Monday, December 7, 2015

Simplicity 1818 Victorian Caroling Costume: Scalloped Knife Pleated Ruffle Trim Variation

2 1/4" wide, 3/4" knife pleated silk shantung ruffle trim
I deviated from my pattern (Simplicity 1818) when it came time to trim the dress.  My pattern instructions called for 5 1/2" strips of fabric with "narrow hemmed" edges, to be gathered in the traditional manner with gathering threads.  I wasn't in love with that look, to be honest -- to me, those ruffles on the pattern envelope photo looked a little too dainty, more like a 1980s version of Victorian than they looked like authentic period Victorian dress trim.  With my costume, I was also aiming for kind of an Old Hollywood, 1940s or 1950s interpretation of mid-Victorian dress (because my caroling group sings just as many songs from that era and it would feel weird to be TOO Victorian while I'm singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" or "White Christmas.")  And for both of those eras, dress trims were strong, bold, and very graphic.

circa 1862, Met Museum Collection
I had seen a photo of this dress from the Met Museum collection and I really liked the pleated ruffle trim, applied in a wavy scallop.  I used algebra to scale the dress proportions in the photo up to the size of my real-life dress (to the annoyance of my 12-year-old algebra student, who prefers to believe that algebra has no real life applications and is a total waste of his time). 

Copying Ruffle Trim

Since I measured the skirt in the photo at 5" long and my skirt was 48" long, I was able to calculate that I could create a very close reproduction of the scalloped trim with 2 1/2" finished width ruffles in rows spaced 5 1/2" apart (measuring from the center stitching lines on each ruffle), and that the low point of the bottom ruffle trim should be 8 1/4" up from the hem and the high point on the bottom ruffle should be 11" up from the hem line.  So, that was the plan!

First, I took the 2 7/8 yard length of silk shantung that the pattern called for using as wide ruffles, cut out what I needed to cover my buttons, and then cut all of the rest of it into 2 3/4" wide cross-grain strips.  My pattern instructions wanted me to do something weird with giant rectangles sewn into tubes, cutting lines transferred to the fabric and then cut apart on the marked lines.  Um, no thanks.  I cut my strips the way any self-respecting quilter cuts strips when she wants them to be accurate -- with a rotary cutter, an acrylic ruler, and a cutting mat.  I left the selvages on (since the silk shantung ravels like your worst nightmare, seamed all of the strips into one LONG, LONG strip, and starched the giant silk fabric snake in hopes of getting it to behave better for the planned narrow hemming.  Yes, I had grand plans of hemming nearly sixty yards of fabric -- make that nearly 120 yards of hemming, because the fabric strip had to be hemmed on both sides.  I experimented with the 4 mm hemmer foot on my Bernina and the 2 mm hemmer foot on one of my vintage Singer Featherweights.  And then I came to my senses.  The fabric was way too ravelly, there was way too much of it, and way too little time.  The Featherweight 2 mm hem was lovely, but it was very slow going to ensure that everything was feeding nicely into the little curved guide on the hemmer foot.

Silk Shantung Frays Ferociously, First Pass Through the Serger
I ended up doing a 3-thread serger rolled hem, using YLI Elite serger thread.  With the pedal to the medal, running my serger at full speed the entire time, it took me FOUR HOURS to finish the edges on the long black strip of fabric. 
Second Pass Through the Serger, Tidy Rolled Hem on the Left Side

I shaved off just the littlest bit on each side, and ended up with VERY labor intensive 2 1/2" wide black silk ribbon, basically.  In hindsight, I should have just bought 20 yards of 2 1/2" wide ribbon!  All of the effort I went to would be so much more worth it if I was making a custom ruffle that I couldn't buy, either the same green fabric as my dress, or a green and black stripe, or a plaid, or something cool like that.  But I bought the silk shantung when I first bought the pattern, thinking it would be for those wide ruffles, and then I changed my mind, and then I felt obligated to make use of what I had purchased...

