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?


  1. I am always trying to improve my fit, to get the best flat-fronted fitted gown I possibly can. Right now, I'm taking up a bunch of my gowns that came out...on the bigger end of fitted.

    1. An awesomely-fitted flat-fronted dress is my Holy Grail. Good luck!

  2. Liezel CastlemanApril 7, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    I am new to your blog and I am really enjoying it. Love the research going into the projects!

  3. Never thought of doing up a toile and then wearing it around the house. Hope you do not mind me stealing the idea.

  4. Just seeing this now for some reason -- I'm glad my little shelf-creation trick is assisting!