If you’ve followed along on this series, we’ve finished work on the kirtle, outer gown, and foresleeves. Now, it’s time to indulge in all things dramatic and sparkly and wonderful: the plaquette. The plaquette is a stiffened panel that attaches to the front of the gown to hide the center front lacing of the gown while creating the smooth front characteristic of a Henrician gown.
The plaquette has a rounded shape on top and a pointed shape at the bottom and the sides should line up near the side seams of the gown bodice. It requires stiffening lengthwise to hold its general shape but needs to be moldable or soft widthwise to hug around the front body. Ideally, the kirtle and outer gown are providing all of the body shaping. So though the plaquette is stiffened, it’s for decorative purposes in the end.
The plaquette pattern is based on the bodice panels with the addition of 1″ at the center front, curved to either side to match the original side lengths. Additionally, the bottom is extended 1″ in order to overlap with the forebodies panels and elongate the torso.
It can be simple and smooth, elegantly embroidered, or heavy as heck with diamonds and rubies. I opted for a blend of all three. Because why not be extra?
In my mind’s eye of design, I initially wished to create the plaquette with embroidery with details of seed pearls and beading. Yet, the lace and embroidered pieces that were available to me at my local stores were far too modern for the design I wanted. I thought about teaching myself to embroider or commission a panel of embroidered material specifically, but I’d already far and above blown the project budget on the sheer yardage required gown. I couldn’t justify buying MORE material, no matter how much I wanted to indulge the desire for gorgeous fabric. Instead, I would use items I had in my stash for the project already.
You see, when I get an idea for a project, I turn into a crow. If I see something in passing that is even remotely related to the project on sale, clearance, or just THE perfect color, I buy it and stash it away in one of the many many baskets that take residence around my all-in-one living room/dining room/sewing room/guest room (basically the only room in the apartment besides my bedroom). Once the basket contains most or all of the inspirational materials I need, I start. Often this means I have more inspiration items than I need or use, but it leads to a wonderfully sorted creative process.
To build the plaquette from these materials, I start by deciding on the fashion fabric and structural layers. In all, I used four layers: the outer/front layer from blue velvet remaining from the outer gown construction, thin white muslin interlining, coutile, and blue linen for the lining.
Now, a bit of explaining on the layers. I didn’t come to this arrangement naturally, nor does it seem necessary in hindsight. To start, I actually had a layer of buckram in the middle at one point too. I attempted to use that layer to provide the structure necessary to give the smooth shape and hold up the gems I planned to add. However, on the trial run of the layers (baste stitched together), the buckram buckled and folded weirdly with any movement. It was…too stiff. So I eliminated it and planned to add a few bones to the plaquette to support instead.
Since I planned to add boning to the center (essentially acting as a busk) and following the top curved seam, I added the layer of coutil which would give me a base to add twill tape boning channels while preventing any stretching of the plaquette overall. We’ll come back to this thought.
The muslin layer is added for a lining structure for the thin weave and delicate silk velvet to be mounted on while I added trim, embroidery, beading, or whatever creative embellishments I landed on. I baste these two layers together first and can begin the embellishment process.
The first item I pull from my stash basket is a navy trim I purchased on clearance from Joann’s. I thought to use it to create geometric style lines to meld with the diamond patterns on the outer gown. I fiddled around with it for a while, pining in places, holing it up to myself in the mirror, and adjusting until I was happy with the effect. In the end, the shape creates a triangle or v-shape mimicking the point on the plaquette as well as the diamond effects.
Finally, was the most fun part of adding beads on beads on beads and gems and more gems! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of photos of the beading process since I was so excited and playing with it as I went that I just kept stitching and didn’t record any. Looking back though, my process started by sorting through the beads I had available and having any that coordinated nearby, then testing how certain patterns of beads would look in sequence. I took a sequence that I liked from the seed beads and couch stitched them in parallel along the center raised section of the trim.
And of course, I want crazy using gems to my heart’s content. Again, this was a process of trying patterns to see what I liked and what I had enough glass gems for to have a cohesive pattern.
Before moving on beyond the beading, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the backside of the panel because I find it simply fascinating
Embellishments aside, it was time to add the structural layers and finish the piece. I placed my coutile on top of the finished beaded panel and traced the lines of the trim/beadwork under which I would add boning channels.
[what boning made it to the final garment]
The lining and coutile layers are basted together for stability. With all layers finished, the lining layer and outer layer are stacked with right sides together and are stitched, turned outward, pressed, and slip-stitched closed for a final finish.
The last step is to create a way for the plaquette to attach to the gown bodice. Historically, this was achieved with the use of straight pins that a lady’s maid would have used in dressing a noblewoman. But, it’s just me, and I like convenience. So I use a strong home decor thread to whip stitch one side of the plaquette to the gown and add hook and eyes to the other side. This was a tad of a process since my initial placement of the plaquette was not tight enough across the gown front and caused the hooks to, well, unhook when I moved. But the second time was too far apart and forced me to pull the gown front panels together when hooking. Third time was the charm and achieved the right tension. So don’t worry if it takes a bit of finagling to get it right.
There it is, the completed plaquette. And I adore it. Aside from the laughable weight of the outer gown, it’s my favorite part of the gown.
Crazy to believe, but we’re nearly complete with this project. Only one more item to build and she’ll be complete
After finishing the structure of the kirtle, I could begin the work of patterning and fitting the gown bodice. In terms of sequencing, I put some of the finishing and fancy work off for the kirtle to start the bodice. I like to do this so that I could have work in cutting, sewing machine, or hand sewing and switch between tasks depending on my mood at the time. For the bodice, I used the Henrician Gown pattern from The Tudor Tailor. The gown will require panels for the bodice including the center back, side back, side front, forebodies (center front panels that lace up), plaquette, large turn back sleeves including a contrasting lining, and skirt including the pleated front, side, and back panels. The bodice pattern is copied from the book and scaled (see my post here on how to scale book patterns) and I got lucky in that my measurements are fairly close to those of the pattern model, except for my waist measurement.
For the first mockup, I slashed the forebodies panel along where a waist dart would be and opened by 1 inch. I figured this would be adjusted with the mockup fitting but would give a good starting point for over the previously fitted kirtle. I also lowered the neckline on the forebodies and side front panels for the decorative panel on the kirtle which turned out wider than the original pattern.
The mockup actually when very well on the first attempt. There were only a couple adjustments I needed to make to the pattern, mostly related to contouring the opening to the waist, releasing the side seams a tad to open the armscye, and taking in at the shoulders. The most difficult part by far was the sleeves. Sleeves are the absolute devil and I went through 6 mockups of the sleeve caps to try and get the right shape that fits comfortably. To start, I could not seem to get the sleeve head to ease in without pleats or gathers while increasing the sleeve at the bicep to be unrestricted with a chemise layer underneath. I’m honestly still not happy with the sleeves but needed to move on.
For the skirt, there weren’t any fitting adjustments to make beyond reducing the length for my height. The model for the base pattern was about 6″ taller than me, so I opted to simply reduce the length of the skirt panels by 6″ and call it a day.
Final pattern in hand, I began the process of cutting out all the fabric. Here, things got a bit complicated. Now, The Tudor Tailor calls for 10 yards of material for making the gown (bodice, skirt, full sleeves, etc.). I meanwhile had 5 yards, but at 60″ width since it was a home decor fabric. In order to make it work, especially with a very geometric pattern to match, I got a bit creative. I start by laying all the skirt pieces out and using the match point at the waist on each seam for pattern matching. Right off the bat, I knew there was no way to have the skirts at their fullness of the original pattern with the amount of material available, even with the 6″ reduction in length for all pieces. To make it work, I adjust the skirt panels by:
The back skirt panel would only be the 60″ width of the material,
The side panels are slashed at three points and reduced with the side-back seam on the vertical of the fabric pattern (parallel with the selvage),
6″ width of the front panels would be supplemented by a 12″ strip of velvet and front-sides would not pattern match beyond the waist point match.
The slash and reduce method for the side panels is done by:
Marking three lines from the hem to waist as follows: one line parallel to the front-side seam, one line parallel with the side-back seam, and one line between the first two.
The lines are then cut from waist to hem, but not through the hem. I will often reinforce the scant paper left at the end of the slash with a bit of tape so it doesn’t tear through;
Pivot the slashed sections toward the front-side seam to close . . . . .
By reducing the volume of the side and front skirt panels, I give myself enough material to cut my bodice pattern pieces and part of the sleeves. The reduction of the side skirt panel at the waist line made me nervous that it would affect the historical shape of the skirt, but I actually really liked the reduced bulk at the hips. I’ll point this out in photos toward the end of this series.
In cutting the bodice panels, pattern matching was much more critical than in the skirt. The matching process starts with the center back panel that I opt to eliminate the center back seam entirely. I mark the panel on the fabric, using the yellow and red dots at the center of the diamond pattern as my center backline. I then mark a 1/2″ seam allowance line around the entire panel.
For the side back panel, I generally find an area of fabric large enough for the piece, with wiggle room for pattern matching and seam allowance. I then pin the center back panel to the fabric at the farthest edge and lay the side back paper pattern along the seam line. The paper is pinned in place here and marked with chalk, adding seam allowances. This gives me a perfect pattern match when stitched along the seam line precisely. Though, it was NOT easy with the limited material I had. I then had to repeat the process with even less fabric for the side front panels. This pattern matching and optimizing the fabric left for the bodice took me entire evenings. Plural.
And of course, the sleeves again are the absolute devil. I knew there would be absolutely no way to have enough material to fully make the sleeves in the geometric pattern and after noodling on it a bit, it didn’t seem necessary to do so. Since the sleeves would be the full turnback style, most of the “outer” fabric would be tucked behind the contrasting lining. So I took the remaining large section of geometric fabric I had and cut the sleeves to I had the sleeve cap and the longest length possible. It ended up that the length ended right at the point where the sleeve would start to curve outward, so all for the best. The remaining outer sleeve was then cut from the navy blue linen that was used for the kirtle construction. I also opted to use this linen for the forebodies panels since they would be covered by the plaquette. I also cut lining for the bodice from a satin I had on hand.
