Do you recall the cream gown I made late last year? It was always supposed to have an over-dress in red for my character, and for the in-character party held at the end of February I wanted to finish the dress. So, I set to it and made my “rose” dress to compliment my “lilly” dress, and an ivy wreath to crown my maiden fair.
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The overdress is from the pattern set inspired by the film“Snow White and the Huntsman” (Simplicity 1773), which I used to make the cream underdress. I was lucky to be given a beautiful pair of red velvet curtains for fabric which I decided to set aside for this project. I had a bundle of ribbon identical to the one I used to trim my long Crowan cloak which I thought would the perfect addition to the dress. With a banquet at the end of February I thought it might be a good target to finish the ensamble, so over the course of a week and a bit I cut and sewed the final bit of the dress and made a few bits and bobs to finish it off.
There are very few “in progress” pictures due to the speed of the project (and the fact that yet again I only thought to reach for the camera as I got past the cutting/interfacing/pinning stage). I really should get better at documenting my personal projects when I’m making things at speed.
The materials I gathered together included the gifted red velvet curtains, a thick red plainweave cloth, with fusible interfacing, plastic featherweight boning, and a bundle of the “northumberland” ribbon trim and a narrow satin ribbon for the lacing of the bodice. Plus needle, thread, pins and tailor’s chalk pencil.
Cutting out all the cloth
Having had the drama of sourcing the correct size of the pattern the last time, I knew which of the patterns would fit me. Having had to adjust the back of the cream gown I was a little nervous about just getting on with making the dress. I reasoned that since velvet was one of the suggested cloths for the pattern, then the ease problem might not be so bad, and the bodice lacing up the front would be forgiving.
I cut out the paper pattern pieces and cut out the interfacing and lining cloth before tackling the velvet (I was a wimp again about cutting nice cloth. I really need to learn to get over that … or as some sewing advice I found says “just make it already!“). Given this was made and finished amongst the chaos of packing up a house to move (I really don’t do things by half do I?) tackling the heavier cloth and interfacing first and ironing it all together helped keep all my bits in one place. I also found that by writing notes to myself on the front of the interfacing I could keep track of what I had in front of me. Again there was lots of cutting and counting (and muttering) as I worked, but having sorted the lining and interfacing I felt that I would be able to match up the velvet to the important pieces and that would keep me somewhat sane.
I chose the heavy plainweave cloth due to my wariness of making my first boned bodice. I wanted the garment to survive being packed in a bag and worn in inclement conditions as well as surviving the usual wear and tear of being a “shaping” garment. The boning itself is very light and gives the gown some of its form without forcing the body to conform to a certain shape like proper corsetry. In short a perfect beginners garment without making proper shape-wear. Baby steps here people.
Once I had all the bits pieced together and rolled up for safekeeping I took advantage of the cleared floor to lay out and cut the velvet pieces – starting with the skirt panels first and filling in the space around them with the other sections of sleeve and bodice. I ironed the velvet before cutting and folded in half for speed. Ideally I would cut each piece separately but as I was working to an unmoveable deadline speed became somewhat of the essence.
I decided one set of skirt panels would form the sides and one set would form the back and I pinned the centre seam together to give me something to refer back to when sewing. The skirt panels were sewn together quickly as these side seams required little thought beyond matching the notches and grain, before I turned my attention to the bodice.
I decided to sew the lining first before properly reading the instructions (which is nearly always a terrible terrible idea) because I decided that the heavy lining would form the base of the boning as the stitching would not be visible in my lovely velvet. I finally decided to “just sew it already” and did some reading around making bodices and adding boning in conjunction with reading and rereading the instructions for the dress. I’ll be honest, I was confused at first as to how the pattern worked, but this was because I was reading it as if it was being sewn to the outer of the cloth and not the lining, and because I’d bought the wrong sort of boning. The pattern itself calls for the boning that comes with a soft cloth casing, however mine is the plastic boning without the casing and for a while I was confused as to how to work with it. But never fear – the internet came to my rescue!
