Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Riding Habit for Christmas!

Colonial Williamsburg holds an event every year called Grand Illumination, and it is one of the most wonderful events that I go to. There are colonial Christmas decorations, incredible fireworks, and holiday cheer throughout the town. This year, I decided that I wanted a new outfit to wear for the Grand Illumination, and so I decided that it would be a perfect time to make the riding habit I had been wanting for a few years. Over the summer I did my research, and had pretty much settled on making a navy blue riding habit, much like the one from Janet Arnold's book. I found a pattern, and was ready to get started!

A photo from this year's Grand Illumination - the fireworks and the performers were all wonderful!

However, when I returned home to Pennsylvania and went to my favorite fabric store, I discovered that they didn't have any blue wool! So, I headed to Jo-Ann Fabrics only to make the same discovery there. I spent a few weeks trying to find a source that I trusted to provide me with wool that could at least pass for being historically accurate, before deciding that maybe I would just have to settle for another color. So, I headed back to Surplus City where I began, and evaluated their wool selection again. They had a wonderful red wool, but I already have enough red garments, and I really didn't want to make one more (I also felt like I would end up replicating the Lady Worsley riding habit if I bought red wool, and I wanted something a little different). There was also a beautiful green that I was temporarily obsessed with, but the fiber content was too modern for me to feel good about using it. Finally, I found three shades of blue/purple that I liked. Unfortunately, I hadn't researched purple riding habits, and I was hesitant to use a fabric without any color documentation. A quick google search in the middle of the fabric section turned up a gown from the 1740's, and that was questionable at best. After calling my mom I decided to go with the purple fabric that had the best fiber content, and hope that no one took issue with it. I bought the whole bolt, a little over seven yards, for $6.25 a yard - quite the bargain! Once I got home I decided to do one more search, this time on pinterest, for a purple riding habit. Initially I found an image of Marie Antoinette's daughter in a regency ensemble, but that quickly led to a sketch of the Queen herself in a purple riding habit! Such a relief!

I ordered the Rocking Horse Farm riding habit pattern, and was ready to set to work as soon as it arrive. I transferred the pieces to butcher paper, and made some slight alterations (the sleeves had to be longer for me, and I ended up merging some of the sizes). I had purchased ten yards of silk taffeta a few years ago when it was on sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics (for something like $2 or $3 a yard), and since the purple matched my wool so nicely, I cut a mock-up out of it, planning on turning that into my lining.

My altered pattern pieces on my lining

I started sewing and discovered that the jacket needed to be taken in at the back and sides, but the sleeves needed to be a little bigger. However, once I got my mock-up/lining right, it was time to head back to college. I thought that I would work on it at school, but ended up not having enough time or space to properly sew something like that (and, if we're being honest, I was terrified to cut into the wool). So, I waited until I returned home for Thanksgiving break.

I immediately got to work at home, trying on the lining one last time, cutting out the wool, velvet, and interfacing, and starting to sew. At first, everything came together without a hitch. It wasn't a particularly difficult outfit for me to sew, but that may have been because I spent so much time ensuring that the pattern was altered perfectly to my measurements. However, once I was ready to sew the lining to the wool, things got confusing. There was a facing piece of wool that was meant to go on the inside, but I could not figure out why the lining was too long to accommodate that. Finally, I asked my mom to look at it, and after about an hour we realized that when I made my mock-up I cut out the front, not the front lining, and had intended to just trim it down to the correct size after I made sure everything fit. However, since that had been in August and it was now November, I had forgotten. Luckily, it was a quick fix to trim down the lining, and the rest of the jacket went together smoothly.

By the time Thanksgiving break ended, I still had to set the sleeves, attach the skirt, and make the petticoat. I ended up setting the sleeves during a slow day at work, and fortunately the skirt fit perfectly, so that also went in really quickly.

One of the steps for making the pockets involves laying the pieces like so, and I thought they looked like a heart!

Finally, I made the petticoat. My fabric was sixty inches wide, and so I grabbed my favorite petticoat, laid it on the fabric, added four inches at the bottom, and cut straight across twice to get two 60"x40" panels. I then cut a 5"x60" strip for the waist band, sewed the panels together, put in plackets, pleated the top, added the waistband, and then attached some ties (my mom got me a huge roll of wonderful cotton/linen twill tape that's perfect). I hemmed it, and was ready to go for the next morning.

The finishing touches came from my friend and roommate, Roxana, who french braided my hair and loaned me her cocked hat.

The Grand Illumination turned out to be a wonderful day! I received lots of compliments on my riding habit, and I got to meet some other reenactors with interesting stories. I also got to spend time in my favorite place in the world with many of my friends who work there, my parents, and our very close family friends, who traveled down from Pennsylvania to be with me. I already can't wait for next year!

*Notes regarding this pattern*
The interfacing in the bodice is good, it provides the necessary structure and makes everything look smooth. Unfortunately, I did notice that once it creased at the waistline, it stayed creased, and so not all of my pictures were as perfect as I wanted them to be.
However, the interfacing in the cuffs and collar felt unnecessary. I would recommend either doing away with it entirely, or using a less stiff interfacing.
Finally, I had to lengthen the sleeves by about two or three inches, and I don't have particularly long arms.
The instructions were very clear though, and it was not a difficult pattern to work with.

Photo courtesy of Kirsten Halvorsen

Photo courtesy of Fiona
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Halvorsen
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Halvorsen

Also! While working on this riding habit I spent a good deal of time looking at one that my friend had made for inspiration. It was so nice to have pictures of what I wanted to make, made by someone who's work I know is top-quality. You can check out her own riding habit, and the rest of her blog, here.