Finished Ruffle Strips, Ready to Pleat

So at the point that I had wrapped my continuous fabric strip into a giant coil as shown above.  I had tested serger settings on some strips of green dress fabric scraps, and I decided that I liked the look of the resulting green ribbon strips with black thread edges.  So I made a bit more of that to use for accessorizing my outfit later.

Drapery Workroom Pleating Tape
For the actual pleating of the ruffle, I resorted to some pressure-sensitive Perfect Pleating tape that I had purchased several years ago from drapery supply wholesaler Rowley Company.  It's just a 75 yard roll of sticky tape that you put down the length of your fabric strip with lines and numbers to help you create evenly spaced knife or box pleats, triple fullness.  The first step is to apply the tape to the edge of your entire length of flat trim fabric.  Then I just sewed down the middle of the fabric strip, pinching and folding the pleats in as I went along.  Because I wanted 3/4" knife pleats, I simply had to pinch and fold the fabric on the blue number 3 lines and bring those folds up to meet the blue number 1 lines.

Pinch and Fold on Blue 3 Line...

...Bring the Folded 3 Line to Meet the Blue 1 Line...

...Then sew down the center until you come to the next 1 line!
Like so.  The pleater tape makes it very easy to sew very accurate and even knife or box pleated ruffles, without measuring, pinning or marking.  It's still time consuming, though, because you have to stop and fold in each pleat as you go.  Several hours later, my giant black snake of a fabric strip had been transformed into 19 1/2 yards of lovely "plaited frills," as the Victorians would have called it.

I calculated that, allowing for extra trim due to the scalloped rather than straight application, I still had enough pleated ruffle trim for three rows of ruffles on my skirt and two rows of ruffles on each sleeve.  After all of the hours I had put into making these ruffles "from scratch," I was not about to waste ANY ruffle trim!

But how to get those ruffles onto my skirt?  Well, quilting tools to the rescue, once again.

Base of Arc Ruler 8 1/4" from Hem at Scallop High Point

Marking Scallop Low Point

Pinning Pleated Ruffle Along Marked Scalloped Line
I hunted through all of my tools and gadgets and discovered that one of my Westalee free motion quilting arced rulers had just the right curve for my scallops.  I used my rectangular see-through acrylic quilting rulers to mark the ruler alignments at the high and low point up from the hem, and then I used that Westalee arced ruler to draw the scalloped lines directly onto my skirt front using a Frixxion pen.  Then it was easy enough to pin the pleated ruffle trim along the lines.  I started out stitching the ruffles to the skirt using my open toe presser foot #20D, but then I switched to foot #37D because it was easier to watch that the new stitching would land exactly on the previous trim seam stitching with this foot.

Plenty of Visibility with Open Toe Foot 20D

Easier to Keep Previous Stitching Line Centered on Needle with Foot 37D
And so, by the end of a very long day, my skirt looked like this:
Trimmed Skirt Panels, Folded Over 4x
And that, my friends, is the Saga of the Scalloped Knife Pleat Ruffle Trim.


SJSM said...

I did not know about the stick on pleating tape. What a great tool! I'd have used a less accurate but quick method I learned and been cursing at myself once done for stray uneven pleats. Your use of quilting templates is also a great tool. Thanks for the ideas.

Your dress turned out lovely. You should be proud of your final garment made with out of the box thinking. It is a better look than the pattern instructions. Bravo!

SJSM said...

I did not know about the stick on pleating tape. What a great tool! I'd have used a less accurate but quick method I learned and been cursing at myself once done for stray uneven pleats. Your use of quilting templates is also a great tool. Thanks for the ideas.

Your dress turned out lovely. You should be proud of your final garment made with out of the box thinking. It is a better look than the pattern instructions. Bravo!

Nadine said...

I REALLY feel that you did an over the top Fantabulistic job with this dress! I love it. And your well documented journey has been very helpful and inspirational. I even have that pattern on my Amazon Wishlist!

Lani said...

I have NO idea how to garment sew, SEW I'm in awe of you!! You did a FABULOUS job!!!! Your dress just turned out beautiful. Looks like a vintage piece.

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