Sunday, March 24, 2013
With the speed advantage offered by the sewing machine, I always did as much sewing as I could in one sitting. This got the machine work out of the way quickly, leaving me with a fully assembled dress (minus sleeves) within about 2 hours total. My typical order of assembly for the machine has been to sew half gores to their corresponding panels, then sew the long seams between panels through the half gores to connect them, and finally sew the shoulders.
Then, with the dress together, I'd sit on the couch and finish the seams. Typically with a running stitch to make (again) quick work of the task. Then I'd create the sleeves, finish their seams, attach them, and if I was feeling spunky, finish the armhole seam.
Doing all the assembling by machine, which results in a functional dress, leaves only the finishing, which means that if my deadline is approaching, I don't have to worry about the dress not being wearable in time. Which I've always known was pretty lame. 'Cuz here's the thing: once I wear it once, I'm not going to work on it again unless there is a major problem (such as sleeve issues).
Doing this dress by hand, I certainly have the option of following my regular operating procedures. I could back stitch my way through assembly, and focus on finishing at the end, but this project is not about the quick result. This project is about what I've learned, and it's about showing myself that patience and craftsmanship trump instant gratification any day.
Right at the start of the assembly stage, as I was beginning to pin my half gores to my panels in my typical method, I took pause. I asked myself a question I had not asked since the first time I sewed a half gore to a tunic. I'm I doing this the best way?
Hand sewing a dress together means a change of perspective, which is a great opportunity to question my methods. My assembly order is perfectly fine for a "get it done quick" mentality. When finishing isn't the priority, sewing the dress together and dealing with the finishing later is acceptable. But when you earn each stitch, and focus on the skill of creating a garment with nothing but your hands (and needle and thread, obviously), leaving anything as an "I'll worry about that later" task is not even remotely acceptable.
So this time around, I'm taking it one section at a time. I began by sewing one set of half gores together with a back stitch. Then I finished that seam by hem stitching both sides of the seam allowance down. This created a very neat, obviously finished seam that I am very pleased with.
There is now no need to belabor the process by trying to line the half gores up for that perfect point at the top with the shoulder seam alignment also in the mix. So with the gore done, I sewed the back panels together down to the insertion point, then put the gore in. Since it's easier to insert gores by hand anyway, this was an extremely painless task! I did have two needles going for a bit, just so that I could sew a bit down both sides of the point and check it before sewing the entire length. That was actually kinda the fun part.
Next on the agenda is to finish that Y seam down the back with more hem stitch... earning this dress, one stitch at a time.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
|Original Rust Dress, brand new in April of 2009|
|My first "showing off" photo of the Original Rust Dress|
|A look at the unfinished interior of the Rust Dress|
|Original Rust Dress in March 2010, worn while 4 months pregnant with my twins|
|Unfinished eyelets and nicely-made finger-loop braid|
|The Modified Rust Dress in February 2011.|
|The last time I wore the Rust Dress, in March of 2011|
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|
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Whether you're using your lining as a pattern or not, at some point, you'll obviously need to lay the pattern out on your dress material. Over the years, I've tried out a number of layout methods with very mixed results. There are a lot of variables, including the width of the material, whether it is directional, if there is equal stretch both with and across the grain, and, of course, how many yards of it there are. There are also variables that come with the dress pieces themselves. How wide are your pieces? Do you want separate gores? How long do you want the skirt? What kind of sleeves do you want?
