I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. I was also on-the-verge-of-crying disappointed because I had decided, completely randomly, to hand-sew it. So yes, my friends, my very first completely hand-sewn gown got shrunk in the wash.
Not a total loss, though. The advantage of the specific wool flannel I used is that, though tight, it does actually still fit. So it's mostly just not long enough to be the 1390's fitted gown I was aiming for. So, let's move on to the Project Log to see what I was able to do with it, shall we?
Though originally intended to have the quality of a hand-me-down, 7-panel surcote altered to be fashionable in the 1390's, the final result is more appropriate as a mid-14th century layering gown. A "Hunting" gown, if you will.
|BL Yates Thompson 13, "Taymouth Hours", circa 1320-1350, f. 72.|
When paired with my pink wool fitted cotte (now with buttoned forearms!), I get a look that's quite reminiscent of the lady pictured above from the mid-14th century Taymouth Hours. Many of the over-gowns pictured on the lady-hunters in that particular manuscript have a long slit up the sides (this one does too, it's just folded over so the inside is showing, rather than the slit), but there's enough of a similarity without a slit on mine to go with it.
The issue, however, is that I was trying to make a late 1390's gown, like the full-skirted examples spotted in the Grande Chroniques de France. (You can see my first progress post for a look at that.) So I was aiming for a tightly fitted torso, which suits the turn of the century, and is much more modern in overall style than the hunting gowns of the Taymouth Hours. Since fitting of this type- in the sleeves, bust and ribcage- isn't seen among women's gowns until after the 1360's, I'm dating this one to plausibly 1370's.
The real purpose of this gown was to test using a 7-panel construction to achieve a fuller skirt. In my first progress post, I shared what the gown looked like after assembling the 7 panels (without godets) directly from their straight-cut format. The front and back panels were rectangles, and the four gores (side panels) were trapazoids, angled on one long edge, but straight on the other.
Then, in my second progress post, I showed what simply fitting those pieces on the body was able to accomplish. Introducing curves in every seam except for the center side seams, I (with the help of my mom) was able to get a very shapely fit, with a good amount of support on its own (though it's never intended to be supportive alone- it needs a fitted kirtle underneath.)
While cutting all the pieces down, I decided, very randomly, and very late one evening, to start hand sewing the dress together. I pulled out a spool of navy blue silk thread I didn't really have a use for previously, a long needle, and went to work. I used a tight running stitch, which is surprisingly sufficient, though I may need to reinforce a few spots given its final fit.
Looking at the photos I had my husband snap when I was patterning the sleeves, I saw that I wasn't getting the correct drape in the skirt. The skirt wasn't as full as I was hoping, but I was getting a fairly good drape. The problem, though, was that I'd started the flare too low, and I wasn't getting the sudden fullness toward to top of the skirt that I wanted.
The front gore, especially, was not draping correctly. Which was a shame, since I'd gotten it perfectly sewn in on the first try. It was also too short. I had somehow managed to shift the side panels up when I reassembled the dress after fitting and it was about 3" from the floor, instead of just a hair above it like it should have been. At this stage of the fitting, I was starting to feel like I'd missed the mark, but it was still turning out okay enough that I just kept moving forward with it. Plus the skirt was fairly twirly, and that's always fun.
The advantage of hand sewing the dress together, though, allowed me to finesse the sleeves enough to get the sleeve seam and the side back seam to perfectly align on each side. Generally speaking, the hand-sewing on this gown ended up being the easiest and most rewarding part of it.
I'd been having an issue, though, with stubborn creases from storage. I tried ironing with no results. I tried a damp cloth between the wool and the iron, and it sort of worked but it was way too time consuming and I would have been at it for several hours. I decided to just finish the gown then wet it without soap in the hand-wash cycle of my machine. The idea was that I would tumble it a little in the dryer afterward then hang it up to dry the rest of the way, and the creases would be gone. My husband had a few wool items that needed the same treatment, so we tossed them all in. When it came time to move everything over to the dryer, I had said "low heat" when I really meant "no heat", and my husband, not really thinking about it, did as I said and the items tumbled around for about 40 minutes on low heat in the dryer.
When I pulled them out, I was surprised that the items were dry, and I noticed immediately that the blue wool had felted somewhat. Eagerly, ignoring the signs, I tossed the dress on, and knew right away that it had been shrunk. I mean, really shrunk. I wanted to cry.
I have to thank my mom. Completely distraught, and feeling that I'd wasted all that time and energy, I did concede, at least, that it still fit (though snug). A few minutes later, mom declared that all was not lost, and she reminded me of the Taymouth Hours. Thinking on it a moment, I decided to go with that idea. A few minutes later, I'd made the mental conversion.
The interesting thing, though, was that despite it being just a hair too small, and much too short for what I wanted, it looked (and made me look) much better.
The shrunken length, with everything pushed about 6 inches higher toward the middle of the dress, did exactly what my fitting didn't. The looseness of the skirt now starts just under the tight rib cage, rather than several inches below it. The skirt isn't as full as it should be to match the Grande Chroniques example, but I did end up with an extremely loose and twirly skirt that loves to dance as I walk.
As we took photos, I told my husband that I felt playful in the gown (and happily started throwing snowballs at him). I also felt well supported, but I was concerned that I would pop a seam. I didn't, even as I crouched down for another handful of snow.
Having been felted, the blue wool is now plush and warm, much like the gold wool of my gold wool gown. I've joked that the gold gown is my garb "sweatshirt", but this one now definitely holds that honor. It's comfortable, and I feel great in it.
The back godet (two half godet, actually) did end up a bit too high visually, with the point now landing well above the small of my back. It is, however, perfectly placed for the better skirt fit. I'm not sure anybody but me will really care to notice that it's just a bit too high.
While I didn't open any seams, there were a few places where the seam was strained more than the running stitch really wanted to handle. A second line of running stitch within the open dashes of the first should do the trick.
The heat from the dryer also did damage small spots on the dress, resulting in areas that look slightly faded in the right light. There are two on the front of the skirt, and at least one more on the side. They are hard to actually register in person, so I'm not really concerned about them.
This project is what Bob Ross would call a "happy accident". By shrinking the whole thing, I ended up with a better fit, a better skirt, and a completely unexpected and extremely fun new item of garb. The seams are perfect, and I'm still patting myself on the back on the craftsmanship I put into the assembly. I'm in love with the way the seams flow into each other and along my height.