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Catching Up

14 Jan

So to play a little catch up of what happened between Costume College and December…

After Costume College, I was very inspired but not very motivated. I don’t think I did any sewing in the rest of August. Frankly I had neglected household responsibilities so it wasn’t a bad thing. In late August I hosted a lavish tea party with my close friends. My grandmother had gifted me her tea set some time ago and it was my first chance to use it. We went all out! Cream puffs, scones, Devonshire cream, chocolate mousse cups, cookies, tea sandwiches and sushi. My husband makes very yummy sushi. We dressed up bit not costumes. Frankly the idea of eating all that in a costume seems overwhelming.

In September I did a little bit of sewing. I started a bib front regency dress with the black Swiss dot. I wish I had bought more. I am a little shy and I discovered I really like the fabric. I will post about it once the dress is finished. Otherwise sewing was minimal – mending and an apron.

OctTitus totoroober is an insane month around our house. It is our wedding anniversary and our son’s birthday in the first half of the month. So no sewing. However I did end up teaching two panels at Geek Girl Con – The Corset: Object of Propriety or Liberation and Costuming for Every Body. I have really come to enjoy speaking about costuming in any format but I especially love Geek Girl Con. It is a very welcoming environment. The Corset panel went so-so. I did an intro to corset history that turned into a way too long lecture. In the end we didn’t get to cover any of the topics I intended to cover because we ran out of time. I felt terrible because it was all my fault for rambling on about history for so long. The Costuming for Every Body went a bit better. We had some short presentations and then questions for the last half of the hour. I hope that we got some info out to those who needed it and seem to have positive responses. I dearly wish I had blogged about Geek Girl Con at the time because I would have so much more to say. It has become my favorite local con and something I am greatly looking forward to this year. 

The second half of October was all about Halloween. This was the first year the monster has been old enough to go trick or treating. Previously he was to little and we lived in a terrible neighborhood. It took awhile to get him to decide on a costume. Finally he settled on Totoro from his favorite movie, My Neighbor Totoro. It was a very simple costume and took less than 8 hours spread over a couple days. I used an old animal jump suit pattern from my collection and a couple yards of fleece. Super easy. He loved it and anyone who recognized him loved it. I just wish I had better pictures.

Next up, the Super Secret Christmas Dress and Sharon’s Natural Form Dress.


Costume College – Day 4 and the Fabric District

13 Jan

Sunday brought the last day of classes for Costume College. I got up rather early in the morning and made it down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast before they were open. I did not dress up for Sunday Undies as I deemed my morning as too busy to don a bustle and corset thru classes. I was joined for breakfast by a Seattle costumer I had met last year, Denise and had a very relaxing breakfast ogling everyone elses undergarments. After breakfast I rushed off to check out the Bargain Basement and claimed a few trinkets and fabric for future projects.

My first class of the day was Tasteful Tints and Textures presented by the ladies of Truly Victorian Patterns. I have come to love their patterns and was excited to hear what they had to say. The class was very informative about the “rules” of Victorian clothing and had a lot of detail(they should write a book!). My costumes are always a little bit to the left of historical accuracy so I didn’t go into it with any expectations. In some ways that can be the best way to learn. And boy did I! The history is fascinating. These ladies really know their stuff! I will definitely sit in on any future classes they teach.

After that I sat in on History of Corsets. Obviously I already have a pretty good understanding of corset history but I wanted to see if I could add anything to my prep for my Geek Girl Con corsetry panel (more on that in a future post). I actually learned a lot especially about pre-victorian corsetry. I haven’t done a lot of renaissance costuming so I got a lot of great info about that era and the beginnings of boned bodices.

The purple puff is the start of my chatelaine and the black flower is a kanzashi flower.

The purple puff is the start of my chatelaine and the black flower is a kanzashi flower.

The afternoon had two of my limited classes – Kanzashi Flowers and Ribbon Chatelaines. The Kanzashi flowers class was very fun, easy and a great way to spend a few hours and socialize with other people. I will certainly make more flowers in the future and they are easy enough that I dont think I will forget how. The Chatelaines class was less social but very interesting. I have always wanted a chateliane and was excited about having one without spending hundreds of dollars on a sterling one. Unfortunately I ended up leaving early because I started feeling terrible. I think it was a lack of sleep because I went back to my room and passed out for several hours. I figured staying in my room and resting was a good idea given the fabric district tour was the next day.


Vendor room gloves, trim, buttons and paint.