Adding boning to the bodice
The pattern sews the lining pieces together then measures up the boning. Cutting it to the correct length the boning is then trimmed to be shorter than the casing and rounded so that it doesn’t poke through the casing and cloth into the wearer (I hear this is very painful). This is all lovely and straightforward if you have this sort of featherlight boning, however I did not. Mine was flat, plasticy and curled from being rolled around a roll in the box at the fabric shop. In searching for sewing this sort of boning I found a walk through that helped me immensely and gave me the confidence boost to just get on with it.
“Sewing a Boned Bodice With Plastic Boning” by Sewaholic covers sewing with the boning that comes with its own casing (not ideal but a good starting point). Given the project looked similar in nature to my own it gave me a good starting point to working with my own pattern (and indeed gave me the “ah hah” moment I needed when looking at the pictures on the article and the diagrams of my pattern) but my problem still remained as to how I would work with the boning I had. A chance scan through a post explaining the different types of boning gave me an answer – make your own casing.
Make you own? I hadn’t even thought of that! And having read a bit more (and eyeing my leftover bits of lining material) gave me the mad, crazy, nay ambitious idea of giving it a go.
So – picture this. I’ve sewn all the seams of the bodice, trimmed them and pressed them open. I’ve measured all the lengths of boning I need and cut the plastic boning I have to length (and labelled them with a bit of masking tape), and rounded the ends as best I can without reaching for sandpaper. I set to measuring out rectangles of cloth the making the casings (as you can see below) and start making them, putting the plastic boning in a bowl of boiling water to try and coax the curl out of the plastic. I’m not sure how much that helped, but I don’t think it hindered it. It did leave my puzzled OH querying why I was “cooking” plastic though.
Rather than trying to fold and press the folds at the side and bottom of the casing by eyeballing, I decided that I would sew the seam allowance with the sewing machine, thereby giving me a marker to work with. This helped, particularly when pinning the casing to the inside of the lining, but it did mean I sat for ages at the sewing machine just sewing straight lines down these bits of cloth. Once the guides were in place though I was able to pin the folds in place and press them all very firmly (!) before pinning them in place on the lining and sewing with a hope that it was all going to plan (!!). The first casing was a bit skewed and had to be ripped out and resewn, but after that things went relatively smoothly.
I popped the boning into the casings and machine stitched the top of the casings closed. Ideally I would have sewn them closed by hand, but time was running out and I kept telling myself unhelpfully of all the other things I had to be doing rather than sewing …
Anyway, after putting the last piece of boning in place I then found that I had the beginning of the shape of the bodice that began to assert itself in an awkward manner. The lining would no longer lie flat, nor roll easily, and I ended up draping it on the backs of chairs or on piles of cloth as I worked on the rest of the garment. I sewed the outer of the bodice the same as the lining, trimming and pressing the seams and reading the next bit of the instructions with some confusion.
I had decided to work on the bodice and skirt, leaving the sleeves until last in case I ran out of steam or time. The bodice was sewn right sides together but only at the front opening that had already been prepared – the ribbon had been cut to length, folded and sewn individually down the seam that would be at the front to form a row of loops, covering the raw ends with a length of decorative ribbon. I then had to pin back the loops and pin the lining to the front before sewing a channel into this front panel for a pair of long strips of boning (which would normally be removed entirely from its casing, but in our case was just cut to length). This would then be turned inside the garment when the whole piece was turned inside out – which made no sense to me at first. However after following the instructions, adding the prepared shoulder straps (made earlier and trimmed with the ribbon trim amidst cutting and sewing the velvet skirt and bodice) and sewing the whole top of the bodice closed over the channel, I found that when turning the garment right ways out the front seam with its channel for the boning would fold behind the line of ribbon loops and provide stability along this edge against which the lacing would pull. Making sure the corner was nice and neat I turned the bodice and inserted the boning, sewing the channel closed with some satisfaction.
