Sunday, November 22, 2015

50 Hours In, and Here's What I've Got to Show For Myself

Bodice Nearly Finished and a Hat Plan
As you can see, I managed to get the bodice nearly finished yesterday with collar facing and sleeves attached, and the lower edge of the bodice finished with bias tape turned to the inside and stitched down by hand.  There is a lot of "by hand" in this project, as I'm discovering...  In case you're just now tuning in, I'm making a Christmas caroling dress using Simplicity 1818 and I need to wear it on December 3rd.
Double Fold Bias Tape Pinned to Bodice Front, Ready for Machine Stitching

Sewing in the sleeves was weird.  I'm used to sewing things that are pretty flat -- quilts and draperies.  Sewing a tube inside a hole was just all kinds of uncomfortable!  I used my free arm and, so I could concentrate on sewing a seam without puckers rather than watching my seam allowance, I used my little cloth guide attachment that came with my #97D patchwork foot.  I am also not used to what a 5/8" seam looks like, since I use 1/2" seams for home dec and 1/4" for quilts.

Setting the Sleeves
I am finishing every raw edge on this dress with a serger narrow 2-thread overlock, by the way, overlocking the seam allowances separately after sewing each seam.  My silk fabric frays so badly that it's practically disintegrating before my eyes as I sew.  How do I love my serger?  Oh, let me count the ways...

Once we got the bodice pretty much together (it still needs buttonholes and buttons sewn on), I decided to switch gears and make the ruffled trim from my black silk shantung.  For one thing, my pattern instructs me to finish the bodice with trim and all before starting in on the skirt.  I was also half afraid that, if I didn't have the ruffles already made and ready to go by the time I was ready to stitch them on, I might be tempted to skip them.

Simplicity 1818
I wasted a lot of time yesterday experimenting with how I was going to make my ruffles.  I had already decided that I didn't like the look of the wide ruffles shown in the pattern photo. 

February 1863 Peterson's Magazine
See how the period fashion plate illustration that inspired the pattern has five rows of narrow, flat ruffles or fringe rather than three wide, frilly ruffles like in the pattern photo?  I'd rather have more rows of narrower, flatter ruffles on my dress, and I wanted nothing to do with the convoluted method of sewing rectangles into tubes, drawing lines on the tube, THEN cutting my ruffle strips.  So I cut my ruffle strips the way any self respecting quilter would do it, using my rotary cutter and acrylic quilting rulers.  I don't even know how long my strips are -- I just folded my fabric up selvedges together and cut my 2 7/8 yards into 2 3/4" wide strips until I ran out of fabric, leaving just enough to cover the buttons for the bodice closures. 

Of course the black silk shantung fabric ravels and frays just as badly as the green silk shantung, so after cutting and seaming my strips into one ridiculously long strip, we starched it crisply with heavy spray starch and then I attempted to follow the pattern instructions, finishing the L-O-N-G edges with a "narrow double hem."  Well, first I tried the 4 mm narrow hem foot on my Bernina 750 QE, and didn't like the results.  Too wide, and too fussy getting the edge to roll properly.  Next I tried the 2 mm narrow hem foot on my 1935 Singer Featherweight sewing machine, and it was lovely... but I still had to sew fairly slowly to ensure the fabric was rolling around the metal coil properly, and I despaired of ever finishing the ruffle that way.  What's more, the edges of the long black ruffle snake were beginning to ravel as I handled the strip, and I worried that I would run into serious trouble trying to roll a severely frayed piece of silk by the time I was halfway through hemming the edges.

Silk Shantung Ruffle Strips, Raveling Already
So, SERGER TO THE RESCUE!  I know it's not "period correct," but I was able to get an attractive 3-thread rolled hem on the edges of my ruffle with only minor hiccups along the way, and I was able to serge with the pedal to the metal.  How long did it take me to hem both edges of my ruffle strip?  It took me four hours.  FOUR.  HOURS.  Four hours of running my serger continuously at full speed.  One cone of serger thread (YLI Elite) completely used up by the upper looper, too.  I have no idea how long this strip is, either -- I don't want to know yet.  Don't want to get discouraged.  But I am not going to gather it.  I experimented with the Bernina ruffler foot as well as my vintage Singer ruffler foot on the Featherweight and decided that I just don't like the look of a gathered ruffle for this dress.  I'm going to do a 3/4" triple fullness knife pleat ruffle instead, like the "plaited frills" on many of the mid-Victorian dresses on my Pinterest board
Circa 1862, Met Museum
That looks like a box pleat ruffle, don't you think? 

