Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Mushroom Pleated Tucker, Part I

I ended up ordering the Daffodown Dilly Wrap Around Stays from Spencer's Merchantile. I was a little uncertain about ordering over the phone from a Canadian company, but it went very smoothly (toll-free!) and the woman I spoke with was very nice and had great things to say about the pattern. It is winging its way to my door as I write, but in the meantime...

I decided to get working on my "tucker" -- it is also sometimes called a "habit shirt" or later, a "chemisette". I chose the mushroom pleated treble frilled tucker from Arnold's Patterns of Fashion I. I spent most of last night trying to make myself a pleating board out of cardboard and heavy foil, but only succeeded in making a large mess. I may try again when I get to the pleating, but I will attempt to use scored posterboard instead.

I purchased half a yard of fine white voile for the body of the tucker (the original was Cambric/Batiste). I liked the sheerness of the fabric; the batiste was a little too opaque for my taste, and the cotton lawn available at my LFS had a weave that was too open (nearly a gauze); the voile was somewhere in between the two period options. For the pleated frills, I chose white cotton ordandy. It is very sheer and very stiff (even after washing) and very expensive. Unfortunately, I had to buy over 2 yards of the stuff (pleated frills are 90" long! Ugh!) at $14.00/yd. Ouch. In retrospect, I should have bought it online, but I needed some retail therapy and instant gratification this week, so I suppose I can live with myself.

I will use the fine linen thread left over from my shift, and I plan to hand sew the tucker. I admit it was a little silly to hand sew a shift, as it will never be seen, but the tucker is right around my face and made of such fine materials I feel that it MUST be hand sewn! I think the shift gave me really excellent practice for several stitches, and I feel much more confident about tackling the tucker.

I enlarged Arnold's pattern and quickly saw that I was going to have trouble with the shoulders. The length of the front shoulder is several inches longer than the length of the back shoulder, and Arnold only makes a small (rather unhelpful) notation that one is to "make small tucks" to fit the front to the back, but never indicates where to place them. After a quickie google search, I found that I was not the only person to notice this, and the person whose livejournal I came across discovered that Nancy Bradfield has illustrated the same garment in Costume in Detail (page 91). Bradfield's illustration shows that the tucks are small and spaced evenly across the front of the chest (not hidden in the shoulder where I was originally trying to put them, in order to keep the front of the tucker perfectly flat as it appears in Arnold). I counted five tucks across the front of Bradfield's illustration, and found that spacing them about 1.5cm apart worked like magic. I think the tucker was never intended to lie perfectly flat, and the small tucks look very neat. I also experimented with three larger pleats across the front, but felt that the smaller tucks were more attractive and better behaved. I also noticed that the back neck lies quite high and close on me, but I think I will leave it alone as it will probably help the frills to stand better.

I hate making mock ups! It feels ridiculous to mock up something as basic as this, but I don't want to ruin my pricey fabric, and I want to make sure I have the kinks worked out with the neckband and the shoulder tucks. Photos to come!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On to something else

The chemise is finished and it looks lovely. I am thinking about embroidering my initials and an "inventory number" on it, but I can't figure out where to put it. On the men's shirt pattern from Kannik's, the initials are just below the bosom slit. The shift pattern suggests red or blue embroidery, which would show through a light colored gown, so I assume it would have to be placed low enough to be covered by the corset. Looks like I will have to do some research.

Lauren saved my bacon and sent me a copy of the J. Hunnisett pattern, and I scaled it up yesterday and cut a mock up out of the world's most revolting poly twill. I am all thumbs with the bust gussets, so I gave up around 9 last night and feel pretty demoralized today. I am thinking I would be better off purchasing a pattern that has instructions; I would still have to fiddle with the fitting, but at least I'd have someone holding my hand through the construction. I'm thinking of using the Mantua Maker pattern for long stays. Oh, the frustration.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sleeve Gusset

I have just finished one side of my shift, and I saved the other side in order to put together a small tutorial on setting a sleeve gusset. Setting the gusset is not difficult, but it requires careful attention to the "order of operations" -- things really need to be done in the correct sequence. People learn differently and I know I would have had my "ah ha!" moment a lot more quickly if I could have seen how the pieces went together in three dimensions rather than staring a line drawing. I hope this helps!