With everything cut (finally), I could begin the construction process. I start by flatlining all the panels using a basting stitch at 1/4″ from the edge and then finishing the edges on the serger. The panels are then carefully stitched together, checking the pattern match as I pin so that the hard work of pattern matching when I cut is not wasted. I stitched the panels from the center back to the center front. All in one piece, I can do a final fitting for the shoulder seams and move on to the eyelet closure. The 1″ excess at the center front is folded back, ironed, and pinned in place before stitching the boning channels. I am using 1/4″ synthetic whalebone (plastic) boning and thus stitch the first channel 3/8″ from the center front, move over 1/2″ for the eyelets, and then another 3/8″ for the second channel.
While using the iron to flatten the boning pieces, I also turn over the neckline seam allowance, iron, and clip to be sewn down by hand with simple whip stitches.
I used the top of sleeve cut pieces to also cut the lining from cotton and make a bottom of sleeve pattern for the remaining length. The bottom of the sleeve is cut from both the same blue linen as the forebodies and silk velvet. Though the linen is technically the outer layer and the silk is the lining, the sleeves will be folded back with the wrist at the elbow, thus hiding the linen and exposing the lush velvet. The velvet section is cut 1″ longer at the hem so that the velvet will fold over at the final hem rather than the seam being exposed.
The linings pieces and outer pieces are stitched together, tops to bottoms, then individually stitched at the underarm seams. Once all four sleeve tubes are stitched, the lining and outer layers are stitched together at the wrist hem and turned out to form the sleeve.
Next came the agonizing task of setting the sleeves into the armscye. The armscye is prepped by a quick stay stitch (basted stitch length) around the armscye. The sleeve itself has two lines of gathering stitches at 1/4″ and 1/2″ from the edge. The bobbin end of the gather stitches is pulled to gently gather the sleeve cap to help with easing the sleeve into the armscye.
The eased sleeve is pinned into the armscye using the markings from the original pattern for orientation. I hand-stitched the sleeves in place with small backstitches because I worried that forcing it through the machine would create puckers and tucks. Hand stitching takes longer but comes with a lot more control. The lining is then turned inward and also handstitched down at the armscye, encasing the finished sleeve seam.
The skirt panels were cut while preparing the bodice, but lining pieces also needed to be cut as well as the supplemental velvet. The supplemental velvet is cut to serve as both the 6″ reduction from the front panel as well as a lining. I am cutting a stip 13″ wide to allow for 1/2″ seam allowances.
I am adding a lining for the skirt primarily because the home decor fabric has an odd back where all the threads from the red and gold stitching are exposed. Knowing my clumsy self, I would end up hooking those threads all the time if they weren’t encased. The lining is cut using the previously cut outer fabric pieces as pattern templates. I used a mixture of bulk white cotton (Ikea) and clearance patterned cotton (Hobby Lobby). In hindsight, I wished I had used only the patterned cotton to be consistent since any time the bright white is seen, it is quite a shock next to the deep, rich blues.
The lining pieces are stitched together and seams pressed open.
As I was prepping the skirt panels to be stitched together, I realized I almost missed a golden opportunity: POCKETS. I quickly found a standard pocket pattern from another project and cut four pocket panels from the blue linen. I added these to the side-front seam edges of both the side and front panels and THEN stitched the full seams for the front, side, back, and front supplement pieces. Lastly, the velvet front panels are stitched to the front lining panels to create a full circle of the outer fabric and lining. The wrong sides are turned inward with both the hem and waist seams open. The waist seam for the outer and lining layers is pinned together, basted, and finished on the serger.
The Tudor Tailor pattern gives instructions for pleating and gathering the skirt waist, but I had to do a bit of adjusting due to my pattern reductions in the skirt and bodice alterations early on. I was able to follow the front panel pleats closely by marking the point where the pleats would meet based on The Tudor Tailor pattern, but then adjusted the starting point of the box pleats based on reducing the length to match the side seam on the bodice. I also added a small pleat in the velvet strip so that the box pleat wasn’t quite so extreme. This pleat is also marked in The Tudor Tailor pattern. The pleats were basted in place before stitching the bodice and skirt together from front to side seam. This seems counterintuitive to do before finishing the back pleats, but it allowed me to then place the bodice and skirt on a dress form and play with the back panel pleats to figure out the right ratio for the cartridge pleats.
The side and back panels of the skirt are gathered with cartridge pleats to give fullness at the hips and butt that were characteristic of the period. I used 1″ pleats at the sides and 3″ pleats at the back and then both were wiggled and squished to give an even appearance across the back.
The pleats are fixed to the bodice with small whip stitches using heavy-duty upholstery thread. Because my skirt is constructed of heavy home decor fabric and lined with a full cotton layer, is un-godly heavy and I worried that the weight would cause the waist seam to pull apart if I didn’t use small enough stitches.
With the skirt fully stitched to the bodice, I placed the garment on the dress form adjusted it to my height, and leveled the front hem to skim just above the toes. Since the back skirt includes a small train, I only leveled the hem to the side-front seam. The side and back hem was just tidied up to match at the seams and left long for the train.
To finish the hem, I am using the same silk bias ribbon as from the kirtle hem, though needing twice as much length. I quickly make my bias tape, and pin it to the front of the skirt, being careful that the lining will be caught in the stitches and hang straight with the outer layer. The bias tape is stitched to the front using the machine, turned under, and hand-stitched to the lining.
It was so incredibly satisfying to see the outer gown come together. The construction was actually pretty quick once I had gotten past the pattern-matching finicky work. It is heavy as heck but by far one of the most well-done, professional-looking garments I have ever made. There is still the plaquette and accessories to finish, but it was such a wonderful moment to be able to see the full garment both on the dress form and then to wear it myself. At this point, the project has been ongoing for nearly a year and a half.
With the construction of the gown and supportive kirtle, work could begin on the accessories including the foresleeves and plaquette. The foresleeves are a type of false sleeves worn on the forearm that was often in a complementary or matching fabric as the main gown. The wing portion angles toward the turned-back sleeves of the gown and gives a smidgen of support to the draped sleeves to open them.
I am again using the pattern from The Tudor Tailor with only minor adjustments based on the length of my forearm. The mockup of the foresleeves alone was such an odd feeling. They reminded me of cosplay looks where the character has oversized bracers rather than a delicate, feminine accessory.
In constructing the foresleeves, I had very minimal fabric remaining that matched the contrasting fabric in the kirtle. It was thankfully just enough to cut two of the foresleeve pattern, but on a fold like the pattern requires. Instead, I cut the two with seam allowance at the top and then cut two more identical pattern pieces from other fabric I had in a similar color palette. Looking back, I wish I had instead used some of the navy blue linen leftover from the gown work for this, but I was stuck in the mindset of wanting the foresleeves to contrast the main gown.
Since the foresleeves need a decent amount of stiffness to look right and the fashion fabrics used are light (cream supplement) and medium (yellow/red demask) weights, I opted to add a layer of buckram to the construction.
Buckram is a stiff mesh material that is typically used in the construction of hats and bonnets. Here, I am using is like an interlining for the additional strucutre. I cut it from the original pattern paper rather than the cut fabric panels since I do not need or want seam allowance on the buckram or it will cause my seams to be stiff and not turn nicely. I am applying one layer of buckram to each lining with a basting stitch a scant 1/8″ inside the stitching line.
The buckram/lining layers are then stitched with right sides together to the cream and floral fabrics. I only stitch along the front and two curved edges, the top edge is left open so the panels can be turned.
The corners and curves are clipped prior to turning and then all panels are well pressed after turning. One panel made from the cream material and one floral print panel are placed right sides together and stitched along the top unfinished edge. Once stitched, the edge is finished on the inside and pressed open nicely.
It was at this moment that I realized I’d made an error. The pattern, and historical reference, show the foresleeves to have multiple puffs of white linen at both the bottom and body of the foresleeves. I even have it marked on my pattern pieces to leave windows on the body for these puffs around the wrist area. But I had forgotten to cut them and had chosen to seam and turn the edges rather than using bias tape. If I had used bias tape, I could have cut the puff allowance areas and finished the oval openings with bias tape to match. But since I didn’t, I felt that it would look like a mistake. It was also at the point where I didn’t particularly care to add them in. Hence, I decided not to. Creative liberties!
I did still add the puffs at the curved edge of the foresleeves since I had this plan throughout the process. For the puffs, two strips of white Lyocell scrap from another project. The strips measure 36″ by 12″, this is a bit more than what The Tudor Tailor recommends, but it used the full amount of the scrap pieces I had, and whatever could be wrong with a little extra puff factor right?
An attedote on Lyocell: I love it.
I had stumbled upon a bolt of lyocell at my local Joanns when searching for affordable white linen for a skirt I was making for a local theatre production and was blow away by the material. It is lightweight and floated dreamily, felt like the finest linen I’d ever handled if anything closer to a silk feel, but was still sturdy and opaque. It was a perfect material for said skirt and the offcuts I have treasured and used stingily since. I cannot seem to find the fabric locally since, but if I do, I will buy all of it.
Lyocell is a semi-sustainable fabric that can be used in numerous applications. It is produced from eucalyptus trees that grow very quickly and can be replaced easily. It is then processed and can be blended with other materials. Since it is from organic fibers of the eucalyptus tree, it is biodegradable and depending on the source, maybe carbon neutral. However, if it is blended with synthetics, it loses these properties. Hence, a semi-sustainable fabric.
Back to the puffs. I return to the foresleeves and visualize where each puff would gather with gems. This was primarily determined by optimizing how many gems I had remaining after the gown to work with. Of the larger gems, I had enough ruby and champagne-colored gems left to make seven gather/attachment points which translated to six puffs.
Six puffs would be beyond perfect too. Since my fabric strips were 36″ long, each puff would evenly measure 6″ in length. To prep, the lyocell strips are finished with a quick zig-zag stitch (my serger was broken, unfortunately) and then marked with each 6″ point. I stitch a course running stitch with heavy-duty thread at the gather points and leave long tails hanging so I could find them later.
