Garrison Ballgown 2015

Yes, it’s that time of year again! Or it was, a couple of weeks ago.

This year’s ensemble was nothing like last year’s mammoth undertaking. With a tentative PhD thesis defense date set, there was no way I could devote that much time this year.

However, I may actually love this year’s ensemble as much as last year’s, and I certainly enjoyed wearing it a lot more! lol (this year’s was much more user-friendly!)

To make things easier for myself I used sewing patterns I already had, and just did a bit of frankenpatterning. I combined two 1950s patterns for the dress and used one other for the bolero.

I took the dress bodice from this pattern:

McCalls 9881

And used the skirt portion of this pattern. Changes I made to this part: lengthening the skirt to be floor-length, eliminating the button-up front and making a seam + opening at centre back instead and I added a little extra fullness to the side front and side back pieces, because POUFFY:

Advance 6961 front

Once the drafting/frankenpatterning was done, the mock-up came together so well and so easily it was almost wearable itself! However, as not-bad as this ($1/m) fabric ended up looking, I had a GORGEOUS shot silk taffeta in mind for this and there’s really just no comparison.

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You may notice that the side pouffiness of the skirt is not even between both sides in the above photos. That’s because I was doing a little experimenting with my crinoline.

I made a new crinoline for this ensemble that ended up being a whole mini-project of its own. I don’t have photos of every step in its progression, but enough for you to get the idea. I knew from the beginning that I’d want some extra oomph underneath the skirt side gathers to fill them out nicely. So I tried adding an extra piece of gathered, softer crin fabric to one side and it did the trick. They look like this:

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I also, initially, started with a single-layer crinoline, but decided it didn’t have as much fullness as I wanted. It made the dress skirt look like this:

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(yes, that’s the “spontaneous” spencer with it, I was working on them at the same time. I think they actually look kinda cute together, what do you think? lol)

(here’s another view of them together. heehee:

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Anyway. To get more fullness I added a second layer to the lower two sections and that gave me the added fullness I wanted. The crinoline photo farther up is with the two layers. Here’s a gratuitous (superfluous?) photo showing the separate layers:

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And here’s a photo of the actual dress showing the difference between having the extra piece under the side and not. It’s not super-dramatic, but I think it adds just that little bit extra which takes it from nice to really having presence. Or is it just me?

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As you can see, I decided to accent this (amazing coloured) fabric with black. Oh, and the bit of blue you can see peeking out the bottom is some thin (almost sheer) but crisp cotton I found at Value Village to use as underlining to give the silk taffeta just a little more volume. Probably the most perfectly timed find I’ve made there yet, as I was just about to order some silk organza around the time I came across this. Even though the organza was well-priced at $6.99/m (USD), I got the whole piece of cotton (enough to underline the whole dress and make facings, and the bolero as well) for $6-7 (CAD) – can’t really beat that!

The neckline piping is from some silk dupioni scraps I had, the shoulder straps are from a piece of vintage/antique silk velvet ribbon I had to which I also added some dupioni piping along the edges (not that you can see it in these photos).

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I got a 10yd bolt of wide vintage rayon velvet ribbon (it’s SO soft!) for the sash and back tails. I folded the ribbon in half for the waist sash (full width was way too much on short-waisted me) but left it full width for the tails. Initially I tried to find satin-back velvet ribbon, but couldn’t find width + length I needed. Instead, I doubled this up and whip-stitched the edges to make a de facto double-sided velvet ribbon.

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It has a hand-picked zipper in the back, which I initially, intentionally avoided. I wanted a really clean line down the back so tried and invisible zip first. I know they’re not as strong as regular zips, but I made the bodice with a little bit of easy and added a stay at the waist to take the stress there. However, just after I got the zipper in (one of the last things I did – even though I know you should add an invisible zip before finishing the seam) and tried the dress on – the zipper first separated on me, and then broke completely when I tried to fix it/get out of the dress. I was decidedly NOT impressed. I got the zipper from Fabricland and don’t know if I just got a bad one or if the quality of their supplier has fallen. I fear it may be the latter and will not be buying another one from them in a hurry. Ultimately, I used a regular zip I had in my stash in a well-matching colour and all was fine. With the waist sash and tails you don’t see much of the zipper and it’s not like it looks terrible or anything, so I’m good with it.

