Sunday, April 19, 2015

Disaster Area

Keepin' it real.
After a full on "making blitz" over the past three months, my craft room is a mess. Scraps of dresses are strewn about the floor, and a bazillion embroidery bits and pieces are scattered across my desk. Add into that several mundane projects, a dash of crafting ADD, and voila- disaster area. So instead of doing a blog post for you today, I'm going to hole myself up with coffee and a trashcan, and see if I can straighten this mess out.

After all, that is what Spring is for, right?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Project Complete: Green Linen Summer Cotte

A lined linen supportive dress in an early 15th century style for summer. 
This dress was also created to fulfill a "pinkie promise" challenge given to me by a friend. The challenge was to wear a new outfit to the next event we both attended. Due to some weirdness in schedules, we agreed to some compromises along the way, specifically that not every item needed to be brand spankin' new. I fulfilled the challenge by wearing this dress with my recently finished red wool hood (which I'd only previously worn for a few hours one evening at Gulf Wars and a few minutes at Silver Ceilidh.) I had intended to also wear my ginger linen cotte, but as I'll explain below, that would not have worked. While the purpose of our pinkie swear went through some transitions as we accounted for some things we couldn't control, I'm more satisfied with the intent of the challenge, and what it pushed me to create. I made 3 new items that I'm incredibly happy with while this challenge was going on.

From Bible Historial, BnF Fran├žais 10, fol. 318.
I'm going to call this one a "modern adaptation" of a common early 15th century style. While I can certainly find images of dresses similar in cut & color to source the visual result of my version (see one example above), the truth is that my dress is more costume than recreation. The currently-accepted belief among researchers and medieval recreators professionally studying this time is that early 15th century fashion was achieve through layering, and that a bare minimum of 2 layers would have been worn by most people, most of the time. One of these layers would have been a "body linen"- a shirt, chemise, smock (there are other terms, depending on where you're looking geographically)- that was worn directly against the skin. The other layer would have been the "fashion layer"- a cotte or kirtle on women or a combination of cotte and hose on men- and would have been most often made of wool. The level to which the garment was actually considered "fashionable" was directly correlated to class. This dress is none of that.

This dress combines the body linen layer and the fashion layer into a single dress. A lining isn't really a surrogate for the protective qualities of a smock, but it does provide opacity to the dress, and will, in its own way, protect the outer layer at the very least from grime. The outer layer isn't wool, however. The choice of linen here is a comprise based on the heat and humidity I will wear it in through the summer. While 90 degrees isn't comfortable in general, it would be more comfortable in linen than it would in wool. I'll grant that tropical weight wools are certainly an option for this, but that's not what I chose to do.

Other than these rather important points, however, this dress is stylistically in line with French fashion from the first quarter of the 15th century. In reality, this and my blue linen day dress are essentially the same thing. This one, though, supports on its own, while the blue dress requires a supportive layer underneath.

The major difference between this dress and others I've recently created is the change to the underbust fit described in my previous post. After getting the fit correct and assembling the four main panels, I added the gores, and hemmed the skirt. 
In order to have the dress ready to wear this weekend, I made the conscious decision to not finish any seams I didn't need to. That'll still need to happen, however, to ensure the dress lasts. 
I made a very slight adjustment to the armhole, primarily to remove width on the shoulder. I like to use a sleeve curve tool for this, especially since I'm still working symmetrically, because I can measure these adjustments to ensure they match on both sides. 

I used my sleeve drafting method to create the sleeve pattern. My measurements dictated a .5" high sleeve head, which was insane, but worked very well. I did find, however, that I needed just a bit more height at the top of my shoulder, so I made that adjustment when I transferred the pattern to my linen. (The sleeve is not lined, btw.) Worked perfectly.

It actually worked so well, and I had such a great fit in the forearm, I changed my mind about creating a 3/4 sleeve. I just couldn't justify cutting off such a good fit. I also would have had to figure out how to get a sleeve layer in the summer, since the dress was specifically created for wearing on its own. The sleeve is fully closed, which is supported by early 15th century imagery, which makes wearing a dress with buttons, like my ginger linen cotte, pretty pointless visually.

A new finishing technique I've been trying my hand at is using a strip of cloth to bind the hem. This time, I decided I wanted to use bias tape for that rather than the straight-cut strips I'd been using. I dug around, and located a really fun green and white gingham tape. I liked the quirkiness of that, so that's what I went with.

Despite the fact that I can't say this dress pushed me any length down my road to greater authenticity, it did push me further down my journey to create a better fit. Normally during an event, I find that I need to adjust my bust in one way or another on average 20 times. This includes grabbing and hoisting them back up when they start to slip south, or adjusting the arrangement of the tops because they start to spill out or get lopsided. Once I had this dress on and everything in place, I never made an adjustment. Not a single one. Nothing moved. Nothing shifted. 

It was amazing.

There are, however, still some things I'll need to troubleshoot on the next dress. I don't perceive an issue while I'm wearing it, but in the photos, I'm not in love with the amount of pulling and wrinkling around the armhole/shoulder. I think that some armscye adjustments were needed there that I missed, and the shoulder seam probably needed some adjustments. 
I do like the way the back turned out. One of my most flattering results, given that there's challenges inherent in my physiology that mere cloth might never truly overcome.

I also made a goof that I decided to just roll with. I had white thread in my machine and didn't think to change it out for green or even black. When I realized that, I just decided to keep going. So you can see the whiteness on the stretched seams. When the seams are finished, this shouldn't be as noticeable, but even if it is, oh well. I'll just try to not be so eager to start sewing next time.