When I got to laying my lining pieces out on the orange 100% linen I planned to use, I came face to face with this topic. When I measured out the piece I had of the tabby-woven material, I discovered that I had barely 4 yards (143", to be exact) at only 55" wide. There is no give with the grain, while across the grain it is fairly elastic. This is pretty typical of most tabby-woven fabrics, which is why being 'on-grain' is such an important element of successful dress making. It is non-directional, since it is a solid color, and the finish is the same on both sides. For my larger frame, this piece just barely cuts it for a long sleeve kirtle. I don't normally order 4 yards of fabric less than 60" wide, but this piece came from somewhere else, and since it's such a lovely color, I don't want to pass it up. It will allow me to recreate this outfit fairly faithfully:
|Arsenal MS 5070 reserve, The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1432, fol. 164v.|
I like a piece 56" wide and 4.5 yards long. Pushing my panels to the corners, that leaves me plenty of room to get full gores at 35" wide, and plenty of room for regular long sleeves. I don't get long skirts this way, but I do have a bit of wiggle room, which is always nice to have. It also leaves me good pieces for finishing the sorts of random embroidery projects I do. Here's what that layout might look like:
If that 4.5 yard piece was 60" wide, by comparison, I'd have enough to create a fitted dress with sleeves that included a flap off the elbow (blocked out at 24"x36"), but I'd sacrifice some of the fullness in the skirt to do that, with gores at 30" wide, as well as any extra length in the skirt:
If, however, I had a 60" wide piece that was only 4 yards long, I could do simple sleeves with cuffs that drape over the hand, but I would loose fullness in my skirt (with gores at the minimum 28"), as well as any room to length it. I would, though, be able to get a tunic for my 1 year old out of the remaining pieces. The layout might look like this:
What if I had a piece with a 56" width, but with an ample 5 yards? I would have length to create long streamer sleeves that are typical of higher class fitted gowns in the early 15th century. That sort of yardage would also allow me to make a longer, fuller skirt, with gores 38" wide. It would certainly be an ideal amount. I'd lay it out like this, with panels at 64" long and gores at 44":
|BnF MS French 598, De claris mulieribus, by Giovanni Boccaccio, circa 1403, fol. 155v.|
But I don't have any of that. I have a pretty dinky piece of fabric 55" by not quite 4 yards long. Since I have to stuff my gores in between my panels, they can only be 22" wide- less than my ideal. I also don't really have the option of lengthening the skirt, so it will barely graze the floor. My sleeves won't have any extra room, so nothing fancy is possible there. I will be left, however, with some pieces that might be barely enough for something cute for my baby boy:
As you review these layouts, be aware that my proportions are considered to be both plus-sized and petite (in the US at least). If you are differently proportioned, your fabric needs will be different. You may be able to get all four of your panels out of a single row of 60" wide. Or if you're taller than 5'5" or don't have short legs, you might need more yardage, regardless of width.
Theses are also not definitive layouts. In the course of putting these together, I came up with several permutations, each resulting in a slightly different finished dress style. I suggest getting your "block" measurements figured out and creating little scale cut outs that you can move around on a scaled block that represents your material. I did all that on the computer, but you can do it old-school if you don't have software that will do the sort of thing. Play around with cutting full gores versus half gores, and see what happens when you put everything together as close as possible. I try to use the edges as much as possible, so my layouts tend to be symmetrical, but sometimes that isn't the best layout method. The ideas here are meant more to get a visual of the major differences that different fabric widths and yardages can have on your layout. What you ultimately do, obviously, can't be accounted for here.
When you're shopping for material, make sure you get swatches, at least until you're familiar with the nature of the fabric you can get from that particular seller. I like to get swatches for color, even if I'm familiar with the fabric itself. When you get your swatch, tug on it, hold it under lots of different lights, and look at both sides from all angles. All these elements will determine your layout restrictions. Get an idea of whether the fabric will act differently across the grain than along it. If not, and if it's at least as wide as the height of your panel block, snatch that fabric up a fast as you can! In my case it would need to be at least 60" wide, so with 30" wide gores, that layout might look like this on only 3.5 yards:
Buying enough fabric to get a beautifully sized dress can be costly. It's important to weigh your layout against the cost of the material so you can get the best value. If I'm particularly in love with a certain material, I like to have enough left over for the kids, but I also don't want to break the bank. If it costs too much to get enough for that extra piece of garb, I'd rather try to limit my waste.
Waste certainly isn't a problem I'll have with my puny piece of orange linen.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Dresses made with natural materials will always have the tendency to feel too small when you first put them on because the fibers are susceptible to expanding and contracting, just like most thing in the natural world. As our bodies warm up the cloth, the fibers will ease back into the shape you cut them in, and the dress will fit correctly again. I usually wear my fitted dress to the event, so that the fibers do their stretching while I'm en route.
Since I am not limber enough to fit my own dresses right now, my mom is my second pair of hands. We work as a team- I identify where problems might be occurring, and she makes the adjustments. It's important to work with a partner that understands at least a little bit about dress fitting- they don't have to be a sewer themselves, but they should be capable of seeing where pins should go to achieve the desired results. On very patient days, I can direct my husband, but the burden is on me to give him very precise directions. My mom has helped me with my fitted dresses right from the beginning, so she and I have learned the process together.
So, at the start of the fitting, here's how the lining looked:
Pretty bad, right?
I should point out that this time around, I laced the front from the top down to try to eliminate the bunching that happens with tight upward pulling in just under the bust. In the long run, I don't think it would have mattered one way or the other for the fitting, but it was worth trying.
