Past Projects—Renaissance Edition, part 1

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I started sewing because I love to play dress up and go to the local Renaissance Faire (in Crownsville, Md., if you must know) every fall. I have purchased a few pieces of costume for my faire going, but the vast majority of my outfits I’ve made all on my own with varying degrees of skill and success. I’ve gotten better the more I’ve completed, of course. None of my costumes to date are very fancy—it’s still really hot and humid in the early/mid-fall in the DC area, and fancy costumes would not only be sweltering to wear, but they’d get ruined fairly quickly.

But I take great pride in making my own, have received many compliments on various bodices I’ve made, and I really like the fact that I can create my own style, choose my own colors and materials, etc., rather than just selecting from the commercially available Ren-wench wear.

I do have plans to make—someday—a few fancier gowns, suitable for court wear. More on that later!

Anyway, back in college I started making my own wenchy costumes to wear to the faire. I have no photos of these costumes, for the most part. I’ll try and scrounge up the few I have and post them here.

My first one was an ivory bridal satin bodice that buttoned down the front. The Emma Thompson/Kenneth Brannagh movie version of Much Ado About Nothing really had a hold on me back then, and I so wanted to reproduce the Mediterranean pastoral feeling of the film with an all-white renaissance outfit, such as the main female characters wore. The satin bodice was kind of a disaster, though. I used a pattern purchased from who-knows-where at this point, and didn’t have a very good grasp of how it would fit, or even how it should fit. But as such, it was a very valuable learning experience and I put the lessons learned then to good use on my next attempt—and the lessons learned from that one went into the following costume, and so on and so on!

Eventually I got the process down and managed to make wearable costumes that I felt comfortable in and that expressed my personality. It’s so much fun playing dress up, pretending to live in another era for just a day. And pretty pretty dresses!

If I can find some of those photos of my older costumes, I’ll add them to this post. **Update: Found some pictures of my old costumes!

 

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Regency June 5 update:

Put the gown on today and got some good photos. The fit is perfect. I’m a little disappointed that the train doesn’t flow well on its own, but I can live with it. It must be because of the weight of the material combined with the hem’s weight. But it does look lovely when spread out behind me. So many people think that Regency styles make everyone look pregnant, and done incorrectly, they certainly can. But I didn’t look preggers at all in my new gown.

The Folkwear pattern creates such a wonderful A-line in front that floats over the torso and creates a slim line. It’s the perfect length, too, and I usually have to take up hems quite a bit. This might mean that anyone taller than me (about 5′ 2″) might have to add length to the skirt pattern pieces or make a narrow hem, instead of the 1 1/4 inch hem the pattern dictates.

It was a bit difficult to adjust the waistline drawstring, because I had half-tied it before putting the gown on to prevent it slipping back into the channel. But I needn’t have worried about that. I managed to get it untied, pulled it up a bit tighter, and tied it off. Ideally, that would be easier to manage. Perhaps it would be better to have the waistline drawstring tie in front inside the gown. There’s nothing wrong with having to pick up a skirt to tie off a drawstring in front. Might be better than having to perform acrobatics with my arms trying to reach the middle of my upper back with the gown on. I’ll leave it as it is on this gown, but maybe for a future gown with this pattern I’ll make that adjustment.

The sleeve hems are snug against my arm, but they don’t restrict movement in any way. When I make the gown again, I’ll extend the sleeve pattern seams by 1/4 inch each and then add 1 1/2 inches to the arm measurement instead of just one to add some extra ease.

I noticed that the strap of my undergarment, which is just a normal, modern, elasticized bra-type strap and sits near the edge of my shoulder, was showing just a bit at the gown’s shoulder piece because of the wide neckline. I might have to add a lingerie strap, and when I make a true Regency pair of stays, I’ll have to make the shoulder piece very narrow.

I decided to add a set of thread-chain carriers at the underarm seams so I can thread a ribbon through. I tested out the 1 1/2 wide sage green grosgrain ribbon when I tried on the dress today, pinning it in place with the ends in the back and then tied in a bow in front. I think the bow in the front is just distracting. It looks much better with the ribbon flat in the front as an accent and the bow in the back. Just a small tack at center front keeps the ribbon in place.

