CoBloWriMo Day 4: Favorite Era

It seems like one of the first, and most frequent questions I get as a costumer is “What is your favorite time period?”

It’s a simple enough question, but so difficult to answer.  Most of the time, I demure and simply say that I’m a “Jill of all eras, master of none” although that’s not quite true.  I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve gotten better and more prolific in some eras.

Mid-Victorian is one of those eras, though that’s mostly because I have far more opportunities to wear these dresses.

For a similar reason, I’ve made quite a few 18th century costumes, although it hasn’t been until my most recent quilted petticoat and jacket that I feel I’ve started to become more historically accurate for this time period.

But, when I think about the question seriously–which dresses do I really have the most fun planning and constructing–I’d have to say that my current favorite is the naturalform silhouette.

*Note: There’s a dress missing from both my mid-Victorian section and my 18th century section.  I couldn’t readily find a picture of either dress without other people in the photos.  Also, I’ve put the photos in the order in which I constructed them so that you can see the progression as I honed my craft.

CoBloWriMo Day 3: Extant Garment, but not

Okay, so I’m going to cop out of this one today.  I’m just not at that point in any project where I’ve got images of an extant garment on my mind.  Frankly, I rarely use extant garments as inspiration, but rather already have an idea, painting, photo, or fashion plate as my starting point.

Since I don’t have something pretty to blog about, I decided to do some modern sewing today and show that off instead.

I recently purchased the Miramar Dress, Top & Tunic pattern from Scroop Patterns (which I wrote about yesterday morning, thinking I might get to this soon).  Yesterday, I printed the pattern, assembled the pattern pieces, and washed my fabric.

So, once I sat down today to actually sew this, I discovered some absolutely amazing things about the pattern.

First off, I actually don’t remember the last time I worked with a knit…oh, wait.  I have a dim recollection of wrangling some stretch velvet back my Lord of the Rings costuming phase.  There’s a part of my brain that is definitely convinced that working with knit fabric is vastly different from what I normally do, and is vaguely afraid of those differences.

This pattern is definitely designed to allay those fears.  The instructions begin with suggestions for how to stitch the garment depending on what sewing machines/stitches you have access to.  The pattern is literally only TWO pieces with only five seams to sew.  Once the majority of the seams are sewn, there are incredibly excellent instructions on how to make any needed alterations before finishing the garment, including how to bring up the neckline (which is a HUGE plus for me–I hate too low necklines).

Luckily, I have a serger that is fantastic with knits, so the majority of the top was put together in about half an hour.

Unfortunately, I do not currently own any ball point sewing machine needles.  Dun, dun, dun.

Cue sewing hysterics and cursing.

When it came time to sew the hems on the sleeves and bottom edge, I had to rethread my needle no less than a dozen times.  I was very near tears and cursing like a sailor.  If it has been later in the evening, I probably would have poured myself a glass of wine.  As it was, I really wanted to get this done before going to pick my kids up from preschool, so I powered through.

Anyway, if you are looking for an incredible alternative to a t-shirt, get yourself over to Scroop Patterns and buy this pattern.  It’s a digital download, so you can start on it immediately!

For now, I’m out of fabric that has the required four way stretch, so I’ll need to go shopping, plus I need to pick up a ball-point needle…or, wait.  I think I might actually still have some stretch velvet left over from my Elvish phase…

CoBloWriMo Day 2: Current Project

Well, you’ve caught me at an odd time with this one.  Since I just came back from Costume College, it means I’m sort of in between projects right now.

I just finished my Ter Borch gown:

I’m in the middle of adding a page to the blog with a write up on the research and construction process.

I suppose I’m sort of still working on my 18th century quilted petticoat, but I’ve worn it twice as is already and can’t really work on it while it is so hot at home.

And I haven’t really decided what to work on next.  My son has been requesting a “pirate” outfit (18th century costume) since I didn’t get his done before going to the pirate festival and then got wrapped up in the sewing I needed to finish for CoCo.

I also need to do some modern sewing with work starting soon.  I recently purchased the Miramar Dress, Top & Tunic pattern from the Dreamstress and would like to make up a few of those for work.

And if I don’t make myself a decent apron soon, I’ll no longer have any modern clothing without cooking stains on them.  I’m thinking that the apron might take precedence since I need to make a few batches of plum jam this week with the plums from my tree.

Introducing CoBloWriMo: Day 1

Sporadic posting has sort of been the story of my blogging life.  Honestly, it’s never been a matter of not knowing what to write but more a matter of lack of content and/or lack of convenience: during the school year, I’m just not as productive and it takes more effort to post on my blog because it involved uploading photos to my computer first.

