Dawn's Victorian Costume Diary

June 1st 2004

The plan is to wear our victorian era costumes again in August, at GenCon, as part of a "wild west" group. I will undoubtedly be the least 'wild' of the bunch.

I started a new shirt for my husband about 3 weeks ago. It will be from Folkwear's "Missouri River Boatman" pattern. I figure he can wear it at Renfest as well. And that is coming up next week. Due to a death in the family I have been unable to sew much since I started cutting. Today I put the collar on, and found out that it really needs to be a size larger. So tomorrow I will rip it out and put in a new one.

While doing research into menswear I find The Gentleman's Page very useful.

I like the hats on the USHist site, but they are out of my budget. I'm checking various other sources, but I need to find a hat soon. GenCon is 11 weeks away.

I have also been looking at sources for ideas on how to remodel my dress. I've decided to emulate 1869 styling. This lets me get by without a hoop or a bustle, important factors when you have to pack the dress in something small enough for an airline overhead bin.

Over the winter I worked on the bodice a little bit, adding a pleated white ruffle to the collar and planning to do ruffles on the wrist as well. However, after sewing it in I have decided that this makes the neckline too close, and not something I will be comfortable in.

I have also ripped out one sleeve so I can lower the puff at the sleeve cap to a line more in keeping with the 1869 style.

June 8th

The shirt is progressing nicely. As this is a pattern I have never tried before I am taking my time with it, and only doing a few steps per day. We also had guests over the weekend so I got no sewing done for about 3 days.

I also looked at fancy men's vests suitable for the time period and decided to make one for my husband rather than buy one. The grey suit vest worked well enough at Halloween last year, but I want a slightly more showy "Riverboat Gambler" look for him this time around. While the budget is better this year, I can still think of other things I would rather use my money on than a $75 costume vest. And, with the brand new Simplicity men's patterns out this spring I don't have to draft my own.

From the very back of my costume closet has come an old black skirt that I made about 10 years ago and never wore. I think the fabric is acetate, it's a silvery black color, slightly stiff, and very noisy when worn. If victorian petticoats were supposed to rustle, mine definitely will. I've got 7 yards of fabric gathered into the waistband, and it is trained in the back. I'm planning to take this apart and make an underskirt with a ruffled hem, like some of the skirts shown in these fashion plates from the University of North Texas. Coincidently, I almost ended up with a degree from UNT, but they sent me my acceptance letter the week *after* classes began, at which point I was enrolled at another school.

June 17

Finished the shirt several days ago, and Jay wore it over the weekend to the renaissance festival with no serious problems. Overall the shirt pattern was good, but I have a few notes on construction. First, I thought the pattern sizing ran small. According to the envelope I should have used the medium grade, but after fitting it, I think the large would have worked better, particularly for something that bills itself as a "big shirt".

There are options for two sizes of sleeve cuffs, and this is not mentioned anywhere in the description or directions. I cut both sets of cuffs, not realizing I would only need one. Could have saved myself the fabric. The markings on the cuffs didn't indicate which side got the button and which side got the hole. I could have checked it against one of my husband's dress shirts, but I didn't, I trusted that the one mark was meant for the buttonhole, and got it backwards.

The neck facing has options for a short or long front opening. Both use the same size facing. I went with the shorter opening, and I still have 4" of extra facing on the front. My husband said it tickled and was annoying, and since I can't see a good reason to leave it long, I will be trimming it to fit the opening.

I did some work on my black underskirt, but not much because I needed to get the shirt finished first. The skirt has been cut to length, and I removed 3 yards of fabric from the circumference and have started pleating the ruffle for the hem.

Saturday we took a drive around town and looked in western wear shops for hats. I did not find the period flat-topped style I wanted, so we settled on a modern, inexpensive black felt hat. It should look nice with the rest of the outfit. We also looked at ties and neckerchiefs, but everything was polyester and not in the colors we wanted anyway, so it was easy to pass those up. I'll make something out of black cotton later.

Yesterday I went looking online for gold pocketwatches. There were a number of budget priced watches on Ebay and I settled on one with a reasonable shipping charge

I've also started cutting out the vest, according to the Simplicity pattern. The fabric is an ornate red, gold, and black striped brocade and should look very slick as a formal vest. The pattern calls for lining, interfacing, and padding, and I believe I will be leaving out those last two layers just to keep the garment cooler and to save myself the extra work.


August 2nd.

Getting down to the wire. We had an opportunity to take a week long (mostly) free trip to California and let me tell you, sitting on the beach beats sitting anywhere else on the planet. So, no, I haven't done any sewing in the past two weeks.

Dug out as many of the vest pieces as I could and started trying to figure out the welt pockets. Got the first one in place eventually, and sewed it down and realized it was on the wrong side of the vest, fortunately before I cut the opening for the pocket part. So I ripped that out and put it on the other side. Upside down. Third try was the charm. I still think it is angled funny but it's staying there forever now.