My first Regency gown is now complete–and I still have no idea where I’ll ever wear it. But it kept me busy, got my creative juices going, and helped me rededicate myself to my sewing projects.

Regency May 29/30/31 update:

*As anyone keeping track might notice, there’s a big gap between my postings for this project. What can I say? Life happens.

This Memorial Day weekend I was fairly productive on the Regency gown. All that remained to be completed was to hem the skirt and apply the trim to the sleeves.

The hem, even with the dress’ train, was simple enough. Just folded up 1/2 inch, pressed in place, then folded another 3/4 inch and pressed, and then sewn up. Because the train drags on the floor, I didn’t want to do a hand-sewn hem and risk any of the threads or the fold of the fabric catching and pulling against something and wrecking the hem finish.

So I opted for a machine-sewn hem. I am nothing if not practical. Seriously. It would tick me off to no end to spend a ton of time hand-sewing a blind hem or even whipstitching a hem and then have it pulled out the first time I walk over something slightly less than smooth.

I used the same beige thread I’ve been using for the rest of the project, since it blends into the background of the fabric so nicely. A nice tight stitch all around, and voila! The hem was finished.

Next step: sleeve trim. Before I got around to that, though, I wanted to try on the gown and make sure I wasn’t doing all that work for nothing!

I put on the foundation garment, pulled the gown over my head and was immediately thrilled by the results. The gown is so flattering. The waistline corrections I had to make, including the insertion of the triangular back panel, make it fit perfectly. There was plenty of room to maneuver while getting it over my head.

Once I could bring myself to take the gown off, I got started on the sleeve trim. First I applied the organza ribbons that bunch up the sleeve in three places, tacking them at each end. Then I tacked an ivory organza rosette (purchased ready-made) over the ends of each at the top of the sleeve. Along the gather, where the three ribbons terminate at the bottom of the sleeve, I stitched a folded satin ribbon over the ends of the organza ribbons, covering them. At the middle of the folded satin ribbon, I stitched another ivory rosette.

Regency May 22/23 update

Sleeves are now sewn onto the dress, and all that’s left is the bottom hem and applying sleeve trim. I’m following the sleeve trim option that bunches the sleeve a little with three cords or ribbons tacked at the bottom sleeve gathering at three points and again at three points higher on the sleeve. I’ll be using a green organza ribbon instead of the recommended thin cords, and the three points on the upper sleeve where the ribbons terminate will be finished off with rosettes instead of buttons.

I can’t decide yet between ivory organza rosettes or deep rose-pink satin rosettes. I don’t tend to like the over-wrought, heavily-beribboned and bedecked embellishment styles of the later Regency. I prefer the simplicity and classicism of the earlier styles, so I’m leaning towards the ivory rosettes which won’t stand out as much as the others.

At the bottom of the sleeve, I’ll be applying a folded sage-green satin ribbon over the gathering threads and over the termination points of the three organza ribbons, and placing a single rosette in the middle where the folds change direction. I’ve created this trim myself, and it’s fairly simplistic but effective.

Also completed this weekend, an approximation of a straw Regency bonnet. I had a stiff straw hat with a raffia ribbon and flower trim around the brim that I’ve owned for years and never worn. The brim isn’t too wide, maybe about 5 inches, and the crown isn’t very high or rounded. Tilted back on the head, it’s a pretty good approximation of the correct shape for a Regency bonnet. I clipped off the back of the brim in a wide fan shape, applied a lavender bias binding over the brim edge all around with fabric/craft glue, then tacked a sage green grosgrain ribbon around the crown, crossing the ends in the back and drawing them over the back tips of the brim where I trimmed away the wedge, and tacking the ends at those points. It took about 10 minutes to figure out how to accomplish all this, and about 10 minutes to complete it all. Voila! Regency bonnet—or close enough, anyway. Will I ever wear it? Maybe. That’s not the point though, is it? 🙂