Now the fun part! Pictures of my treasures from the vendor room, bargain basement and the fabric district. The trip to and around the fabric district was fairly uneventful. I spend most of the day with Rebecca and occasionally with a few others I had met on the way. Its really nice to have a few people to follow around who know the area better. I went down with a little bit of a list and of course got a bunch of unexpected things.

In the Vendor room I got more fabulous metal buttons, a few bunches of random ribbon and trim, a nice pair of gloves suitable for Victorian and 20th century day wear and some shoe paint. I am excited to try the paint but of course need to find the right project.


Bargain basement trim, trinkets and buttons.

From the bargain basement I found a few trinkets, buttons, beads and ribbon as well two bundles of fabric. For the blue checks I have a 1940’s simple day dress in mind. The floral (I think its chintz but I am not very good with fabrics) I saw as a mid to late 18th century polonaise dress. I couldn’t pass it up. I think there are 8 yards of it and I ended up paying about $1 a yard. I need to do more research since 18th century is not my era.


Bargain basement fabrics. Is that chintz?more research on that one. Its not generally my era but I have definitely been inspired recently by other costumers.


My fabric district haul.


The silk haul

This year I had the fore thought to bring half loaded suitcases down to LA with me knowing a I would need the room after I hit up the fabric district. And I was right. I went with a short list including more black and chartreuse silk. They were out of the taffeta of the chartreuse but had the dupioni, so another 10 yards of silk came home. I also brought home a yard each of purple silk velvet and purple charmeuse.


Pewter and white cotton

I did come home with a few practical pieces. I found a yard of pewter cotton satin for lining whatever I make out of that pewter silk I got earlier in the year. I bought I think 10 yards of a light weight white cotton for $1 a yard to use for mock ups. I also found the quilting fabric I used for my tree skirt and Christmas stockings (the skulls and roses). I can find it locally but way more expensive.


Green and black wool. Its much darker in person


Umbridge silk

My impulse buys are a little more random. I had a vague idea for a German renaissance costume and founds some light weight hunter green wool for a decent price and bought 5 yards (hopefully its enough). I also fell in love with some pink silk suiting. Rebecca came up with an idea to do bustle gowns for the Harry Potter teachers and I quickly claimed Umbridge. The silk suiting really says Umbridge to me. Sadly there are less than 3 yards. Not sure how I am going to make it work yet. I also found the pink plaid as a back up for Umbridge in case I cant find something better. It might also become a 40’s dress.


The cottons: Umbridge plaid, Christmas quilting fabric and swiss dot for a regency dress.

I also found some black Swiss dot which I absolutely love. I have been wanting to make another Regency dress but not white. It seemed the Swiss dot would be perfect and not scream mourning dress. Very excited for this project.


The fabric district trim. Its amazing how cheep trim is down there.

I bought some beautiful black trim that I just couldn’t resist. I ended up getting 23 yards for $20 cash which was a way better deal than getting the 10 yards I wanted. Ah well. The pink trim I bought with the intention for using it for Umbridge but I am not sure its quite right. The smaller black is just plain upholstery trim that in Seattle is $4-5 a yard but I got for under $1 a yard. Its always good to have some basic trim on hand.

That evening I had dinner with a few ladies I had talked to on the bus ride back. Then spent an uneventful night in my room packing up.

I think that covers it. I flew home on Tuesday morning with bags stuffed to the gills. I am so looking forward to next year and all the projects in between.

The Countdown to Costume College

3 Jul

When I was a kid I always loved advent calendars. Each December my grandma would give my brother and I those little cardboard ones with the chocolates inside. I loved hunting for the correct date, the sound of the cardboard and plastic as I opened it and the shaped chocolate hidden inside. Each day that went by came with a treat. The passing of time, as we eagerly awaited Christmas, was exciting, something to look forward to. Oh how things change when you reach adulthood.

Time is ticking away. The count down to Costume College is flying by. Much like Christmas, as a child, I am very eager to get to the end. But oi vay do I have so much to do. I have been working diligently whenever I can. I’m actually pretty proud of my focus and dedication. No (ok almost no) procrastination in this camp! However my main issue has been not enough time. Life events, big and small, keep getting in the way.

Slytherian bustle back

Slytherian bustle back

Each week I get 2 days to myself to sew, clean house and do anything else I can’t do with my toddler around. 16 hours a week of badly needed quiet and solitude. It’s amazing how desperate you become for silence when you have a little kid around all the time. I end up with about 12 -14 hours of actual sewing time. Some days I get so much done in those precious hours. Other days I have just started when it’s time to stop. Over the past month I have also lost a few days to other projects. We are new home owners and predictably have a long list of house projects. One week it was new floors. The next new bookcases and deep cleaning away the dust from the floors. The next week a no school day for my son.  I’ve lost 5 days of sewing time in the past month. No wonder I feel so behind.

