the centre front of the skirt. It’s kept from showing by the little bit of overlap created for the button-front bodice. I love that so much! So easy-peasy but also so effective. I’ve now worn this dress several times and never once had a gaping problem with it.


Oh, and in the blue planter behind the steps are the morning glories just starting to come up – you should see them now! They’re all the way to the top of the cage-thingy and have moved over to start twining around the stair rail.


Obligatory back shot


Oh, and just in case anyone might be wondering, my super-cute shoes came from here, though it doesn’t look like they have the mint ones anymore.


A few interior shots showing my current go-to cotton voile bodice lining:

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Although I didn’t get a photo of me, this was the dress’s first outing – Sunday brunch at the DC Army & Navy Club, pretty apropos, eh?


(hello Andrew!)

I do now have some (pepper)mint and white striped fabric, a mini stripe in stretch cotton seersucker that I’m feeling a little tempted to make another, slightly-closer-to-the-original version of. But maybe not this year, time to move on to another style/colour!

Simplicity 3925 – O, Canada!

Happy Canada Day everyone! Or, for those of us who like to “kick it old school”: Happy Dominion Day!

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My husband, Andrew, and I celebrated this year by attending a pancake breakfast (with *real* maple syrup!) at the Canadian Embassy this morning.

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We arrived a little late (I only got one strip of bacon *sad face*) but it was a pretty impressive turnout! They went with a Calgary Stampede theme this year, so were giving out all those white cowboy hats you see. However, we missed out on them by being late.

I’m ok with that.

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(taken after things were really winding down – most people just wanted to get started on their 4-day weekend)

I love those giant flags!

Although I already have a great red dress that would have been perfect to wear, it’s made from a medium-weight cotton sateen which I feared would be just too dang hot here in DC. So I decided to make myself a lighter-weight white cotton dress from this neat fabric that’s been hanging out in the stash for some years and accent with red accessories. It’s sort of an eyelet effect, but achieved through either stamping or laser cutting – the holes were quite crisp before I washed it.

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I was determined to get photos with the giant flags!

I opted for this 1950s Simplicity 3925 pattern that I’ve had for years but never yet made up. I made a sleeveless version of View 1. Overall, I used it nearly as-is, just shortening the bodice about 1 1/4″, adding a little extra room around the waist (which it turns out I didn’t really need – so this will be a good dress for eating big meals, lol!), cutting the front panel of the skirt on a fold, and reducing the size of the collar/lapels by 1″ around the edges.


image source

I did change a few things construction-wise. I made it zip up the back rather than the side because I HATE side zips SO MUCH!!

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I lined the bodice in addition to using the facings because I like how clean it makes the insides. I used white cotton voile for the lining. This has become my go-to bodice lining fabric over the past year or so – even for my formal silk evening gowns. I find it’s just the most comfortable-feeling, it’s super easy to work with and adds very little bulk while still having enough oomph to hold up to wearing and washing.

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I think I also meddled with the treatment of the back points of the lapel-thingies. From reading the instructions several times over I gathered that they were actually to be left free from the neck edge at the back. My copy of the pattern came without the pattern envelope and I can only find an image online of the envelope front, so I have no visual reference for how the back of the lapels is supposed to work. I took a look at this during the muslin stage, decided it looked stupid, so sewed them into the neck edge between the dress and the back neck facing. I like it much better this way.

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As you can see, I also got lazy and sewed this as an exposed zipper because I did a lot of the sewing yesterday and just couldn’t be bothered to do fancier insertion. I also kinda like how it adds a slight but of a modern feel to an otherwise very conservative look.

And that’s really about it, so I’ll leave off with a couple more shots of the embassy:

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Hello Andrew!

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How did you celebrate Canada’s Birthday – if you’re someone who does?

My Nearly Fabulous Francaise

Shortly after I moved to DC I was told about this fabulous event called The Francaise Dinner. It’s an annual dinner organized and attended by people who just like doing this sort of thing! Last year and this year it was held at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria – hence, very local to me! So this year (in March) I got to go to my first one!

Of course, I needed to make a new dress for the occasion. 1. Because I nearly always need to make a new dress for nearly any actual “occasion” because reasons; and 2. Because I didn’t have anything really appropriate for this event. The date range did go up to c. 1799, but I really wanted to go more full-on 18th century rather than Neo-classical. It was also a perfect excuse for specifically making a historically accurate francaise – something I hadn’t done since the big crazy reproduction project during my MA – none of which pieces I kept (all donated to the university).

Not to mention I had THE PERFECT fabric for it – behold!