To apply the white lyocell to the foresleeves, I pin the material to the interior of the foresleeves at each gathering point. The strips were a tad longer than the area they were to be placed in, so I did a bit of pin gathering between each gather point. To do this, I pull the excess material up from the lining it is to be pinned to, find the center of the excess, pin down to the lining, and repeat until all material is generally gathered and pinned in place.
Once stitched in place, the hanging gather threads are found, pulled tight, and knotted in place. Then the foresleeves are turned out. Using the excess thread from the gather points, I stitch the gathers tight and add the gems.
There are quite a few other accessories still to go, so continue to follow along as we finish the gown itself and accessories:
The foundation garment for gowns in the 16th century, otherwise known as the Tudor Era, was the kirtle. The structured garment precludes the bodies that were characteristic of the Elizabethan Period, stays from the 17th century up until the advent of the corset in the 19th century onward. The kirtle can be a structured bodice coupled with a petticoat or underskirt that would serve as the window panel for dresses like the Henrician lady’s gown or fashionable French Gowns. In the case of the underskirt, the structured bodice and skirt were joined to make one garment.
Historically comprised of tightly-woven linen and whalebone, the structured bodice created the shape of the period: low, square neckline; lifted bosom; and straight, angled waist. For my kirtle, I use the pattern provided by The Tudor Tailor book.
I transferred the pattern pieces using parchment paper and then scaled using a 1:8 scale as instructed by the book. Fortunately for me, the provided pattern is nearly my base measurements already (bust, waist, hip) but I did end up taking the pattern in by 1″ at the side seams and adjusted the shoulder straps quite a bit from the mockups. I also noted that the pattern would be at least 6″ too long and would address that later when cutting the skirt.
By this point, I had decided to use the navy blue, geometric fabric from the original project for the over-gown and wanted to combine this with a yellow and burgundy floral patterned upholstery fabric I had from a yard sale. The yellow/gold and burgundy/red in the floral pattern was the exact shade of colors as the center of the diamond pattern of the blue fabric and would complement nicer than the silvery gold geometric I originally planned to pair. In addition, the floral was close to being a damask pattern that would’ve been fashionable for the Tudor period. The only flaw in this thinking is that in most reference paintings for the project (see image above), the geometric pattern was usually in the window panel and accents while the floral/damask was used as the main fabric. I was really pleased with the combination though and planned to roll with it.
For the kirtle bodice, I used a mixture of fabrics to give the correct structure and look. The fashion side of the bodice is pieced with navy linen I had on hand ($6 for 6 yards at a rummage sale, score!) and the red/gold floral fabric at the neckline to match the window panel of the skirt. Since the linen was actually quite lightweight and I worried about the integrity of it once boning was added, I interfaced the pieces with scraps of tightly woven cotton. Finally, the interior of the bodice made use of heavy-weight tan linen from a drapery clearance.
The bodice is constructed of a front and back with the straps extending from the back to the front. I opted for two side closures rather than a single back lace-up since it would allow me to lace myself into the garment. The side closures also will allow the garment to adjust size easier. I cut the panels in the blue linen, minus 2″ for the pieced neckline, plus 1/2″ for seam allowance. The 2″ strip of floral was then cut and stitched in place.
To finish off the back panels, two 1/4″ boning channels were added at the center back and one on each side seam to support the eyelets that would be added.
The boning structure on the front panel was a bit more complicated. The front is fully boned (or cord if you prefer) under the bust. I used the grid from The Tudor Tailor pattern to plot out the bust curve and edge of the boning sections by marking the center of the front panel and then marking outward equivalent to the ratio on the grid (1 grid = 1″). The grid was also used to determine the bottom location of the angle lines.
With the outlines in place, the boning channels were stitched based on a 1/4″ spacing offset from the center and two angles, creating three distinct boning sections:
I was actually shocked by how flexible the bodice was with this method. Since all of the bones are vertical, or at a slight angle, the bodice wraps nicely around the front of the body. It provides a good stomach structure and bust support without feeling cinched in. Surprisingly comfortable!
With the panels and boning finished, the straps were stitched to the front panel and all edges were surged to prevent fraying. There was a bit of finessing the fit of the straps when stitching in place and I found using a mannequin much faster than on myself. Nest, I added a strip of navy piping to the neckline edge before folding all the edges over and whip stitching down by hand.
The side seams have spiral lacing with 1/4″ embroidered eyelets. I spaced the eyelets 1″ apart and used bright contrasting burgundy embroidery floss for the stitches. Why not add a pop of interest, they would be covered by the overgown anyway.
Structure completed, it was time to add some shine to the bodice. The area of the kirtle with the pieced floral fabric would be visible under the main gown. In paintings I looked at, the kirtle has a row of gems, pearls, or other embellishments along this area.
The skirt of the gown is relatively simple, and yet a place I made many errors. I had very little of the floral patterned fabric to work with; however, since I am short, I was able to cut back on the required yardage significantly. Perks of being fun-sized! I also did a bit of patching to make it work. Little did I know when cutting, that I had accidentally cut the piece on the fold with the fold going the wrong way. Luckily, the bottom hem is relatively square, but the seam with the bodice is not and this caused a lot of issues with how the skirt hangs. Even with cutting back to create the point, it still isn’t quite right. But, I only had just so much fabric and had to make it work.
The second major mistake was fabric choice for the unseen portion of the skirt. The yellow floral fabric is very stiff, and I needed something of similar weight so it wouldn’t get all funky. I chose a “linen-look alike” drapery fabric that I thought was on clearance at Joann. A lesson to check labels carefully. The roll I had grabbed was on sale, but the backup the sales associate grabbed when the first roll ran out, was not. I ended up paying full price on not-so-great quality fabric. It did its job, but certainly didn’t look or feel as good as it should’ve for the price. I often use fabrics not for their intended purposes (upholstery for apparel for example), but they are usually similar enough and the only way to get the look I want at the price point I can justify. I should’ve taken my time and found the right material rather than settling for the first thing that was slightly doable and then regretting it as soon as I cut it out.
Overall, the fabric was too heavy. Stitching the two fabrics together was no problem, but once the back of the skirt was pleated, stitching to the bodice was a hand-breaking nightmare.
The front and back panels are stitched together up to approximately 8″ below the waistline. The skirt and bodice are stitched together by machine using heavy upholstery thread again to support the weight of the skirt. The areas left open on the side seams of the skirt allow the wearer space to get in and out of the gown as well as the addition of pockets in the future.
Skirt stitched to the bodice, the garment is hung on Molly the mannequin and the hem is leveled to hit at the ankle bone. This is a bit high for the period, but my reduction in height and forgetting to account for seam allowance at the waist brought my hem higher than brushing the toes. In the grand scheme, this is likely for the best since I’ll be less likely to trip on the front hem now. To finish the hem, I create bias tape from a navy silk ribbon found at Joann’s on clearance. It is probably the most expensive bias tape I’ve ever used in my life, but it looks absolutely flawless when applied. To conserve the use of this material, I switch to a polyester satin blanket binding for the hem along the tan linen section of the skirt.
And that is it! After some careful pressing of the waist seam, surging of the last unfinished seams and lacing up the side seams, the foundation garment is complete. With this, the over-gown can be fit tested and work can start there!
My sewing journey began because I wanted to make my own costume for Rennissance Faire and then grew and developed to be a lifelong skill I am developing with each project. But this project is one I envisioned wanting to do since I brought home my first sewing machine: a Tudor Gown.
I LOVE historical dramas for the stories, the drama, and of course the costumes. After watching The Tudors, I really wanted to wear the sumptuous gowns from the show. This initially materialized as my first attempt in a green gown following Butterick B4571. Not a terrible pattern to learn from, I made this gown in 2016/2017 and was only my second full garment. But looking back, its a terrible construction and mockery of the true gown design I was craving.
At the time, I loved the gown. I loved the amount of spin, the color, the fabric (all clearance from JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby!), the fit. But I look at it now after a few years of learning and laugh. It was a step though, and I was proud of it then, that’s all that matters. First off, it’s all one garment. No underlayers, overskirt, chemise, nothing. Again, an easy pattern for theatre or Halloween costumes, but not to par with what I wanted.
Fast forward to January 2020. I had moved to a new town less than 45 minutes from the Bristol RennFaire and I desperately needed a costume upgrade. I found a blue, geometric pattern upholstery fabric from Hobby Lobby on clearance for $4 a yard, began designing, and purchased a cheap theatrical costumes textbook to pull a pattern from.
I was a bit skeptical on the book since it included only three sizes to start from, but it was at least a place to start after some research. In reading other blogs and watching CosTube videos, I plotted out that I would need at least 4 layers:
Kirtle or Bodies
I also was deciding on if I would like to include a hoop skirt or use added fullness. I decided to draft an elliptical hoop skirt in case I wanted to give it a try.
I’ll save everyone the overkill explanation of drafting these patterns, building three iterations of the bodice mockup, and building the kirtle using cheap polyester satin taffeta. In summary, it was a fit and quality failure.
The bust was too tight, the waist too large; the shape did absolutely nothing to highlight my figure or give the correct historic shape; the neckline was too high, but also too wide; and the material felt completely wrong. But I had stubbornly kept working at it trying to make it work. I added gems. I adjusted the fit. I tried adding a corset underneath to promote the right shape. Nothing was right and I was throwing money at a project I wasn’t prepared for.
And then the pandemic hit. All festivals were cancelled. And I lost every ounce of motivation to fix it. The pattern, fabric, and failed kirtle were shoved in a basket and thrown in a closet to be forgotten.
It took a year before I began working on this dream of a project again. In the meantime, I started this blog, I made The Goose Girl, I developed my skills, and most importantly, I took the time to read, study, and research. The best resources I found in restarting the project was the book, The Tudor Tailor. I 100% credit them for everything that this project became and the confidence that I had to try again.
