Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who is this thing supposed to fit, anyways??? (A sewing post...)

In my last post, I mentioned that I was interested in sewing the positively drool-worthy dress featured as a Masterclass on Your Wardobe Unlock'd. Pictures can be found here...
Before ordering any fabric, I purchased the recommended bodice pattern, Reconstructing History's 1670s-1690s bodiced gown. I followed all the recommended steps starting from the beginning, which was to cut out a pattern piece for the largest of your relevant body measurements from the sizing table. Since that was my waist/hip area, I cut out a size that *should* fit a 38 inch bust, with a supposed 2-inch gap for the lacing. So that means that the garment size is 36 inches across the bust (my bust measurement), right? More on that later.

The first step was to cut the pattern out of cardboard/bristol board to check the fit while imitating the stiffness of the boning, so if it stabs you anywhere (like at the hips or armpit) you can cut those bits away and then transfer those alterations back to the pattern paper. Useful tip! The cardboard fitting went without a hitch, so I made a "muslin" out of some fabric scraps I had around the house, which is the same fabric I intended to use for the main part of the gown but in a different color. I figured this step would help me see how the bodice would look in my fabric choice, and work out if the taffeta would stretch when laced up, etc. Also note that the pattern as written is meant to lace up the back where a 2-inch gap is somewhat acceptable. The YWU instructions just say to switch the lacing from the back to the front with addition and removal of the appropriate seam allowances. Also note that the pattern is for a tabbed corset, but YWU removed them. YWU drafted the bodice from a book (by Janet Arnold, historical costumer extraordinaire, I don't remember the title of the book) but recommended using this pattern due to similarities in style. Here's my fitting of the bodice.
Aaargh !!! No matter how hard I tugged or laced it up tightly, it was WAY too small everywhere but the upper back where it gaped like crazy. With my husband's help I managed to get the thing closed but it wasn't pretty. Really not pretty. I couldn't breathe. If it was boned I'm sure I'd have broken a rib or two. Who is this thing supposed to fit anyways? It's a size larger than my bust and it's *supposed* to have a 1-2" gap (for someone with a 38-inch bust) so why is there a good 3 inches of gap at the chest?

So I gave up on this pattern. Good thing I didn't cut out the pattern paper, instead I traced over the pattern with giant tracing paper and cut that out instead. Anyone want to buy an uncut but opened pattern for a bodice that probably won't fit anyone? For fun I wandered over to and fiddled with their custom corset pattern generator. I also googled like crazy the topic of fitting bodices and corsets. Here's what I learned...
1. For a back lacing Elizabethan corset, about 2" of gap is required in order to get the right amount of smoosh at the bosom.
2. For front lacing corsets, and especially bodices, at most a 1/2 " gap is OK, otherwise it just looks bad.
3. To have the maximum amount of flexibility in sizing and ease of dressing, a front and back lacing corset cut with 2" of negative ease is the best bet. That way if you get a *touch* bigger it can still accomodate an extra 1/2" gap at the front.
4. No one in internet land has used this particular Reconstructing History pattern. Hmmm....

I made a few mockups of custom-generated corsets from the elizabethan costume site and they all worked, but the one cut with tabs and a 2" gap gave the best fit. Here's a comparison of the custom corset in navy blue over the Big Disaster Bodice.

The picture isn't great, but the differences are that:
1. The custom corset (CC) sits lower. I think the straps were too short on the Big Disaster Bodice (BDB). I figured out where the straps should be and their length on the CC by pinning long strips of 1.5" wide fabric from the recommended placement point on the back (described at the elizabethan costuming website above) to where they felt right at the front. My shoulder straps were 3" longer than the recommended length. I must have enormous shoulders!
2. The back is cut at an angle.
3. It's about 1" wider at the bust and 2" wider at the waist than the BDB.

So last weekend I decided that I had two options. I could fiddle with the BDB until the measurements between the two agree. But they are corsets from different periods and it would be a lot of work for someone who has never done this sort of thing before. Or I could just make an Elizabethan gown and separate corset. The final corset mockup fit extremely well, so that's what I decided upon. I also refuse to go through a lot of effort for a 1-wear-only dress, so I figure I'll get even more use out of a Renaissance-style gown than a Jacobean one. So my mind was made up.
This is the gown I'm attempting to make. My apologies for my lack of drawing skills.It's a high-necked bodice (which I'll draft myself) with an over and underskirt (using the same instructions as would have been used for the pirate gown) with a high-necked chemise and a corset. This picture approximates my color scheme. I'll be using purple silk taffeta I bought off ebay (for an unbelievably good price from Thailand) for the underskirt, bodice and sleeve lining. The bodice and overskirt will use a black silk-rayon blend taffeta purchased from a competitor of the ebay vendor who never got back to me. Shame shame.

Sidenote: Mom, I know you don't like the idea of black wearing black to a wedding. Thrace thinks it's OK, and it's elegant. The other colors were also way too bright. And somewhat ugly. I consulted with friends.

