Tag Archives: Patterning

Costume College – Day 3

20 Aug

Saturday brought an early morning. Up for breakfast and straight into Jennifer Rosebrugh’s (of Historical Sewing.com) Sleeve Fitting for Victorian Bodices class. I learned SO much in this class! I have hacked my way thru self drafted sleeves many times but the fit has not been perfect. Its been a sore spot for some time. I learned 2 critical rules or tips that I will absolutely note forget. 1 – the snugger the fit of the arm pit area the more movement. This is absolutely contrary to every modern plus sized pattern from the big 4. So often pattern companies (even some small ones) just enlarge a pattern instead of properly grading a pattern up. Even if it is properly graded modern ideas of ease make for huge uncomfortable arms-eyes. Now I know how to check the patterns fit in this area BEFORE I even start cutting out the pattern. In reality I knew how to do this before but now it has completely sunk in. Sometimes you just need someone to come up with the words to explain what you already know. The 2nd rule I took away was – start the decorative details of the sleeve after the break point. My notes describe the break point as just above the muscle on the arm. Jennifer went into great detail about the terminology used drafting a sleeve, most of which I could not regurgitate for you. Having never taken a true pattern drafting class most of this was new. Over all the class showed me how much I actually do understand but how much I still have to learn. I am certainly a bit excited to draft a new sleeve pattern for myself! And if I see a pattern drafting class offered some where I should probably take it.


Marie Antoinette en chemise, portrait of the queen in a “muslin” dress, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Next up was La Chemise a la Reine presented by Sarah Lorraine. I periodically read her blog (modehistorique.com)  and knew she was presenting a class about her research. 18th century costume is not currently my passion so I knew very little about a Chemise a la Reine, just what I had scanned from her blog.  I had no idea how much Marie Antoinette was rebelling against the system or why and what part this dress had to play in that rebellion. I loved that the presentation was mostly paintings and art history. Sometimes I forget how much I love art history. Over all the story that Ms Lorraine is telling about this garment is enthralling. Or maybe its her excitement is catching. I understand why people love the era and I might come around soon. I was very sad I had to leave before the end of her presentation but I needed a lunch break before my first limited class.

The ribbon techniques I learned.

The ribbon techniques I learned.

Limited classes at CoCo, I am learning, are hit and miss. My first one of this year, Victorian Ribbon Work by Sandra Durbin, was kind of middle of the road. I loved her as a teacher, very fun and encouraging. The class over all was an intro class and went by so fast. I walked away with several good techniques I can use to trim future projects. I am sure I could learn all of it from a book but sometimes you need a teacher to build confidence. Plus the teacher was very fun and different.

After the ribbon class it was time to get ready for the evening Gala. I had arranged to go to a restaurant off sight with Rebecca Maiten and some of her friends that I did not know. I wore my very simple maroon early regency dress. My plan of wearing something simple and not getting stopped for too many photos worked. The red carpet experience still terrifies me a little  but the simplicity of dress made the evening far more pleasant. Over all I am very pleased with the dress. Its comfortable and reasonably flattering. I love the jewelry I made (my first real attempt at jewelry making) and the shawl. My hair was AMAZING! Totally worth the time to do pin curls the night before. I had made a set of transitional short stays and BOOOOOO! by the end of the night they were digging into my back. In the trash they go! Hopefully the true regency stays I am working on fit better.

Rebecca had gathered a large group of ladies who opted to eat at an Italian restaurant across the street. Rebecca looked fabulous in her court gown and we all made quiet a spectacle walking over there. After dinner another spectacle as we walked back and then to the photo studio for pictures. I stopped in at the Gala to see some of the costumes but the stays were starting to bother me so I called it a night.  Over all it was a very pleasant evening with some lovely ladies (whose names I sadly don’t really remember). But the best part of the night? Taking those bloody stays off!


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 http://historicalsewing.com/victorian-skirts-with-placket-opening 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!

My Ambitious Plans

2 Mar

I decided to post my sewing projects and events separately from goals tho they are related.  Just to prevent a painfully long post.

Most of the time I wear my costumes to conventions but this year I am hoping to branch out a little bit and attend some “real life” events or make my own.  I have so many costumes that I never bring out except once a year.  And considering the need to have a whole new wardrobe for the big conventions, a lot of costumes are only ever worn once.  It’s just plain silly. So far I have the following events on the schedule:

  • Port Townsand Victorian Festival (3/21-3/23)
  • Emerald City Comic Con (3/28-3/30) – sans costume.
  • Seattle Erotic Arts Festival (June)
  • Costume College (7/31-8/3)*
  • Steamcon (10/3-10/5)*
  • Geek Girl Con (10/11-10/12)*
  • An art exhibit
  • A tea lunch
  • A picnic or out-door festival.

ECCC will be a learning experience.  I have never been and feel a mite nervous about showing up to an unknown event in costume.  I am daring at times but not that daring. Costume College, GGC and Steamcon are the only events I have new costumes planned for.  All the others I intend to dig out something from the closet.  Its possible I will make something for SEAF but it wont be a huge project.  SEAF isn’t really a costume event but I always use it as an excuse to dress up.  Plus it’s not historically based so I can do whatever I want. Costume College is the one I am super excited about.  I went last year and it completely changed how I view my skills, costumes and goals.  But more about that as it approaches.

If the list of events seems long the list of projects is even longer:

  • Regency Round Gown
  • Regency Open Robe
  • Regency Corset
  • Regency Chemise
  • Rococo Stays
  • Green over bust corset
  • Victorian chemise – 1 black, 1 white
  • Slytherian bustle dress
  • Ursula
  • Divine
  • Victorian riding habit
  • 1920’s Dress
  • 1910 Wool suit
  • Victorian Frolicking dress

Obviously some are easier projects than others.  As the year progresses I will likely postpone some projects and add others. I have already started the green corset, chemise and frolicking costume and sketched up the slytherian and Regency ensembles.  Ursula and Divine are both in my head still and will remain so until I am ready to start them.  I have a strange need to keep my more cosplay costumes secret.  It might have to do with the hateful backlash a lot of cosplayers experience when they or their costumes are not up to other people’s expectations.  But lets save that tirade for another day.

I feel pretty comfortable with my construction skills for all the Victorian and 20th century costumes.  The regency ones however are totally new territory.  I am a little terrified about the regency stays because they are so different from Victorian corsets.  The silhouette is SO different.  After a good deal of research, I did a quick draft and toile of a set of stays.  It was an utter disaster!  The shape was right, the body fit well but the boobs had NO support. I tried both the pocket style bust support and the gussets and both failed.  So I decided to bite the bullet and ordered the Laughing Moon Regency Stay Pattern. Right now it’s sitting and waiting for me to have the courage to attempt them again.  I know I will prevail but sometimes tackling a project requires the right moment of determination and courage.