For the matching/co-ordinating bolero I used this pattern and just modified it a little to have 3/4 length sleeves and meeting centre front edges:

Marian Martin 9390

I had a devil of a time deciding whether to make it of the silk, accented with black velvet, or black velvet accented with the silk. I played around with the fabrics to try and help myself:

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I even posted this on fb to get some advice but the opinions were nearly evenly split between the two. In the end I decided to do both by making it reversible!

Even on the evening of the ball I couldn’t decide which I liked better, so I just kept switching it around during the event, lol.

I didn’t do a whole photoshoot like last year, but got enough snaps to show how it all came together.








Dramatic Carolyn is dramatic.




I didn’t get the constant compliments and attention I did last year, but still plenty and I just loved wearing this so much! It was comfortable, it fit under the table at dinner so I was actually able to pull my chair in properly (unlike last year – that is NOT a sitting dress), it was so much lighter, it took a fraction of the time to make, and I spent so much less money on supplies and accessories (approx. $120 this year vs approx. $700 last year when all was said and done).

ETA: This dress has one more feature that makes me love it all the more – I added POCKETS into the side seams! That’s right, folks, it’s a ballgown with pockets!!

Of all the formal gowns I’ve made in recent years, this is the one I’m most looking forward to wearing again (and again and again!).

The Spontaneous Spencer

This is my entry for February’s Historical Sew Monthly challenge “Blue”. It wasn’t my initially intended entry, which was supposed to be a smart and clever-looking new pale blue wool coat made from a late teens/early 20s pattern I have. However, after doing a muslin and fiddling with it a bit I just wasn’t feeling it. I still hope to make it someday, but I wasn’t feeling totally enthusiastic about it and I think it’s too straight a silhouette for most of the clothes I wear, even though it has a little more flare than most styles from that period.

So, about the middle of the month I decided to completely switch tracks and make something that was nowhere on my sewing list/queue. Very practical decision (please note the sarcasm). I rationalized it to myself by saying that I had intended <someday> to make a new spencer from a piece of pale blue silk in my stash left over from the Regency ball ensemble I made a little over a year ago. And that even though I had no definite plans about it, it did get something off my sewing wishlist, at least, and used up an awkwardly-sized piece of fabric stash. In fact, everything on this came from stash, I didn’t purchase a single little bit for this, and that’s always nice.

I made the even more practical decision to hand sew the entire thing.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

My spencer is a combination of Sense & Sensibility’s pattern (which I already had and already used so I didn’t need to worry about fitting):


But took the sleeves from the 1818-1823 Pelisse in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I:

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The construction of the body of the spencer is probably pretty straightforward, but here are a couple of the sleeve to show how those go together.

Curiously, the sleeve head of the undersleeve is a separate piece. I used some of the white linen that I was using for lining (linen still being a common choice for linings at the time, a carry-over from the 18th century).

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The oversleeve before being attached to the undersleeve:

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The underside of the oversleeve to show some of the stitching:

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The over and under sleeves pinned together:

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And sewing the sleeve into the armhole using a thick silk thread and tight backstitches:

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And voila!



I really love the little wee peplums on the backs of some spencers!



One of the other HSM participants, Hvar Spae Kona, made a whole slew of Dorset buttons (in tardis blue!) for her entry and that reminded me that I’d gotten a little kit for them at the Fashion Museum at Bath way back in 2008. I thought they’d be the perfect period addition to my spencer and I love them!

ETA: I just found this online tutorial for them that looks quite good, if you’d like to try yourself. They’re quite easy and forgiving if you don’t get them perfect (I certainly didn’t, but it’s not obvious!)







The Facts…..

Challenge: Blue

Item: Spencer

Fabric: silk dupioni (very low-slub/smooth one); white linen for lining

Pattern: Sense & Sensibility Spence and Pelisse pattern, c. 1818-1823 Pelisse in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I

Year: c.1818-1823

Notions: metal rings and cotton perl thread for Dorset buttons; silk, linen and cotton sewing threads

Historical Accuracy: I’m gonna go ahead and give myself 95% on this one. It’s a mash-up of patterns, but I think pretty plausible. It’s silk dupioni, but a very smooth/low slub one, so I’m not taking much off for that. It’s 100% hand-sewn with period appropriate methods, techniques, and supplies.

Hours to Complete: Ohhhhhh………lots, for such a little thing. Let’s guesstimate 25-30.

First Worn: not yet (see below)

Total Cost: all from stash whose prices I can’t remember. Let’s guesstimate again at….. $30.