Slytherian side bustle

Slytherian side bustle

I have managed a lot of progress however. At night I have been hand sewing my Regency era stays. On sewing room days I have been working on my Slytherian bustle dress. Its coming along beautifully. Underskirt and over skirt need hand sewing only. The bodice is together save sleeves and I am currently working on trim (a mix of machine and hand sewing). I did make a goal this year of hand sewing as much as I could and I stuck to it however if has greatly increased the time needed for finishing work.

For the underskirt I used my grand bustle skirt pattern I developed last year and altered it to fit tightly over the bustle frame. I dont have enough fabric for a flowing skirt and wanted a more tailored look all around. Attached to that are 2 rows of box pleated ruffles. The over skirt is based on the Truly Victorian 1886 Asymmetrical Drape (TV382) with some alterations. I put a cut in the center back and pulled up edges to create a mini butterfly look.


Slytherian Bodice Front

For the bodice I used my bodice pattern from the Frolicking costume with some additions. I found an image of the Ageless Patterns 1887 Corsage Vest and loved the lines. I try not to copy peoples work as much as possible but I knew if I bought the pattern it would not help me more than if I just made it myself. So after a quick mock up I moved on to the bodice. To my frustration I discovered I do not have enough fabric for the bodice and the sleeves. So right now the sleeves are on hold while I brainstorm some alternatives.

Slytherian Bodice Back

Slytherian Bodice Back

Shortly I will need to make some other decisions. The Slytherian bustle has a number of hours left but I believe I will have enough time to complete another ensemble before Costume College. Not a huge one but something. I would like to do a non Victorian project but what?!? On my list of goals is a full Regency ensemble but do I have enough time? I still have a lot of work on the stays and would need to do the chemise, petticoats and gown plus accessories. I had intended to do an open robe so that is a 2 part gown. What to do? Whatever the decision I know I have to use stash fabric. I do have that pewter silk which I am thinking is right for a Georgian gown but would need to research and design it. I have also recently been lured by Renaissance designs especially German. Something about the bright wool dresses and bust line is interesting. But I have NO experience in that era. I also love Elizabethan but that is a lot of details. What to do?!? I have to make the decision soon.

A Frolick on a Train

20 May

I finally went to an event! Its only been what 5 months?!?

Sunday we went on an outing to the Northwest Railway Museum with the local steampunk group.  I tend to fit in better with the steampunk crowd because tho I love historical costuming of all sorts, I tend to prioritize flamboyant design over historical accuracy. Being absolutely historically correct would drive me mad. My hat is off to those who can do it. But I digrese… Over all we had a grand time.  It threatened to rain but really only spit on us. Most of the time we were in a covered train car so it wouldn’t have mattered much.  My husband and son went along for the ride.  I managed to get a little bit of costume for the little monster and he had a grand time! With a fit thrown in now and again (he did not want to leave the train!).

I finally wore my Frolicking Suit. It was exceedingly practical for a train outing and very comfortable. Good length, easy on and off and not too cumbersome. I certainly would have been warm had the temperature been higher. It also had been many months since I had worn a corset so that was a bit uncomfortable. I vow to wear one routinely in prep for Costume College. I opted for some very comfortable brown Dr Martins. Over the years I have given up on fancy shoes and go for practical. Beautiful shoes are forbidden candy for this fat lady. Its just not worth the twisted ankles and blisters. The Docs served me well and were not too distracting. On reflection I think tan leather would be more appropriate. I am also debating my glove choice. Tan? Pink? Cream or white? I also think I need a hat. Strike that. I NEED a hat! Maybe I can get to that before costume college. As far as sewing notes I think I need to raise the back of the bustle hem because you cant see the pleating underneath.  Other than that the only mishap was a button that got caught on something and popped off.  Over all I call that a success.

Now to the pictures…


The finished Frolicking Suit! My husband did not notice the branch…


My son and I. As you can see, raising the bustle would be a good idea.


On the train. I actually like this picture of me – chins and all. It really looks like me and I am smiling. Couldn’t ask for more.


The monster does not want to leave the train.

An Overdue Progress Report

2 May

When I look at what I have accomplished in the past few weeks it seems like a lot and nothing at the same time.  This is often how sewing feels for me.