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Yes, that is silk duchess satin. Yes, I nabbed it for 5GBP in London a few years ago from a stall in Walthamstow Market. Yes I bought 20 metres of it. Yes I wish I had bought the whole bolt.

The colour kind of reminds me of this iconic Francois Boucher portrait of Madame de Pompadour:

Francois Boucher 1703–1770 FR  'Portrait of Madame de Pompadour' 1756:

I used the Francaise pattern from Pattern of Fashion for the dress, altered a little for my size and for fuller falling cuffs on the sleeves. Oh, and I also opted for a regular stomacher front rather than a compere.

Janet Arnold francaise

I also trimmed the gown and petticoat differently, using this dress in the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection as my inspiration/guide:

KCI 1760 Francaise

I just loved the combination of the arced strips with the bows somehow! Here’s a close-up of the skirt trimmings:

KCI 1760 Francaisecrop

I was in too much of a sewing hurry to take in-process photos of the construction, but I basically followed the same procedure as for the sack dress/francaise of the repro-project mentioned above.

I did take some detail pics, but I’ll show them towards the end and instead show pics of the whole shebang first.

Photos are all from the Francaise Dinner event. This one is my fave, though it doesn’t show off the dress the best:

From Angela

photo by Angela B

Oh, and this was also my first try at doing a proper 18th century styled wig. I used Kendra van Cleeve’s fantastic book, “18th Century Hair & Wig Styling

Unfortunately, I ignored a very important piece of advice, which was to NOT style the wig on a Styrofoam head, but rather on a proper wig block. Since this was my first try I wasn’t keen on investing in a proper block. I should have. The wig ended up a little small and so didn’t cover my head properly and pulled at my scalp something terrible as I tried to stretch/pull it to get decent coverage.

The is reason #1 that my francaise is nearly, but not actually, fabulous.

Here you can see it a little from the back, and it seems to look ok. Also – Hi Taylor! Hi Gloria!

from Chelsea2

photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement

Another shot from the back – in and of itself it looks nice.

from Gloria

photo courtesy of In the Long Run

However, you can see here how it doesn’t completely cover the back of my head. I think the whole thing also rises too vertically rather than angling slightly backwards gracefully.

Oh well. I keep reminding myself that this was my first try. I WILL remake this and get a properly sized block for doing so! I think I’ll try a lace-front wig next time to change my hairline a little, too, since I was also reminded of how much I dislike my super high forehead (I wear bangs just so I don’t have to look at it/deal with it). And with a lace front wig I can make the whole thing look a little more natural as well.

From Maggie

photo by Maggie M

I can’t remember her name, but the lady behind me, in the red/maroon had THE BEST HAIR I think I’ve ever seen! I was in awe of her hair all evening!

This photo also shows reason #2 why this francaise is only nearly and not actually fabulous: the wrinkled bodice. I’m actually not sure what’s going on here, what’s causing this. I’m going to have to do some investigating. But I’ll have to be in the mood to get into it again for that. I’m wondering if one factor might be my stays. They’re a late 1780s style, so a little higher-waisted than one would normally wear with a francaise. They may not be firming and smoothing my torso far enough down for this dress bodice. However, I think there’s a bigger problem elsewhere. Whether it’s just too tight through the bodice (though I do have the back bodice lining split with ties for just such adjustments) or something not right in a seam somewhere….I’m just not totally sure yet.

from Taylor1

photo from Taylor of Dames a la Mode – from whom my jewellery also came! It’s a full parure (which word I learned from her) made up of this topaz/citrine collet necklace with matching earrings and two matching bracelets. Incidentally – I have been literally amazed at just how versatile these pieces have been. I’ve worn the necklace countless times with both historical and everyday clothing (the earrings less so, just because I have this weird relationship with earrings in general; I often feel *too* dressed up with them on in my everyday life, despite the fact that I wear what many people would consider pretty fancy dresses on a daily basis – I said it was weird).

One final thing I’m thinking is that it may need a little more volume under the skirt. I’ve got pocket hoops and 2 petticoats on underneath – both with deep, gathered flounces around the hems – but looking at these photos I think it could do with just a little more. A little more width (maybe add some removable padding or something to the pocket hoops) and a little more fullness overall with either an additional petti or ones of fabric with a stiffer hand.

Here’s a great photo of the whole Francaise Dinner group. So much pretty in here, I was blown away by the quality and effort of people’s ensembles! And so much good hair! I felt as though my very mediocre hair stuck out like a sore thumb. Oh well – I will BRING IT next year!

francaise dinner group photo2

photo by Beth of BWPW Photography

A final few shots of me from the evening:

from Taylor2

photo by Taylor of Dames a la Mode

from Chelsea1

photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement

from Chelsea4

photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement

And now some detail pics of the ensemble.