AND NOW – all I need is a dress to wear it with! Yes, I made this without already having anything to wear it over. Such a practical project, but I love it , am so pleased with how it turned out and don’t regret it!

Pink Victorian Corset

As part of my adventures in Natural Form foundations garments I also made a new corset. This is something I’d wanted to do for a while anyway. My previous Victorian corset was fine, but I wasn’t getting quite the curve in my figure or roundness in my bust profile I wanted. It also makes my hips sore because – and this was a big revelation for me! – there wasn’t enough fullness at the hips built into the corset. Duh! One of those things that seems so obvious once you realize it. The adjustability gained from having a lacing gap at the back will get you only so far!

Enter this beauty from Jill Salen’s book, Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques


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This is apparently a Symington corset from about 1875. (Note to self – look-up Symington corsets sometime for fun)

This particular specimen is found as an inset before the book’s title page. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the one I wanted to make. But after eagerly flipping through the book (and finding the set of late 18th century stays I also want to make) I realized there wasn’t a pattern for this one and immediately thought “what the fudge?!” to myself.

A close second look through the book revealed this variation instead:

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It’s nearly an identically shaped and patterned corset to the Symington one. Interestingly, notice the difference in dates. The first one was dated to 1875, this one to 1890-1900. My thinking is this must have been a very popular model/style that remained commercially successful for up to 25 years. This may also be an example of “trickle down” fashion (which I’m usually pretty skeptical of, mind you). The Symington corset is a high-end, expensive model while the later one would have been more economical (based on materials and what looks like less cording through the body).

Anyhoo, it was an easy decision to use the later corset’s pattern to make my own using the Symington one as more of my stylistic inspiration. I also like the versatility in time periods this style allows, being actually documented as existing from 1875-c.1900. I don’t necessarily need to make a new corset if I suddenly decide to foray into the 1890s (which I will, eventually). And this is the corset I’m wearing under my cranberry wool satin winter ensemble. Win-win!

The base/strength layer of the corset is coutil – my first time using this and I may never go back when it comes to Victorian-Edwardian corsetry. This stuff is great! I got mine at Farthingales. The “fashion” layer is some (very) pink Chinese silk brocade that’s been languishing in my stash for well over 10 years. I only had a metre of it, and at 29″ wide that made it tricky to figure out how to use it. This corset was the perfect application and I was so happy to have finally found just the right thing for this fabric to be!

I used 3 types of supports on the inside: flat steel boning for the centre backs and at the fronts, spiral steel boning on either side of the bust gores and at the side seams, and cording beside the front busk, beside the bust gores, beside the side seam at the back and at the upper backs.

I’d never done cording like this before, so tried out a sample with some fabric scraps. Inside the channels I just used some jute twine I had in a kitchen drawer and experimented with thickness. I also did a test patch of the cross-hatched stitching as I wasn’t entirely sure if I would like it on the brocade:

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Turns out I loved it! I did another test of it, though, specifically over a motif just to make sure:

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Yup, I’m sure!

The other, MAJOR, thing I tested was the pattern itself. I did a full mock-up of the corset in some sturdy scrap fabric and both boned it and added lacing holes. I will never make a corset without doing a muslin/mock-up again!!!! This made such a HUGE difference. It didn’t take long and was more than worth the effort. Because of this, I now have the best fitting corset I’ve ever had with better shape than I think I’ve ever had!

Here it is laid out “flat” and looking pretty:

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Here’s the inside:

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While I don’t know how historically accurate the binding of the seam allowance edges is, I really like how clean-looking it makes the insides.

A detail of the stitching at the front hip piece/flange:

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The upper and lower edges are bound with ivory duchess silk satin (using scraps long leftover from my old days working in a custom bridal shop).

A detail of the bust gussets on one side – and the little silk ribbon bow!:

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a detail of one of the back hip gussets:

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Here’s me playing Victorian underwear model:


I love the shape this gives me!


It may not be absolutely perfect, but it’s much better than anything I’ve had before. I think this is largely due to my hips finally having enough room, thus accentuating the waist-to-hip ratio.


Along the back is the one area I’m reconsidering. The laces are not what’s causing the little bit of buckling at the back waist (btw, eventually I’m going to add a hook to the lower front to hook the lacing onto rather than tucking it around the corset itself, which I’m sure if a very naughty thing to be doing), the corset just does that. Looks like my caboose is curvy enough to need a little extra boning back there to smooth out the line.