In reading the book, all in a blissful winter night in January, I had a better understanding of the style lines and materials that were appropriate to recreate the designs in portraits from the period, not just what I’d seen on TV. I went back to the drawing board and purchased new materials for all the elements of the kirtle and gown. It also helped that by then I had successfully built a set of stays, bodies, and corset and was thus much better prepared for working with boning and structure that was needed for the kirtle.
The new design would be build from the Henrician Lady’s Gown pattern from The Tudor Tailor, would be supported by a kirtle, and finished with a French hood. I initially planned to skip the hoop skirt and go for fullness instead.
With a renewed spark of inspiration and passion to see the garment come together, I successfully patterned, fit, and constructed all parts of the design and am excited to share them here over the next few posts. Each layer of the garment will have its own dedicated post, but you can reference back here for links to them as they are published. I may split the gown up between a couple posts since it had the most elements and construction factors, but we will see.
Please join me on this wild ride of a second attempt that went from wrinkled fabric in June to a wearable garment in September.
While working on a Tudor era gown, I was struggling with fit issues on an unstructured gown. The key there is “unstructured”. My modern body technically fit the gown, but my posture and shape wasn’t quite right for the historical bodice. I opted to make a pair of bodies (pre-cursor to stays which were the pre-cursor to corsets) in an attempt to give the proper historical shape.
There are people out there who have studied costume history who are much better prepared to explain why and how different body shapes were created throughout history. But I highly recommend The Tudor Tailor for explanations of the slight variations of fit and structure throughout the Tudor period of historical dress. The book is fabulous, both for the many patterns included and the details pertaining to fabric, cut, and period techniques. For this project, I am using the Dorthea Bodies pattern from The Tudor Tailor which are reproduced from museum garments from the Elizabethan period.
The first step was to trace and scale the pattern so I could begin making mock ups and fitting. This pattern is on a 1:8 grid which means that 1″ on the book page is equal to 8″ for the full scale pattern. This can also be thought of as 1 square on the book page was equal to 1″ for full scale. I like to use the radial method of scaling where I trace the pattern, tape it to my final pattern paper, and mark points for the final pattern from one point in the corner. I use a tape measure and yard stick to do this by marking points along a straight line equal to the tracing paper measurement times 8.
Scaling a pattern using this method is like creating a giant connect the dots. It takes quite a bit of focus, especially on areas with curves. I make enough points to accurately mark my lines and will then go back to the book pattern and count squares to confirm the pattern is correct. You’ll want to start in pencil since you will make mistakes and then go back later in pen and marker for the final pattern.
The interior details, in this case the boning channels, are made by completing the outline of their placement and then filling in the boning channels based on the size of bones you are using. I planned to use 1/4″ synthetic whalebone (plastic) and mark my channels as a scant 3/8″.
Once the pattern is is drafted, I started on the mockups and fittings. I am lucky in that my measurements were close enough to the pattern model to start from the book pattern without adjustment initially. The first mockup confirmed my suspicions that the bust needed adjusting (typical for me) and that the straps were too long, and too straight. For the second version, I used a french curve to adjust the strap curves so they sit farther on my shoulder points.
This process took THREE mockups to get right since my first attempt made the straps too curved and then not enough on the second try. Third time was the charm. With the third mockup, I also swapped the eyelet closures to be at the front rather than the back since I prefer front lacing. Back lacing is too difficult for me to lace myself that if I can avoid it, I do.
Pattern finished, I could cut my fabric pieces. I planned to use the sandwich method for making my boning channels since all the channels are parallel straight lines. The sandwich method also meant so I would not need a lining or twill tape. In the end, I used three layers: coutil, cotton, and fashion fabric. The outside (fashion) fabric I chose is a brown and teal cotton, but wasn’t strong enough on its own for the boning channels. I used a scrap green cotton as interlining to add structure to the fashion fabric for the boning channels.
Next, the outside fabric and cotton interlining are basted together before stitching the side seams for the basted layers and coutil. The side seams are pressed open and boning channels are marked. I make all my pattern markings after pressing seams since I use water soluble markers that disappear with heat and steam.
With wrong sides together, the outer layer and inner coutil layers are basted together. I am leaving the neckline at the bust and center back open to allow for insertion of the bones. Since I shifted the lacing to the front, I adjust the boning channels to have 1 channel at the edge, 1/2″ space for the eyelets, and then back to the boning spacing. Adding a bone between the eyelets and the center edge gives structure and prevents the eyelets from stretching individually.
Prior to stitching the channels, I added a few pad stitches throughout the channel area to ensure the fabrics didn’t shift or bunch while making the channels. I did these in a bright thread for easy removal later.
As I’ve said, I often struggle with fitting the bust of garments and one of the major problems with the unstructured gown the bodies were intended to go with is that the bust is too large and cannot be easily modified due to beadwork. Since the bodies have the underbust supported by bones and bust soft, I left the excess material and padded it to assist with the right shape for the gown. I had a pair of shoulder pads on hand from a clearance rack and trimmed these to use as padding. They were honestly super for this purpose since the shoulder pads are tapered to have more padding on one edge and less on the opposite. I fudged the trimmed shoulder pads so that the thicker side would be at the bottom of the cup, providing support.
The edges are finished by trimming away the seam allowance to the basted stitching lines and application of bias tape along the neckline and waistline. The center front was surged and folded back rather than having bias tape interrupt my hard work to pattern match the center front.
Edges finished, the last steps were to embroider eyelets to the center front closure and add the tabs to the waist. For the eyelets, I decided on a criss-cross style rather than spiral lacing because . . . math is hard and I just could not make spiral lacing work. For this, the eyelets are placed parallel to each other. To embroider them, I create the holes with a tailors awl, baste stitch a guide circle around the opening with regular thread, and then stitch them with two strands of embroidery floss. Stitches start from the back with a knot, then wrap up through the opening to the thread is through, but the needle passes back down the hole and out the fabric (from inside out) at the guide stitch line. The embroidery thread wraps around the needle point before being pulled through to make a nice, neat, stitch. This continues around the opening to create the finished eyelet.
I deviated from the Tudor Tailor’s instructions a tad for the tabs. Rather than binding them, I cut my tabs with seam allowance and stitched the front and linings with right sides together, clipped the seam allowance, and turned them out with the top edges raw. This isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but I was to the point of wanting to move faster and get the project done, and this was quicker. I also added a layer of scrap home décor fabric sandwiched between the layers to give structure to the tabs. I whip stitched the top edge of tabs with the raw edges turned in for a quick finish. With 8 tabs in total, I generally spaced 4 on each side area of the waist and stitched in place to finish.
Lovely shape and relatively straightforward process, I am quite pleased with how these turned out and how surprisingly comfortable they are. I attempted to wear them with the unstructured gown in question and unfortunately did not see an improvement in the fit or shape. I’ll still wear these for other garments in the future and am proud of how they turned out, but they did not fulfill the intended purpose.
Honestly, I’m really not pleased with the odd fitting garment for more reasons than just the fit. Since I’ve had the last year to improve my skills and have now read The Tudor Tailor, I plan to restart the overall Tudor gown project with a new pattern in hopes that a second go, with the right materials and skills, will lead to a better outcome.
As mentioned in my post on constructing an Edwardian corset and chemise, I had the opportunity to break out of COVID quarantine, post vaccination and under safe conditions, to participate in a bit of community theatre. I would portray Mrs. Juno in Overruled by Bernard Shaw. The play is set in 1911 at a seaside resort where Mrs. Juno and her lover are ending their trip around the world together, little do they know that their spouses are also at the same resort and are having an affair together also. It is a fun little farce poking fun at the constructs of marriage in proper society and the need for passion and danger for true enjoyment of what society expects.
The costume designer for the show graciously let me take on the challenge of constructing my own gown for the production. She supplied the initial materials and recommended to use McCall’s pattern M7941 from Angela Clayton’s collection. The provided materials threw me for a loop at the start, but became a good exercise in using every inch to its full potential. Reduce, reuse, recycle was the motto for this production costume design and boy did they make it lovely.
To start with, I had at my disposal a teal kimono and sapphire blue 80’s style dress. The designer suggested the kimono be used for the main dress and the sapphire for the overdress, focusing on the lace panels over the satin. Overall, the motif for the design was the peacock. This was apparent in the jewel tones of the color palette and would come back again as we added glitz and baubles to the final product.
I began by taking apart the kimono to assess the amount of fabric I had on hand for the main gown. I was a bit worried it wouldn’t drape as nicely as a silk or charmeuse typical of period designs, but was hopeful. Thankfully, once the lining was removed, the material had a nice drape and was able to be worked. But there wasn’t nearly enough. The pattern called for 10 yards of material, and I had maybe 4.
The Main Gown
The skirt was the most essential portion to be cut from the kimono material, so I focused in on modifications to the fullness and train to reduce the necessary yardage. To start, I am about 6″ shorter than Angela (and the standard pattern finished length) and could reduce the length of all the skirt pieces as such. This reduction in length allowed for the pieces to fit lengthwise with the body of the kimono.
I then reduced the fullness of the skirt by pleating the pattern tissue along the grain line marker from about the hip line down. This would ensure a reduction of the excess volume without limiting the movement on the hips for final wear. I reduced the side front by 6″, side back by 4″, and back by 8″.
Spoiler alert: the changes were actually pretty perfect for the final garment proportions. It would’ve been so wonderful and extra to have the fullness and long train of the original design, but it would have been incredibly cumbersome on stage with our blocking. This is a trick I will remember in the future for theatrical costumes, sometimes less volume is more.
Laying out the modified pattern pieces, there still would not be quite enough material for the full skirt, though it would be close. To make it work, I took a full cut for the front panel since this would be most visible to the audience and pieced the other sections in various ways.
The side front panels were cut from the kimono sleeves since they were the best fit and the side back panels were cut to include a small section at the bottom with the seam of the original kimono. However, with the fullness of the skirt at the bottom, this would never be noticed.
In the end, the side back panels are cut upside down to allow for the most material when the back sections were to be cut (which would also be upside down and off grain). Everything seemed to be right.
So I cut.
And it was not.
