Mrs. Juno: Edwardian Evening Gown, M7941 Pattern Review

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.

The original tea-length prom dress had lace overlay on the bodice and high-low lace skirt panel at the back. I hoped to be able to salvage the lace for the overdress, but upon further inspection, there appeared to be very little usable yardage with how many panels are in the bodice and how quickly the lace shredded when I attempted to seam rip. There ended up being more blue satin than I expected once I removed the tacks creating the bustle effect. I’d use this for the overdress.

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.

After finishing the adjustments to the bodice, the faux pigeon breast style of the bodice is more visible. For more period accuracy, this fullness should have been greater and if I had more fabric and done a mockup, I would have done so.

However, this lovely fit would soon be covered by the disaster that is the overdress.

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.

The VERY messy interior of the center panel of the overdress with six boning channels. Please ignore the terrible backstitches, I was rushing.

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.

The front bodice with lace overlay and bias bound side front panels to be stitched. Keeping the 20′ rule of theatre in mind and knowing I would be applying beading, I opted to top stitch the panels together along the bias tape for speed.

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!

Just a few of the beads I started embellishing with

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.

The one benefit of the added boning was that the beading got quite heavy and the boning kept it from falling forward. I guess I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt there…
Little star beading applied to the lower section of the front panel wasn’t visible to the audience, but caught the stage lights beautifully and helped to tack the lace in place so it wouldn’t bunch funny.

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!

Edwardian Corset & Chemise: M7915 Pattern Review

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.

The Chemise

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.

The nearly completed garment with lace insets and pleats with cheater method insertion lace at the waistband.

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.

The Corset

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.

An example of the adjustments to the first mockup where at minimum 1/4″ was taken in at the side panel seams to remove the ease plus additional alterations for my body shape.

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:

  • 1 yard beige coutile
  • 1 1/2 yard vintage jacquard
  • 1 yard twill tape
  • 20 yards 1/4″ synthetic whalebone
  • 13″ busk
  • vintage lace
  • embroidery floss

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.

The completed construction with boning channels and approximate locations of boning. The bones were melded to the correct shape with high steam while pressing over a tailor’s ham.

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.

A few of my experimental flossing techniques with the leftmost pattern being the final pattern to follow.
  1. The first cross would start at the bottom center of the channel and go in 6 stitches above left.
  2. Next would stitch would be from center to 6 stitches above right. The pattern continues
  3. Start just right of center to 7 stitches above left
  4. Start just left of center, weave under thread #1 and over thread #3, end 7 stitches above right.
  5. 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.
  6. Start mirror #5 to the left, weave over #1, under #3 and over #5; end 10 stitches above right
  7. Start just right and above of #5; weave over #2, under #4, and over #6; end 11 stitches above left
  8. Start just left and above of #6; weave under #1, over #3, under #5 and over #7; end 11 stitches above right.
  9. Complete the flossing by tying off the thread at the back of the garment
This method can be adjusted for a tighter or coarser look, adding more or less stitches or changing the type of thread (buttonhole thread also works well, leather cording would give a unique texture!). I used two strands of embroidery floss for added visual weight.

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.

The final corset and chemise combo

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.