I’m contemplating adding one or two extra bones down the full length, possibly one on either side of the hip gusset. If anyone has any suggestions/advice on this I’d be very appreciative!


As you can see here, the effect shows most from the front & back, I actually look a little thicker than normal from the side, but that’s how these work. This was the same with most women historically.



Look, I found I have a matching teacup! ‘Cause I’m a crazy teacup lady!


A perfect pairing, I think.


And here’s me realizing the cup’s shape is slightly reminiscent of the corset’s. I love that!


And I couldn’t resist trying a Victorian pin-up pose! ;o)


On a related note, I read this great post earlier today by Cathy Hay that helps bust several corset myths (pun intended, haha), check it out!

Late 1880s Winter Ensemble

***WARNING***Image-Heavy Post – I really love this outfit!!!!***

This was a very spur of the moment make. Only a couple of weeks before Christmas I decided to make it all of a sudden one afternoon to wear out for a holiday dinner with the same co-conspirators friends as the Victorian picnic summer before last. I could have worn my Autumn 1880s ensemble, and planned to do so. But all of a sudden in the afternoon one week before our intended dinner I was struck with inspiration for a new ensemble specifically for winter and vaguely Christmas-y. Within the space of a few hours I had the fabric and design picked out. I don’t know when I’ve ever gotten a sizable project sorted so quickly!

I got most of it done in a week, but ultimately our dinner was postponed until after Christmas. That gave me time to finish it properly, make the hat, and add an extra piece!

In case you missed my year-end round-up post, I won’t keep you in suspense, here it is:


I used a combination of Truly Victorian patterns and ones from Frances Grimble’s book Bustle Fashions 1885-1887. The foundation garments are a chemise I made from a Simplicity pattern, the TV101 Petticoat with wire bustle and my new corset (to be blogged about soon!).

I made the underskirt from the back piece of TV290 1889 Draped Skirt, which I already happened to have on-hand:

1889 Draped Skirt

And the front gores of TV 121 1879 Petticoat (now discontinued and replaced with TV125). Since I knew I wanted an overskirt, I wanted the underskirt’s front to be narrow and smooth.

From the Frances Grimble book I used this overskirt pattern:

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I modified it a little making the front points and back panel longer. Proportionally, the front points look the same length on me as in the illustration, but when I enlarged the pattern they were quite a bit shorter on me. I lengthened the back panel because a) I had enough fabric to do so; and b) I wanted more to play with for draping – although I think I may revisit the way I’ve bustled/draped the back.

And this Street Jacket bodice pattern:

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Really the only alterations I made to this were for size.

The red and green fabrics were both great finds, but one was more stupendous than the other. The green is a lightweight wool suiting I got for $4/m at Fabricland back in the fall – great buy!

The red was a score of a lifetime! It’s wool satin. Yes. Not super common, but yes it’s a real thing. If you can find it, it normally retails for at least $50/yd (not the most extravagant cost, but its rarity adds to its preciousness. Precioussssssss). A year or so ago I found nearly 6m of it at the Value Village near my parents’ house. It was $7 for the whole piece. I could. not. believe. my. luck. Despite the fact there was recurrent moth damage throughout the piece, there was enough of it that I knew I could do something with it. And you don’t pass up a find of wool satin like that just because it’s been munched on a little!

I had initially intended it for an everyday winter coat for myself. However, when I decided to do this project I knew it was THE perfect fabric to use. Such a luxuriously historically accurate fabric doesn’t come around (to me) that often, it deserved to be something really special.


The black trim was another great thrift store find. It was a full spool of probably 30m-40m (I used almost 20m in total on this project and still have lots left) and was something like $2 for the whole shebang. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s vintage something and it has an astrakhan-like appearance while in no way being real astrakhan.


The black buttons are self-cover buttons I made with some scraps of black cotton velvet I’d been hording. Hehe, justification for hording sewing bits!


The muff is the same one I made last year for going to the Regency Ball.

(The photo below is my current fb profile picture, just for fun)


The fur hat is made from more of the leftovers the muff is made from. So much thrifted and scrap materials went into this, and I love that!


The snowy landscape is courtesy of a typical Canadian winter ;oP


Clearly, I need to learn how to style wigs. I hope Kendra comes out with a 19th century/Victorian wig book one of these days!






Yeah, that back bustling of the overskirt is a little “blah”. I’ll have to play around with it sometime to make it more interesting.