I was unable to fully fit the back panels on the kimono material no matter how I laid them out. Instead of resorting to multiple piecing at odd angles, I opted to piece the top of the back panels from the blue satin of the 80’s dress. This area *should* be covered by the overgown which was to be made of the same blue satin, so I was not overly concerned about the piecing.
Since this piecing allowed for some kimono material to remain, I cut the front bodice pieces from the last bits of scrap. The back bodice and sleeves were salvaged from the 80’s dress to help with blending with the piecing on the skirt panels. I would later come to regret this decision.
With the main dress cut, I began to fret about the overdress. This was supposed to be made from the 80’s dress satin, but as I began to seam rip, it became apparent that there was not nearly enough material with the cuts taken for the main dress. There was certainly not enough to do so from the small panels of lace on the dress. After laying everything out, I made the overall decision to not do layering as the pattern instructs and would instead do single layers. This was except for the center panel and sleeves which I was able to fit on to the lace pieces.
Every scrap of this dress would need to be put to use including two gathered “wings” that were attached at the back of the dress to give the bustle added volume. In taking these apart, they were reinforced with crumbling mesh crinoline that had to be cut away at the stitching rather than seam ripped .
To make it work, I had to do significant reductions to the skirt length, beyond the 6″ reduction as made on the main dress. I worried that this would cause a bit of proportion issues since the hem line of the overdress would be higher than the design. I initially thought this could be solved with a bit of cream lace I had on hand to be added as a third, middle layer, but eventually nixed this (but only after cutting the pieces, hand gathering, and whip stitching to the skirt waistband….then did I realize it was far too busy with the extra layer and had to seam rip it back off).
With everything cut and organized, I began stitching. First was to stitch and finish all of my piecing work on the skirt. The kimono material also frayed almost instantly after being touched, so I surged all the skirt seams after stitching. With this discovery, I also surged all the bodice panels right away to make for quicker stitching later. The bodice was lined with a cream poly satin I had on hand and pressed for a clean finished neckline. This lined bodice is hand gathered at the front before stitching the waist seam to give the period appropriate pigeon breast style.
The instructions for constructing the main dress were easy enough to follow and I had no issues with construction. The most troublesome part was binding the back seam of the skirt and bodice separately which I understand, but also don’t. The troubles began with finding a binding material that was suitable. The pattern instructs to cut binding from the fashion material to make bias strips; however, this would have caused two issues for me: 1. There was no chance in HELL I would have enough material to cut anything on bias or grain, 2. The poly satin melted if I so much as wafted steam from the iron at it. I would never achieve decent bias tape without being able to press it. Luckily, I had some scrap blue taffeta from another project that I was able to scavenge into bias tape. The taffeta was much stiffer than the poly satin which lead to my main issue with binding the skirt and bodice separately. In doing this, the point where the center back seam is stitched together at the waistline is extremely bulky and has an odd lump. In hindsight, I should have bound the entire center back as one section.
Again in hindsight though, I didn’t even need to bind the center back. The pattern calls for hook and eye closures at the center back, which I knew I would struggle with to dress myself. I instead finished the back closure with a 22″ zipper.
Before I could apply the zipper, I had to work out a number of fit issues. The bodice was far too large for me, as always seems to happen to me with big four patterns. I had to get quite creative with darts at the back to help fix the excess at the waist, but also needed to remove the sleeves and take in the garment at the shoulders significantly, which of course caused major issues with the armholes that needed adjusting.
I am a small busted but average waist woman, which makes standard pattern sizes difficult and mock-ups essential. A step I skipped due to the timeline. Thankfully, the costume designer was able to help me fit the garment and find the precise locations to place darts to make it fit beautifully in the end.
However, this lovely fit would soon be covered by the disaster that is the overdress.
To start, the pattern instructs that the center panel of the overdress was to have boning applied which I cannot for the life of me understand why and regretted doing every second of this project. DO NOT APPLY BONING TO THIS GARMENT AS INSTRUCTED.
It makes absolutely no sense to add boning to an overwise unstructured garment which is to be worn over another dress with period appropriate gathering at the front. The boning made the fit beyond odd and I cannot fathom why this was added. If you know why this was added, please drop me a comment because I would love to understand.
Beyond the boning, the garment construction was very straightforward. I applied both the blue lace from the 80’s dress and a piece of beaded lace from a salvaged wedding gown to the front panel before stitching to the front side pieces which were finished with the same blue taffeta bias tape rather than a tiny hem. I felt the bias tape would add a clean finish line that I could quickly stitch on the machine. Again, this choice would come to haunt me.
Between the layers of the center panel and bias tape, even stitching on my heavy duty machine was very difficult. The bias tape was simply too stiff. Luckily this helped to structure the neckline, but would not due for the hem. I very carefully hemmed the skirt edge with a narrow rolled hem using the lowest setting on my iron so as to not melt the fabric. Quilting clips were essential for this process.
With the overdress stitched, the fit issues returned, similar as was apparent with the main dress. Here, the costume designer again helped me with some creative dart applications in addition to another major alteration at the shoulder to compensate for the gapping at the front from the weight of the boning with no gathered pigeon breast style.
Fit issues aside, the skirt is slightly gathered since I removed volume in the cutting process and stitched to the bodice. The overdress was finished at the back with the bias tape and hook and eye closures from neck to waist line. The skirt portion is left open at the center back and finished with a tiny rolled hem.
With the garment constructed, I could begin the fun part of adding beading to hide the many, many mistakes and oddities of the overdress. I’ll admit, I went a bit overboard with beading, but had so much dang fun with it!
My beads consisted of a selection of copper, navy, turquoise, gold, green, black, and iridescent (in peacock jewel tones of course). I began by adding symmetrical lines of beads along the bias tape finish of the front side panels to hid the top stitching. I also added beaded lines to the light blue applique to mimic the curve of peacock feathers.
This then grew to include beading within the applique to give definition to the pattern and help with blending the bright, light blue with the sapphire of the bodice. I also added beads to the sapphire blue lace portion to give it just a bit more sparkle under the lights.
Since I still had a couple days until the show with all hems and closures finished, I also added two rows of beading to the hem of the overdress to hid the top stitching of the hemline (again). I almost ran out of the multicolored copper beads I began this work with, and had to use a mixture of the black, navy, and larger dark gold beads mixed with the copper to make it around the much larger hem than I anticipated. The lesson I learned here was to always have extra beads on hand. In all, the beading took about a week to complete and consisted of 14 different types of beads sourced from my stash, Joann’s, thrift stores, and Hobby Lobby. I kinda went overboard, but absolutely adored the glitter.
Because I was on a roll, I also added a row of blue, turquoise, and green beads to the neckline and sleeve hems of the main dress. All the sparkle!
The gown was complete and Mrs. Juno could come to life on stage. In total, the outfit consisted of the chemise, corset, gown, and overdress, trimmed with a belt, evening gloves, and more jewels than I care to count. It was absolutely exquisite and a good learning experience in using available materials on a tight timeline. I would never have been able to put that much time or effort into an entire production worth of costumes, but am more than pleased to have been able to do the single outfit for myself.
In the end, there are many things I love and many things I’d like another go at. Looking at the productions photos, the fit still wasn’t quite right in the bodice and proportions of the shortened overskirt weren’t quite right as I suspected they would be. The sleeves were too long and don’t drape as well as they should. But these are all lessons learned for the next project and mistakes I hope others can adjust for in their work. It’s a great pattern for a quick build, but in doing it quick I didn’t take the time to think through issues and period accuracy. I’d love to give this pattern another go and think I will in the future. Just have to finish a few other projects first!
And at the end of the day, a project that would have required at least 15 yards of raw materials was completed from a repurposed dress and theatrical kimono that otherwise would’ve never seen the light of day again. All that was left at when the dress was complete amounted to maybe a half yard of material in strips of remnants. A sustainable upcycling job done well!
Amidst the darkness of the past year with theatres and events canceled, I was blessed to receive the vaccine and be able to join a small theatre group on their first in-person production. Though the show would be filmed and shown virtually, the cast met in person for safe distance rehearsals. I was cast as Mrs. Juno in the short play Overruled by George Bernard Shaw, a passionate woman who has taken a vacation from her husband with her lover only to find herself at the same seaside resort as him and his new lover. It is a silly little comedy of manners set in Edwardian England.
The costume designer informed us that we would need to purchase corsets for the production. I was between sewing projects at the time, knew I had all the materials I would need to build a corset in my stash, and asked if I would be able to build my own rather than purchasing. Thankfully, they trusted me to take on the project! The costumer gave me a few suggestions of the style they were recreating from 1911 images and directed me to start with McCall’s pattern M7915 from Angela Clayton’s collection.
She also followed up with the suggestion I also make the dress for the costume, but more on that later!
I fortunately already had the pattern in my stash from a $1.99 pattern sale and was able to start work right away.
For the chemise, I followed the pattern relatively closely. I did, however, take a few liberties when it came to the lace portions and skipped much of the handwork that would have given the garment the delicacy that Angela has in her original design. With the timeline in mind, I went for speed and comfort over precision.
The chemise is constructed of Egyptian cotton, scavenged from a set of white, full-sized sheets. I had this material with my cotton, squirreled away from some relative, for future use as mockup material. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how fine the material was. It has a spectacular softness while being able to pleat and iron nicely to give crisp seams.
Divine chef’s kiss
Along with the cotton, I selected a collection of complementary bright white lace to use as needed throughout. I wasn’t planning this project as much as I normally do. I instead grabbed lace that looked pretty while still being soft and ran with it. The process was strangely freeing, but in the end, not as clean as I would have liked.
I deviated from the pattern in the application of the laces which should be done as insertion style. For speed and since no one but me and you, reader, would see the garment, I opted to simply apply the lace either as applique style, tucked into seams or between pleats. This gives the illusion of the insertion lace from Edwardian times but is not done very cleanly. The waistband is the only place with insertion lace which was added to prefinished seams (bias tape bound) rather than the insertion method.
For a pop of color, I used jacquard ribbon at the neckline of the chemise and wove red satin ribbon into the waistband lace. The red satin ribbon also had the wonderful purpose of acting as a tie and adjustment point for the tightness of the waistband.