It was entirely hand-sewn, mostly with silk thread. I did use linen thread for the seams of the bodice lining. This is what I’ve seen most often done on extant 18th century women’s garments I’ve examined.

The back pleats of the fancaise, sewn down to the bodice lining for approx. 3 1/2 inches.

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A shot of the bodice lining. The stitches in dark thread are the ones holding the silk to the lining.

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Bit of a close-up of the bodice interior – all edges are clean-finished apart from the armhole seam allowances, also as per extant garments I’ve examined.

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The exterior of a bodice front with robing and trimming.

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One of the sleeves up close, this is one of the areas where I used my scalloped pinking tool:

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lightweight linen (lawn?) sleeve ruffle. This is the only part done by machine – the scalloped hem edging. I just did not have time to do this by hand and had no lace on-hand to make sleeve ruffle from. However, my goal is to eventually replace the machine embroidery on here with handwork (worked with some while silk floss I have) and also add some additional embroidery, perhaps based off the set of engageantes in Patterns of Fashion. It would also be nice to have some decent lace ones, but these did the trick for the night. They are gathered into a cotton tape band then basted into the dress sleeves:

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The trimming of one side of the skirt front. I used just normal pinking shears to cut the fabric pieces that made up the bulk of the trimming. This may seem odd to purists, but close examination of the photo of the extant dress in the Kyoto collection showed exactly this. I’d also seen it used on the trimming of a dress in the Snowshill Collection kept at Berrington Hall, England, that I examined on a research trip back in 2008.

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The petticoat opens and ties at the sides, bound with light blue silk satin ribbon (someone, PLEASE tell me a source for silk taffeta ribbon in a variety of colours/widths!)

Showing direction of pleats in the front:

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And in the back:

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A close-up of the decorative flounce on the petticoat front. I noticed that the trimming on the Kyoto dress has an overall ‘flat’ look to it, so I pressed all the gathered/ruched areas of trimming after setting them onto the garments, just in case any of you might have wondered about that. I don’t know whether that look on the original francaise was created at the time of original construction or whether it’s the result of 250+ years of existence/storage, but I liked it and wanted to reproduce it.

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Another flounce close-up:

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And one of the trimming along the petti hem – the same as on the edges of the gown skirt fronts.

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Finally, the stomacher – front:

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I need a little space from this one before I go back to it in order to make the ensemble as a whole as fabulous as I think it deserves to be. But rest assured I will certainly do so! In the meantime, if anyone has an interest in seeing any other parts of the construction of this just let me know and I’ll snap and post those pics!

Has anything ever turned out frustratingly just slightly less fabulous than you wanted it to? Did you go back to it and make it fabulous? Or just move onto the next fabulous thing?

Springtime on Capitol Hill – Not Sewing

Upfront disclosure: this post has nothing to do with sewing! It’s all flowers and flowering trees in my neighbourhood. Really the main reason I made this post is so my mom can show my Gramma my photos (Hi Mom! Hi Grandmama!). I was going to just post them to Facebook, but there was so many and the files are all over 1M and I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of compressing them, yadda, yadda, yadda, so here they all are.

If a boatload of flower photos don’t do it for you I won’t be the least offended if you skip this post (and I won’t even know, either, lol).

For anyone who would like to know, here’s the little backstory for these. This is my first Spring living in DC, on Capitol Hill, specifically. A few weekends ago we enjoyed some truly glorious weather and noticed a) there are a lot of flowering trees around here; b) they were pretty much at their peak; and c) they were gorgeous! So I decided to take myself for a little walk armed with my tablet to see how it did with taking photos. It did pretty well, I think!

And it was fortunate I took these when I did since by the following weekend the blooms on the trees were pretty well all done, and now they’re all just green (except for the Japanese maples, and not that I’m complaining about the green!)

So, without further ado, my heavily floral-biased view of Spring on Capitol Hill, 2016!

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Obligatory kitty photo – I just loved the grey cat on the grey chair!

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There were numerous trees with these flowers and I could. not. get over how gorgeous they were!

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Picnicking at Lincoln Park

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The first escaped balloon of the year I’ve seen!

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There aren’t much in the way of lilacs down here (one of my favourites) but I did find a few trees and bushes – and sniffed them to death!

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I didn’t manage to get a great photo of this (the sun was in the wrong position for it) but I loved the pink and white blossoms against the pink and white row houses.

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To any and everyone who made it to the end -well done and I hope you enjoyed this little floral tree tour of my current neighbourhood! I hope you’re having a lovely, sunny day wherever you are!