However, an online costuming buddy of mine decided to join CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing Month), and I figured, why not?  Never mind that school starts this month and, as a teacher, I’m going to be pretty busy come August 14th, but let’s give it a shot anyway.  Besides, I just got back from Costume College and did a ton of work on my most recent project, so I should have plenty to post about…after I manage to upload those photos.

If you are new to reading my blog, feel free to poke around a bit.  Even though I’ve never managed to post very frequently, I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a VERY long time, so there’s lots to see.  I’ve been sewing almost my entire life, or at least as early as I could hold a needle and thread, and machine sewing since about age nine.  I started costume sewing in 2000 and started this website shortly after that, though it wasn’t originally in a blog format.  It feels a little odd, like bragging, but I’m now a master level costumer, having been part of a group that won best in show at Costume Con in 2008.

I took a bit of a break from sewing in general when my twins were born four years ago, but now that they are a little more self-sufficient, the projects are in full swing again.  And, yes, I do sew for them on occasion.  The most recent of which was an 18th century sack gown that I draped for my daughter.  Unfortunately, my son is still eagerly awaiting his costume, and now that I’m back from Costume College, that may be one of the projects I get started on soon.

The Making of a Scottish Kertch

Eventually, I’ll write a post about this whole project, but for now, I figured I’d at least post a bit about the head covering I’m wearing to my next event.

Before I’d even thought about what I’d be doing with my hair, a friend mentioned that many married Scottish women continued to wear a kind of kerchief as a head covering well into the 18th century.  That sent me off onto a bit of research which lead me to an essay by Mara Riley entitled “Before the Clearances: 17th and 18th Century Scottish Costume.”  About three quarters of the way down the page she includes detail images from a painting by David Allen entitled “A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl.”  The fourth image down ended up being my favorite image of those I came across, so I decided to attempt to reproduce that look, even though it’s a good 40 years later than the event I’m planning for.

The first thing I noticed was that this particular version of the kertch definitely seems to consist of two parts–roughly a folded square over some sort of under cap.  Since it was much clearer what was on top, I decided to play around with that first, especially since I already have a large square scarf in my wardrobe.

Problem 1: My current scarf, at 39″ square, was too large.  If tied under my chin, the sides were too long to look like my inspiration image.  In my research, I discovered suggestions that the kertch should be exactly one yard square.  My issue with a blanket statement like that is that everyone is a different size, even our heads!  In the modern day head covering community, many of us lament that we have too large a head for scarves to wrap and tuck nicely as they do for other women.  I could really use an extra three or four inches on all my scarves.  Yet, wearing my scarf with a long tail hanging down looks a little odd and overwhelming on my 5’3″ frame.  I’d imagine that these same differences of size and proportion would have plagued our ancestors as well and that a woman would have tailored her kertch to her size, proportion, and sense of style.

Problem 2: What on earth did this woman do with the tails?!  Typically, this type of scarf leaves rather long tails from the diagonal part that is draped over the head.  If tied at the nape of the neck, tails left down can still be seen; alternately, they can be tucked into an under cap or wrapped back over the head to create a sort of band.  This last seems to be the preferred style for reenactors.  When tied below the chin, the tails should quite visibly hang down in front, which you don’t see in this image.

It’s possible that the kertch was tied and then the tails somehow tucked up behind.  I’m not entirely sure how they would be secured (they probably aren’t long enough to tie again behind the neck without being uncomfortably tight or bulky) or if that just wouldn’t be an issue–who cares if they come untucked.

Problem 3: The knot.  What knot?  There is almost no bulk at her neck.  It could be artistic license (was a great big bulky knot at the neck ever considered flattering?) or it could be a very fine fabric or it could possibly be pinned.

Problem 4: The part that I loved the most was also going to prove challenging, that adorable little fold that gracefully angles from the back of the head to under the chin…while the front edge of the kertch is caught underneath at a completely different angle.  This suggests that the front edge (with the tails) is secured somewhere other than under the chin!

My Solutions

Problem 1: Through trial and error, I eventually discovered the size square that gave me the proper look of the inspiration image by sort of working my way down from the 39″ one I currently own.  I suppose I could have used math, but that is most certainly not my forte; one I realized that I was NOT looking for the measurement of the diagonal of the square, but some other odd angle further back, I was completely out of my depth and resorted to cutting down a large square until it worked.

Problem 2: Part of this particular problem for me was that I didn’t quite have the right fabric in my stash.  I have a cotton voile that is probably the right weight, but doesn’t have the correct drape or hand to it.  I don’t have any fine wool, and my finest linen is just a tad too heavy.  I ended settling for the linen with the internal bargain that when I eventually invest in some nicer linen, I will remake my kertch.