I’m proud of how the garment turned out as a whole and how comfortable it is, but I’m not very proud of where I cut corners for time’s sake (bias tape instead of rolled hems, lace applique rather than insertion, etc). I plan to attempt this pattern again with more care in the future and make a sweet summer lace and cotton dress with true insertion lace technique.
I struggle with self-fitting corsets and knew I’d need a decent amount of time to adjust the pattern to my measurements. I cut the tissue pieces based on my waist, bust, and hip measurements which required me to blend between the three different sizes I am for each while cutting. Not a particularly precise process, so I erred on the side of caution towards the larger sizes as necessary.
My first mockup was cut from tightly woven cotton so I could make the first check on general fit. It stretched a bit of course but was a quick and cheap way to figure out the major issues right away. Rather than spending time inserting a busk with each mockup, I used a standard zipper for quick fitting.
Overall, the pattern needed to be taken in at nearly every seam in some capacity. This tells me that the pattern allowed for ease rather than the cinching effect of a properly made corset. This makes for comfortable wear or costume for a modern wearer, providing the illusion of shape, but wouldn’t give me the support and cinching I needed for the full torso corset style of the period. I made the initial adjustments to the pattern tissue and recut a mockup from outdoor fabric which I buy on clearance at the end of seasons since it doesn’t stretch in any direction and can give a better mockup fit.
There were a few more adjustments to be made here, primarily because I forgot that the pattern tissue has specific seams that call for 1″ seam allowance rather than the standard 5/8″ that I missed when sewing quickly. These are here since the pattern calls for 1/2″ steel boning and the channels would be created by the seam allowance, but as someone who sews fairly quickly, I prefer for the seams to all be consistent and to make boning channels from twill tape. That is a personal preference though. I also planned to use 1/4″ synthetic whalebone rather than steel boning since it was what I had on hand.
With making the second mockup adjustments, and adding the temporary boning to test the fit, I felt confident to move forward cutting my final garment fabric. Looking back at the final fit, I wish I had spent more time checking the length of the garment. I have a shorter than average torso and assumed the excess at the bottom of the corset was part of the hip cinch that was characteristic of the period. However, it was far TOO much and even the boning channels were too long, which caused the corset to ride up when I sat down during the show. Not comfortable, but forced me to be better about my posture.
For making the final corset, I used the following supplies:
In constructing the mockups, I followed the pattern instructions as closely as I could. They were fairly straightforward, though a bit over the top in explanation if you’ve made a corset before but likely confusing if this was your first go. In the final garment, I went rouge and followed my own methods, though this essentially matched the steps of the pattern.
The first step was to baste the coutil and jacquard pieces together for all pieces except for the front panels which would be seamed for the busk. After basting, I finished the edges with a serger to prevent any fraying since I would be doing a lot of handling of the pieces. I also serged the jacquard of the front panels.
Once fraying had been eliminated, construction began at the front with the busk. This was the point where I followed the pattern instructions to a T: placing the busk on the top/bottom markings and marking the studs and hooks, stitching a standard seam for the coutil and jacquard leaving gaps for the hooks, creating holes at the stud marks with my awl and fray check (smells terrible but works great!), inserting each side, checking alignment, and stitching along the side of each from top to bottom to hold each in place securely.
With the busk installed, the front panels were pressed again and basted. The panels were sewn together from front to back and the seams were pressed open in preparation for boning channels. With the curves of the seams, my tailor’s ham got quite the work out to nicely press all the seams and later to shape the bones into place.
The gusset in the side front (panel 15) was a tad tricky to figure out and I opted for a cheater method:
The back panels were finished by folding and pressing 2″ for the finish. I only folded once since the edge of the material was finished by the surging and an additional fold would add excessive bulk I wanted to avoid.
Panels complete, the waist is reinforced by applying twill tape. I basted the twill tape along the waistband and whip stitch the ends in place to finish. The basted stitches are in a bright thread for ease of removal later since the tape will be secured by the boning channel stitches.
Channels are stitched using the seam lines as guidelines for the scant 3/8″ channels. These were done on the machine with the bobbin tension checked to ensure my bobbin thread was neat since this would be shown on the front of the final garment. This could also be done with the fashion side facing up on the machine, but takes a bit of finesse to ensure your seam allowance doesn’t get caught into tucks or puckers underneath. This can also be said about the fashion fabric and bobbin thread of course.
I transferred the boning channel length markings from the pattern tissue to the garment and began the process of flossing. I used a simple pattern of crossing threads to form the weaving pattern. It took a bit of experimenting on scrap fabric to get a spacing that I liked and to realize I’d also need to weave the thread between stitches to create the full effect. Overall, I did not mark any of the stitch distances, but used the channel stitches as a grid to follow.
The first cross would start at the bottom center of the channel and go in 6 stitches above left.
Next would stitch would be from center to 6 stitches above right. The pattern continues
Start just right of center to 7 stitches above left
Start just left of center, weave under thread #1 and over thread #3, end 7 stitches above right.
Start half way to the right edge of the boning channel and one stitch length up, weave under #2 and over #4, end 10 stitches above and left.
Start mirror #5 to the left, weave over #1, under #3 and over #5; end 10 stitches above right
Start just right and above of #5; weave over #2, under #4, and over #6; end 11 stitches above left
Start just left and above of #6; weave under #1, over #3, under #5 and over #7; end 11 stitches above right.
Complete the flossing by tying off the thread at the back of the garment
The bones cut the bones to match the length of the channels from the flossed points to the top, subtracting 1/2″ to allow for bias tape to be added. . Since these are synthetic whalebone (plastic), they’re easy to cut to length and then shape the ends with an emery board to keep them from poking through your stitching later. I prefer synthetic whalebone because it is easier to work with, but steel is much stronger and will give a smoother, long-lasting curve, especially for a full torso corset like this that will take a lot of strain from sitting and bending at the hips. I buy boning online in 15 yard rolls and cut as needed.
The corset is finished by adding bias tape, grommets, and lace. I used bias tape made from the jacquard but folded so the wrong side faces outwards to give a slight contrast. I applied the tape by hand on top for a smooth finish, but used a machine to stitch the bottom due to timing. Not ideal, but a quick way to finish the bottom edge with a bit of lace tucked in.
Standard grommets were applied as instructed in the packet and I left them as the bare gold metal since it both complemented the design and would be accurate with the period. Once worn, I am a bit disappointed with the placement of the grommets. There are two close together in the middle of the back (where the waistline should be) over which the lacing creates loops which allow the wearer to self tighten the corset. However, these were a tad high for my waistline, likely due to the corset being overall too long and shifting upward on my torso when worn which in turn would cause the loops to be high. The point where the loops form tends to be the tightest point of the corset since this is where the tightening originates when self lacing.
As said before, overall it is a very nice, straightforward pattern. It is easy enough to follow for a beginner to corset making, but requires some knowledge of techniques and language from corsetry. To someone unfamiliar with these terms or quick tricks, the language in the instructions could be a bit odd in places.
I found myself going rogue after the first mockup since it is a relatively simple construction to do. The main issue I stumbled on in the instructions were specifics on boning lengths which were not very clear. But I was extremely appreciative of the step by step instructions for installing the busk, a skill that was introduced to me with this project.
Looking back, I would have changed the overall length to match my shorter torso and I would also have added more boning channels, though this might not be necessary with stronger steel bones. After wearing the garment for rehearsals and the show itself, the side panels warped quite a bit while not keeping as nice of a shape as I would’ve liked. Additional boning in the largest side panels would’ve helped with this issue.
Overall, I applaud McCalls and Angela on creating a relatively straightforward historical pattern. I’d love to see more like this in various eras of styles.
I adore the 1940’s silhouette and am often inspired by the smart dresses and symmetry when dressing professionally. I’ve been needing a new coat to wear to nicer events in the chilly months for a while now and those 1940’s lines seemed just right for the elegant chic vibe I like when going to the theatre or networking galas. I had this mental picture of the classic vogue moment of the perfectly tailored woman dashing across the snow graced sidewalk to hail a cab.
This mental image inspired the design basis for the coat which was expanded to include little 1940s detail. The coat would feature a square peter pan collar that I initially planned to construct with velvet to contrast the wool. I also knew I wanted the design to have princess seams and a waist line seam since these were both common for the era and are my favorite to wear. Princess seams are fabulous on anyone, but I especially love them since they give a nice vertical line to make me look taller while having a contour to emphasize curves. I also often opt for a waistline seam since it draws the eye to the thinnest part of the torso and allows for a nice flare out. This flare was the next element of the design and would be done with a-line skirt proportions which are, again, the most flattering style for my body type.
With these style elements in mind, the design could come to life:
Design in hand, I found a pattern in my stash I had found at Goodwill for 99 cents that I could modify for my design criteria. The pattern is intended for lighter outerwear than a wool coat and much more of a 90’s style than I wanted, but it had the baseline princess seam lines and a-line flare I needed to start from.
The first alterations to the pattern were to add the waistline and to add a bit more fullness to the skirt portion of the coat. The waistline alteration is done easily by finding the waist line on the front pattern piece and folding an even right angle at this point from the center point, lining each piece up, and marking the same length on each. When cutting my fabric pieces, I would fold along these lines and cut the pieces with the fold as the stitching line, roughly adding the seam allowance without an extra pattern piece.
To add fullness to the skirt pieces, I added 2″ to the front and 5″ to the sides & back panels at the hem line and blending a curve upwards to the hip point. I didn’t want to add bulk to the waist and wanted to keep the pattern slim along the hips so as to add to the curves accentuated by the princess seams rather than hiding under extra fabric bulk.
Once the initial changes were made, the first mock up was cut from excess fleece left over from a forgotten tie blanket campaign. The fleece wouldn’t have the same weight as wool, but would have a similar drape and bulk to the seams to give a good picture of what the style lines would look like. I was worried that the number of seams would look bulky with the fleece and then later in the wool and wanted to have a good visualization before investing in expensive wool. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the seams turned out.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find the coat fit was nearly successful. The fit needed to be brought in at the waist a bit, but mostly needed taken in at the bust and shoulders, all relatively easy fixes. I had a bit of a turn when trying to figure out what was going wrong with the back of the neck when I was making tailoring the coat. But I realized I had forgotten to remove the excess allowances for the fold-over collar from the original pattern. This I was able to trim back and mark the changes on the pattern. I transferred this change and the fit alterations to the pattern.