I identified two major issues to address first. The front and back center seams were slightly off, resulting in odd twisting. The second was the complete lack of bust support. Since the misplaced seams are a major problem in terms of the foundational construction of the dress, this was the first thing to address.
Holding the front center where it should be, we discovered that the left side seam was the culprit. Once pins were in place to take away the offending slack, my seams looked much better.
Since the support on the top was gone, we had to work basically from scratch to correct it. Since my bust is so large, and gravity is always against me, the best option to regain the support was for me to lay down on my back. Once I was comfortable, I shifted my breasts up as high as I could so that we could achieve the greatest amount of lift.
Working from the point just under my bust down toward my waist, mom pulled the panels tight and pinned them into place. As she did this, she maintained a watchful eye on the front center seam, to make sure she was dealing only with the extra on the sides, not robbing the other side by pulling it toward her.
We focused on the first 4 inches below the breast to create a supportive band, similar to the support the lower portion of a bustier gives. After doing both sides, I had a much better shape.
At this point, I wasn't able to make any more decisions about what may or may not be wrong until I replaced the pins with a basting stitch. I was getting terribly poked for starters, but also, since the pins allow ripples to occur (since pins are straight, but the body isn't), I wasn't able to determine if the fit was even. So I took it off and marked the new positions of the side seams on all 4 panels.
This particular step is a pretty important one to pay attention to. You can see above that my new line and the existing line from my pattern are very different. That's about a 1" difference at the deepest point in the new curve. Added up on all four panels, about 4" were removed around my ribs. With heavy, malleable breasts like mine, that 4" were pretty much inviting gravity over for dinner then allowing it to hang out for an extended stay.
After taking everything apart, re-sewing along the new lines, and shifting the lacing strips in 1/8" on both sides, I had this:
Looking pretty good in the front, but there are still some problems. The gaping, of course, didn't get fully corrected. Then in the back, I still had some unflattering wrinkling:
It also looked as though my centered back seam was still off, but when I moved a bit, it seemed to correct itself.
It was the side view, however, that really caught my attention.
Do you care to take a guess as to how much of the dress had shifted upward, creating that deep crease between my bust and belly? Well, I didn't measure it, but the grain of the fabric kind of gives it away.
I decided to take a break to relax for a bit. The longer I fussed and looked in the mirror, the more strain I could feel in my back. Whether consciously or not, I was standing straighter and "sucking in" an unnatural amount. Without being relaxed and wearing the dress comfortably at this point, I couldn't ever really hope for an accurate fit.
Time got away from me, but I think it was about an hour. After a quick look in the mirror, and some playing around with the position around my belly, I decided to open the bottom of the seams up to where I thought the gores should be placed. I went much higher than I have in the past, and I discovered an interesting snag.
I'm shaped in such a way that without the dress "catching" on my waist (remember that line I pointed out in the first post?) it rides up something fierce. The looser fit at the waist, however, is much more flattering. I had to make a choice.
I decided to let the dress work itself into a position that felt comfortable, then, with my mom's assistance, we made an adjustment to the support of the bust by pulling the front upward into the shoulder. This took about 1.25" off of the front at the shoulders, and pretty much brought the linen to it's maximum strain. Any more and the grain would have started to warp away from the points of most stress.
Lifting the bust slightly in this manner was a very minor adjustment, but the difference it made is important to the long-term-wear look of the dress. Since I know I'll have the tendency to pull the dress down as I wear it, I'm willing to accept the bunching that happens under the bust as the dress shifts around my curves. Having to make the choice between dealing with the bunch and losing some of the more flattering shape around my waist, I feel better about the bunching.
So here's the final fit as a comparison the to original fit, before adjustments.
|BEFORE | AFTER|
I think what's wonderfully surprising to see in the photo is the minimizing that occurred through the re-fit. I realize that there is still gaping right at the widest point on my bust. In that area, I will adjust the front center seam to have a very slight curve to compensate. I haven't been doing curved front seams, but everything we tried, while keeping it straight, was not correcting that gap. At this particular point, with my body being what it is, introducing a curve is really the best option I see.
|BEFORE | AFTER|
I think that the side shot is a great comparison. The shape of my breast has completely changed. This indicates that, not only do I have a good amount of lift, but I also have a lot of shaping. The subtle definition between the curve of my bust and the curve of my belly is enough to shift the look from dumpy to feminine, even if still plus-sized.
|BEFORE | AFTER|
I know the back looks like that seam is curved, but that's just the way the seam allowance makes it look. It is a little off-center, though. The back fit is not perfect, but I'm not going to kid myself into believing that the fat rolls are a side effect of the fitting. They really are there. They do, however, look much smoother. We did not alter the back seam, and it's possible that the curve needs some minor adjustments, but I'm really happy with the way the rest of it looks, so I'm trepidatious to make any additional changes here. The look can also change a bit when it's the finished dress and two layers of linen are working together to give me the correct shape.