I recently acquired some beautiful white cotton lawn for the chemise, I'll probably get to start that next weekend. Now my only decision left is the lining fabric for the skirts. They will be quite full (3-4 yards wide at the lower hem) so I don't want a heavy lining. Silk habotai is way out of my price range for the quantities required. Polyester is affordable (1.25 pounds/meter), lightweight, and apparently won't cause static cling between the layers. But it doesn't breathe and Thrace said (and I quote) "yuck". The polyester lining fabric I found on the internet is also a 45-inch width fabric while the black taffeta is 59" wide, so I'll have to piece the lining together for the skirts. I say "yuck" to that. I hunted around for ideas for natural fabric linings, and came across a costumer here who claims to only use cotton muslin as a lining fabric. I found the price quite reasonable from an online vendor at 1.89 pounds/meter for a 54" wide black muslin. And it's wider than their polyester lining, definitely a bonus. My only concern is that it will get all static-clingy. Advice needed! Will the weight of the skirts overcome the static charging and sticking of the muslin to pantyhose/taffeta underneath? Will it charge at all? Help!

At least I have a bit of time to make up my mind on this one because I'm still working on the corset.
I used a locally purchased cotton canvas material for the corset, in a so-called natural color. Well then why did it bleed yellow (bright urine yellow - yum!) when I pre-washed it? I'm so glad I washed it, the last thing I want is for that yucky yellow to bleed all over the pure white chemise I'll be making next. It is extremely easy to sew, at least. I sewed in about 32 boning channels on each half and used about 18 meters of rigilene boning. I would have preferred to use plastic cable ties for the boning because it's supposedly strong and flexible like the baleen used in period, but I couldn't find long enough cable ties locally. They do come in 50 cm lengths,
but I'd have had to mail-order it and I had the rigilene handy. I am finishing up binding the corset with bias tape by hand. Ouch! Never again. Hopefully I'll be done next weekend so I can post some pictures.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Warning: Viewer discretion advised

Mom: this means you. There is one rude (but funny) photo below. Skip this post if you are easily offended. Otherwise read on. So... as Thrace has posted on more than one occasion, whe likes to go camping on the weekends. Well, I like to dress up funny and also go visit medieval cathedrals. I've been doing both those things in the last month, hence the lack of posts. I went to Cologne and saw the enormous cathedral (which was only finished in the 19th century due to lack of funds) which I believe is the highest standing Christian monument in the world, and then I say Notre-Dame de Strasbourg which was the highest standing cathedral until Cologne's cathedral was finished. Wow. Impressive architecture. I love Gothic architecture.

This is the view up a stairwell of the Cathedral builder's offices of the Strasbourg cathedral, which is now a museum. The level of detail in the buildings is astonishing, each time you look you see something new.
The city had illuminations of the cathedral at night, and the view was fantastic. This is definitely worth checking out next August if any of you lovely blog readers are in the area next August.

In our wanderings of the city, me and my friend also saw some amusing contemporary art:
Take that you lawn-gnome thieves! I can't help it, I want one. Too bad I have no lawn.

So I promised details about that sweater I posted about briefly last time.
Well, it's done! Just in time for the chilly weather too.
Pattern: Kaleidoscope by Sarah Sutherland
ravelry link
This sweater was formerly available from Magknits, now it is available at the designer's blog as a free pdf download.

General idea:
It's a bottom up raglan that is entirely seamless, knit in fingering weight yarn on big (pattern states 4.5 mm, I used 5 mm) needles.

My thoughts:
I love it. It was a much faster knit then I thought a fingering weight sweater could be. And the construction method made it possible for me to try it on as I went along. This really helped me to nail the sleeve length perfectly, which is usually an area I have difficulty with.

I extended the k2 p2 rib at the sleeves and neckline to be 1 inch long (6 rows of ribbing at my row gauge). I'm not really sure what size I ended up with because I am using a thinner yarn knit on bigger needles than the pattern states, but unblocked it fits me very nicely. I'll do a proper measurment and modelled shot once I block it. I worked the number of stitches for the 40 inch bust size, and I know it's smaller than that. I also worked more yoke decreases (10 decrease rows, or 20 rows total) than the pattern stated because I wanted a higher neckline. I also made full-length sleeves instead of 3/4 length. It was easy, I just kept on knitting and trying the sweater on until it was my full sleeve length.

The yarn:
21st century yarns botany wool in colorways Pluto (bottom hem), Sorcery (middle section) and Mole (neckline).

My impressions:
Nice wool. No complaints whatsoever. Beautiful colors. I would definitely buy again for a fingering weight hand-dyed shawl. Gorgeous colorways from their inline color card. It's a bit fuzzy and 'sticky' so it way work well for stranded colorwork too. I don't know yet because I never tried it!

Future projects? Well, thrace is getting married in a few months. I searched long and hard for a dress to wear (I only own one dress and I can barely breathe when I wear it, and it's too casual for a winter wedding anyway) and I failed miserably. Nothing would fit either me or my friend who is roughly the same size but with a different shape. Who are these dresses made for anyways? Clearly not humans when I can't even get my arm in the sleeve because the armscye depth is too small!!! So it looks like I'm going to have to sew something. I've settled on a gown which is sort of Victorian-ish, but without the cased steel boned corset. Shudder. Here's a picture of the completed gown on the designer's website. I have settled on a black mostly-fake-silk taffeta as the main fabric and a gold jacquard fabric for the contrast fabric. Thrace still has to approve this choice (hint hint call me!) but I'm looking forward to trying this out. And I cast on for a black lace shawl to match. If I go ahead with it, I'll post progress updates on it. For those of you who are interested the gown instructions are a 3-part masterclass from the online sewing magazine Your Wardrobe Unlock'd.