Adjusting the length and shoulders
I now had most of a bodice – lined and with shoulder straps hanging loosely from the front, the shape formed mostly by the strips of boning now sewn strategically to the lining, with a pressed fold in the seam along the bottom of the lining to cover the seam of the bodice and the skirt. I added the skirt to the lower edge of the bodice, matching notches and open edges as best I could with a bit of fuss, trimmed and pressed this seam up into the bodice before hand sewing the lining down over this seam. Sometimes taking the time to hand sew is just worth it.
I now needed help to adjust the straps and length to fit me and the cream gown, so I got dressed into the gown and my OH helped with marking the top of the bodice on the straps as they were put into place with a pin, and offering suggestions on how long to make the skirt. I hand sewed the straps down to where the pin marked the top of the bodice, and machine stitched the bottom of the gown, turning the hem in on itself to capture the raw edge evenly. This was done by sewing the seam allowance, folding the raw edge in so that this line of stitching was at the bottom of the gown; before this was again folded upwards, pressed and sewn in place.
This mean the overgown does not hang as long as the cream gown, giving a bit of freedom to movement when the whole ensemble is worn.
Making the sleeves
I was torn between avoiding the sleeves or just wearing them, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sold on them. But I was able to sew the parts together in time and attempt to gather the top edge. I gave up after having the threads snap repeatedly and ended up layering the different straps in place in an attempt to mimic the effect. This however does not quite work and the “poof” of the sleeve is marred by straps falling all over the place. This is not helped by the fact that the lower arm band is very tight over the arm of my cream gown due to the thickness of the cream fabric, which leads to an odd sensation of losing one’s shoulder straps as the sleeve pulls them askew (not helped by the shoulder straps being possibly too tight in the first place …).
The sleeves exist, are fastened onto the shoulder straps with press-studs, trimmed with the remaining “northumberland” trim and look quite lovely on the original gown and inspiration – however they just don’t work at the moment and I need to spend time considering how best to adjust the fit.
But, that’s a post for another day!
As it is the gown was finished in time before the banquet and the upheaval of my projects (which I count as a significant victory!), so I include a few detail pictures and a quick look at the accessories that were made to accompany it.
Making the wreath
For some reason I decided that Brigit, being a maiden, should have a seasonal wreath to wear at banquets. I found an ivy strand at Hobbycraft that leant itself nicely to forming a base for this item and would probably withstand being stored/abused/tinkered with as I add other flowers/decorations depending on the occasion.
I found the midpoint of the ivy strand and placed it against my forehead. I then looped the two ends to the back, crossed them over and brought them back to the front to give me the rough circle of my head (with my hair down as Brigit wears her hair loose). I wound the loose ends around again and then took the wreath off my head to carefully wind the rest of the loose strand around the loops I had formed to give the wreath more bulk and shape. By positioning the leaves between the strands and loosely wrapping the ivy around itself I was quite pleased with what I had cobbled together, though the plastic was quite sharp in places and generally rubbed and irritated my skin.
To solve this I wound a length of red ribbon over the bare plastic “stalk” which helped the wreath keep its shape and meant I didn’t have to add any further beads or similar to look like holly berries (though I may in the future). For a quick accessory I am reasonably pleased with it, though I am still pondering if there is more I can do with it.
The finished article
As you can tell from most of the pictures these are clearly just “tester” photos of the garment that I asked my OH to take so I could decide how best to accessorise the gown for banquet.
I wore my pocket under the skirt as I had planned and was very pleased with how useful it proved to be (and comfy). I looped my prayer beads through the ties on my bodice and accessorised the whole outfit with some red jewellery I made early in Brigit’s supplication. I decided against wearing the sleeves and wreath on the night and am pleased with how the gown and overdress looked and felt to wear.
I was lucky enough to win “best dressed” on the night (plus a pudding – yum) which was an incredible feeling after all the drama in making the gown, and reinforced my belief that a few little touches here and there in one’s larp kit can make a huge difference to it!
So I will leave you with a picture of Mother Brigit Wooller at banquet, and bid you happy sewing!