Looks good from the side, though:





This photo was taken a while into our “shoot” when I realized I’d been partially standing in my husband’s shadow the whole time thus far.

I think of this one as “hey, what’s that crawling up me?”


And “Ohhh…..that’s what.”


Because making the outfit wasn’t enough and I had some red wool satin left-over (and didn’t want awkwardly-sized pieces of this left since I wouldn’t know what to do with it but wouldn’t be able to just get rid of it either) I decided to make a matching dolman! I had initially thought to wear my Autumn dolman with this ensemble as I thought the colours would be close enough, but I just couldn’t resist making an actual matching one – not when I had the perfect fabrics!


I used the Ladies’ Visite pattern, from the same Frances Grimble book as the outerskirt and bodice:

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This one I actually shorted some at the front. As drafted/enlarged it would have been down to my knees and I don’t think that would have looked so good.

I didn’t have enough wool satin for the whole thing, so got clever and used this paisley cotton jacquard from stash for the sleeves and collar – and a snazzy little applique on the back.


Although it’s perfectly wearable I’m calling it not 100% finished. I want to add one or two more hook & eye sets to close it up a little farther down; and I feel like it needs a little more visual interest on the front. In consultation with my friend, Sarah, I think I’ll continue the black trim around the base of the collar and also add black velvet-covered buttons with cord loops down the front. What do you think?


The dolman is lined with more stash materials: wool batting left over from my 18th century quilted petticoat (I’m starting to feel like I want to make another one of those…..that’s probably crazy, but…), machine quilted with some black silk habotai. It’s very cozy!


So now I have only a few little scraps of wool satin left – maybe they’ll end up as buttons on something else some day!


Have I mentioned how much I love this outfit? ;o)


Natural Form Foundations

For the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly interested in the Natural Form period of fashion. If you’re unfamiliar with this transitional style of Victorian fashion you can check out my hodge-podge pinterest board on it to get an idea. I’ve been getting more interested in various transitional fashions, really, such 1790s and 1820s. With Natural Form I feel really drawn to the sumptuous use and cleverness of the fabric trims, the svelte contours of the figure, the sweeping trains. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve noticed that Natural Form can actually be divided into two phases of approx. 1876-1879 and 1880-1882/3.

Just for fun, here’s an example of 1876 Natural Form:

May fashions, 1876 France, Journal des Demoiselles et Petit Courrier des Dames Réunis

And here’s 1880:

Victorian Fashion Plate 1880.

At the moment, I’m feeling more into the first phase of the aesthetic – loving all that asymmetrical drapery, knots and volume in the skirts! Yum!

Since making Tree last year, I’ve also gotten really enthusiastic about structured foundations so contrary to how it usually goes I was actually eager to build these pieces before starting on any pretty pretty dresses (but, oh, what I have planned!). These didn’t all happen at once, I made them between September and November 2014, with the chemise being finished early-mid January. I also made a new corset, but I think that deserves its own post!

A big shout-out goes to Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre for inspiring several of these pieces, and thus consequently the full set. She made a hip pad, hooped petticoat and flounced train to go under her Natural Form ballgown a year and bit ago. She presented comparison photos of the great difference the underpinnings made to the look of her dress, convincing me that if I wanted to start down the Natural Form rabbit hole I needed these first! Check out her great post here.

The first piece I’m showing, the chemise, is the most recently completed. I had started it first but it didn’t go well, so I left it for a while and came back to it this month for the first Historical Sew Monthly 2015 challenge, which is foundations.

It’s made using this pattern in Frances Grimble’s book, Fashions of the Gilded Age, Vol 1:

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It’s made from this beautifully light and floaty cotton voile that I initially intended for a late 18th century fichu/handkerchief. That was some years ago, so it wasn’t a big wrench to change my mind and I love having so light and non-bulky under my corset!


While it is finished, I’m not totally done with it. I’ve decided to change the lace trimming around neck and arms. I’m waiting on some vintage insertion lace to arrive that I’m going to sew to the chemise edges instead, and add the lace on it now to the edge of the insertion lace instead.


I was quite proud of my 1/8″ French seams!


Next up are the drawers – also from Fashions of the Gilded Age:

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And yes – they’re split! And I can personally attest that once you go split drawers you won’t go back!


They’re made out of white cotton from an obliging Value Village-sourced bed sheet.

