Friday, February 20, 2015

Another Birthday Dress!

Well, now I am officially out of my teenage years! And what better way to ring in a new decade than celebrating in Colonial Williamsburg in a brand new dress?

This dress used the exact same pattern as the red dress from last year, and I even wore the cream petticoat under my new blue one. I sewed it in around seven hours total for both the gown and petticoat. I had originally been intending to sew a set of stays to match, but unfortunately taking three history classes means lots of extra reading and writing homework! So, the good news is that there will be a new post soon about my stays! Anyway, here is the dress, paired with last year's red cape, as well as some gray mitts my best friend crocheted for me.

Behind the Governor's Palace

Pretending to be a southern belle (the Public Hospital looks like a plantation from this angle)

Getting to hear Lafayette speak and talking with him afterwards was definitely a high point of my birthday!

We also visited some of my favorite trades, like the Weaver's Shop!

Behind the Wythe House

19 Years Old and a Birthday Dress

For the first time in my life, I will be celebrating a birthday away from home. Luckily, I'll be celebrating it in Colonial Williamsburg.

I've wanted a new dress for a while now (let's be honest, I always want a new dress), and I've had my eye on the polonaise gown pattern from Mill Farm Patterns. Right before Christmas break, I bought it from Colonial Williamsburg, and decided to use the fabric that I had bought over Thanksgiving to make the dress. There were only four pattern pieces, but it still seemed really daunting - the instructions didn't seem too clear when I initially read them, and I was really nervous about not having enough fabric. I measured out the fabric I had bought, and discovered that I only had enough for the skirt. While this seemed awful, I now realize it was a blessing. My biggest complaint about my green gown is that it is too busy with a big pattern too close to my face. Had I made the entire dress out of this fabric, this one would have turned out the same. However, I remembered that I had bought a few yards of red cotton when it was on sale a while ago, and was thrilled to discover that I had more than enough to make a bodice. It matched the other fabric really well, and so all systems were go.

I started out sewing the lining, prepared to go through the horror that is resizing a pattern. However, it fit perfectly! The woman who sold me the pattern told me to go up a size, because everyone said that gave them the perfect fit, and it was definitely true in my case!

After sewing the lining, I sewed the bodice and added the boning to the lining. I guess I'm getting pretty good at working with boning, because I was able to cut, round off, and sew in all twelve pieces in an hour. I used plastic boning in a fabric casing for this, same as I did for my corset. I have found this to be the least expensive and most readily available type of boning, so while it's not 100% accurate, it is affordable and works very well!

I sewed the sleeves to the bodice after that, and I'm confident that the left sleeve is the best example of my hand-stitching in existence.

I ended the day by sewing the skirt, and getting to make a ton of pleats. For me, there is just something so lovely about seeing a row of pleats, and it's also very calming for me to sew pleats.

The next day, I was ready to make the petticoat and the hip pads. I initially contemplated using the rest of the red cotton for the petticoat, but I knew it wouldn't be that full if I did, and I also wanted something lighter. Luckily, I had purchased a lot of this gorgeous white embroidered fabric at 90% off during the summer, and so I quickly made a petticoat with a placket on each side out of that.

Finally, I made the hip pads. The tutorial that came with the gown pattern was very helpful, and they add just the right amount of lift to the skirts on the side.

I am extremely proud of this dress, and I can't wait to wear it in Colonial Williamsburg on my birthday! (My birthday falls on a Friday this year, and my classes end at eleven, so I'll have plenty of time to enjoy CW!) For anyone considering sewing a colonial gown, this is the dress for you! The pattern is wonderful, the dress turns out well, it's pretty simple, and it was one of the most enjoyable things that I have ever sewn. Happy stitching! :)

*"But Stacy!" you cry, "How do I make the dress stay closed??" I didn't include the answer in the main part of this post, because there isn't one easy answer. The pattern suggests using hooks and eyes. I initially sewed on hooks, and then tried to use thread for the eyes, just as can be seen in many period garments. However, I didn't like the way it looked when I was wearing it. So, I switched to metal eyes, and things got a bit better. I talked to an extremely nice woman at the Wythe House, and she said that I am not the only one to have this sort of problem, so that was reassuring. As many know, straight pins are also a common method of fastening historical clothing. However, after one memorable day in which I started the morning with a straight pin falling down my stays and ended up losing three pins by the evening, I have not been thrilled with having to use pins in order to keep my clothes on. I am still searching for a better (historical) method, and I will let you know if I find one!

A Big Undertaking... A Whole New Dress!

For those of you who don't know, I am completely enamored with Colonial Williamsburg. I am going to be attending William & Mary in order to live there, and I really want to work there some day. So, when I heard that Under the Redcoat (a reenactment of the British occupation of Williamsburg) was going to be happening again this summer, I started begging my parents to take me. And they said yes! Initially they said no a lot, but when we went out to dinner with our family friends (they're pretty much my second set of parents), they surprised me with the trip! Since I just finished my panniers and my pocket, I needed a dress that I could wear them with, and I needed one that was properly period... The only thing to do was to get sewing! So, with fifteen days until we leave, I started sewing a new dress.

I'm going to be recreating a dress from the book Fitting and Proper, which my Mom got me two years ago as a present. It's the same book that my mitts were modeled from, so I had to enlarge the pattern, and then fit it to myself. I took a bunch of measurements, and then started drawing on big paper that had come in shipping boxes at one point. I tested my patterns out with the lining first, and then I started sewing!

