Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 San Francisco Dickens Festival - 1870 Ensemble

Well, the San Francisco Dickens Festival was on the horizon, and I wanted a couple of new ensembles to wear!  I was leaning towards an 1850 era gown, as well as an 1870 era gown, but not only that, I wanted them both to be Christmas colors!  I will break these down into two different posts, one for each gown. 

This post will focus on my 1870 ensemble.  I pulled a couple patterns from the stash: Truly Victorian TV208 1870 Trained Skirt (view B) and Butterick 6694 (view B) for the bodice with modifications.

The invention of the first cameras, which only photographed in Black & White with shades of grey, lots of folks over the years arrived at an incorrect impression that Victorians were kind of dark and stodgy.  However, the opposite was very much the truth!  With the internet we are now able to view vintage gowns and ensembles from all over the world, and Victorians loved color, vibrancy, and fashion as much as we do today! During the 1840s there was a trend of "Mad for Plaid".  Here is a little bit of history:

The word “Tartan” is often called “Plaid” in North America, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket, such as you might have on your bed.  The word “Plaid” is believed to have come from the Scottish Gaelic word “Plaide”, which means “blanket”.  (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

There was a resurgence of Plaid Popularity when Queen Victorian and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral in 1848. 

“Twenty years after her uncle's visit to Scotland, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert made their first trip to the Scottish Highlands. The Queen and prince bought Balmoral Castle in 1848 and hired a local architect to re-model the estate in "Scots Baronial" style. Prince Albert personally took care of the interior design, where he made great use of tartan. He utilized the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets, while using the Dress Stewart for curtains and upholstery. The Queen designed the Victoria tartan, and Prince Albert the Balmoral, still used as a royal tartan today. (Wikipedia -”

The actual Merriam-Webster dictionary describes plaid as: A pattern on cloth of stripes with different widths that cross each other to form squares. 

So, with all this new found knowledge, I felt very comfortable in deciding on a plaid fabric, but could I take it to the next level and make it a Christmas Plaid in reds and greens?  In searching around on the internet, I found a lot of Victorian Christmas Plaid gowns, and here is just a small sampling:

These are all extant items, but I could not figure out how to add the actual links for each one.  I love the plaid boots and I would absolutely wear those today!  So, Christmas plaid was certainly a fabric option!

After perusing the internet for several days, I finally decided on a quilting fabric called "Christmas in the Ozarks".  This printed plaid is 100% cotton, and a wonderful drape, and uses true-reds, emerald greens, and a subtle gold accent.  It was perfect!  Once the fabric was selected, I was on to the pattern!

The TV 208 pattern calls for 6 2/3 yards of fabric, but it feels like a lot more than that.  I did have one issue with the pattern.  It breaks the instructions down into the two skirt designs with instructions for each.  No where that I could find in Skirt B instructions, nor any markings on the side skirt pattern piece, does it address the issue of pleating the side seams of the skirt sides.  It talks about side pleating on the apron with clearly indicated markings on the pattern piece, but not the back side pieces.  I figured it out when I sewed the two pieces together and ended up with a twelve inch gap of extra fabric on the skirt side back pieces, ripped it all out, put in three big horizontal pleats to match-up with the ones on the apron, and viola – everything matched up.  

But, that was not the end of the challenges with this skirt, oh no far, far, far from it!  Next challenge to hit was that I was running out of fabric!  I had wanted to place 10” pleated ruffles, two rows, all around the bottom of the skirt.  However, with only four yards of fabric left, I had to make some quick calculations.  One yard of 45” width will easily yield six yards of 7” wide strips for ruffles and pleats.  I used just over two yards for pleating on the apron edge, and another yard of pleating for the sleeves.  From there it was miles of ruffles all around the hem.  

Now, we are into the next challenge, while running my ruffler foot, I think it broke my sewing machine!  I shall not entertain you with paragraphs of the horror of this accident, suffice it to say that there was metal on metal where no metal should be.  So, that left the entire back hem of the skirt without a ruffle!  It looked awful, it looked unfinished, it was not what I wanted it to be after all this work.  I had some hard options to decide on at that point.  Being that if I wanted ruffles, it was going to have to be done by hand.  Those of you that know me are probably laughing right now knowing how much I hate hand sewing.  Picture if you can, hand sewing the entire hem of the skirt first, hemming the top edge of twelve yards of the 7” fabric strips, then hemming the bottom edge of that same twelve yard strip, then hand-gathering this twelve yards into a three yard length, and then finally sewing (okay “tacking” would be more accurate) that same twelve yards, now three yards of squirrely ruffles, onto the hem!  That was my life for several days.  In the end, everything was attached and was looking so pretty that I had to just stand there and appreciate the fact that I had just completed over forty-six yards of hand sewing!  

Oh, but it does not end there, no!  I had forgotten about the sawdust all over the floors at the San Francisco Dickens Festival, thereby making a four foot train truly inadvisable to wear.  So, in final, abject defeat, the night before found me pinning, tacking, and cursing the back of the skirt into a shorten bustled up format without a train.  I still plan on purchasing more fabric to finish out the pleated ruffle, but that will be for another blog story in the future.

