Monday, February 25, 2013

HSF #4: Embellish - Tucks

The Challenge: #4: Embellish
Fabric: 15+ yards of striped, white on white, sheer cotton for the fashion fabric. The lining used under a yard of pima cotton broadcloth and the hem used a yard or two of plain ol white calico.
Pattern: Truly Victorian TV447. The 1863 Sheer dress (modified).
Year: The pattern says 1863, so I'm thinking give or take a few years.
Notions: I used thin, cotton cord for piping, cotton twill for the hem, cotton thread for everything, little buttons on the inner bodice and reed for boning the darts.
How historically accurate is it? To the best of my knowledge, pretty darn. It is machine sewn, and I shortened the thread length to better represent the small stitches present on extant examples. The dress is based on examples from the era, most notably this dress, which obviously inspired the tucks on the skirt. Check out more examples here. The dress is hand finished. The main, glaring inaccuracy is I used plastic buttons on the inside, since that's what I had (I also used my sewing machine for the button holes and I am so bummed I did that. It was fast, but it doesn't come with the same satisfaction and beauty as hand sewn. Boo pout). Also, the twill used on the hem is probably not the exact same as what was used, but the use and application of it is consistent with originals.
Hours to complete: On and off sewing since January.
First worn: Not yet. Just for fitting. Hopefully soon... like when it warms up...
Total cost: Stash project! So I consider it a freebie. Yay! But the fabric cost like $15 a yard a year or two ago when I originally purchased it.

So, on to the notes and pictures...

To start, I took the photos with only the hoop under on purpose: so the light would come though and showcase the tucks. In reality, this dress will be worn with the white petticoats under it, which softens the effect of the tucks. Without the petticoats, the skirt hangs a bit limp and funny. 

Under bits are sooooo important! Wear them, please!

As for modifications on the pattern, I shortened the sleeves on the inner bodice and changed the outer sleeves from opening with a button to not. The wrists are open enough, though, to be pushed up the arm. I also changed the gathering on the front a little. It didn't line up correctly when I took in the waist(which reminds me about sizing and fitting* - see below, I'll finish this bit first so I don't get side tracked lol). And perhaps the most obvious change to the pattern is the tucks on the skirt (embellish!). The tucks take soooo much fabric. Practically twice as much as the skirt without the tucks. That was a lot of fabric to wrangle!

Gauging at the skirt and gathering, top stitched down,
on the front of the bodice. Striped fabric is so handy for gauging.

Tip: baste the bodice to the skirt to avoid gapping.
I like it better than hooks and eyes.

For photo purposes, without the under skirts,
the light shows the tucks to their best advantage.
It also shows why one MUST wear under skirts.
Without layers, the skirt hangs poorly, shows the
hoops and falls in under the bottom of the hoop.

Thirteen 1.5" tucks.

I love the little gathering on the back and the under bodice
has a very flattering line. I like it!

I found great teeny yarn for piping. It wasn't too easy to set in,
but it was much more consistent with original examples than
heavier yarn, like the sugar and cream, which I have used before.

The hem facing and hem braid, from the underside.

The hem braid on the outside.

The inside bodice, which is attached to the outer
at the waist and side seams.

My little helper :)

A fair bit of work on this dress happened at a workshop I hosted this month for Shelley Peters. She worked mostly with girls who needed corsets, but it was great to have her by to bounce questions and ideas off of. She also brought one of her sheer dresses which was great for reference. It was a different pattern but a lot of the concepts were similar. It was such a fun weekend. I even got my mom out to work on a dress, too. I'm slowly roping her in...

Helping fit.

Yay bodice! ... and I spy the good old Kenmore!

I just got a rotary cutter, and I'm in LOVE.

This mini ironing board is super handy!

My other helper. She looks nervous...

Sewing tires her out :)

* So, my note from above. This regards size and fitting. Recently, I got the nicest compliment from a friend regarding how my costumes fit, so I wanted to share how I fit my bodices. I hope it helps, if anyone is curious.

First, I cut out a muslin in the biggest size I need. My bust is my biggest measurement at about 34, so I cut out a 36. Go bigger. It's sooo much easier to take in than let out. And so much less bother than having to cut out a second time because the muslin is too small. 

