Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Progress by Comparison

Long-time readers of my blog may remember that I have already made an orange linen dress. And having noted that, I feel a look back is warranted.

Original Rust Dress, brand new in April of 2009
Four years ago, my "rust dress" was the first garment I sewed nearly by myself. The Christmas prior, my mom had given me my very first sewing machine (which I still have), and I had decided that it was time for me to take my garb making into my own hands. Over the years before then, I had learned a fair amount from watching my mom, but I still had a learning curve to go through. I remember that I'd flipped my pieces and sewn them together wrong more than once, and the sewing machine was still kind of a scary thing. By the time I'd gotten to attaching the sleeves, I felt that I'd reached the limits of my skill, and I'd asked mom to sew them on for me.

My first "showing off" photo of the Original Rust Dress
That dress is still around, and between then and now, it got a lot of wear. I love the color (which explains why I'm making another orange dress), and at the time I made it, it got me further down the medieval style path I knew I wanted to go on. By 2009, I had already fallen in love with 15th century Flemish fashion. I had a fundamental understanding of the kirtle as a piece necessary to the wardrobe of a 15th century woman, but I did not know yet how and what that really entailed. I understood that my dresses needed to have more fit. I believe this was right around the time I was discovering the 4-panel dress and the draped pattern method I use now.

A look at the unfinished interior of the Rust Dress
The rust dress material was a linen/rayon blend, as all my "linen" dresses were at that time. I didn't even think about the possibility of lining it. It used the same pattern I'd been using for "cotehardies" since about 2005, with 8 panels and no gores. It was the closest thing I had to a "fitted" dress, but it was most definitely not fitted the way it should have been. I knew from the beginning that it wasn't, and I remember being frustrated with that.

Original Rust Dress in March 2010, worn while 4 months pregnant with my twins
I did not finish the seams, since that would have meant a whole lot of hand sewing I didn't think I could do. I didn't have the vaguest idea of how to sew eyelets for the lacing. I did, however, produce a very nice 5-loop braided lace- one of my best to date.

Unfinished eyelets and nicely-made finger-loop braid
After having the twins, I needed to tailor a lot of my dresses. The rust dress was still around, and still being worn. It bothered me, though, that the pattern was incorrect. By that time, I'd already made the switch to making new dresses using the 4-panel, draping method, but I didn't have the luxury of time or money to completely scrap all my old stuff.

The Modified Rust Dress in February 2011.
I decided to remove the sleeves and take in some of the seams in the hope that doing so would elevate it to some level of acceptability to me. It fit well, and looked just fine after the changes, but they weren't ever really going to be capable of changing what it was. After a while, with newer, more period-correct dresses to replace it, the dress was relegated to my loaner box, and I haven't worn it since.

The last time I wore the Rust Dress, in March of 2011
At the time I tried "fixing" the dress to better align with my garb goals, I was sort of a jerk to myself. As I learned more about the clothing in France and Flanders in the 15th century, the rust dress (and many others) were something of an embarrassment to me. The extra seams down my chest and the still incorrect fit were (to me) a dead giveaway that I, at one time, hadn't done my research.

I've, thankfully, grown out of looking at my past creations with such snobbish contempt. I've come to realize more recently that in this process of studying historical clothing I love, and learning how to create them myself (literally learning how to sew in the process), isn't worth it if I look at where I've come from with scorn. Those past attempts (and missteps) should be looked at now as a reminder of how much I've gained, and how far I've come.

The Edyth that made the rust dress in March of 2009 was insecure in her abilities, and bypassed craftsmanship for the quicker result, however flawed it turned out to be. The Edyth in 2011 that was embarrassed by her first attempt ever to make her own garb was a snob, and stupidly failed to realize that there were real lessons to learn from that dress, not just from its historical inaccuracies. My ego then was just a coverup for my insecurity as a sewist, and I still disregarded quality of construction for the joy of quickly having something new.

I have, for probably about 6 months now, really wanted to completely hand-sew a dress. I've been hand sewing the finishing since I started realizing how important that was about 2 years ago, and I always intended the items I make for my old Garb Quest outfit to be hand sewn, but I hadn't really wanted to do it. When I stopped and realized that this new orange linen dress was something of a redux, and homage to that rust dress, and started exactly 4 years after this garb sewing experience began, I knew this had to be the one. For all I've accomplished thus far.

Hand sewing in progress on the gores of the new orange linen dress
There are many more mistakes to be made (and lessons to decipher from them). I'm sure I will make some in the process of assembling this kirtle. I just hope they won't be as difficult for me to see as they used to be. Maybe in another 4 years, I'll look back again as I endeavor to create a new orange dress, and move forward once again on this path of learning.


  1. I really enjoy handsewing. Machine stitching goes so fast, it's easy to make a mistake. The amount of control one has stitching with a needle and thread can be very satisfying. I hope you find it so!

  2. I love this post. It truly speaks to me. When I look at my past attempts at garb, I now see them as experiments, not necessarily failures. The first 16c. Flemish gown I made was from a recycled gown that turn out the way I'd liked. I'd rather recycle and reuse and old piece any day than beat myself up over mistakes. Anyway, great post! Your observations are something all of us should keep in mind. :-)

  3. Inserting gores with hand is so much easier than with a machine! Even though it is slower, it is still fast enough. And I think it transports you to the mindset of a medieval woman where nothing was easy or fast.
    Love the way you described your past attempts - it could have been me.