My favourite part of these are the two vintage/antique cloth-covered buttons from my button stash that I used for fastening at the side.


I made a new petticoat specifically for the period too using TV121 (now discontinued, replaced by TV125


For this I used white cotton pillow-ticking. I wanted something fairly lightweight but still crisp, which ticking’s tight weave amply provides.


The petticoat itself is full length with the bottom flounce applied to it. While I really like the extra bit of body and substance this provides, the hem is forever getting caught up underneath when I put it on.


Underneath the petticoat are two nifty types of support!

First is the hoopskirt, again from Fashions of the Gilded Age (this has been a very helpful book!)

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This was the piece that kind of inspired the whole lot of these underpinnings. I thought it was just fascinating when I saw Jen Thompson’s version!


Mine is made from white cotton twill canvas that I had in my stash. The adjustable straps and the waistband are cotton twill tape, doubled up. Those are safety pins you see below the buckles. The buckles I got aren’t quite toothy enough to hold the straps when you start adding layers over top of the petticoat so until I address that the safety pins keep everything in place. I’m not too bothered by it at the moment, still just too excited about making this!



In addition to also leaving off the front vents I followed Jen’s example by making the inner panel lace-up so it can be more adjustable.


One note about the placement of that panel – if you ever decide to make one of these you may want to situate more forward than the pattern indicates. The way I read the pattern (possibly incorrectly) is that the panel should be placed at the first set of seams beside centre back. I did this initially and found it didn’t give the right shape. I removed it, then decided to split it in half and have it lace-up, and moved it to the next set of seams. This did the trick!


The second support is a small bustle pad – which I think is the cutest piece of the bunch!

I didn’t use a pattern for this one, but took inspiration from these two original examples:


This one is at the MET

English Bustles, 1875-1885 - Fashioning Fashion - LACMA From the exhibition "Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. On view from October 2, 2010 - March 6, 2011.  (Image source Wikipedia)

My reference here is the one on the far left. These are at LACMA.

My primary reference was the first one, but with fewer tiers and less controlled box pleats similar to the second one.


This doesn’t add a lot at the rear, just that extra little bit you need for the Natural Form silhouette.


The base is more white cotton sheet a la Valoo Villahge, the ruffles are hair canvas (the kind typically used in tailoring), the binding is vintage cotton bias binding and the ties are narrow cotton twill tape. I really love this thing and do a little squee every time look at it! lol


The final, and prettiest, component is the ruffled train, also from Fashions of the Gilded Age:

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Ahem. It’s made from more of the white cotton pillow ticking that I used for the petticoat – to which it is also mounted.

To be honest, if I were to do this again I wouldn’t use the ticking for the ruffles. While it’s perfect for the base, using it for the ruffles makes it rather heavy and I fear it causes more drag than is ideal. I’d use cotton voile or lawn instead. This one is still definitely useful (and beautiful!) but will work best under the really narrow skirts of 1880-1882 than the fuller ones of 1876-1879.


I used some scraps of the cotton sheet to bind the edges (all the rest of the ticking was used up on ruffles!) and added buttons to the sides of the petticoat and thread loops to the train to keep it in place. I think I’ll add one or two sets more for added stability and security. The buttons also need to be replaced with shell ones.


I added four shell buttons to the back of the petticoat at the waist and corresponding thread loops to the train’s upper edge


So here’s the whole shebang put together. It’s not a dramatic look, but will really give a sense of substance underneath my upcoming Natural Form dresses (one of which is currently in the works!)

I’ll try to get a picture of my in all of it as part of my corset post.


How do you feel about making foundation garments (historical or modern)? Love ’em? Hate ’em and can’t wait to get to the good stuff?

2014 Sewing Review

On Monday (Monday? Yes, I think it was Monday) I read through Lauren’s (American Duchess) sewing year in review post and enjoyed it so much I decided to do my own!

My ulterior motive for this is that I’m so behind on my blogging that I don’t think I’ll be able to catch-up, so there will be (several) new reveals to get them out of the way. Some of these will still have dedicated posts, but it should ease-up some of the backlog.

January – March

This period was taken up almost exclusively by the herculean effort of reproducing Charles James’ Tree gown:


And the 1912 superhero evening cape/wrap I made to go with it:


This was a truly monumental project for me and to say I learned a lot would be the understatement of the year. This was such an education and through it I also discovered a real love and fascination for clothing with serious understructure!

