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.


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