Regency May 17 update

Last night I only got around to sewing the sleeve sides together and pressing the seam open in preparation for attaching them to the bodice. That’s when I noticed that I had previously missed the fact that the pattern instructions have the sleeves attaching to the bodice without being closed at the underarm seam first. Instead, the pattern has the sleeves being sewn around the armhole, and then sewn under the arm in a line that continues down the bodice sideseam, closing that seam. But I closed this seam earlier in the process when I decided to leave the sleeves til last thing. I just assumed the instructions skipped the “sew bodice front to bodice back at side seams” step. Oh well. This might be period, but I think it’s a bit weird. There’s no reason not to use a modern sleeve-attachment technique, and since that’s the only option left, that’s what I’m going to do.

Regency May 15/16 update

Got A LOT done this weekend. I removed the back and front gatherings in the bodice and restitched them, then pulled them up to the measurements I thought would work. Then I sewed the skirt pieces together, nicely French-seamed just like the bodice and gathered across the back pieces to about 10 inches to match the back bodice gathering. (The fabric I chose has such a nice drape even though it’s a medium-weight quilting cotton. I can’t WAIT to finish and get this thing on for some pictures. [emits girlish squeal!])

When I went to join the bodice to the skirt pieces, I encountered a bit of a problem—AGAIN! The back bodice gathering worked perfectly at about 10 inches across, but the front bodice gathering was TOO TIGHT! I really don’t know if I did something wrong or if the pattern is wrong, or what, because the front and side skirt pieces aren’t supposed to be gathered at all. But the pattern piece for the front bodice indicates that it should be gathered to about 4 – 4 1/2 inches across the full front waistline (size L). And I gathered it to just about 7 1/2 inches, so really I don’t know what’s going on. I think the pattern and instructions are just WRONG! Did anyone else have these issues? In the reviews I’ve read no one has mentioned anything like this.

So I pulled out the front gathering stitches AGAIN, and resewed them, and pulled them up to match the front and side skirt pieces, about 13 inches. Next time I will wait to pull up the bodice gathering stitches until the skirt pieces are sewn together so I can accurately compare them and get things right the first time.

I completed sewing the bodice to the skirt pieces, and proceeded with the waistline drawstring channel, machine-sewing one edge to the waistline seam, turning up the free edge and hand-sewing it to the bodice to eliminate any visible stitches. No problems there.

Then I moved on to the sleeves, which I had started on previously by making the gathering stitches. Now I pulled them up to match the 14-inch-long pieces of seam binding I had cut, per the instructions, gathering them about 5-6 inches across the lower gathering stitches. Stitched the binding in place, turned it under on the fold line (about 3/4 of an inch from the lower edge), and handstitched it in place just under the upper of the two lower gathering sections.

All that remains construction-wise is to sew the sleeve edges together, pull up the top edge gathering, attach the sleeves to the bodice, and hem the skirt.

Then all I’ll have to do is add some ribbon trim. I’m thinking of using a sagey-green satin or grosgrain ribbon to hide the still-visible gathering stitches on the sleeves, and then they’ll be pulled up at three points as described in the instructions, kind of bunched, with more ribbon, anchored to the upper part of the sleeve, and finished off with some ribbon rosettes. While sage green isn’t a color in the fabric, there is a goldy-tan that in some lights looks sort of olive or sage, so it’ll be a nice accent color. A 1 1/2 inch wide sage green grosgrain ribbon at the waistline will tie in the front, leaving long tails to float down the skirt, and I think I’ll tack thread loops or skinny fabric carriers at the side of the gown at the waistline to hold the ribbon in place.

Regency May 6 update

UGGH!

So as I was trying on the bodice one last time before pulling out the back gathering stitches, the knot I’d placed to tie off the front gathering stitches popped, releasing those gathers. Sigh. Not a huge deal, really, but frustrating. And perfectly illustrative of the problem I’ve been mulling about (see May 4 update)—so maybe it was a good thing? I’m going to go with that. This time after I resew those gathering stitches I’m going to staystitch them in place like a good girl!