In addition to this dress I made a Charles James inspired one for a friend, too:


plus this sassy little capelet (that I totally want to make for myself too):



After these monumental projects I really wanted and needed to tone things down a lot.



I made a Zinnia skirt in a black wool blend. It was easy, quick, and filled a basic need in my wardrobe – pretty much the entire opposite of the prior 3 months of sewing!

I also managed to add one piece to my “Canadian Spring” wardrobe, the pale robins egg and charcoal wool dress. Although I made it in April I didn’t manage to photograph until sometime in May, hence wearing it without tights. It mostly got worn with tights.


This year I participated in MMM (MeMadeMay) for the first time. I gave myself the challenge of wearing at least 1 make from an Indie patterns each week, and sewing only from Indie patterns for the month.






I cheated some by making repeats but, how does that phrase go? Sorrynotsorry?

The first two dresses are the Elisalex pattern and the next two are the Macaron bodice with full skirts, and the last one I called the ModMacathorn because it was a modcloth inspired modification of the Macaron bodice combined with the Hawthorn skirt.

A prolific month. That made me very happy.



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Summer dresses! I love sewing summer dresses! Here we have a Cambie, 2 Belladone’s with full skirts, and 2 more modified Macarons


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I made this Lonsdale out of a really beautiful cotton. Besides the wonderful print, the fabric is really lightweight, semi-sheer, but with a satin/sateen weave – gorgeous stuff! Unfortunately, I don’t love how this dress looks on me. I’m bummed because I love the fabric so much. I feel like it makes my hips look really wide and, odd as it may seem, I think it needs particular footwear to look good and I don’t know if I have it. I’m going to revisit this dress again come next summer, I really want to wear this fabric. I started running again in August and since Sept/Oct it’s started paying off, so hopefully that will help with how it looks on me. Oh – and I also lined it with lavender habotai/china silk, so it feels pretty amazing on!



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In contrast to my less-than-love-it Lonsdale, I love love love the first fall dress I made in September. It’s a sheer cotton print courtesy of some Edmonton thrift store from years ago made into a vintage Simplicity pattern from the early 60s. I probably wore this at some point every week after I finished it until it was officially winter.

In September I also started on a full set of new Victorian undergarments. For the past year I’ve felt increasingly intrigued by the Natural Form era. I’ve also become a lot more interested in structural foundations since my big learning experience with Tree. Add these together and you get a whole set of Natural Form foundation garments – AND THEY’RE AWESOME!!

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here as I intend to do a dedicated post(s) for these, but here you get a sneak peak! I started with a chemise (not pictured because it didn’t work out – what an inauspicious beginning for an endeavour that turned out so well lol), split drawers (these are seriously fabulous to wear) and one of my other proudest achievements this year – a new corset!! I think this may be one of the single prettiest things I’ve made. It actually looks waaayyyy better on smooshable me than unyielding Maddy, but this was the quick n’ easy was to get photos for this post. I’ll do photos of it on me for the later, more detailed posts.



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Here we have my second fall dress of the year, a stretch cotton made into a current McCalls wrap dress pattern.

And the Victorian underthings-making continued with a new petticoat from a Truly Victorian pattern and a bustle pad I made based on extant examples (which I think may be the cutest thing I’ve ever made!)


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There was my third fall dress made from wool and a mash-up of two early 60s patterns. I’m definitely doing a dedicated post for this wool one, it’s one of my more ‘high-end’ makes.

The blue/purple cotton print dress is also from a vintage early 60s pattern and is both intended and used as a ‘house dress’. It’s great for days and times I know I don’t need to worry about going outside (which, as a grad student in the middle of thesis writing is a lot of the time). I want to make several more of these, but don’t know if that will happen.

And the final two pieces of Natural Form structural stuff happened over November too: the very cool hoop petticoat and rufflicious petticoat train – both from Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol 1. So. Pretty. Detailed posts coming.



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I added a little to my stash of hand-made Christmas décor this year with these quickie lumbar cushion covers. A great way to use up scraps of stuff!

The big story for this month, however, was my crazy-ass decision to make this new 1880s ensemble. It was a totally spontaneous decision made, with fabrics and patterns chosen in one afternoon! I put most of it together in a week, but then spent the next 3 weeks finishing it and making the Dolman. You better believe this outfit will also get dedicated posts so I won’t say much more about it now except that I cannot say how happy I am with how it turned out! A total distraction from the Natural Form stuff I’m working towards, but I’m so not sorry!