Alright. So what's next? Now I'll trim off the extra seam allowances, and finish the skirt by adding panels and gores. I'll adjust that center front seam, then I'll do one last fit check. If everything looks good, I'll take the panels apart and use them as the pattern pieces on the orange linen I have waiting. I won't be doing anything with the armscye and neckline until much later in the dress making process.
And good news- I believe we are now past the embarrassing photos part!
Friday, March 8, 2013
|From BL MS Harley 4431, The Queen's Book, Christine de Pizan, 1410-1414.|
Medieval women probably didn't have a metabolic advantage to good health across the board, but if the surviving imagery is any indication, there certainly wasn't an obesity crisis in 1420 France.
Sway back posture, round abdomen, high small breasts, small waist, long, lean arms and neck, narrow build. These are the features of the ideal female body as depicted in early 15th century manuscripts. There were real women out there that looked at least somewhat like this, and every other woman did her best to look as close to it as possible. Not much has changed on that front, really. Not everyone was successful, and a few examples from the era give us some clues as to what non-ideally framed women may have looked like.
|From BnF MS Latin 7907 A, The Comedies of Terence, Publius Terentius, circa 1400-1407.|
As a large woman, it is encouraging to find these images. While they are most definitely not intended to be complimentary in the context of the medieval manuscript (nor are they particularly offensive), they do offer a great point of reference. Their size -the fullness of their breast and bellies and their number of chins- is not an obstacle to their attempts at wearing the newest fashions appropriate to their rank.
Sophrona wears a pretty fashionable outfit for the time (sometime around 1405). Her winged hood indicates that she is aware and on top of civilian fashion trends, since that particular style of hood came into use right at the turn of the century. Her dress is obviously a fitted gown, showing her curves and tight on her arms. Her belt indicates her class- peasant women wore belts to facilitate hiking their skirts up when needed. She is also wearing layers- a pale green skirt is seen where she's lifted the outer skirt.
Lesbia, at a lower rank than Sophrona, wears a veil in a fashion more typical of the 14th century. Her dress, however, is still fitted. You can see that the fabric around her torso is not very tight, but that is also appropriate to her station and occupation.
These women are not rejects of fashion. They are not wearing "plus-size" costumes because they do not fit within the perimeters of the ideal or norm. So neither should the modern plus-size woman doing medieval recreation!
I think the depiction of Sophrona is a great plus-size ideal for recreating the medieval silhouette. Her bust, is supported, but not gravity defying. Her trunk is defined as best it can be as a narrowing just under her bust. The roundness of her belly (perhaps the only portion of her body even close to the ideal) is highlighted in a flattering manner (though it is hard to tell just were the flaring of the skirt starts because of her belt). If you'd like to see what this silhouette looks like on a recreation, I urge you to look at this photo.
Going into my fitting, Sophrona is my muse. She may not be the ideal, but her shape is still lovely, and more importantly, attainable.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
My wool dresses have performed admirably through the fall and winter (even though my pink wool cote is currently missing the left sleeve). At the last event, held indoors, my charcoal grey kirtle and gold Grandes Chroniques dress (and linen chemise under everything) was just right and extremely comfortable. Heading into spring, however, all those layers will cease to be comfortable. I've got a mini-store of linen, so I'd like to use some of those up by adding some linen layers to my garb mix.
I recently purchased 2 yards of 8oz. white linen, thinking that I could use it for a bag. It's not actually ideal for that use, but I'd like to find out how the heavier weight would would work for the lining of the supportive layer. I don't have enough to do the full lining, so I'll have to supplement a different weight for the skirt and sleeves.
Now, the photos that follow are a bit embarrassing, and I know Google Image Search will make a fool of me, but I really felt it important to share with you more details of my process. In the past, I've given you the basic overview of how I do my fitted dresses, but here's a bit more about the part where I fit the lining.
My pattern consists of four panels of muslin generated from the pattern fitting I did last year. Since dress fitting isn't an exact science, each time I use the muslin pattern to create a new dress, I have to go through a secondary fitting. This corrects any errors that may be on my pattern, and accounts for my current size, whether I've gained or lost a few pounds. Unless my body shape has dramatically changed, there is enough in the pattern to work with.
