Archive | July, 2012
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To make up for the photo-light How To, here’s the bodice so far. I’m a little in love with the sleeves…

3 Jul

To make up for the photo-light How To, here's the bodice so far. I'm a little in love with the sleeves...

AWT How To: Fudge a Chemise

3 Jul

Hello again!

Before I go any further, I’d just like to point out that I’m not going for anything like perfect historical accuracy with this dress, or its accompanying parts. I’ll be machine sewing nearly everything, using cheaper versions of fabric, and the final aesthetics will probably be a mish-mash of things I like from a 20-25 year period. So historical devotees, look away now. I’m more interested in how one goes about constructing a dress like this, and so I don’t think the large dose of Versailles-fuelled fantasy is a bad thing at all.

My list of tools reads something like this:

Sewing machine

White polycotton (it was all I could get.  Fabric shops are a bit thin on the ground in Fife)

White thread

Scissors

Measuring tape

Pins

A spare pair of hands is desirable, but not essential

Step 1: Establish your size

This is a bit free and easy in my case. I decided to cut my cotton 46 inches long, and just let it be as wide as it was off the bolt. Very scientific, I know. I figured that I can always take the hem up, but it’s more difficult to add the fabric back on again.

Step 2: Get your ghost on

Make like a child in a Halloween costume and cut a hole for your head. To do this, I folded my fabric in half lengthways and widthways, and marked where they crossed over. I then cut enough of a hole to stick my head through.

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Now that I was ‘in’ the chemise, I marked out my neckline with pins, got back out of the chemise-ghost-sack, folded the chemise in half, and cut out along the line marked with pins. I tried this back on, and marked where the ‘shoulders’ should be. What I actually mean by this is ‘where the sleeves will join on’…because the chemise will be off the shoulder.

Cut a ‘v’ shape into the middle of the front neckline so that you have extra moving space. This is also a reference to the v-shaped necklines you sometimes see slipping over the top of dresses in portraits of the period.

Looking like a primary school child in a tabard, it’s time to get stuck into the gores.

Step 3: Getting gorey

Terrible pun. I’m so sorry.

My fabric wasn’t quite wide enough to meet comfortably width-ways (or I’m too wide to comfortably fit into it), so I had to find a way of adding width. Pre-19th century shifts often had gores, large triangles of fabric running along the sides to give lunge-space and bulk to the chemise, and most importantly, I had enough fabric to let me sick some gores into my chemise sides. To make mine, I cut a rectangle in half diagonally, and then sewed the triangles together along the straight side (the middle of the completed, larger gore).  This is then insterted from under the sleeve (thin end of the triangle) to the hem of the chemise (fat end of the triangle), and provided the much-needed breathing space.

Step 4: The ridiculous sleeves

My aim with the sleeves was to cut them as wide as I could without looking like a tube/them not fitting through the armscyes on my finished dress. These were just rectangles slightly longer than my arms, and probably about 3 arms wide. To be honest, I just cut out a rectangle, pinned it in half and stuck my arm through it. It was working for me, so I cut another one, and ended up with sleeves.

I ran a gathering thread through the top of my sleeves, to give them a bit of poof under the dress. This also let me bring them down to the same size as the armscye they needed to fit into. I worked most of the gathers to the top of the sleeve, and sewed them in to the chemise.

Step 5: Beautification and Baroque-ification

Now that you have a thing that might look quite like a shift if you squint at it, you need to hem the beast. I just turned all my raw edges under twice and then stitched them down…with a sewing machine. I TOLD you I wasn’t claiming historical slavery to this project :P.

Run a strip of bias binding around the inside edge of the neck, and then cover the stitches on the outside with some lacy stuff of your choice. (Since it’s your choice, you can choose not to go lacy. But whatever). Thread ribbon or cotton tape through the bias binding, and now you can adjust your neckline to fit under your dress.

If you decide to, put some lace round the sleeves as well to take the frippery to the next level.

I was going to leave you with a photo of me in the chemise…but it’s a bit indecent, and Maisie is on the other side of Scotland at the moment, so she can’t help me out right now.

