Sunday, October 26, 2008

One step at a time...(do I need to say it? More sewing!)

I finished the shirt last weekend and started the underskirt. It took less than a week to finish! It was really easy and although I consulted a few websites for construction tips, I did not need a pattern. First I cut out 3 pieces of my 40" wide fabric 41.5 inches long. (I measured from my waist to the floor and added 2 inches for hemming.) I did the same for the lining although I had to piece it together to be the same width. I sewed the pieces together along the selvedges forming a giant tube except for one edge where I left a 7" long gap (in order to get into the thing). I sewed the lining tube to the fabric tube along the bottom edge, turned and pressed, then basted them together at the top. Then I cartridge pleated the skirt into a waistband (some cotton ribbon with diagonal ribbing - I don't know what it's called) following the instructions here. I added a hook and eye to the waistband, and voila! A large flouncy skirt!

Now for details on the fabrics....ooh the fabrics. I love fabric as much as I love yarn and I prefer both to contain natural fibers. Does that make me a fabric snob as well as a yarn snob? Anyways, the skirt outer fabric is some silk taffeta purchased on eBay from Thailand. The price was okay (about $10/yard) but now that I've made something from it I think it was totally worth it. It was washable and didn't lose its dye (had a bad experience with some other cheaper Thai silk recently...) and retained its papery crisp texture with some ironing. It was easy to sew too. I LOVE the way it catches the light and the feel of it. I will definitely buy again when and if the occasion arises and if the prices don't creep up too much on eBay. Also note that this is a smooth silk, not a slubby silk. Some people care about this stuff when it comes to peiod costuming, i.e. slubby silks were considered inferior and were generally not used (though they did exist in the Renaissance period).

Now for the lining. I found the muslin to be a terrible lining. It static-clings to everything! And the stuff I got was too lightweight. I used it anyways but obtained an alternative lining for the overskirt and bodice. I don't want my overskirt static clinging to my underskirt! And the costumer I linked to who claimed to use muslin as a lining for everything? I found out that many Americans refer to calico when they say muslin. Calico is a heavier weight, tighter weave and stiffer cotton fabric. In the UK it is generally left undyed. Geez louise! Why are there numerous conflicting names for these things? It's very frustrating!

At least Boo likes it and thinks it's coming along OK. He also said it looked quite Victorian so far (it's supposed to be Elizabethan) but I figure the bun I typically wear as well as the wire-rimmed glasses contribute to that end result. I think he's a bit jealous, he asked me to make him an outfit too, but I won't have time until the New Year. Good thing I picked up a copy of the Tudor Tailor!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The chemise is almost there (yes.. more sewing)

For the last week I've been assembling a high-necked chemise to go under the corset I just finished. The pattern I'm using is An Elizabethan Shirt Instruction by Grace Gamble, available here as a free pdf download. I think it's working out OK, other than the problem that there is no mention of finishing techning techniques for fabrics that fray very easily. I decided to use french seams and modified the pattern intuitively. I wouldn't say that my modifications were perfect, but it's good enough for now, and if I ever decide to make a similar garment I will redraft the pattern properly in order to incorporate french seams. The hardest part was sewing in the underarm gussets (built into the body pieces) with a french seam; the surrounding fabric bunched at the armpit. I added some small darts to alleviate the problem and for underwear no one will see it anyways. But for the next one I will use separate triangular gussets incorporated into the side seam like on the medieval T-tunics I already made this summer. While I didn't french seam them, I did french seam the mockup so I know how to do it already.
My only other issue is that the pattern was quite vague on the topic of the ruffles at the wrist and neck. I know what pleats are. What kind should I be using here? How deep should they be?
I found the diagrams misleading as to the assembly of the pleats to wrist and neck-bands. So I winged it. I had to ask myself over and over - 'Does this make sense?'. I finally figured that part out yesterday and will finish the neck ruffle tonight.
Here is one wrist ruffle. I used cartridge pleats 2.55 cm deep, and while they are nice I want a bigger bolder ruffle at the neck.
So far my 5.7 cm deep cartridge pleats are just pinned in place, they need to be moved around a bit so that they are distributed evenly around the collar. This is fiddly business! Yuck!
And for those who are interested the material I'm using is white cotton lawn. I bought 3 m, good thing too, because I had just enough to cut a new front and back (parallel to the grain, not perpendicular as the pattern states - I don't think anyone will notice or care ;) ) when I made a pretty big mistake on the originally cut front and back. This stuff frays like crazy. There are bits of white fluff on my ironing board, rug, couch, table cloth, computer, and bedspread. How'd it get all the way to the bedroom? Did it grow legs and walk? I wouldn't be surprised...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