Rev 1 of the pattern also included adjusting the front to have a straight line down the center to remove the lapel from the original pattern. I also added 1″ from center front for button plaquette and 3″ for the facing to be cut from the outer wool only. The lining wouldn’t include this excess in order to form the facing.
Since all my alterations were places where it was brought in, I decided to alter the mock up rather than cutting more mockups. This decision was mostly because I didn’t have anymore fleece to work with. The sleeves were the hardest part of the pattern to get right and I’d honestly love to try again on them. I did cut multiple mock ups of the sleeve since it was tough to get a nice tailored fit without being too tight. I didn’t want to leave an excessive amount of give since I planned on the coat being worn over formal wear primarily. My closet of formal wear is primarily either cap sleeves or sleeveless.
The final pattern ended up just being reduced at the wrist, shortened, and blended
I only had to draft two pieces entirely by hand: the collar and pockets. I wanted the pockets to be just big enough to fit my phone and no more so as to not add excessive bulk. [Unfortunately, my pocket pattern seems to have disappeared…]
The collar was a bit more tricky and took close to a half dozen mockups to get just right. I started with a standard shirt collar draft from Patternmaking for Fashion Design, by Helen Joseph Armstrong (my personal design bible) with my personal measurements.
This initially was a bit too square and wasn’t fitting nicely with the main coat pattern. I did a bit more blending of the lines to achieve the final collar pattern. This was then replicated for the undercollar with 1/4″ removed from all sides (except the center back fold line).
With a finished pattern in hand, I could source my materials and begin the final garment constructions. I had been recently binge watching Project Runway and absolutely HAD to get my materials from Mood Designer Fabrics. In perusing their site, I ordered way more fabric swatches than was ever necessary and finally settled on 4 yards of dusty rose wool/cashmere blend and hammered gold buttons. I spent WAY more on this single cut of fabric than I had ever spent in one shopping trip before and was terrified the fabric would arrive and I would hate the color. I’m not that much of a pink person, but actually really liked the vintage feel of the dusty rose and thought it would nicely complement my primarily neutral and navy wardrobe while giving me a lux statement piece. The wool arrived and I was amazed by how luxurious it was. It is so incredibly soft while being sturdy. It has enough stretch to be comfortable without warping on a hanger. Its perfect, though the color is something to get used to in my closet.
I had originally planned to make cuffs and the color in a contrasting velvet, but with the arrival of the luxurious wool, I knew I needed to do better than using some leftover velvet from my stock. I went to the local fabric store for the last minute notions and find inspiration. Boy did it appear. I found the softest faux fur I’ve ever touched in a lovely medium brown. I bought a quarter yard and headed for home to get started.
In total, the coat would be constructed using:
3 yards cashmere/wool blend
3 yards quilters cotton (lining)
1/4 yard faux fur
6 large buttons
<1/4 yard horsehair canvas
cotton twill tape
The coat was constructed relatively easily with a few issues here and there and lessons learned. Stitching the body sections together was simple, but a tad tedious to make sure the intersecting lines met perfectly at right angles. I stitched the top to bottom of each section and then worked my way from center back to center front, matching at the intersecting lines. I think it took three tries to get the middle center back just perfect.
I took my time with the sleeves and followed the Sleevils presentation by Foundations Revealed to help set the sleeve in properly. To prep, I stitched the under arm sleeve by machine and reinforced the seam allowance of the body with cotton twill tape, basted by hand for easy removal.
Once prepped, I eased the sleeve cap by adding coarse running stitches 1/8″ and 1/4″ from the edge that were then pulled slightly to create a slight gather (easing). With that gathered, I carefully steamed the sleeve cap over a tailors ham to set the shape.
With the ease prepped, the sleeves were pinned to the body, hand basted, and machine stitched. With a good ironing, the sleeves were ready to roll. I considered adding shoulder pads to give the crisp symmetry from the 1940s design inspiration, but the addition of structure from the twill tape ended up being just enough.
I stitched the lining in the same way as the wool but didn’t cut or stitch the waist seams since these wouldn’t be seen on the inside. After careful pressing of the outer coat and lining (I used the tutorial here to learn to iron wool), I drop lined the coat by stitching right sides of the two layers together at the center fronts so that I could fold and form my facings. The hem would be done later by hand and the neckline would be encased in the collar. I don’t have pictures of the building process unfortunately since I was rushing to get done before winter.
The plaquette took quite a bit of pressing to get to lay nicely flat, but this was a point to take time so as to not scorch the wool or loose the pile and softness. I kept my iron on the low silk/wool setting and used a clean kitchen towel as a pressing cloth between layers. Traditionally, you would use a tailors clapper to add pressure after steaming, but I used a hardcover book with no problems.
Once pressed, I marked my button placements and stitched the buttonholes using the automatic feature on my sewing machine. I did end up swapping the buttons out for a set of Simplicity Vintage buttons I found when buying the faux fur.
For the hem, I folded the 2″ hem over and gently pressed with 1/4″ folded again to finish. With the lining tucked into the hem, I finished by hand with the tiniest of whip stitches.
The collar was MUCH more involved. The undercollar is reinforced with horsehair canvas that had to be treated precisely. I found a set of lecture notes from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and video from Bernadette Banner to figure out the method to pad stitch the horsehair to the undercollar to achieve the roll so it would lie flat against the body.
The horsehair canvas MUST be cut on the bias and stitched at the center back via machine before beginning the pad stitches. Once that was done, I marked the roll line and parallel stitching channels at 45 degree angles from the center back. My channels are 1/4″ apart on the inner collar portion and 1/2″ on the outer portion. The tighter stitches would give a stiffer form and help better develop the stand while the wider stitches allow the wool to still have a soft drape.
With the stitching done, I again returned to the iron and “whammed” the roll line and stand in place with the help of my tailors ham and a LOT of steam. I left the collar sitting on the ham for a few days to fully set the stand.
Applying the collar front with the faux fur was . . . . an experience. To start, cutting the faux fur was obnoxious and I could not rip it to save my life. I ended up using my thread scissors to precisely cut the fur at the backing so as to not make it look like it’s been shaved. Once cut, I trimmed back the under collar a bit more and trimmed the horsehair canvas back to the stitching lines.
I hand basted the collar layers together and then set the seam on the machine, leaving the neckline seam open. Before turning, the corners were carefully trimmed to give a nice crisp corner.
To apply the collar to the coat, the coat body was prepped by basting the lining and wool together before stitching the outside of the collar (faux fur) to the basted layers. The undercollar is the turned under by 1/4″ and slip stitched in place. The neckline of the coat body 2 inches longer than the collar to allow for the top button. To finish this top hem, I tucked 1/4″ of both the front and facing and tightly slip stitched in place.
The last step of the project is to cut and finish the cuffs. However, life happened . . . winter came and went . . . . and I have yet to make them. For now, the sleeve lining is basted to the wool sleeve so that it is technically wearable, but not finished. I hope to finish this sooner than later, but it has been put to the bottom of the to-do list with the cold weather being done. Someday, this project will get FULLY finished and I will take quintessential first snow photos in this lovely garment.
I’m very proud of how the coat turned out. It’s just the style I want, fits wonderfully, and has a lovely softness. Now, just to wait for the perfect event to debut it!
With only a few elements left, it was time to turn to the shift. Or chemise? Or smock? One of those.
I had left this piece to last since I had not yet decided if I would be stitching the garment entirely by hand or partially by machine. Timing would be key in this decision.
Unlike all the silly period movies out there, one would never wear stays or a corset directly against the skin. Structured garments made from expensive material would need a layer of protection from the oils of the skin and general wear and tear so they would last longer and not need to be washed often. Historically, linen was worn against the skin in the form of a smock, shift, chemise, or shirt. Based on my selected time period for the garment (17th century), a chemise would have been the popular term, so that is what we’ll use henceforth.
In regards to our source material (The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale), Izi’s undergarments are mentioned only once when she is riding a horse and playfully chats with another character, Geric, about him possibly seeing her ankle as her “shift” rode up. Since I am taking liberties with the design, the shift in my mind is more tied to the combination of the petticoat and chemise rather than a full length shift that would have been worn if I had selected a medieval tunic design concept.
The Mock Up
So here we are, with lots of room to play, a simple historical reference, and limited literary bounds. I was torn between two different directions to take the chemise: standard rectangles of a chemise or curved sleeves and neckline from a 17th century pattern I had on hand from Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims and Accessories Egypt to 1915 by Katherine Strand Holkeboer.
This pattern gave me all the floaty, puff sleeves vibe that I wanted with a nicely curved neckline that would pop under the stays. The pattern here is at ⅛” scale that I would need to transfer and build a mockup to test the fit.
To scale a pattern from a book, you need:
Meter stick (or measuring tape and long straight edge)
Newsprint or large sheets of paper (I reuse packaging paper I get from Chewy deliveries for my spoiled kitties)
French curve or drafting tools (link to purchase cheap set)
I should preface by saying that this is simply my method for scaling and there are many out there that may work better for you.
To scale a pattern follow these steps:
Trace original pattern from book and cut out. I recommend labeling what each piece is here already and keep them in a bag, folder, or dish so they don’t get lost. Also be sure to mark any notches or notes to be transferred later.
Tape tracing pattern piece to corner of larger paper. Ideally, you’ll want to match right angles with right angles if possible to make fitting on the paper easier. In general though, make sure your piece isn’t angled in a way that you’ll run off your page.
Select a point to measure from for all markings. I always choose a point closest to the right corner of the large paper, again so that you don’t run off your page.
Measure the distance between this origin point to another point on the pattern (corner, convex/concave of curve, etc.)