Fitted dresses made from natural materials are highly forgiving. A recent health issue caused me to gain a lot of weight last year, but both my wool dresses still fit comfortably enough. By allowing the lacing to be slightly eased in the areas of most stess, I don't feel too constrained. I was able to wear previous front-laced dresses through my pregnancies with no changes, simply by easing the lacing or allowing the skirt to hike up over my hips a bit.
I commit the pattern to my lining material to do the secondary fitting. The lining then becomes the current pattern for the outer material once I'm done with this stage. By doing it this way, I'm eliminating the need to do any fitting once the dress is actually put together (unless, of course, if I come across an error I'd made.) using the lining in this way also gives me a chance to stretch it to get a better long-term-wear fitting. Linen stretches as it warms up, so if I skip this part of the process, I could potentially end up with a dress that is too loose and no longer flatteringly fitted by the end of a long event.
I cut the heavy linen and sewed it together. Because I'm limited on how much I linen I had, the pieces are only hip-length. If I was doing a full lining with a single fabric, which is more typical, I would cut the full- length skirt at this point, but not the gores. In this case, I will attach the additional length of my skirt and the gores later in the process.
After sewing the back and side seams together, I attached my trusty lacing strips. I fold the extra seam allowance on the center front under to keep it out of the way. Once that's in place, and I've got my lace, I put it on. Please don't laugh.
Okay. A few things first.
- I'm wearing a non-underwire bra. I've tried the no bra thing, and it's just not comfortable for me. I have been thinking about trying something inspired by the Lengberg bra, but not this time around.
- The seam allowance is on the outside to make it easier to do the fitting.
- The armscye and neckline have not been fitted/adjusted yet. They are straight from the pattern to give me enough to work with for the style I have in mind for any given dress.
- It was late, I was tired, so I'm looking a bit squinty as a result.
Let's have a moment of reality, shall we? I'm sure you can tell that I have a few physical issues that I need to overcome to create a more medieval sillouette. I know that these issues can be somewhat handled gracefully, if not perfectly. In particular, I can't do too much about my narrow shoulders, but the fitting of this rough-cut lining will help with the shape and position of my breasts, and the poochiness of my belly. I must note that the vertical line at my waist is my actual waist, and not a tight cutting in of the linen. For some really strange reason, I gain weight above and below my waistline, resulting in this slightly skinnier band. Always- it never goes away.
This is the first time I've actually been serious about taking pictures at this point in the fitting process, but I'm really sorry I hadn't been doing it prior to this. Not because I'm totally thrilled with sharing them with you, but because they show me the areas that need the most work. I think I might do that from now on, just to give me the visual that a mirror isn't able to. (Until I learn how to spin my head completely around, that is!)
The way that the lining fits across the back is particularly incorrect. While someone of my size can expect to get at least a small amount of wrinkling around the torso regardless of how much fiddling with the fit, the way in which it so precisely highlights the spare tires I keep on my back is not at all flattering. This is where my recent weight gain is really apparent on this pattern. Counter-intuitively, the way to deal with this type of issue is to introduce more ease in the back. There are a few ways to go about it, but it will all depend on where the lining needs adjustments overall.
I'll wear the lining around the house for several hours. I usually put a cardigan on, just so it's not so weird, but everyone in my house is pretty much used to this sort of thing, so it's not really awkward for me. I'll go about my daily business, picking up kids, kicking back on the couch, doing laundry, etc. in order to generate heat and get the linen to stretch. At the end of this, I expect the lining to not really having much fitting anymore. Different fabrics get through this processes in different ways. The green linen I used on my charcoal gray kirtle was a light-weight linen that was very sensitive to wrinkling, but did not stretch too dramatically. The natural-colored, medium-weight linen on my pink cote, however, stretched considerably.
Here's a before & after of how the 8oz. linen lining looked after about 3 hours of wearing:
|BEFORE | AFTER|
|BEFORE | AFTER|
|BEFORE | AFTER|
|BEFORE | AFTER|
At first glance, there isn't an overwhelming difference, so the heavy-weight linen doesn't inherently have a lot of stretch. There's still a lot of correcting to do here, though. The bust support has completely disappeared, and since my bust is no longer even close to the right place, the front lacing is now gaping. The shoulders have loosened, as well as the waist.
At this point, I would normally go straight into correcting the fit. As my regular assistant (hi mom!) is battling a cold right now, I'll need to put it aside for now. In my next post, though, I'll continue showing you this behind-scenes look at my dress fitting process.