Next, when I fit a darted bodice, I disregard the darts on the pattern. They are never exact for my body. I have to take in a bodice that matches a 36 inch bust, to a 22 inch waist. That's a 14 inch difference, which means big changes to any bodice. 

I put on the muslin, inside out, over my corset and any other under bits, and I pin up the center front. Then I tackle the darts. I look at original examples for angle and placement, and then pin. I take off the muslin and baste the darts, then try it on right side out. A few more fittings happen as I made small adjustments to the darts and any other seams that aren't correct. Then I transfer the adjustments to my pattern.

Check the shoulders, check the length of the waist, check the hips if your bodice extends that far. Check the armholes and the neckline. Check everything!

The muslin and fittings also apply to any other parts that need precise fitting. Not necessarily a big, wide skirt, but anything that fits the hips can really benefit from a muslin. Sleeves, too. I almost always modify the sleeves. Especially since sleeves for a 36" bust are usually way too big.


  1. This is lovely! I am planning a sheer 1860's gown for myself to endure the Virginia summers at all the reenactments. This project will be started next week and I need the entire ensemble (wilt) I don't know that I can get it all done. It's taken years to build up our colonial wardrobe.

    1. Thank you! That's exactly why I made mine - Las Vegas heat. Yikes!

      It is truly daunting to start a new time period. I empathize. I did that last year for civil war era. I purchased my hoop and some things, though, to save my sanity.

    2. I just bought this pattern on your recommendation. After researching sheer gowns, I like this one the best! Today I found sheer windowpane cotton so I'm on my way. Now to figure out the rest! Thanks for sharing about your lovely gown!

  2. It's lovely, Caroline! It's much easier to see the stripes in the closeup pictures and they do add an air of sophistication that plain fabric wouldn't have. Your inner bodice looks so cute and so do the narrow bits of cording. Love it! Can't wait to see you wearing it!


    1. Thanks! Actually I was hating the fabric in the beginning. I didn't like the stripes, but I wanted to used up something I had. They grew on me. As the fabric became a dress I started to like I much better. Good thing, too! It's awful to work with fabric you don't like :(

  3. Wow, this is gorgeous, I'm very much awed by your attention to subtle detail! And your helpers are adoooorable. Furry sewing buddies are the best when they're not making off with your supplies or napping on them.

    1. Thank you! And ya, I came upstairs yesterday and the littlest one was curled up on pile of petticoats. I guess that's what I get for not putting them away. Oops.

    2. I've heard petticoats make very comfortable pillows! :p

  4. This dressed turned out terrific! Wow!

    Hey, I'm happy to be roped in! Actually, I have finished my bodice part as far as I can go without your expertise to go on! I am ready for my next lesson! Hint, Hint!

  5. I find it very lovely for summer.

  6. I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring blogger Award.

    Whether or not you chose to carry it forward I at least wanted to share with you directly the impact you have had on my own creativity. You have a great blog with some of my favorite projects and I so enjoy seeing what your working on.

    1. Wow! Thank you! That is such a compliment to me. I'm so thrilled to know I've contributed something good and worthwhile :) Yay!

  7. Well, crud! I was stopping by to oggle the gown some more and present you with this:

    I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

    You've got a very enthusiastic readership!

  8. H, there! Found your site through the Choll's recommendation, and I love the work you do and explain so carefully! Particularly the bit about fitting darts, since the bust/waist differential is so big. I used to have that problem, but a life of Tex Mex fondness has changed that!!! A costumer I worked with gave me a good tip--since my arms were quite thin and my shoulders broad, she said to cut the underarm as high as was comfortable. It helps with east of movement in the sleeve, and gives a better fit over the bust--and she was right!! No pulling across the back, or gaping armholes in a sleeveless shirt!

  9. I love the play of the subtle vertical stripe against the wider horizontal tucks - I think it gives an extra bit of dimension and also shows off how carefully you lined them all up! I always think it's the details like that on extant examples that make people go "Wow!" Your dress is just beautiful. And thank you for your notes on fitting! I'm sure they will be very useful in the future. :)