The biggest challenge for me with the dress was not knowing the order in which to do things... I've become so used to working with a pattern that not being told exactly what to do (no matter how often I might ignore those instructions) seemed really nerve-wracking for me. My biggest struggle was figuring out when and how to attach the lining... I wasn't sure the right time to do it, or what seams on the skirt should still be showing when I was done. So, because I was confused, running out of time, and the lining had become bulky with the seams and darts I had sewn to figure out the size, I decided to forgo lining the dress - I know, that's not a good decision. However, I intend to line it some day, and for this weekend I'm sure I won't miss the extra layer! (side-note after the fact: I did not miss the lining; in fact, the dress was the perfect weigh! It kept the sun off but was still breathable.)

I'm not entirely sure that I'll ever try to sew a dress this way again, I don't like what I decided to do with the skirt, although I am looking forward to sewing another gown in the same style, just using a different technique.

I ended up finishing the gown at 2 AM, in a hotel room in Williamsburg, with lots of help from my mom and support from my dad, on the day that I was going to wear it - better late than never!

I did discover that one of the shoulder/sleeve junctures was simply too big, so I pinned it with a big safety pin on the inside to keep it from falling off of my shoulder. The only other issue was that the plackets sometimes shifted away from my pocket and hoops a bit, but that was easily fixed with two more hidden safety pins.

Under the Redcoat ended up being one of the coolest events I've ever been to! There were more reenactors than there were tourists, and everyone was really into it. There was a blockade set up on DoG street right before the Magazine, and in order to get through you needed to have the proper papers to show. The first time I tried to go through I explained that I needed my papers, and was escorted to the guardhouse where I was made to swear my loyalty to King George III and then presented with my papers. I assumed that I would be able to use those same papers again the next day... I was wrong.

When I tried to get through the barricade the next day, using the previous day's papers, the soldiers were NOT happy. Even though I told them that it was an honest mistake, I was taken at bayonet point to the guardhouse, and held for awhile while they searched a few other rebels. Two girls had had their hands tied, and made a run for it, and once they were captured it was discovered that the man in front of me (a Colonial Williamsburg employee) had a cherry in his pocket, which he handed off to one of the girls, who ate it and flung the pit and the stem far away. The guards were speculating about the existence of a fruit code, when they turned to me.

"Turn out your pockets." Uh oh. I had taken a banana from the hotel breakfast buffet that morning, and was keeping it in my hoops in case I became hungry, and that most certainly wasn't period...
"I'm afraid they won't turn out very well, sir."
"You can either turn out your pockets here, or we will send you into the guardhouse, where our ladies will strip you of your clothing, and search your person for contraband - and we'll watch from the windows."
Here goes nothing.
I started to pull things out of my pockets, all the while gesturing to mom that I was still concealing the banana. Unfortunately, she wasn't getting it. As I mouthed, I have a banana, she thought I was telling her I was warm, so she called back, "Fan yourself!" That wasn't the biggest help in that moment.

After emptying two fans, a kerchief, and miscellaneous other items from my pockets, I had to pull out the banana. The guards were shocked, and very confused. After a beat, they realized that they had to stay in character. They tried to play it off as being a strange exotic fruit, and wondering if they could trust me, seeing as I could be part of the fruit code, or just involved in interesting business to have acquired such an exotic food. Eventually, they let me go, giving me new papers, and looking at me perplexedly as I walked away.

I also got to meet some really incredible people, including a former colleague of my mom's.

All in all, one of the best weekends of my life! :)

(This project was originally completed in the late spring/early summer of 2013. Because of various reasons, it has been posted very late. Sorry!)

The Iconic Red Cape

A long time ago, I sewed a gray felt cape and lined it with black [imitation] silk. It keeps me very warm, and looks nice, but the hood is simply bizarre, and I can't wear the hood well. I am also completely in love with the look of the classic red wool cape, and I realized that I would have to make one at some point in my life. So, on Black Friday, my mother (who hates crowds and shopping) took me out to Jo-Ann's and we bought red suiting wool and red flannel, and prepared to make a cape. We found a tutorial online, and then cut out the cape the night before I left to go back to school.

(This is the link to the wonderful, super easy tutorial/pattern that I used, and I would recommend this to anyone else who is interested in making a cape.)

I was planning to sew the rest in my dorm room (did I mention that I have one of the most tolerant, lovely roommates imaginable?), but because the dorm itself didn't have a space that was suitable for cutting out 60 inch material, I made sure to do that at home. When I got to school I sewed the flannel lining to the wool, and did the same for the hood. I gathered the back of the hood in the same style I had seen on many of the capes in CW, and attached the hood to the cloak. Finally, I sewed on two fancy hook-and-eye style clasps, and was ready to wear my new cape!

This was a very easy project, the worst part about it was just the sheer volume of fabric that I had to deal with. I premiered my new cape on my birthday, along with my new dress, and it did an excellent job of keeping me warm! I was comfortable with it hanging down my back during the day (I think the high was somewhere in the low 60's, a very nice day for early February!), and when it got colder in the evening I wrapped it closer around me and stayed toasty.

So, if you're going to make a cape, don't go out and spend money on a pattern! Just use an online resource (either the link above, or a simple google search will give you tons of options for different styles), and have fun sewing!

*sidenote: This post (and many others that will be posted soon) were written sometime in the last year, but were unable to be uploaded because I couldn't get the pictures onto my computer for a while. They're all here now though!