It fits! (A sewing post)

Here's my latest F.O., an Elizabethan corset to go under the gown I will be making in the next few weeks.
and Back:
This is a reasonably comfortable corset; I could walk around, sit down, and consume fluids while wearing it unlike a commercial monstrosity I had purchased many years ago to go under a formal gown. I also think it looks quite cute. My husband was disappointed that I didn't make it out of a fashionable fabric in order to be able to wear it as outerwear instead of underwear.
Since it fits so nicely there's always the possibility to use the master pattern as a bodice in the future. Also, I achieved 2 inches of compression at the bust with minimal compression at the waist giving my body the conical shape typical of the Elizabethan era. Some cleavage is present as shown in the side view, but that will all be covered up by the chemise I will be wearing underneath. Now for the details:

Pattern: the Custom Corset Pattern Generator
Notes: The pattern needed no modification as it's custom built for my funny wide-waisted and short-torsoed self. I did a few mockups fiddling with the built-in 2 inches of compression (I didn't trust that my body could do that) and went with the original specifications generated by the pattern for my dimensions. I did have to cut the armscye deeper though.
The only bits that I found less detailed was the discussion on strap placement; in a separate document about how to sew your custom corset they said if you want straps to place them 3 inches away from the center back and front (and 1 inch wide) and to cut them 5 inches long, and join at the shoulder. I found that this did not give me the optimal support and pulled the corset up too high. Maybe I have huge shoulders. Instead at the mockup/muslin stage I cut long strips 1.5 inches wide and pinned at the center back 3 inches away from the center back at a 90 degree angle to the corset edge. Then I took the other end and moved it around until I got the fit I wanted and marked the spot. Since I thought that cutting 13 inch straps coming out of the back was wasteful of the fabric I cut out 3-inch extensions at the right place and joined in 10 inch long pieces of fabric (not including seam allowance) cut on the grain to finish the straps. Supposedly bias-cutting the straps gives a more snug fit over the shoulders but stretches over time. Then I placed grommet holes at the end of the straps and at the place for the join on the front to have yet more flexibility in fitting. I will tie them on with elastic once I buy some in order to get the smoothest transition from strap to corset.

The boning pattern was also left more-or less up to me. On one place on the site 'they' say that if you use rigilene, to use a fan-shaped boning pattern. (Huh?) On the boned-tab option page 'they' say to bone heavily if you use rigilene. I went with the bone-as-heavily-as-you-can-given-the-quantity-of-rigilene-you-have method and I think it worked out well. Only time will tell.

150-cm wide cotton canvas. In the US it's cheap (under $5 a yard I hear) so it's commonly used for this sort of thing. Here it's not cheap. It's about $15 a meter. Oh well, it works. Unfortunately I later found out surfing eBay that I could have gotten linen canvas for less than half the price per meter. Linen canvas would have been better because it wicks away moisture. Oh well, if I ever do this again (please no!) I'll know where to look for better materials. I finished the edges with 2 packages of 5-m long and 2 cm wide (with the edges folded under) white cotton bias tape. No problems there. But if anyone is interested in making their own, there is a nice set of instructions provided by the Dread Pirate Roberts for making continuous bias tape.

My final thoughts on this project:
Biding the corset was a BIG ROYAL pain in the b*tt.
I think I could have gotten away with cutting it an additional 0.5-1 inch narrower. I can easily adjust it if I gain some weight but not if I lose weight. If I'm a bit narrower at Christmas things are going to be tricky.
Setting grommets hurts your hands if you don't have a lot of hand strength. My husband set a bunch of them because I got hand cramps. At least he insisted that I purchase the grommet setting thingie (sort of looks like pliers) even though it was a bit expensive (about $30). Thanks Boo!

Now I'm working on the next garment, the chemise that goes under the corset. I won't show pictures because it doesn't really look like anything yet. I wanted to make a high-necked shirt
because I think it would look better than a wench-style low gathered shirt under a high necked bodice and I don't feel like making a partlet. I'm using a lightweight semi-transparent cotton lawn fabric that wrinkles when you look at it the wrong way and frays like crazy. I found a free downloadable pattern for exactly the look I want, but I'll have to hunt around to share the link.
These screen-shots of the movie Elizabeth The Virgin Queen show exactly what I am making:

This scene is from the end of the movie where Elizabeth gets her hair cut off. Her three ladies-in-waiting have high collared shirts with what looks to me like a cartridge-pleated neck ruffles. I'll bet these shirts are a lightweight transparent silk but that's a bit expensive for a garment that I haven't worked out all the details for yet. I already made one major mistake, thank goodness for extra yardage!