I just hope I have a long enough fabric strip to go around the bottom of my enormously full skirt a few times.  My pattern called for 5" cut width ruffles, but if my math is correct they were only supposed to be about 1.6 times fullness.  I need to put my pleated ruffle trim around both sleeve edges as well as several rings around my skirt hem, and I really don't want to have to buy more black silk and then spend another ENTIRE DAY making more ruffle trim!  I still have to pleat this stuff, too!
3-Thread Rolled Hem on Edges of Silk Shantung
Isn't it lovely, though?
Black Silk Ruffle Strip for Dress, Green Silk Ruffle Strip for Hat Trim
I was testing my serger settings on strips of leftover green dress fabric, and decided that I kind of liked the look of the black edging on the green silk.  So while I still had the serger set for a rolled hem, I made some green silk ribbon strips edged in black thread.  I'll use them to decorate the plain black costume bonnet that I bought on Amazon, because clearly there will NOT be time to make a special bonnet from scratch!

This dress still needs:

1. Buttonholes and buttons sewn on the bodice

2. A skirt (panels are cut and silk shantung fashion fabric has been hand-basted to the silk organza underlining -- Mom did that while I was making ruffles today)

3. Ruffles need to be pleated and stitched by machine

4. Ruffle trim, purchased gimp trim, and bows all need to be stitched to the dress.  (The trim definitely needs to be stitched to the bodice by hand...  But I wonder whether I could possibly get away with stitching my pleated ruffle to the skirt by machine?)

5. White blouse "undersleeves", not even cut out yet

6. Some kind of fichu or chemisette (per the pattern) to fill in the neckline of the dress

7. Decorate the ugly black cheapo bonnet

8. Still need to make a fabric cover for my music binder

9. I need to make a little drawstring purse ("reticule") for my keys, chapstick, etc.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I've already got close to 50 hours into the making of this dress.  I REALLY hope it's more than halfway done!

I'm linking up with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts, Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt, and Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Adventures in Flat Lining, Underlining, Basting and Dart-Making

Same Silk Dupioni Fabric, Dresses on Left Underlined with Silk Organza
Okay, so we're looking at this photo from my little sister's wedding in 2003 or 2004.  The bride picked out a teal silk dupioni fabric from and each bridesmaid got to choose her own dress pattern and seamstress.  The girl with short blonde hair closest to the bride is yours truly, and my other sister is the bridesmaid standing right next to me.  My mom made both of our dresses, underlining them with silk organza, and the other two girls are both wearing lined dresses made from the exact same fabric but without the silk organza interlining between the silk dress fabric and the lining.  As you can see, the silk organza adds shape, structure, and body to the thin silk and greatly reduces its tendency to wrinkle.  Since my green silk shantung dress fabric is very similar to the silk dupioni bridesmaid dress fabric, I decided to underline my entire Victorian Christmas caroling costume in silk organza.  Not only will this help to reduce the wrinkling of a dress that I need to wear to at least six events within a two week time period, but it will also strengthen the seams and help support the weight of the skirt trims and ruffles.  One more reason to underline the dress with silk organza is that although I am making this costume, my mom is helping me every step of the way to make sure I end up with a wearable dress, and I wanted her to teach me how she did it!

We're starting with the bodice of the dress, so we cut out all of the pieces in the green silk, the ivory silk organza, and the green poly/cotton broadcloth shirting fabric that I selected for my bodice lining fabric.  I basted the green silk to the organza through the center of each piece along the grainline, then draped the two pieces over my thigh right-side-up to pin and hand baste all the way around each piece within the seam allowances.  The reason I drape the fabric pieces over my arm or leg is to allow for that slight turn of cloth once the pieces are seamed together. 

Hand Basting Silk Organza Underlining to Silk Shantung, Right Side Up
Sleeve Section After Basting Silk Organza Underlining, Right Side Up
Stack of Basted Bodice Pieces, Wrong Side (Silk Organza) Up
I should mention that there was a collar facing piece that was supposed to get fusible interfacing -- in that situation, the interfacing gets fused to the silk organza PRIOR to basting the organza to the fashion fabric.  This was important to me as well because, had I fused the interfacing to my silk shantung fashion fabric, it would have noticeably altered the sheen of the piece that was interfaced and it would no longer match the rest of the dress.  All of the markings go on the interfacing only, and from this point you follow the directions and treat each piece as though it were a single layer of fabric.