Since I was using a heavier fabric than I think my inspiration image was, I decided that the tails would have to go.  I did not come to this conclusion lightly.  I sat in front of that mirror for a good half hour trying to figure out where those silly tails might have gone.  Everything I tried with my fabric either left me feeling like I had a boa constrictor around my neck or did not give me the proper drape and angles.  There was nothing for it but to get everything else looking the way I wanted it to, and then to chop off the tails.

Surprisingly, this didn’t give me as odd a shape as I thought it might.

Problem 3: Easy. With this fabric, it’s going to have to just be pinned, and even then, it isn’t going to look as dainty as it does in my inspiration image.

Problem 4: This is where it got really tricky.  At first, I thought the tails might actually be tied at the nape of the neck, which would also have been a neat little solution to the tail issue, and that the fabric then draping down was brought around and pinned in front.  This solution ended up being very tight around the neck; there just wasn’t enough fabric draping across the back to then be pulled around to the front and still drape nicely over the shoulders.

Next, I tried pinning the front in place and then pulling a section further back to the front to pin.  However, once I got the pins low enough to be covered by the fold, I was back to the same problem as tying behind–pinning that low trapped too much of the fabric down so that I no longer got the nice flair over the shoulders.

What seemed to work best, given my fabric, was to carefully tuck the front edge under as I brought the folded fabric around to the front.  I still feel like the drape is a bit off and not quite the right shape from the front, but it is definitely close and might be even better in a finer linen.

I purposely left the under layer for last, partly because I thought I knew for sure that it was simply a coif, that it would be easy enough to find a pattern for one, and yet would still take a bit more time and be a bit more fiddly.

Once I really started to look at coif patterns, though, I realized that very few of them come so far down on the forehead as in the inspiration image.  In fact, I couldn’t find any that came down beyond the hairline, which meant that what I originally thought would just be a little bit of tweaking was going to take a bit more effort.  However, in my search for coif patterns, I stumbled upon a page about coifs on The Marquess of Winchester’s Regiment in which the author describes the use of something called a “cross cloth.”

So, okay, the webpage is focused on head coverings from a hundred years earlier, but considering that the Scottish head coverings of the 18th century are already far out of fashion elsewhere, it might stand to reason that the cross cloth style of garment might have carried forward as well.

The beauty of the cross cloth is that it is an incredibly simple yet essential element of head covering, similar to what head covering women still use today.  No matter how simple or elaborate the wrap, there is always a firmly attached, grippy cloth headband that keeps everything in place.  Today, we use stretch velvet that fastens with velcro, but linen also has a bit of tooth to it that, as I discovered, can also serve to keep a larger, heavier head covering in place.

So, the cross cloth is a simple triangle of fabric with ties to fit the head.  I made mine as a square that was hemmed into a triangle because I didn’t want a stitching line right across my forehead.  Then I just sewed cotton twill tape to the corners for the ties.  Even with upper part of the kertch sitting so far back on my head, it felt very secure.

Scroop Patterns: Fantail Skirt

As someone who sews fairly regularly, it’s incredibly exciting and honoring to be asked to become part of someone’s pattern making process.  I can’t often take up the call for pattern testers due to my schedule as a full-time teacher and mom of twins, but for once, everything seemed to line up and I got to test the newest offering from Scroop Patterns, the Fantail Skirt.

This was the first time I’d used a digital pattern, but I didn’t have any problems on that end.  I will say that, in the future, I think I’ll look into getting the pattern printed at a store that can do the larger format, as trimming the pieces and lining everything up before even being able to cut out the pattern pieces wore a little thin, and this wasn’t even that big of a pattern.  Oh, and this is where it’s super helpful to read all of the “before you print” instructions–I was able to print JUST the pages that I needed, since I was just doing the modern skirt, so I didn’t need the historical pieces nor the directions for either skirt, since I could just look at those on my device as I sewed.

After printing the pattern, the biggest dilemma was choosing my fabric.  So much of my stash is either reserved for historical projects or doesn’t really suit me anymore (or wouldn’t suit this particular project).  I decided to use a fabric that technically could have worked for something historical but that has been languishing in the stash for far too long and simply needs to be used.  The only potential drawback is that it is silk, so I’ll need to commit myself to taking some of my wardrobe to the dry cleaner regularly, something I’ve astutely avoided up until now.  I was convinced by reminding myself that I’m a grown woman and am old enough that should have some nice things in my wardrobe that require occasional trips to the dry cleaner.