Went to put in the other two pockets and realized there are supposed to be darts at the waist. Ok, marked those and sewed them. Then noticed the neckline darts. GRR! My patience wore out at this point.

August 3rd.

Neck darts done. Time for the 2nd and 3rd pockets. Then I can start on the actual construction of this beast. Sewed the 2nd pocket on the wrong side of the fabric. Argh! Ripped it out and sewed it on upside down. Argh! Got it in the third time and the pocket lining hangs wrong but I don't care at this point.

Made an appointment to visit with Tara tomorrow evening and get help draping my skirts. This means I need to finish the underskirt. Spent a couple hours pleating the wide ruffle that will go along the bottom hem. Did it on the machine first but I don't know why I bothered. This stuff is so slippery the machine barely feeds it through without my help. So I ended up hand-gathering enough fabric for a 4-yard long ruffle.

August 5th.

Spent another couple hours working on the underskirt yesterday, got it mostly finished except for the bottom hem of the ruffle. If it hadn't required hand sewing most of the way it would have gone much faster.

The overskirt is gathered and safety pinned into place. I'll have to go over it and sew everything down and make it look nice.

August 9th.

The underskirt is hemmed and standing in the corner. The fabric really isn't stiff enough to stand by itself, but it will lean against a wall without collapsing. I'm about to kill another spool of black thread. I think this is my second on this project. It's been used for other things, but mostly my skirt and Jay's vest.

Uh oh. The lights in the sewing room just went out by themselves.

August 10th.

Well yesterday was exciting. After the circuit blew I went investigating to find out what was going on in the sewing room and found a happy little electrical fire burning away in the master bedroom. Different room, same circuit. One of our unused outlets just caught fire. So now the power is off to that end of the house.

Today I have an extention cord running from the livingroom to the sewing room, with the equipment plugged into that. I swapped out the halogen lamp for another one which draws less power. It's not as bright, but hey, it doesn't set the house on fire either.

And I am still out of black thread.

While cruising the web for ideas, I came across this print on Costumes.org. Check out the purple and black outfit on the right. Also from that site two more fashion plates from Godey's showing outfits made from one fabric for the dress, and a different one for the underskirt, one in red and black, and one in blue and black.

I am at the point now where I will need to add 1869-style trimming to finish the look I am going for. Ruching, I think, with some rosettes perhaps. I'll have to see how much of that actually gets done, it's a lot of hand sewing.

This photo cuts off my head, and you can tell I'm not wearing the corset, but you can see how the look is coming together. I put more pictures on another page.

August 16th.

Less than 48 hours to go. I spent the weekend finishing up a dress for a customer, and now have the rest of the time to complete my own projects. Jay's vest is nearly finished, everything but the side seams and the buttons. This morning I re-sewed the sleeves on my dress bodice so they don't "kick up" in the 1890's fashion. I'm currently considering the varity of trim options I have for the dress. I've started pleating some ribbon to put a band of contrasting ruching on the underskirt. Or somewhere. The ribbon almost exactly matches my purple satin, but with a slight gold tone in the cross weave. It's also wired, which makes it extremely easy to pleat. I'll sew it down and fluff it up and it will be perfect.

August 17th.

Completed the vest yesterday. It looks very nice. Am going to try and get Jay into his outfit tonight just to make sure he has everything and it all fits, and I have a chance to do any repairs before we leave. Finished up his neck tie. I wanted to make one from silk, but couldn't find anything light enough in black so I settled on a slinky poly fabric with a real light hand. It's a quarter yard tapered to a long oval on each end, about 36" long. Sounds big, but after it's hemmed and tied it isn't really. And it was hemmed, by hand. Rolled edges. Ugh.

Decided to put the purple ruching on the bodice instead of the underskirt. It looks a bit pinkish in the photo because of the flash, but to my eye it is a near perfect color match with the purple satin. I really needed something to give it that Reconstruction Era line up top. I also removed the white ruffle at the neck. It didn't fit right and made the collar too high. I am considering putting some lace there and at the cuffs, but I don't know if it will happen. I don't stash lace much, and the few pieces I have aren't appropriate.

Solved the collar problem by folding it down. The purple lining looks ok, even though white would have been more appropriate, and it has the low collar look of the period. It also doesn't feel as restrictive (I'm not used to high collars) and cuts down on the big blob of black on top of the outfit.

I've also been experimenting with my hair, pinning it up in different ways today and seeing what stays. I think I have settled on double braids that I will pin up in loops in the back, and hide the ends with a bow made from the same purple ribbon I used on the bodice.


Finally, we're off to GenCon.

Some of the artwork is Copyright BillyBear4Kids.com