I'm insanely satisfied with this dress. If there were no successes other than the underbust fit, I'd still be satisfied with it. I hope you can understand how not needing to worry about my bust, and not having any reason to fiddle with it, is a huge thing for a woman my size. Of course this now means that the bar has been raised on fit, and all my other dresses fall short. 
I'm looking forward to putting this dress through its paces over the summer. I really like the freshness of the color, and I think the weight is perfect. It will be interesting to see if I still like it in September.

I still owe you a full photo shoot on this one. The photos presented here were the best in the bunch. I didn't have time or sunlight on my side. I'll let you know when more photos are available!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

In Progress: Green Linen Summer Cotte

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou

Underbust fit is my current challenge. To put it plainly, my boobs have been slipping, and there's really not much more in my eye that can ruin the look of a fitted dress than boobs that are in the wrong place. I've been successful with bust support, and found a system that's mostly worked for me for about 2 years now. Essentially, I use a combination of a laced supportive layer (my linen "short cotte"), and a second supportive layer without lacing (my ginger linen dress being the newest example) to keep my bust in place. I have had other dresses, my red rose linen dress being the best example, that are quite supportive on their own without the short cotte, and is the type of dress- a lined linen dress that won't require additional layers- that I decided after Gulf Wars I needed more of.

But "mostly worked" means there's room for that elusive "better". So when I started to think through my next dress, I decided to give myself the option of doing better by going back out to the Internet and looking for new information on making 15th Century fitted dresses. We get into the habit of finding techniques or tools that work for us, and it's really easy to forget to keep looking. We stick with what we know, and in many cases that may be preventing us from knowing better. So I went looking for something, anything, that might help me see where my process could change.

I was on Tasha Kelly's La Cotte Simple website initially for other reasons, but decided to read through her articles and blog. I'm quite familiar with her older information of dress fitting as it was actually the first bit of information I'd found about drape-style fitted dress patterning, so when I came to her blog post on the anatomy of 14th century bust support, I paid close attention.

I have a "gourd" type body. Two round shapes connected by a short "neck". The neck is my underbust. My round belly is genetic, thanks to Grandma S., so I don't really have any hopes of ever seeing a svelte trunk. This is one of my dress fitting challenges, and I've talked a bit about how I deal with that here. As I read through Tasha's article, I realized that I'd settled for a looser, eased fit between my two round bits, but that I wasn't doing myself any favors. My reason for being conservative with the fit was to avoid looking like I was being squeezed too tightly in the middle. This easing also helps the skirt from riding up into that crease. If the trunk is too tight, it only has one way to go- right into the underbust. The problem, of course, is that even the slightest amount of "too much" ease will be exploited, and my boobs (which do not like to defy gravity) will work their way into it.

I was intrigued by Tasha's bust support trick- the tight corner that separated the bust curve from the belly curve. The trick, though, was to figure out how to accommodate both the tight "negative ease" she recommended and the "positive ease" my belly demanded.

This is my current symmetrical pattern, which I'm really happy with as a starting pattern.
When I looked at my pattern (which I only use as a base, anyway- I always adjust the fit in the construction process), I saw a complete lack of this type of negative ease fitting. My lines are smoothly curved all around. So I decided to at least try to create a sharp fit just under the bust to create a shelf of support that could not be so easily exploited by gravity, but still account for the sudden curve of my belly. I knew going in, my pattern wasn't going to look like Tasha's, but it still had to be better than what I'd started with.

For the sake of a visual, I'm going to share my progress photos a bit out of order. I started with fitting the lining of the new dress, and here's the resulting lining pieces laid down to cut the green linen out:

The underbust corner is a bit hard to see on the side seam at this angle, but the extreme curve on the far right is the front center seam. (You'll have to just imagine the line coming off that curve at the base moving into the gore that's not there.) It's weird, but it fits. And it's comfortable, which is really important. As I wore it, the belly did ride up some, but not more than any of my other dresses always do. I don't want to say that's just going to be a fact of life, because there might be a solution out there, but for now, that's not an issue I'm going to tackle. Here's a quick self-timer shot to show what it looks like so far.

So, backtracking, I started this dress by cutting the four panels out of the cream-colored linen according to my pattern, sewed them together, then wore the lining around the house. I sort of forgot that I was wearing something weird, so I ended up wearing it for about 5 hours. With the linen good and stretched, I made the fitting adjustment you see above, then wore it for another 3 hours.

My pattern is not set for the neckline or the armholes, so wearing the lining usually gives me a good idea of where I believe I should adjust those. In this case, the curve of the armhole will need to be adjusted on the backs before I move on to patterning the sleeves. I know that because that's a "pinch point"- a spot where the strain or bunching of the fabric feels uncomfortable on my body.

I also decided to employ stay stitching to the neck and arm holes. In the past, when I've lined a dress, these two points have been a source of frustration as the two layers like to move and warp in different ways, making it difficult to line everything back up again to finish the hem or add the sleeves. They also like to stretch out of line. By applying the stitching, not only have I married the two layers together where they belong as I work on the rest of the dress, I prevent them from stretching and warping  in shape while they are awaiting their turn.

As soon as I get this post published, I'll finish sewing the gores into place (I'm using a machine for construction on this one), then the seam finishing can begin. Those will be flat felled using a bright yellow-chartreuse thread I had in my stash. Because why not? Plus you can barely tell.

I need this dress for the event next weekend to complete my "pinkie promise" challenge. The original event we planned for had been canceled due to the weather, and the outfit I'd created has now been worn, but my friend was not in attendance. (Don't worry- we talking through everything, and agreed on the new deadline, with new outfits, together.) We agreed that one or two older pieces could be reused, so I'll be using my ginger linen as an underdress to this new green dress, since it's still pretty new. It will be interesting to have my outer dress fitted better than what should have been my supportive layer underneath.

What about you guys? What are you trying to be better with your garb-making these days?