Now I should point out that what Simplicity is calling "lining fabric" on the back of the pattern envelope is, strictly speaking, actually used as an UNDERLINING fabric.  Typically a lining is constructed separately from the rest of the garment, functions to conceal the seam allowances and other construction details, and is attached at the hems and facings of the garment.  Underlining (also known as flat lining) does not conceal any of the garment's construction, since it is sewn into every seam along with the fashion fabric.  So my first step of the instructions was to -- ugh! -- hand baste all of the so-called lining pieces on top of my silk organza.  Very annoying!  Would I still have elected to underline with silk organza if I knew the "lining" fabric was really an underlining?  Probably not -- but I'm glad I didn't know, because I really, REALLY like the way the three fabric layers are working together for my dress bodice.

Inside an Antique Nineteenth Century Dress Bodice
Interestingly, I found this photo of the inside of a 19th century dress bodice on an antique clothing auction site.  I was intrigued to see that it was put together almost exactly the way my dress pattern does, with a sturdy muslin underlining or flat lining sewn into the seams, and boning that is stitched to the seam allowances of the side and back seams as well as to the seam allowances of the darts.  This is a LOT like what my dress will look like inside out -- except that my seam allowances are getting serged instead of bound or whatever they did to control fraying 150 years ago.  Pretty cool, isn't it?

Stitching the First Dart, 3/8" Seam Allowance
After underlining and marking all of the bodice pieces, I learned how to sew darts!  I took pictures and I have to write down what I did so I can remember for the next time I sew a pattern with darts, so feel free to skip this section if you are already a seasoned Dart Diva.

This pattern called for 3/8" seam allowances in the bodice darts, and fortunately my Bernina foot #1D is exactly 3/8" from the needle to the right edge of the foot.  I am using my machine's Dual Feed feature for this project, and I'm sure it's helping all of these layers to feed smoothly and evenly through the machine. 

I sewed the dart up from the bottom edge of the bodice, until my needle was even with the place where the cut fabric seam allowance ended and the folded bit of the dart began.

Marking the Stitching Line for the End of the Dart

At that point, with my needle down, I raised my presser foot, laid a ruler from the needle to the dot marking the end of the dart, and drew a line with a pencil.
Sewing Along the Line...
Then, when I got to the dot marking the end of the dart at the fold line, I took a stitch right on the fold line and left long thread tails to tie off by hand.

Ta-Da!  It's a Dart!
This is how far we've gotten on the dress bodice so far.  Unfortunately, there have been a lot of setbacks -- LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.  For instance, so many of the bodice pattern pieces were marked in multiple places to indicate a 3/8" seam allowance, and we thought that meant that ALL of the bodice seam allowances were to be 3/8".  Wrong!  The side seams, shoulder seams, and curved back seams are all 5/8".  By the time I realized this error, I had already sewn boning to the side seams' seam allowances and everything.  Had to carefully remove the boning, resew the seams, and then resew the boning.  But it was worth it because the fit is pretty good now:

We also lengthened all of the bodice pieces by 1/2" to fit me -- but forgot to lengthen the collar facing sections by the same amount.  So after cutting, fusing, hand basting, seaming, overcasting raw edges, we were ready to pin on those facings today and stitch them on but they did not fit.  No choice but to recut those pieces and start over again. 
 Doesn't that bodice make me look WEIRD in the back?!  That was the look, though -- wide, droopy shoulders and seams angled to make your waist seem as tiny as possible.
So tomorrow I will attach the front collar facing to the bodice and the bias tape stuff that goes along the bottom edge of the bodice.  I do have both sleeves made and ready to attach to the bodice, and they will go on next.  Then we have to make black fabric covered buttons and buttonholes and trim the bodice with ruffles, ribbon and trim.  Then on to the skirt!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Small Progress and Big Plans: A Pineapple Block and an Arsenic Green Caroling Frock

Paper Pieced Pineapple Log Cabin: Block 20 of 36 Completed
So, one more paper pieced pineapple log cabin block was finished a few of weeks ago that I never got around to sharing.  Twenty blocks down, sixteen more to go.  My stack of blocks is growing, but I'm setting this aside (again!) -- to start some new projects!

I recently received an email from a fellow church choir member with the subject "Do you like to sing Christmas carols?"  Well, I like to sing Christmas carols about as much as Garfield the cat likes to eat lasagna. 

