Sunday, February 23, 2014

Project Complete: Orange Linen Kirtle

A hand-sewn linen kirtle for use as a supportive under-layer.

I don't have any specific sources for a dress like this, but it's a pretty straight-forward example of the four-panel "Gothic fitted dress", with some notable differences. First, there is no lacing- it slides on over my head and I shift everything into place once it's on. Since I don't ever seem to unlace my kirtles anyway, this method gives me a consistently tighter fit without the work of putting in eyelets and making a lace.

As I was assembled the pieces, I decided that this dress would be exclusively a non-fashion underdress, except when I needed another lightweight dress for the hot months. As an underdress, the skirt isn't very full (which was just a consideration of how little fabric I had), and it really doesn't have any bells and whistles.

I've shared a good deal of the fitting and other details about this project in other posts. The primary purpose of this garment was to update my old orange linen dress, and to create it using only hand sewing. After some trial and error, I decided to use the "Elizabethan Seam" method. Each panel was finished used a double-fold hem and secured using running stitch in matching orange cotton thread. Then the panels were stitched together using overcast stitch in a grey heavy-duty cotton thread (the kind meant for jeans). I can't really explain the thought behind using the gray- I just liked it.

I finished the major sewing, and instantaneously made for myself the case for the bra-like undergarments springing up in the medieval recreation circles lately. Somewhere along the line, probably between the second fitting and yesterday, the shaping the orange linen dress was meant to perform stopping creating the correct curves. In other words, as a supportive dress, it got a solid C-. Sure, it pulled and firmed my squooshier bits, but gave me a horrible, irregular chest shape in the process.

So, after tossing it on a chair in another room for a few hours, I decided to try using a supportive dress that I know works great under the new supportive dress. My linen "short cotte", which was a godsend this past summer, is a calf-length, sleeveless fitted dress, with center front lacing. It is a single layer of 3.5 oz linen- perfect for layering under ever dress in my arsenal. Except that not having sleeves means I can't use it under short sleeved gowns, like my gold wool Grandes Chroniques gown. My short cotte is what I had come up with for standardizing the fit of my gowns, but it could have very easily been something more like the Lengberg bras or even the supportive "breast bags" with attached skirts that I've seen other costumers make. The point of the garment is to provide a singular shape regardless of the minor changes in your body. And now I can tell you- it works.

With my short cotte on, I tried the orange dress again, and voila! I had a perfectly acceptable kirtle that I no longer had reason to hate. Always makes for a good day.

Fit issues aside, I'm mostly happy with the finished result. I had some sleeve fitting issues, and the neckline is a bit wonky, but these are not major issues considering that, most of the time, it will be under another dress. The gores are placed a little lower than they ought to be, but as the dress rides up a smidgen as I move, it mostly corrects itself. This is one of the few dresses I have made that seems to benefit by having a belt on.

I'm extremely happy with the seams, both how well I did with sewing them and how they look in final form. The gray line adds an interesting touch, and in general, you don't really register the color until you're right next to me.

The Elizabeth seam isn't the easiest to employ for every seam. Sleeves were pretty tricky, since they have to be exact. There is to "fudging" the set-in fit when the panels are already finished.

The skirt is short, and as a multifunctional underdress that's certainly not a problem. It really makes me feel, though, that this dress is lower on my class scale than I've generally aimed for. Nothing that says it can't function well for those days when I'm performing the more strenuous household duties. though, and it's really well-suited to muddy and wet ground.

This dress definitely took longer than I intended to complete, but the hand sewing was fun and not as daunting as I expected. It sat around so long because everything else started taking precedence, not so much because I felt overwhelmed by it. Having a solution for the fit issues really saved this dress for me, and I'm convinced more than ever that standard undergarments, rather than "fit from scratch every time" dresses, might really be the better way to go in making fitted garb.

As always, check out the whole photo set on either Flickr or Facebook.

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