The fabric looks black in this picture, but its actually a very deep navy.

Once that decision was made, the rest was easy.  The pattern went together beautifully, and while there were a couple of hiccoughs with the instructions, those have been corrected for the final version of the pattern, which is the whole point of pattern testing anyway, right?

The finished skirt is SO much fun to wear.  I ultimately decided to lengthen it, as I don’t tend to wear knee length skirts very frequently and worried that if I made the shorter length, I just wouldn’t wear the skirt very often.  (This did happen with a different skirt that I absolutely love, but just don’t want to wear very often because of how short it is.  By modern modesty standards, it’s just fine, but for my comfort level, it just doesn’t work.)

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the sewn-down pleats for the modern version (I really like how the historical version looks), but realized that this really does work better for how I tend to wear modern clothing–with my shirt untucked.  The open pleats wouldn’t show and would just add bulk at the back of my shirt.


Please excuse the funny face and the odd angle. Taking these on my own was a bit of a challenge.

Couple final notes:

  • I received a copy of this pattern for free as a pattern tester.  The test pattern was incredibly well done and the few errors that the testers did find have been corrected in the final version.
  • The measurements for the final garment are spot-on!  I chose one size down from my actual measurements just because I KNOW that I need a slightly tight waistband on my skirts in order for them to feel comfortable.  Know your measurements, know how you like your garments to fit, or make a mock up.
  • Also, please note that I am a plus-sized woman, and the skirt fits beautifully.

When trim can make all the difference…


It’s funny how trim really can make all the difference between loving and despising the end results of all our efforts.

I’ll admit…I had a really bad moment with this project once all the major sewing was finished.  I put the skirt and bodice on my dressform and nearly cried–it was just so boring.

Thankfully, a friend talked me down and helped me go through my stash to see what I had in the way of trimming and brainstorm some ideas for what to use and how to apply it.  Unfortunately, this fashion fabric has been a bit tricky to match up with a complimentary trim, so I did actually have to go out and buy some fabric.  (I had some velveteen in the absolutely perfect burnt orange color, but I was concerned about the velveteen weighting down an already very heavy skirt.  I somehow managed to stumble across a poly satin drapery fabric in the exact same color to use instead.)

Now, I am absolutely loving the results.

Oh, and as a side note on the patterns, I used the Truly Victorian can can skirt and 1890’s evening bodice.  The skirt pattern calls for seven yards of fabric, but you don’t actually use much of the width.  I only had seven yards of this fabric and ended up with plenty left over along the selvege edge to cut the bodice from.  In fact, because I shortened the skirt, I ended up with about a yard left over, but didn’t need to use that part at all for the bodice.  The sleeves come from Hunnisett’s Period Costumes for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909. 


Main fabric: From stash–synthetic brocade
Trim fabric: Purchased for this project
Gold trim: Purchased for this project
Petticoat fabric: Purchased for this project
Beaded trim: From stash

More pictures coming soon.  Hemming is currently in progress and closures still need to be attached to the bodice.  I’ll be wearing the finished gown to an event this upcoming Saturday.

A New Space

The past year has been quite a whirlwind.  What started as a bathroom renovation soon expanded to the kitchen and eventually ended with our house on the market.  I spent Presidents’ Week moving out of our house and into and apartment, and then Memorial weekend moving out of the apartment and into our new house.  The rest of my summer was spent unpacking and organizing.

But now that we are settled and I’ve mostly gotten my sewing room set up, it’s finally time to start sewing.  The best part (for now) is that my sewing space really is literally in the center of our living space, so I can still watch the kids while I work.  (They are now three-and-a-half…independent enough to mostly play on their own, but still too little to pretty much even be able to turn my back for a moment.)

Okay, so on to the good stuff.

The GBACG is hosting a Moulin Rouge themed event, so of course, I need to finally make the can can dress I’ve wanted for so long.

First, I needed a pair of drawers…closed drawers, for obvious reasons.  I found some leftover fabric from another petticoat project and set about making the drawers from Folkwear’s Edwardian Underthings pattern.


The only change I made was to apply the ruffles a bit higher up so that the legs didn’t end so low.  They are already a bit shorter than my usual drawers, but for a can can outfit, I really wanted to make sure they didn’t end up too long.

Next up, I pulled out my copy of Truly Victorian’s can can skirt.  Once I actually sat down and looked at the yardage requirements, I nearly expired…seven yards of fashion fabric, seven of lining, and eleven for the ruffles.  Since I wanted to make the ruffles from the same fabric as the lining, that was 18 yards of fabric.  I pretty much don’t have any fabric just laying around in those sorts of yardages, but before I ran off to the store, I wanted to be really sure I actually needed that much.