Rebecca is to Caroling as Garfield is to Lasagna

It turns out that he (Carl from choir, not Garfield) sings with a group that puts together SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass) quartets to sing at shopping centers, country clubs, corporate events, nursing homes, and private parties throughout the holiday season, and they are short on Altos.  I've been singing Alto for the past year due to ongoing issues with my upper vocal range, and I've been enjoying learning the Alto harmonies.  When I found out that I get to wear a "Dickensian caroling costume" while singing Christmas carols in 4-part harmony, I said yes immediately. 

The Holiday Singers of Charlotte, North Carolina
By the way, if any of you are planning a holiday event in the Charlotte, North Carolina area and you'd like to hire carolers, you'll want to book that ASAP as the calendar is already filling up.  Visit the Holiday Singers web page for detailsIf you tell her I sent you, Jeanine will try to schedule me to sing at your event unless I'm already committed to sing somewhere else that day.

The group has a repertoire of about 75 pieces, from the really old, traditional carols like The First Noel and Deck the Halls to classics from the 1930s-1950s, like Let It Snow, The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire), Jingle Bells, and Frosty the Snowman.  Then there's Vince Guaraldi's melancholy jazz Christmas Time Is Here from the Peanuts Christmas special, Jingle Bell Rock, and the fairly recent Mary Did You Know.  There are only one or two pieces I'd never heard before, but I've never sung the Alto harmony on any of them before.  I love learning new music, and I love the harmonies on those jazz and swing pieces, so I'm having a ball with the music.

But meanwhile, the costume...  What happens when a fabric-loving interior designer with a history degree is asked to come up with a "Victorian/Dickensian caroling outfit?"  Well, first comes research, then pattern perusal, delusional fabric shopping, Grand Plans...  and then a certain degree of panic when I opened the pattern instructions and discovered that this dress is way, WAY over my head.

Inspiration: mid-Victorian day dresses from about the time Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843.  There are some very frumpy mid-Victorian dresses that would be entirely appropriate for Deck the Halls (like the brown frock below) but that would feel anachronistic when it was time to sing something jazzy like Let It Snow.  I think my dress should look like a Dickensian caroling costume that Edith Head might have designed for a caroling number in the film White Christmas.

Circa 1862 Brown Dress That I Will Not Be Wearing
The dress does need to be a "day dress,"  with a high neck and covered arms, as opposed to a ball gown with exposed .  The silhouette is a very full, bell-shaped skirt (but not a bustle yet) supported by hoops, with full sleeves and a corseted waistline.  Obviously I'm not wearing a corset, since breathing is necessary for singing, so there's that to keep in mind.  Notice how all of the bodice shaping comes from vertical darts originating at the waistline -- no typical bust darts or princess seams, and that creates a poufy fullness through the bust and shoulders that contrasts with the cinched-in waist.

I found a fantastic pattern designed by Andrea Schew for Simplicity patterns.  The inspiration for the pattern came from this 1863 Godey's Lady's Book fashion plate:

1863 Godey's Lady's Book

Simplicity 1818 Pattern
What I love about this pattern is how Andrea has recreated the distinctive silhouette of the era not by relying on a period-correct corset tightened to the point that the wearer can hardly breathe, but by adding design ease through the bust of the bodice.  Sandwiched between the extreme fullness of the skirt and the angled and boned cone-shaped bodice, the waist just APPEARS smaller than it is.  This pattern is drafted with 2" of ease at the waistline, but 4 1/2" of ease through the bodice. 
Bodice Front has 2" Ease at Waist, but 4 1/2" Ease at Bust for Faux Corseted Silhouette
Instructions are included for creating booby pads to fill out that extra space if needed, but in my case the extra room up top means that I should be able to get a good fit without having to do any kind of full or prominent bust adjustment.  Yippee!  All that, AND I get to breathe!
I'm going to be making the view on the right, with contrasting ruffles, because in my mind that very graphic contrasting trim best channels the spirit of the two different eras I'm trying to evoke.
Edith Head's Sketch for Rosemary Cluny's Finale Costume in White Christmas, 1954
See what I mean?  The big full skirt, the bold, contrasting trim on the skirt, the small waist, the V-neck...  The only thing I think I'll ditch from the pattern is the very American Civil War looking collar of the chemisette or fichu (the white blouse thingy sticking out at the neck).  If you scroll back up to the inspiration dress from Godey's, I don't see anything that looks like a high white collar beneath that dress.  So I'll probably change that.