Multiply that measurement by your scaling factor. If the book is at ⅛ scale, you’ll multiply by 8, ¼ scale = x4, ⅙ scale = x6, etc.
Then, using your meter stick or long straight edge, mark the value from step 5 from the origin point along the EXACT same angle as from the origin to the point on the tracing paper
Repeat steps 4-6 for as many points as you need to accurately show the shape. My usual markings is to have one point on every corner and a dot for every 1-4” along curves (depending on the tightness of the curve)
Add markings in a different color pen or symbol for notches, folds, pleats, or other notes from the original pattern.
Once you have enough points to see the constellation of the pattern, remove the tracing paper piece and begin to connect the dots
Straight lines are simply connected using your meter stick
Curves should be connected either free hand if you have enough points and a steady hand, or by using the French curve and curved drafting tools. I try the various curves along at least 3 dots to find the depth of curve that fits best and continue with the various curves, blending between transitions as necessary. This takes a bit of practice and finesse, and lots of reworking to get accurate curves, especially if you don’t have enough dots to start. Err on the side of caution as you start with as many dots as you can tolerate. This also helps eliminate inaccuracy of measurements, math, or transfer. You may have an outlier or two just to the smallest shift in angle or even a 1/16” measurement off. Remeasure and replot these if necessary.
Once your dots are all connected, you have a full pattern that can be cut and used for a mock up! Transferred patterns like this typically need further size adjustment since they are a single size, so check the description on what standard measurements they are for and adjust initially before cutting mock up fabric.
In following this technique, I drafted, adjusted, and cut a mockup of the chemise from a white microfiber sheet set my kitten had recently ripped.
A general tip: thrift store king sheets are a great, cheap alternative for making mock-ups
I planned to use this mock-up as a PJ dress later, so I chose to be thoughtful about the soft side being toward the body, but this is not necessary for other mockups. Repurposing!
The neckline has a simple hemmed channel that I threaded cotton twill tape through to tighten and gather the neckline when worn. The channel gave a nice soft gather effect I was pleased with and eliminated any need for pattern alterations.
In selecting my fabric, I hoped to be able to piece together some of the vintage linens I had purchased originally as inspiration for the stays, but these proved to be much too small to ever be enough material. Since I was set on using linen, I went to the local retail fabric store, hoping and praying I’d find something of decent quality so I could get started. I struck out in the linens section as that they were all either too expensive for their lack-luster quality or simply uninspiring. To feel better about the trip, I went to my tried and true clearance section to make sure there was nothing I missed for other project inspiration.
Low and behold, the perfect linen was there, on the spot check clearance shelf.
The pattern reminded me of blackwork embroidery and the contrasting color would add nicely to the design (though, I was a tad nervous about potential clashing of patterned stripes from the stays and a chemise. We’ll cross that bridge later). Plus, it was 100% linen on CLEARANCE. The fabric was meant to be put to this second chance.
I purchased 2 yards to stay in my budget, quickly doing math in my head, and hoping that it was enough. Then, upon getting home, I realized I had made a disastrous error in judgement. I had selected a striped fabric for a curved sleeve pattern.
I physically could have used the fabric with the pattern, but was afraid the stripes would not read as well and the clashing I feared would be more prevalent.
Backtracking, I changed course and decided to use the simple rectangles and squares patterns of a typical 17th century italian chemise for my pattern. Credit goes to Sarah Bendall’s blog post on “Back to Basics: The Smock in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” for historical context and Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre blog for a starting point on pattern dimensions. For this, I did not draft a pattern, instead opting to use the general measurements Jen T. provided since they were similar to my body already.
To optimize my small 2 yards of fabric (hindsight, not nearly enough as I’d like), with the full gathering effect, the body of the chemise would be more of a shirt length than a full chemise. Since I needed at least 12” for the sleeves to fall at approximately the elbow from the shoulder point, I was left with 60″ between the front and the back panels of the chemise body.
Ensuring I had perfectly straight lines when cutting, I measured the width of my body sections and began the slow, but surprisingly satisfying process of pulling a single thread from the linen.
The thread broke often, but the effect was just so satisfying. I continued with this method for all of my cutting lines for the two body pieces, two sleeves, and two 10” square gussets.
After cutting all my pieces along these thread lines, I also pulled threads ¼” from all sides of the pieces to mark my seam lines so they would be nice and straight.
With all the rectangles ready to go, I started stitching seams using a tiny backstitch since this would take a large amount of strain, especially around the gussets. I stitched the seams in the following order:
Gusset to side of sleeve seam (x2)
Gusset and top of sleeve (1” overlap) to body pieces (x2)
Undersleeve to side body seams, including gussets (fold over along centerline of sleeves and stitch left side to left side and right side to right side)
Overall, the method was to work from the “top” of seams to the “bottom” to allow any inaccuracies to be compensated for in the hems. For example, when stitching the side seams, I started from the end of the sleeve, to the gusset where the line up was precise, to the hem on the body.
Once these seams were completed, I was able to hem the bottom of the body section, sleeves, and neckline using a simple felling method (whip stitch and prick stitch where only one or two of the fashion side fabric is grabbed by the needle so little to no markings are shown on the outside).
Since I had to limit my sleeve length to allow for a decent length for the body panels, I opted to add a cuff to the sleeves that would gather the fullness and create a nice poof around the bicep. I had exactly 16” by 72” of material remaining to use for the cuffs that I thought to experiment with smocking on. I pulled another thread along the 8” width mark to give me two pieces of 8” x 72” pieces that I could smock.
The short edges of the pieces were finished with a tiny rolled hem (~¼”) and whip stitch before folding the 8” length in half, right sides together. Since this seam wouldn’t take heavy strain, I stitched the top with a tight running stitch rather than backstitches.
Once the long seam was stitched, the tubes were turned right side out and pressed to create the base of the cuffs. This was my first attempt at smocking and spent a good amount of time researching and reviewing diagrams on pinterest. In the end, I settled on keeping it simple and doing a modified version of the process detailed in Fortune Favor’s blog.
Ideally, I was planning to achieve a look similar to the dutch blackwork from the period which my fabric thankfully lends itself to.
To smock you’ll need:
Heavy duty or buttonhole thread for pleating
Straight edge or cartridge pleat template
Marking tools (pen, marker, etc)
Rather than reinventing the wheel, I grabbed my cartridge pleat template to mark points for parallel running stitches to be made for the initial pleats. This would make my smocking a bit coarser than the inspiration and sample imagery, but my timeline was getting a bit tight. At the end of the day, I am glad I went with the coarser pleats for the final effect as well as the ease of stitching. More pleats = more lock stitches = more time…
Using my standard method for pleating, I marked my running stitch points using the template and planned on three threads to be strung within the 3 ½” of cuff available. My first length started ½” from the top of the cuff to give a tight pleating at the joint between the upper sleeve and the cuff. The second and third threads were each 1” apart, leaving 1” of material at the bottom of the cuff to create a ruffle.
The threads are pulled tight and tied off to keep the pleats together while doing the embroidery work. I used two strands of navy embroidery floss for speed and to give a tad of emphasis to the stitches. The method I used creates a simple diamond pattern by working from left to right along the diagonal.
Starting at the top row of running stitches at the left, the embroidery floss lock stitches pleat #1 and #2 together with two backstitches. On the third stitch, the thread is sent into the right pleat (#2), down ½”, and out the left side of pleat #2 to start the next stitch. Here, two back stitches lock pleat #2 and #3 together, followed by a third stitch into the right side of pleat #3 and up the channel ½” to be in line with the original stitch between pleat #1 and #2. This zigzag process is continued from left to right through all the pleats.
Once all the pleats have been stitched at ½” and 1” from the top of the cuff, the second row of smocking can be completed. This needs to be offset from the original row or the diamond pattern will not be created.
Once all four rows of lock stitch have been set, you’ll have a checkerboard pattern that when the running stitches are released, will create the diamond pattern. You should have knots of stitching similar to the diagram here:
Mine differs a tad in that I added a 5th row of lock stitches to match with the pattern of the fabric under the stitches which was very pleasing on the right hand side, but not nearly as effective on the left since they were not the same sections of fabric. This 5th row was immensely frustrating since I still needed to follow the zigzag pattern but didn’t want to add excessive stitches to the 4th row of stitches.
With the cuff completed, the smocked section was pinned to the upper sleeve for final stitching. I pinned the “open” section of the smocking to the upper sleeve and left the pleat created by the uppermost lock stitch in the smocking out of the whip stitches. This is similar to how cartridge pleats are applied to a waistband.
With sleeves done and all the other raw edges felled in place or hemmed, the neckline was quickly gathered using a coarse running stitch and buttonhole thread. However, due to the coarse weave and heavyweight of the linen, my threads would either pull out or break nearly every time I attempted to fit test the amount of gathers.
Since I enjoyed the smocking on the sleeves so much, I elected to attempt smocking on the neckline. I removed the remaining gathering threads from the front of the neckline and added two running stitches using the cartridge pleat template and smocked with only three rows of lock stitches using the same method as above.
Upon fit testing the smocking, the natural elastic nature of the smocking was far too loose to create the right fit. This was due to the large pleats I had used in the original running stitches that did not create enough tension. To quickly solve this problem, I cut a piece of cotton twill tape at the correct length needed to cross my chest above the stays neckline, pinned the smocking to the twill tape (easing the bulk into the pleats as I went) and prick stitching the twill tape in place. This locked the correct amount of fullness into the smocking without excessive stretch.
I then used a similar process on the neckline sides and back. I was able to temporarily gather the remaining neckline using the quick thread method and then stitched the gathers in place to cotton twill tape whip stitched on the inside of the neckline. Overall, I felt much better about the security of the neckline under the stays with the application of the twill tape.
The chemise was finally finished! What started as a simple shirt pattern, turned to squares and rectangles, became a MUCH more involved process than I would have imagined, but I am quite pleased with the final product. The shift is simple while having details to allude to the blackwork of the period. Ideally, after this project is done, I would like to line the shift since it is a tad scratchy due to the cheapness of the linen, add a smocked or modern elastic waistband, and wear it as a simple modern summer shirt. Repurposing!