When I looked closer, I realized that the ruffles used a doubled up piece of fabric.  Not only would that make the skirt twice as heavy, I felt like it made the ruffles look heavy, which I didn’t like.  I decided to go ahead and take the time to finish both edges of the ruffles.  This made it take a VERY long time (roll hem one edge, press and shell stitch the other edge, pleat top edge with ruffler foot, sew to skirt), but I’m much happier with the finished look.

I also shortened the skirt by six inches.  I’m only 5’3″ and am used to shortening patterns, but Truly Victorian patterns–especially their earlier ones–usually seem like they are made just for me, so I was a bit surprised at how long this one was.  It’s possible that they designed the skirt to be ankle length, but the little research (mostly visual) that I’ve done preparing for this project suggests that the skirts take after the fancy dress costumes of the era with a length that hits closer to mid-calf.

These two significant changes means that I was able to cut down on the yardage requirements, but not by that much really.  I ended up using 12.5 yards to complete the lining–shown below with just a little bit of the top row of ruffles not quite complete.


My fashion fabric is a synthetic brocade that washed beautifully, but I can already tell it’s going to fray like the dickens.  Thankfully, I’ve got my serger up and running and threaded with black, so I was able to serge EVERY edge of the skirt panels almost as soon as I got them cut out.

The skirt is now pinned to my dressform to relax before I hem it at attach it to the waistband. (The ruffles really are under there…it just doesn’t look like it because the dressform has no legs.)


Next up…a fitting is in order.

I’m sewing again!

Just a quick drive-by post to let you know that I’m actually sewing again.  We are all settled in our new house, the sewing room is all set up for the most part, and I’ve got tickets for an event!

Currently, I’m making a set of closed drawers.  The goal is to eventually make a can can costume, which will require closed drawers (not that I think I can kick that high, but on the off chance that I fall on my behind trying, it might be a good idea).  I’m using Folkwear’s Edwardian underthings pattern, which is going pretty well.  I’ll be sure to snap some in-progress photos soon so that I have something fun to post.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

I haven’t been able to do any sewing or creating in several months as we’ve been in the process of selling our home and buying a new one.  My one creative outlet has been my hair wrapping.  Today, my hobbies merge!

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring

To give a little background, the group I follow where I get the majority of my wrap ideas had posted a tutorial quite some time ago on how to do a wrap the approximated the look from this famous painting.  I’d never tried it as I wasn’t completely convinced that the technique really reproduced the right look.  I was dissatisfied with it for several reasons.  First, I didn’t like the look of the knot on top of the head; in the painting, the twisted crown portion seems to flow smoothly into the straight tail hanging down, without any knot to secure it.  I also didn’t like how uneven the bottom edge of the tail comes out in the tutorial; in the painting, you can clearly see that edge and it is pretty even across the bottom.

Of course, as a costumer, I’m also a little concerned about the rarity of this kind of wrap historically speaking.  Of course, that’s part of the popularity of the painting, that it depicts such unusual head covering.  What bothered me most about the whole thing was the assumed asymmetry of the veil/tail portion.  I wanted to see if this was supported by any other imagery from that period.

What I discovered was that my prediction of symmetry held true…for functional head coverings.  But here is the important bit: this was not true of turbans.  The images I could find seem to be telling the story that true turbans (as depicted on figures from Easter origins) are symmetrical and have no tails, but stylized turbans worn by Europeans are often shown with tails and quite a bit of asymmetry.

Once I realized that the inspiration for this wrap is more likely to be a turban rather than the more functional hair coverings (such as a kerchief tied around the hair), it completely changed my approach to wrapping it.  The tutorial takes the opposite approach, which makes sense since that is the way most of the wraps are started in our little community–you wrap an oblong scarf around your head and tie it in the back.  The key issue with this is that your tails end up being uneven, since the distance traveled around your face to the knot is vastly different from the loop of fabric in back that closes up to be nonexistent.

Turbans, on the other hand, can wrap more evenly around the head, keeping the tail ends much more even.  Also, unlike modern fashion turbans that have a knot on top (sort of the reverse of the kerchief tie), traditional turbans tend to use the wrapping process to secure the ends of the scarf under the layers, no knots required.

Armed with this new understanding, I was able to create a wrap that I’m much happier with.  The tail hangs with a pretty straight edge, and I’ve secured it with a simple straight pin so that the twisted section does not slide off my head as I teach or wrangle my own kids.  The blue scarf is simple folded, wrapped around a couple of times, securing the one end in the process of wrapping and the second end by tucking into the layers.