Not too shabby a year output-wise, I’m counting 30 items here (if I consider the winter Victorian outfit and dolman as two separate things), which makes more than 2 items per month on average. Of course, I wish there was more (I want to make a fall cape SO. BAD.), but that’s always the way, right?

I was going to include the knitting, but thought this would get too long if I did (so addicted). I wonder what 2015 will bring? I always have lists and plans, and I always seem to end up with different stuff! lol

I hope you enjoyed my little trip down the past year’s sewing memory lane!

Like Lauren did, if you have a blog and did a 2014 round-up I’d love to take a look-see, so please add it in the comments!

Vintage Simplicity 5059 – aka – Fall Dress #1

As much as I hate to see summer leave, fall is just about my favourite season to sew for, the colours are just the best! Case in point:


I never get to do as much of it as I’d like (proper fall weather here lasts about 2-4 weeks) but I’m managing to do a little more every year.

Today’s make is my favourite piece of fall sewing this year!

I’d had this wonderful piece of sheer cotton for a while now. It’s another treasure-like find from the thrift store (which I pronounce Va-loo Villahge to make it sound hoity-toity). I’ve wanted to use it every fall since I got it, but wasn’t sure for what or how. It’s such an autumnal colour palette, but so lightweight I thought it wouldn’t work for fall weather.

Happily, I was wrong!

(full disclosure: these photos were taken over Thanksgiving weekend – that’s early October here in Canada – and it wasn’t quite mild enough to go around in short sleeves, I took my coat off for the photos)

(on another note: it’s kinda surreal posting these photos now considering there’s a blizzard going on outside as I write this)


This is the pattern I used for this dress:

Simplicity 5059 -front

I think one of my favourite things about making this dress was how reminiscent my fabric is of the pattern envelope art. Not the same, but they have a similar feel, don’t they? I think that’s super-fun! So much so that it’s contributed to an idea for some of my other vintage patterns – matching my make with fabric/colour of the envelope art! I initially got the idea about a year ago when I discovered that I have a fabric nearly identical to one on the envelope of another pattern. I wanted to make it last winter, but then Tree took over my life. (seriously.) I’m determined to make it this winter and possibly turn this idea into a little series-on-the-side thingy, just for fun!

Hm. If it’s a series it needs a name. What’s a good name for that sort of thing? Envelope imitations? Illustration knock-offs? Help me out here!


Anyhoo. I made a couple of modifications to this dress compared with the pattern. The main one, construction-wise, was to turn it from a side opening dress to a front opening dress. I dislike wearing side zippers and I like installing them even less. I’ve also always thought it odd to have a button-up bodice but actual fastening at the side. So how did I do this? It’s pretty simple, really (especially with a gathered skirt), just takes a little wrapping your head around it. Basically, I made the buttoned bodice front functional, cut a slit into the skirt front, sewed a wee little placket to it and aligned the edges with the bodice edges. Because the bodice overlaps so does the skirt, thus hiding the opening. With the skirt being gathered and this busy pattern it’s pretty much invisible!

I don’t know if this photo is going to help much seeing what I did, but here’s a close-up of the opening, with the edges outlined in the red:


The more minor alteration was to the collar. I wanted it more open, but didn’t think to change the pattern at all. So it didn’t lie properly if I left the top of the neckline open. My solution? Make a tuck in the collar itself and put a button on it to show that it’s not an accident, but a “design decision”. Ha. Fortunately I had lots of these wee buttons. You can see it on the right-hand side of the collar in the photo below:


Here’s a close-up of it:


To deal with the fabric’s sheerness I self-lined the bodice – as you probably already noticed – this also helped use up my yardage so I didn’t have an awkwardly sized piece of fabric left over too small to really use but too big to be useless.  Fortunately, the fabric’s pattern doesn’t come through noticeably.  On the bottom half I wear my black slip made from bemberg lining.  Hmm … note to self: I have some olive green/brown bemberg I should probably make another slip from to match this and other fall dresses better.


I made very few changes to the fit of the dress since the pattern was already in my size. I did find it pretty roomy through the waist once I was done, so I’ll just always wear it with a belt – which I was intending to do anyway. I think the only size alteration I made was to shorten the bodice by about 1″ – my usual modification for my short-waist-ed-ness.


This dress is super comfortable and needs only the belt to look smart and put together. I do love easy-to-wear pieces!