Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Melissa's Blue Dress

I made this dress for my favorite then-nine-year-old niece (incidentally, my ONLY niece) last July. She needed a dress to wear to a wedding and an exhaustive search for the right one in the right color and in the appropriate style yielded nothing. Melissa is too large for regular kid's sizes and too young for teen styles. They also couldn't find the blue that was the color theme of the wedding. The wedding was days away and her parents were getting worried, so I volunteered to make the dress.

I used something called Italian Taffeta in a beautiful iridescent blue, some cotton lace I had in my stash to edge the neck line and sleeve hems and two packs of white bias tape for the hem. The taffeta was thin so I underlined the bodice with flour sack cotton (I know, it sounds like it's rough and scratchy like burlap. My friends were kinda horrified when I told them, but the cotton was soft and absorbent. I love it and I want to make a blouse out of what's left of my stash someday)  

The pattern I used for this dress was the Girl's 1780 Portrait Dress Pattern by Sense and Sensibility Patterns. I thought it was the perfect style for her and really appropriate for the wedding. It's age appropriate, it's modest, it's versatile and most of all, it's historical! I love that e-patterns are now available for people like me who don't have access to paper patterns that seem to be so ubiquitous in the States. Printing them out and putting them together is fun and hardly takes any time (but your mileage may vary. I ENJOY putting e-patterns together. I have a system and everything. Derp.)

Miss Juliana Willoughby by George Romney 1781-1783
Sewing this dress was easy but it had its challenges. I had a little difficulty with the sleeves because I'm not used to the way the sleeves were drafted. The shape was strange to me because I'm used to modern sleeves, but I was able to figure it out. Other than that, it was a pleasant and easy pattern to work with. The instructions were clear and straightforward. 

Melissa had a lot of input while I was making this dress. She approved of the fabric, picked the fabric color and had the idea of putting that particular style of cotton lace on the neckline and sleeves. She asked me a lot of questions about sewing and construction and was as patient as a saint while I was doing her fitting. She also decided to omit the white sash we planned to tie around her waist.

My Melissa looked lovely wearing it. 

She's on her way here from Manila as I type. I cannot wait to see her and work on another dress!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Blackest Black Bustle Dress

I have always been curious about Truly Victorian Patterns, so I made the Halloween party I was attending in Manila an excuse to buy the patterns I wanted. I was apprehensive, of course. There are so many horror stories about packages being lost and stolen in our postal system. Some packages are even held hostage by greedy post office workers, they won't give it to you unless you give them money. Fortunately, the gamble paid off. I got the patterns after one month of worrying and one panicked email to the owner of Truly Victorian, Heather. I was so excited about getting a notice from the post office that I threw up (Yes, I'm neurotic) The postal worker was very nice and gave it to me with no drama. I guess the horror stories depend which post office your package ends up in?

I used these patterns:
The Grand Bustle (TV108) This pattern is SO clever with the hoop wire placement. I made this first and not only was it super duper easy to do, it was true to the illustration and I REALLY felt like I was wearing something from history even though my own hands made it. I skipped the ruffles because I was ran out of time, it worked well without so it's all good.

1800 Late Victorian Corset (TV110) This corset has a beautiful shape and it's very easy to do. I used an industrial strength metal separating zipper and cotton twill. I made it one layer and put boning channels on the outside. This was quick to sew and very gratifying.

1875 Parisian Trained Skirt (TV216) Clever clever and so beautiful. Do not let the illustration fool you, this is a very easy skirt to make. The only difficulty you will encounter is in the embellishment and how complicated you want it. You can embellish it or leave as is, it will still look beautiful. 

1875 Ball Gown Basque (TV416) This was a little more difficult because I wasn't used to making the kind of pleats at the back. I had to out it down for a while and think about it. After I had my "AHA!" moment, finishing this was pretty fast. I skipped the sleeves and used fringe instead. It worked! Phew!

So I got to work. I bought 20 meters of black duchess satin (shiny!), 2 meters of netting for bustle support, 2 meters of cotton twill for bodice underlining, 10 meters of quilting cotton for the Grand Bustle, two large cones of black thread (because I always need black thread), an entire pack of lovely 4-inch long black fringe (40 meters, I think), over 50 feet of steel for boning, duct tape, a whole roll of black velvet ribbon and a LARGE box of pins (just because)

This was my peg: 

Edith Wharton, apparently.
So I went to work. My sewing area was a MESS for the next two weeks. As much as I would like to tell you that I used Victorian sewing techniques and remained true to the period, I didn't. I serged the crap out of all the edges, used masking tape and a white gel pen to label and mark each piece and winged most of the construction (Directions? What directions?) I can already hear the purists shrieking in the distance.

What can I say about those Truly Victorian Patterns? They were a DREAM to work with (and a dream to wing it too). They are so simple and easy to sew but the finished garment looks so complicated. As luck would have it, I am a perfect Truly Victorian size 14, so I did not have to alter anything. To think I was bracing myself for loads of fiddly and fussy work. It also helped that I spent months and months stalking studying Pinterest boards and loading my hard drive with bustle pictures so I had a basic understanding of what bustle and bodice patterns looked like. 

Of course, my work wasn't perfect (and in my opinion, it never is) I have to admit, I really rushed this project. I was very pressed for time and could only sew at night when Connor was asleep. I was also doing a skirt and a corset for my best friend who was attending the party (that's another journal entry) No matter, I made it work. (Thanks, Tim Gunn)

Wrinkly, un-ironed mess.

I wouldn't have picked that black rose print for my cotton fabric but it was such good quality and so cheap that I convinced myself having a solid black cage bustle wasn't important.

Talulah the Dressform modelling the great black blob of shininess. 

This skirt's got SWAG.

After two or so weeks of working about 1-2 hours a night, I got most of the machine sewing done. We were packed and ready to fly to Manila from Cebu for Halloween, my little's brother's birthday, All Saints' and All Souls' day and I was STILL tethered to my sewing machine, doing last minute details. (I didn't have a working sewing machine in Manila) I made it. Most of it got done. The embellishing was going to be done in Manila. By hand. (GULP)

Four days and several sewing calluses later, the fringe and other details were sewn and the dress was DONE!

I added a curly wig, bumper bangs, black flowers ala Frida Kahlo, fishnet sleeves, black gloves, a lace choker (made that too!) and gigantic cow lashes.

With my good good friend Paolo waiting for our German sandwiches. No amount of steel boning will ruin our appetite! The bruise-like thing on my shoulder is the event stamp. They stamped on my shoulder because my wrists were covered. 

Posing infront of entrance of the bathroom. Yay! Fringey bustle! 
The dress was a gigantic success! The party was fun, I got to catch up with friends and got my picture taken a lot by total strangers. I even got to dance to Sisters of Mercy! That was the highlight of my night. No kidding. I CANNOT wait til next Halloween! (Knowing me, I probably won't wait that long to make another bustle dress)