Circa 1850
The dress in the circa 1850 photo above is similar to the one I'm making.  Although she does have the white poufy undersleeves, she doesn't seem to have any kind of fichu or chemisette under the neckline of her dress, does she?  Hard to tell for sure, but there's definitely no high collar.  Maybe I'll see how much coverage I get just from the bodice of the dress before I decide whether I need anything under it.  V necklines are much more flattering on me than high jewel necks anyway.  We'll see.

As for color -- something Christmasy and festive, something that is flattering with my skin tone, and something that would be period correct for both 1843 and 1954...  I wanted a natural fiber fabric (modern synthetics hadn't been invented yet in Dickens' day) and something lightweight and crisp that would swish when I walk and make me feel fancy.  And I didn't just want to just copy the colors off the pattern envelope because that would be boring.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my ARSENIC GREEN dress fabric:

My Green and Black Silk Shantung with Trims, No Flash

My Green and Black Silk Shantung and Trims, With Flash
When I saw this silk shantung in the clearance section at Mary Jo's Cloth Store, I immediately knew that it would be a good color for both eras.  In the mid nineteenth century, this color fabric was actually made with arsenic dye and it was very expensive, wildly popular, and incidentally, poisonous!
Arsenic Green Day Dress Circa 1865, FIT Museum
Another Arsenic Green Dress circa 1860
The interesting thing to me is not that arsenic was ever used in clothing dye, but that Victorian women KNEW these green dresses were making them sick, and they wore them anyway because this shade of green was the height of fashion and they wanted to look chic, whatever the cost.  Some things never change!

1862 Political Cartoon, Punch Magazine
I found similar shades of vivid emerald or bottle green in my research for the Old Hollywood Glamour era as well, although by that time they were no longer using arsenic to dye the cloth:

1954 Balenciaga
Vivian Leigh's "Drapery Gown" Costume for Gone With the Wind, 1939
Marilyn Monroe's Green Dress from River of No Return, 1954
Now, THERE's a Christmas caroling dress if ever I saw one!!  That dress, worn by none other than Marilyn Monroe in the film River of No Return, recently sold at auction for nearly half a million dollars.  THIS dress actually reminds me of what my grandmother (yes, my GRANDMOTHER!) wore to my wedding...  But I digress.  Don't worry -- although I was briefly tempted, I ultimately decided against trying to incorporate waist-high skirt slits and a plunging neckline into my caroling outfit.  Because December is COLD. Also I don't want to get kicked out of the singing group for showing too much skin.  But see how nicely the green and black color scheme works for both a Victorian and an Old Hollywood vibe?

1838 Morning Dress, World of Fashion
1864 Godey's Lady's Book
Anyway, my dress will be made from the green silk shantung with black silk shantung ruffles and black gimp trim, as well as picot-edged black satin bows, as per the Simplicity pattern.  I found a poly/cotton broadcloth in almost the exact shade of green for the bodice lining, and all of the dress pieces will be underlined with silk organza (if you don't know what I'm talking about, there's a great article about underlining with silk organza in Threads magazine issue #97 from October/November 2001).  Why am I going to all the bother to underline a costume dress with silk organza?  To reduce wrinkling, for one thing, and add some body, primarily.  The silk shantung is very thin.  The organza underlining will strengthen the seams, carry the fusible interfacing in the collar facing so I don't have to fuse to the silk (which would cause the fused silk to lose its shine and no longer match the rest of the dress.  I also need the silk underlining to support the weight of the ruffles and trim.  Yes, it's a costume, but I need to wear it half a dozen times in the space of two weeks without being able to have it cleaned in between wearings.  I can't have it disintegrate into a rumpled, raveled mess. 

In hindsight, I probably should have skipped the local fabric store and sourced my fabric from my interior design fabric resources instead.  I could have gotten fantastic faux silk fabric with great body and wrinkle resistance at a reasonable price, in any color imaginable, and saved myself the considerable additional expense and bother of the silk organza underlining.  Shoulda, woulda, coulda!  Once I bought the silk shantung dress fabric, there was no going back.

As I mentioned earlier, this dress pattern is WAY beyond my garment sewing ability level.  Fortunately, my mom is helping me sew it.  So there's the obvious goal of having a costume ready to wear in time for my first caroling gig on December 3rd, but then there's a larger implied objective of learning new skills and gaining more confidence with garment sewing.  That's worth a caroling costume that costs more than my wedding gown did, don't you think?