Next up was the bodice.  It was made using a very cute little pattern by Butterick, with a few changes of course, because I like a challenge!  (Maybe one of these days I will like “easy”?)  I mixed and matched the pattern pieces to get the look I was after, which was that I wanted the bodice to look like I was wearing a vest, this was my inspiration piece:

I used my beautiful true-red, baby pin-wall corduroy (not HA, but it was so close to velvet people actually asked me what it was) for the vest section, and I used the plaid for everything else.  For the faux-vest sleeve caps, I used a matching red feather trim.  The pattern calls for loop and button closures, but I went with fourteen buttonholes.  I just moved all the buttons over to help center everything.  Also, I wanted 1870 sleeves at the 3/4 length, not the ones on this pattern.  Some of the sleeves of the 1870 were still showing a nice flare at the end, finished off with pleating, trims, and bows.  I incorporated all those details into my version.  I also used a garnet-colored beaded trim to help further suggest the illusion of a vest, in that the beaded trims goes from front to back over the shoulder, as well as all around the bottom hem of only the vest section.  One of the reasons I like this pattern are the double points at the bottom of the bodice, and that was still kind of popular around the late 1860s  and on into the 1870s, and was just a nice extra detail.  Start to finish on the bodice was
probably a week, again sewing after work a couple of hours a day and on days off.  I was happy with the way everything came together in the end, and I was able to achieve the vision of the gown I had in my head – so I will call this one a “win”!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 San Francisco Dickens Festival - 1850 Ensemble

Well, the San Francisco Dickens Festival was on the horizon, and I wanted a couple of new ensembles to wear!  I was leaning towards an 1850 era gown, as well as an 1870 era gown, but not only that, I wanted them both to be Christmas colors!  I will break these down into two different posts, one for each gown. 

We are starting with the 1850 ensemble:  For this one I used Patterns for Period Impressions #411 – “Lucy” White body with Velvet Yoke and Girdle and paired that with the Truly Victorian #244 – 1859 Double

First off was finding the fabric.  I knew I wanted cotton or a breathable fabric.  After pouring over the internet for days, I finally found one that I liked.  It is a quilting fabric, 100% cotton, called “Christmas in the Ozarks” and is a true-red and emerald green printed plaid with subdued gold accents.  I loved it!

Next was deciding on the patterns.  I had a few that might work, but I really wanted a two tier skirt, so I ordered TV244 1859 Double Skirt pattern.  This skirt pattern calls for 6.5yds of fashion fabric plus 2yds of lining fabric.  Well, I decided I wanted to line the entire skirt!  So, I had 6.5yds in fashion fabric and 8.5 in lining for a total of 15yds!  I lined it with a lightweight satin, as I wanted the “swooshy” sound, I know, I made that word up!  Well, with the swooshy, comes the weight, so next time, no lining unless it is a super-lightweight fabric that needs the body and structure! 

The pattern is pretty straight forward, and exactly what you expect from Truly Victorian in regards to quality.  One thought for consideration, I would probably add an extra panel to the top skirt for added fullness, as well as shorten the top skirt by four inches.  Something in the proportions looked slightly off to me, so I shortened the top skirt.  The bottom skirt has a 225" circumference.

Start to finish for the skirt, or cutting to fitting, was probably six hours.  I very much like the way it turned out and I got my swooshy sounds!

Removed the two rows of black ribbon
Next up was the “Waist” or blouse.  SF Dickens is notorious for being very warm, even in December, so I wanted to go with something lightweight, not a bodice – more a blouse.  I had found the PPI #411 a while ago, and this was perfect for what I wanted.  This pattern is based on an actually fashion plate from Petersen’s May 1861 and is a short sleeved Civil War era pattern.  To help tie in the Christmas colors I used a beautiful true-red baby pin-wall corduroy, which was so fine it was almost like velvet!  For the blouse itself, I used light-weight white striped cotton.  As anyone that has worked with PPI patterns knows, there is a minimum of instructions, and it helps if you have a good knowledge of sewing in general.  The blouse came together quickly and easily and has four buttons down the back.  The tricky part, again for me, was the layers of gathered lace for the sleeves and the yoke.  There was a typo, or at least to me there was.  It called for 4.25yrds of “1/2” gathered lace, nope, should have been “1 ½” in width, plus another 3.5yrds of 2” lace for a total of 7.75 yrds, but I think I used closer to eight.  With a 4 to 1 ratio, that means I started with thirty-two yards of flat lace that had to be gathered!  I made all my gathered lace using a ruffler foot.  Once the lace was tacked on and sewn, I decided to go with a decorative “Greek Key” machine embroidery stitch in place of the ¼” ribbon.  I went around the corduroy sleeve edges, girdle, and the yoke with a red threaded top stitch, then back around with a black threaded machine embroidery stitch for the sleeves and girdle only.  Lastly, for the girdle, I used a vintage, black-beaded decorative piece front and center for visual impact.
Machine embroidered "Greek Key"  

Start to finish for the blouse, yoke, and girdle took probably ten days sewing after work.  I would set a goal each day of what I had to get done to stay on track.

Lastly was trimming.  I tried matching reds, greens, and even white, but did not like any of them, so black it was.  I had originally sewn two rows of 1” black satin ribbon around the bottom edge of the top skirt, and then decided I did not like it, and ripped it all off leaving only the fringe.  Too much black!  It was suppose to be a bright and Christmassy gown! 

Final accessories were a long black cape (stored in coat check), a black fur muff, vintage beaded necklace, and a vintage straw hat with red feathers!  It was a very comfortable, cool, and Christmassy ensemble to wear for my first day at Dickens! 
The skirt looks funny as it is pushed against something,
but it was the proper bell shape!