This chemise is probably quite far up the scale of historical blasphemy, but I really don’t care.

For one thing, it goes UNDER the dress. Nobody.Is.Going.To.See.It.

I know that if I had the time and the resources, I could dedicate more of my effort towards research. I live in the real world, however, and know that I’m never going to make a living from my little creations, or pursue this as anything other than a hobby. I’m learning all the time from reading the blogs and research of other sewing fanatics, and I can aspire to these same levels of greatness, even if I don’t always reach them.

I make because I love the creative process, and taking fabric in its raw form and turning it into something that is (hopefully) quite beautiful.  I love the feeling of putting on an item of clothing and feeling it change how you stand: backs straighten, arms feel the need to bend gracefully at the elbow, and necks somehow lengthen. It’s escapism, and I don’t think that escapism in any form is a bad thing. This dress is my greatest escape to date.

Further reading from people who know better than I do:

Isis’ Wardrobe: http://isiswardrobe.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/17th-century-smock.html

Marquise.de: http://www.marquise.de/en/1700/howto/frauen/18chemise.shtml

The Dreamstress: http://thedreamstress.com/2011/07/a-simple-shift-for-ninon/

Why the 17th Century?

2 Jul

Questions that people ask me quite a lot when we get chatting about my interest in historical dress are “Why? When are you going to wear it? It’s such a lot of effort for something that you’re only going to take out and look at. Can’t you get involved with a theatre group and then it would at least be used?”

Then someone usually points out that despite owning the relevant clothes, I’m never going to wake up in the time period.

To be fair, I’m not a complete idiot :P.

I found the Jane Austen dress easy to justify: there’s a festival every year in Bath, and it can be one component of that wardrobe. But I struggled to justify the Versailles dress (so called because it’s a ridiculous colour, with gold and pearls and lace and nonsense).

The 17th century is a horrendously underlooked portion of history. So many amazing and ground-breaking things were going on all over the world, yet we don’t seem to celebrate it, particularly in the costuming world.

As a child, I was obsessed (and I mean properly OBSESSED) with Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books, particularly those covering the ancient world, early Britain, the Tudors and the Victorians. Weirdly, that huge gap in the middle covering the 17th and 18th centuries, is what my imagination longs for now. But as an 8-year old, reared on a diet of Roald Dahl’s dark humour, I was seeking out books about horrific deaths and unjust punishments, not graceful courts and ostentatious dress.

This is a wider issue than just my own though. There is a wealth of information available for costumers about the Tudor period, probably propelled by the popularity of things like Ren Faires and The Tudors on TV. The Georgian period is also incredibly well-covered, and if you were to get stuck on how to make underpinnings or a little jacket from this part of history, chances are that there are a few dozen blogs and websites out there that can show you the answers. Late 17th century? Not so much.

Inspiration Picture

Courtesy of Wikipedia: Honthorst Roodere detail

I plodded along quite happily in a state of 1660s-ignorance until I arrived at university. I made friends with Emeline, resident of France, who bought me a DVD of the musical Le Roi Soliel for Christmas. And just like that, I was hooked.

I wanted to know everything about the 17th century. What they ate. Where they lived. What they wore. How power was distributed. Who was in love with who. How you go about looking like one of the sleepy-eyed gems of Lely’s court.

This Faustian need for knowledge continued alongside my sustainable development studies for another 3 years, and finding myself graduating last month, I decided to do something about it. Having read more books on Louis XIV than on wind turbines, and looked at more paintings than allotments, I got Googling and found Nehelina Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern. I bought 6 metres of orange and gold shot taffeta, moved the Jane Austen dress off Maisie and got sewing.

6 weeks later, I’ve got a bodice and the beginnings of a skirt, and every time I look at it, I feel like my pining was worth it. It might not be the most perfect replica, or the most technically brilliant piece of dressmaking, but it’s all mine, and to me it sums up what the 1660s were all about. When I listen to Je Fais de Toi Mon Essentiel, it’s the dress I see in my mind’s eye, walking defiantly along Versailles’ mirrored corridors.

I’ll be back soon with a take on a chemise.

Until then,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.