Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Progress: Navy Wool Middle Layer

It occurred to me while working on the navy wool dress that it might be a good idea to focus today's post on how I make my dresses these days. I've fallen into some routines and habits that I tend to overlook or gloss over when I share here, since, in my mind at least, it would start to sound like a broken record to outline the steps I take each and every time. I do my best to share when I've done something different (like the symmetrical patterning on the ginger linen dress), but it's those minute steps that I go through that I sort of stopped detailing.

Even before developing the symmetrical pattern on the last dress, I've relied on a standard base pattern to get me started for a while now. So the first step is to determine if I'd like to create a dress with or without a center front seam and to make adjustments to the pattern accordingly. For dresses that will be worn as outer layers (the fashion layers), I prefer to not have a seam. It's a personal visual preference, but it's also what my research has shown to be accurate for early 15th century Franco-Flemish middle class fitted gowns.

Layout is incredibly simplified with the symmetrical pattern, but even with four distinct panels, I prefer to get as much of the material laid out as I can at one time. The best place to do that now is on the living room floor. I use chalk to outline my panels, and a combination of tape measure and yard stick to draw out the remainder of the panels and the gores. (My pattern pieces only go to my hips.) I like to chalk everything out before I cut, just to make sure.

With the symmetrical patterns, I can cut my panels from the folded material.
The left-hand panel is the front, placed on the fold.
I use a sewing gauge, the kind with the little slider, to help me mark out uniform seam allowances all the way around. I don't do that on gores, though- they are what they are when I figure out how large I can make them on the material. I do nothing with the sleeves at this point- the remaining material just gets folded up and put aside until I'm ready for it again.

After getting everything cut out, I start by sewing together any half gores I may have ended up with (usually at least one pair). I sew it and finish it. That way all four gores are full triangles and can all be treated the same way. If I only end up with one gore with a center seam (like I did on the navy dress), I put that in the center back. Not sure why, but I just feel like that makes sense visually.

Before I worry about putting gores in, though, I stitch the panels together and give it a try. If it's an outer gown, I wear it over a dress I intend to wear under it. This gives me a chance to see if I need to make any adjustments to the fit before moving on. I didn't need to make any changes on the navy dress, but I did when I made the ginger linen dress. So far I have always needed to do that on my under dresses. I've spoken before about wearing the dress around the house like that for several hours to allow the linen to stretch before I correct the fitting.

Midway through wearing the ginger dress around the house.
I usually wear leggings and a cardigan to make it a little less weird.
After resewing any necessary adjustments, I then insert the gores. If I'm hand sewing, I hand sew the gores in too. For the navy dress, I'm using the machine for the construction seams, so I used the machine for the gores. When there is no center front seam, the front gore goes into a slit. That can be a bit tricky, and it's taken me a while to get comfortable with how that works and how to do it. I started with this clear tutorial from La Cotte Simple. The principle is the same whether you're hand sewing or machine sewing.

With the gores in, I have the choice to continue on with finishing the seams on the dress body before creating the sleeves, or going right in to the sleeves. From my new drafting method, I have a pattern that I feel really confident with, so all I needed to do was adjust the sleeve holes to match the sleeve head length.

I'd made some marks when I wore it, then used those as guides along with measurements
from the sleeve pattern to find the right curve.
At this point, I've cut the sleeves out and they are waiting to be sewn together. I'll baste them in and try the dress on again to make sure everything's working out right. That will be my last chance to make any adjustments before I move into the finishing blitz.

For the navy dress, I'm using flat felling as the seam du jour. It creates a strong, good-looking seam, and goes pretty fast. I have the option of using running stitch or an overcast or hem stitch to tack it down. I prefer overcast but if I'm short on time, running is the way to go. Since I've got time, I'm using overcast on this dress.

That one in the middle is kind of a runt, isn't it. I'll replace it with one that's the right size.
Just like I do on half gores, I finish the sleeves before sewing them in for real. In this case, I'll be leaving the lower arm open for the last 3" and doing buttons/buttonholes. I've already made the buttons, using my method outlined here. There will be three on each arm. This should be just enough for me to get the sleeves rolled up when I'd like to wear it as a middle class outer layer.

Before I sew the sleeves on, I will finish the shoulder seams and at least the top portion of the side seams. That way I can sew the sleeves into place without having to fuss with getting those seams finished later on. Once the sleeves are in place, I'll finished the rest of the seams.

At the very end of the process, I put the dress on and have someone mark my hem with some chalk. Then it's just hemming and finishing the neckline. I'll share those details when I show you the final dress.

BTW, I also notice in these photos that the blue is all over the place. The buttons are the closest to the real thing.


  1. It's wonderful to see someone w my body shape/size make beautiful dresses. It encourages me, immensely. Thank you.

    1. You are incredibly welcome! And thank you- It's been my goal to show larger women that they don't have to shy away from doing things just because they are plus size, so this is an awesome compliment.

  2. Do you have trouble w bulk art the sleeve head when wearing multiple dresses? Is yr chemise long sleeved, as well?

    1. I do not have trouble, but I have also opted for a sleeveless bottom layer (it's not a chemise, though- it's a very light-weight fitted dress.) When I layer my dresses I actually feel the bulk in my torso, more than on my arms/shoulders, most likely because that is the area where each of the dresses are the tightest.

  3. Dear Madame, I live in NE Nevada, in mundane life & am homebound, currently. I've only made 1 pre Civil War dress that I can't wear as to size, right now, it's in pieces, & a chemise, A-S Tunic in linen & a woolen coat, needs to have edging & embroidery.
    I'm thinking of using next Winter to do some fancy work on my coat...
    I need to make a paper tape fitting double so I don't have to work from life for every step, as I have heart failure & arthritis & cfids &, to yup it off, my bone marrow is wonky.
    I really really want to attend a Feast in a Shire about 5 hrs away & want something beautiful to wear.
    Would it be possible for me to speak with you for encouragement & help? If so, I'll send my phone by messenger or email, if you prefer.
    Thank you. Jennifer Hill/Gwen verch Rhys

    1. Gwen,
      I would be more than happy to offer encouragement and any advice or knowledge I can! There are a couple ways you can reach me. You can send me a message through my contact form ( to communicate via email, or you can head over to Facebook and send me a message through my page there ( Either way works for me! And thank you for reaching out :)