My Frolicking Suit is finished but has another few weeks before its first frolic (hopefully on a train!).  I have worn it for an hour or so as a test run.  Everything worked great except a few of the fabric covered buttons popped off.  I have since fixed them and need to reattach them.  Its pretty comfortable and easy to maneuver due to a lack of bustle cage.  Perfect for a train outing.  Hopefully I will get some good pics then or if we get a sunny weekend day maybe a few in the back yard.  Again getting photos is a huge issue for me.

20140501_150856I also completed a black and a white chemise, which was on goals my list.  I chose a linen/cotton blend for the black which I like better than the white cotton but boy it wrinkles.  both are entirely machine sewn and very comfy.  They might become summer night gowns or at least the pattern will be. The original pattern was taken from Period Costume for Stage and Screen ( ) with a few minor alterations. I tested the pattern in the white cotton and tweaked the neckline before making the black. The white one is totally wearable but not as comfortable.  I also managed the prettiest rolled hem I have ever done.  Machine rolled hems can be a challenge. So finicky but I got the hang of it this time around. I will try and get some photos of me in it soon.


Bust detail: There is a little bit of gathering over the bust for some added room.


Black Chemise


Shoulder Detail


The black and green corset is moving forward slowly.  The lining is in and needs bones, binding and flossing.  So much hand work. My goal is to have it done by the end of the month so I can wear it to SEAF.  Over all I am in love with the fit. As always there are things that could be a wee bit better but I’m not stressing over them.

Corset3 Corset2 Corset1


Beginnings of hand sewn stays

Speaking of hand work I have undertaken an entirely hand sewn project – Regency Stays! I thought I would challenge myself a little and see if I could make it thru the project.  It goes slowly but well.  I am surprised my stitching is actually pretty decent.  Considering my hand bound button holes on the Frolicking Suit I was dubious, however a back stitch is far easier.  My stitches certainly could be more even but by the end of the project they will likely be.

Costume College is quickly approaching.  Only 3 months and so much to do.  I am hoping to get my Slytherian dress done but it is a LOT of work.  Other than that I am just not sure.  I would like to get the regency stuff done but I think that will depend on how long it takes to do the stays.


Pac Fab Score! Colors is a little lighter in the photo.

I also picked up a small handful of things from an amazing sale at Pacific Fabrics. 10 yards of Pewter machine dupioni, 4 yards of pink and red striped heavy cotton, 4 yards of crazy striped silk, 2 yards of black shirting and 15 yards of gold gimp trim.  And the price? Wait for it…..$118 including tax.  The pewter silk was only $5 a yard.  I do love a deal! I have no idea what to do with any of it yet but I am sure it will not sit too long.  I might have to put other projects aside to dig into that silk.

Next time, hopefully, more work on the stays and a start to Slytherian.

Anatomy of a Frolick

7 Apr

I have been hard at work on my Frolicking Suit over the past few weeks.  As soon as I feel I have made a big leap forward the list of things left to do grows a bit.  But I think I am in the home stretch.  The skirt still needs closures and the bodice needs a little bit of finishing on the facings and button holes.  Ugh button holes.  I decided with this project to try a new skill: hand sewing button holes.  To be clear I am not a strong hand sewer.  I am decent but I prefer my hand stitching not to be visible.  Unfortunately that is the whole point of button holes.  Obviously I could have done them by machine but I wanted to challenge myself and machine ones always look, well, cheep.  But to the meat of the project…

For most of my costumes I draft my patterns from scratch or alter a pattern I have already created.  For this costume I started with my basic 4 panel bustle skirt as described in the last post.  The apron was a very slightly altered version of the skirt pattern.  Over all the hardest part of the skirt was the pleating which turned out beautifully.  Something I am even more proud of it the placket and waist band.  In some ways a placket is stupidly simple but I have always had a blind spot there.  Until I read this and like magic I have conquered the placket! 


Look at that beauty!

The bodice has been a bit more difficult than the skirt.  I started with the basic bodice pattern I had created for my plaid evening gown but knew there were some problems.  The sleeve was a sausage casing plus the length and pleating in the back needed to change.  So I did a mock up and altered it the fit the Queen Mum (my dress form).  Then I fit it on me.  I have to say having a dress form is revolutionary.  This is the first project I have done with the Queen Mum and it cut down on how much fitting and fitting assistance I needed.  By the time I got it to a fitting on my almost all the kinks were worked out. 