Here is part 1.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Some progress

I started work on the shift right away when my materials arrived at the end of July. Using the Kannik's Korner pattern and instructions for the traditional construction methods, I cut my linen "by the thread" with only middling success. It was more difficult than I thought it was going to be; the thread I was supposed to be pulling would keep breaking off, and in the end I don't think I was able to create absolutely straight rectangles. I think I might get better at cutting by the thread with practice, and if I could try it at table height rather than on the floor. Next, I created a tube from the front and back pieces, and felled those seams. The traditional construction method is actually less fiddly because the "gores" on the back are created by cutting the tube apart at an angle. The gores are already attached to the back pieces with the two long seams, and you don't have to mess around with three pieces of fabric.

I took a fairly long hiatus from this project (about a month, yikes!), while I was out of town. Last night I finally cut my "tube" into the front and back pieces and cut the necklines, sewed the shoulders together with felled seams, and created my eyelets for the drawstring at the center front of the chemise. I set the eyelets too close together (accidentally made them 3/16"-ish apart rather than 3/8"), and I worked them so that the neater side ended up hidden inside the hem, but hope it will still function as intended. Tonight, I am about halfway finished hemming the neckline.

I used to wonder how chemises seemed to be magically invisible in paintings, but now that I see how very wide the neckline can be (with no drawstring, the front neckline hits me mid-rib!), the mystery is solved!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting down to business

My order arrived from Wm. Booth, Draper this morning, so now it is really time to get cracking. My linen is washed and dried and ready for the ironing board, so off I go!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today, as I was racing past the dining room table (which is piled shamefully high with things that need to be "dealt with"), I spied something new added to the usual debris. An overstuffed flat-rate envelope! A quick look at the label and I thought, "Geez, that was fast!"

My linen! Now, how fabric-store.com manages to cram 6 yards of this stuff into a standard flat-rate is beyond me. The fabric is very nice. It has a fine weave, but it is a little too sheer for my taste. They also kindly included a swatch card with all their colors of the IL019 (5.3oz) linen, which are very pretty. I think I would have been just fine with the 5.3 oz linen instead of the 3.5 oz. Even the heavier linen is slightly sheer. I was worried it would be too heavy or coarse or something. We'll see how this turns out; I wonder if it will be too sheer under a light muslin gown or a silk gauze? I guess that's what petticoats are for, right?

It's still hard for me to pay much over $5.00/yard for nice linen, but considering how far from L.A. we live now, I'm pretty darn happy to get it at $7.30/yard + shipping online. They are really on the ball with the shipping, too -- I cannot get over how fast it got here!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good Service!

I just received an email from Wm. Booth, Draper informing me that the actual shipping on my order was only $4.00, and that they had adjusted my bill accordingly. Yay!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remember where you came from


In an effort to learn from previous mistakes, yesterday I pulled out a dress I made in 2006. It is made from a sheer apricot colored cotton, with roller printed flowers and leaves forming stripes in maroon and chocolate brown. The fabric was a wonderful find in the L.A. garment district -- $1.00 a yard. I had been hoarding it for nearly a year when I sat down to make this dress.

"Lining" on skirt, and unbelievably horrible, last-minute hem.
I used the Period Impressions 1809 Daywear pattern. I had used it once before, but found that I had to raise the waist on it and mess with the sleeves a great deal both times. It is a nice pattern, but not particularly accurate. I made a number of changes, very clumsily, as I did not (and still don't) know much of anything about pattern drafting. I made a sort of muslin when I was fitting the bodice, but it wasn't very good, and then I used it as a lining for the real bodice. I used plain white poly thread throughout. I made the dress to fit over my modern underwear, and I didn't have any kind of petticoat or chemise, so I decided to just flat line the skirt. I had no idea what period pleats looked like, and just winged it.