Again, look at that beauty!  This is the first fitting of the first mock up and as you can see the length, armseye and neck line needed adjustments.  The neck and armseye adjustments were issues lingering from the previous incarnation of the pattern. Hopefully next time I will have even less issues.  This mock up also needed a little help in the bust area but that worked itself out in the final version and didn’t require a pattern alteration. 

To digress a little… You will notice a couple things from these photos about my body and shape.  One boob is different than the other.  This is true with most women but as you go up in size the difference can be more dramatic.  Easy fix: Fake boobs!  Some people shy way from them maybe because of pride or expense or they just don’t know about them.  If you have a cup size or more difference bite the bullet and get a set.  I used a 50% off coupon at Joannes and it made a huge difference.  If you want to be true to period and materials, remember padding and falsies have been around for CENTURIES! So just do it! Sew up a little pad of linen stuffed with cotton or whatever and make that beautiful silhouette you want. 

Second thing you will notice is the shape of my upper back, rib cage, waist and hips.  A lot of people prefer a smoother line and I would agree with regards to the upper back.  In the photo I laced myself in and I have less control over the upper line of the corset.  When my husband does it it looks a lot better.  As for the ribcage, waist and hip line, that is an intentional choice.  I lace my corset very tight.  I get about an 8-10 inch reduction easy.  This is a choice and how I like my silhouette to look.  Some could argue it is not historically correct but there is evidence of tight lacing all thru the Victorian era. It may not be common but I’m not a common lady. Some would argue it is dangerous.  Maybe but I have a lot of squish and can do this easily.  If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I am very conscience of when I need to loosen it and don’t hesitate to do so.  Point is, its a personal choice, I don’t recommend it but if you want to go there educate yourself then have at it. Remember, don’t be a slave to fashion regardless of the fashion era. 

Now back to the sewing…


ImageAfter this mock up I did one more including a sleeve (I forgot pictures) and headed in to the final product. In the photos you can see the skirt sans ruffle but otherwise completed.  I think I might starch the trim to keep the wrinkles at bay.  We also see improved armseyes and length on the bodice.  Unfortunately when I lengthened it I ended up adding to much to width and had to take some out of the waist and abdomen area. 

Sadly that’s all the pictures I took (or my husband did rather).  I am getting better about it tho!  Next post will hopefully be a finished costume including a little hat I found at the thrift store (score!).

Now back to the buttonholes I go…


A Quick Pattern

3 Mar

This weekend I knocked off a pattern from a nightgown I received for Christmas.  It is so utterly comfortable that I want more but am not willing to pay $40 and be limited to the fabric selection the store offers.  Plus I think they discontinued it.  Its a VERY simple tunic and I am sure I could have free handed it but since I was wearing it…

Its a 3 piece tunic pattern which wears well as a casual nightgown but would also be a helpful pattern if I ever need a tunic.  When I laid it out I noticed a slight curve over the hip area which explains why it is so comfortable over my big bum.  I find that most tunic style shirts are too tight over my hips or if they fit my hips are too big in the shoulders.  This pattern seems to have just the right amount of flare so it is comfortable but not a tent.  The original is in a thin poly-fleece so somewhat stretchy.  I think I will make a muslin mock up to see how it wears in a non-stretch fabric, just as an experiment. Most likely I will stick with fleece for future nightgowns but you never know the potential of a pattern.  Having an arsenal of well fitting base patterns is invaluable for any seamstress but especially the plus sized one.  It truly cuts down on the time one spends altering patterns.

In my reading of many blogs, books and other resources, I have noticed a difference of opinion.  Some people pose the opinion that each project should start with a fresh pattern or pattern block made from fresh measurements.  Others say start with a pattern block or pattern that has previously been adjusted to your measurements and alter from there.  I am of the latter opinion. My policy has been to take my measurements once a year and develop a well fitting corset, bodice and separate skirt pattern.  If my measurements haven’t changed (which they haven’t in years) I will use the same version year to year.  But always check! I go a little further and have a separate pattern for a princess seam bodice and a darted bodice.  I do mostly Victorian based costumes and within that 40+ years there are a lot off nuanced pattern differences.  I find these 2 bodice variations serve as steady bases for what I need for the era.  If I did other eras, of course I would have different base patterns for each era.  In fact shortly I will have to work out a base pattern for a regency style dress.

Keeping all your patterns with careful notations is absolutely critical in my opinion.  Very rarely have I thrown out a pattern and really that only happens when it is a complete disaster or I take it out and say “what was I thinking!”.  Of course the advantage of keeping patterns and working from a well fitting base pattern is it cuts down on time needed for toiles or mock ups.  The down side is I am running out of space!