Wonky "back" pleating creeping around to the front.
Unfortunately, I didn't balance the pleats, so on one side of the finished dress, a pleat appears on the side-front. It makes the whole dress feel like it is twisted. And, the nail in the coffin, I raced to finish the dress in a few hours to wear to a dance that evening. That would explain why the back is sewn closed. I did sew the hems of the sleeves (which were too tight and too short) by hand, and those were rather nice, and I did attempt to use the fabric creatively to create a decorative waistband. Otherwise, the entire project is a horror show.

None of the seams inside are finished.
An attempt to reduce upper sleeve fullness. Excess never trimmed.
I made a lot of mistakes on this dress. Most of them were the results of being lazy and cheap, and others were the result of a lack of skill or lack of research. I looked as closely as I could stand to at this, and took away from it a desire to do better. I know I am capable of better workmanship. I wanted to record this as part tell-all confession, and as a recorded "before" for what I hope will be a much improved "after."

My husband and I do a lot of vintage 20th century things, WWII reenacting, etc. and when people get snotty about the way "new people" look, or how they are "doing it all wrong" I have to laugh. We all have to start somewhere, and if you remember where you came from, you tend to be more compassionate and have the desire to help others who are just starting out.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Countdown to the First Project

#1 -- The Regency Shift

My goal for the Unmentionable Project (UP) is to create a functioning, historically accurate and complete set of period undergarments for a number of historical periods. I am beginning with my favorite, the Regency. Fashion evolved fairly rapidly over the years between 1790 - 1820, so I am aiming somewhere in the middle of the period for the silhouette of my undergarments.

To begin at the beginning, I will construct a shift. I chose the Kannik's Korner Women's Shift 1790-1820, which is based on original cutting diagrams. I already have a couple of patterns from Kannik's which I have yet to make up, but I am very impressed with the amount of documented research that went into producing them. I also really like that they give instructions on hand sewing the garments using period stitches and cutting techniques.

So, here is my materials list:

6 yards* of bleached white 3.5 oz linen from fabric-store.com (IL020) -- $56.02 (incl. shipping)
KK Shift Pattern -- $12.00 (from Wm. Booth, Draper)
90/2 Linen Thread -- $8.50 (from Wm. Booth, Draper)
10 yards Cotton Twill Tape, 1/8" width -- $2.00 (from Wm. Booth, Draper)
Shipping -- $8.00 $4.00
--------------------------------------------------------------
Total: $82.52

*The extra yardage is for a regency shirt for my husband.

Now, I have to sit back and wait for the goodies to come in the mail. I'm a little scared.

A Fresh Start

I learned to sew when I was about five years old, from my grandmother who was a very accomplished and professional seamstress (having attended "dressmaking school" in Japan during the Occupation). She taught me all the basics -- how to do the work-horse hand stitches, how to thread and use a sewing machine, how to read a pattern. But it took me 20 years before I took it seriously.

I am starting this project for two reasons.

1. I am tired not being able to start a period gown because I do not have the requisite period undergarments. In some cases, I have bits and pieces (a corset here, a petticoat there), but I do not own a full "kit" of any one period. I'm tired of "fudging" the structure with modern fixes, or playing mix-and-match with what little period underwear I do have. My goal is to methodically work up an entire period kit of underclothing for all of the periods I am interested in creating costumes for.

2.  I am ready to set the bar higher for the quality of my sewing, my design, and my research. I want to make beautiful, accurate, well-made garments, not flimsy costumes. I found that trying to "slap something together" in time for an event really undermines my abilities and creates cheap looking pieces I am embarrassed by. My goal is to dig deep when researching, and to sew by hand using the most appropriate materials available to me, and to allow it to take as long as it takes to do it right the first time.