It’s not much of a tale, actually? I needed some petticoats. I made some petticoats. Mission accomplished.
For these I used Truly Victorian 170, which has 4 slightly different views that suit looks from 1870-1897. I wanted two petticoats that would floof out my eventual 1890s Umbreon skirt, so I made View 2 (Natural Form era, more slender and does not fit over a bustle) and View 4 (Belle Epoque/1890s, a bit fuller and also does not fit over a bustle.) Both have darts in the front for a smooth fit, with a gathered drawstring back. View 2 has a flounce only in the back, while View 4 has a flounce all the way around. The petticoat with the turquoise ribbon is View 2, and the lavender is View 4. In the photos, I’m wearing the turquoise by itself, and the lavender on top of the turquoise.
I used 118″-wide Kona Premium cotton from Dharma Trading Co. Because it’s so wide, I was able to cut both petticoats out of 4 yards with about a yard to spare. (I skipped cutting out the View 4 ruffle from the cotton, though, because I used lace instead. For View 2, I cut a less-tall ruffle and seamed the less-tall lace to it.) It’s a tightly woven cotton with a fairly firm hand, well-suited to its purpose here. The pattern calls for five tucks in the flounce section, which also help stiffen the fabric to keep the fullness from crumpling under the weight of the skirt. Instead of ruffling everything by hand, I used my ruffle attachment on my machine, which worked a lot faster and was a lot less annoying, although it did require a few tests to get the ruffle ratio correct.
There’s not much else to say about these—they were not at all complicated to make! I did give in and use my serger on the ruffle seam allowances, which feels like cheating but also made the process far quicker and less fiddly than if I had done any other type of seam finishing. I used ¼” wide twill tape as drawstring and ⅜” ribbon in the beading lace.
I’m not going to say this project was cursed… but I might have been slightly cursed making it.
Nothing whatsoever was wrong with the pattern or even the fabric. Unfortunately for me, too many moments of not paying attention (plus a fabric that has not only a distinct right and wrong side but also a right way up) made things more difficult for me along the way. However, it all worked out in the end, and I’m really pleased with how these 1890s/Edwardian combinations came out.
So let’s talk about underwear!
These are my undermost layer for the 1890s Umbreon project. Prior to the invention of combinations, women wore a chemise on top and split-crotch drawers on the bottom (the split crotch means you can actually see to certain necessities without removing any layers). Before the invention of the hoop skirt/cage crinoline, which pushed petticoats and skirts away from the legs, women typically only wore a chemise as a base layer (also called a shift.) Around the 1870s, the chemise and drawers began to be replaced by “a set of combinations” which combine both garments. Wearing these base layers, which are typically made of linen or maybe cotton, is essential, because most outer clothing wasn’t made to be laundered often. Undergarments could be washed frequently (and linen withstands laundering beautifully, only getting softer over time) and outer garments could be spot-cleaned as needed.
I used the Edwardian combinations pattern from BlueFineGoods. This is a lovely pattern, with instructions for using lace appliqués as well as without lace, and a very helpful lace diagram as well. I found the pattern well thought out and well-drafted. Notably, there was very little paper waste after I’d printed the pattern and assembled it together. Based on my measurements, I cut out a size 6 on top and 10 in the waistband and drawers.
Per the pattern’s recommendation, I made a muslin before cutting into the real fabric. The first iteration of the muslin fit fine everywhere except the bust and shoulders. I have very narrow shoulders, so the first part wasn’t surprising at all, but I didn’t like how the excess fabric at the top of the bust stood away from my body. I removed some width at the top of the side seams and also lowered the height of the bodice in front. I then made a second mockup of the bodice and attached it to the prior version of the drawers, fitting both with and without my corset as recommended. This satisfied me well enough, so I sallied forth to cut into the fabric.
And immediately started making mistakes, yay. My first mistake was cutting the bodice on the correct grain, which isn’t normally a mistake. However, the flowers on this fabric are embroidered sideways. I resolved to cut everything else on the cross-grain so the flowers would appear right ways up, and the very next thing I did was cut the left and right drawers fronts reversed. (The first on accident, the second on purpose to make up for it.) In my defense, I am used to working with fabric that doesn’t mind which way up you put it—I rarely cut patterns with the fabric folded, because I can get much more efficient with fabric use if I puzzle-piece the pattern pieces on a single layer. Normally it’s fine to cut a pattern piece facing down instead of up… but not here. Once I had cut out the rest of the pieces, I had enough to recut the bodice pieces with the flowers right ways up. I felt a little bad about the waste, but I also thought it would look strange for the flowers to be different orientations in the bodice and the drawers.
From there, the assembly went rather straightforwardly. I thought about hand-sewing the lace applique on and then decided not to and just machine-sewed it on instead. The stitches are really not visible, so it’s fine. I didn’t love the instructions on the drawers to just fold over a hem on the curved crotch seam. That curved area really needed to be clipped so the seam allowance could spread out. I would recommend a bias tape finish rather than a folded hem. My fabric is extremely lightweight and it wouldn’t have added much bulk. I used cotton organdy as a sew-in interfacing for the button bands and waistband, and some lovely shell buttons from my button stash. My beading lace (the kind of lace you thread a ribbon through) wasn’t as wide as the pattern called for, so instead of substituting it for the waistband, I just folded in the seam allowances and stitched it directly on top. (Another mistake: I also managed to cut the waistband slightly too short. It’s fine, though.)
For some reason when it came time to do the ruffles, the fabric did not want to cooperate. Attaching the lace was no issue, but when I added gathering stitches and started to gather the ruffle to the drawers legs, the gathering would reach a certain point on the threads and refuse to move past it. I had to break the threads more than once and ended up ripping the gathering threads out and redoing them on the first ruffle, which was extremely annoying. The instructions also suggested doing both rows of gathering threads inside the seam allowance to avoid having to rip them out later, as they wouldn’t be visible. I did this but determined that I prefer my gathering threads to straddle the seamline—it’s easier to get the gathers to lay properly when stitching that way.
Another change: because of my narrow and sloping shoulders, during the mockup stage I found I couldn’t ever quite decide on how short the straps should be; they always seemed to need to be shorter. So instead of using lace for the straps as planned, I used self-fabric and then made them adjustable with a bra ring-and-slider set. This is almost certainly not historically accurate, but I really wanted the ability to adjust the straps later if needed.
Overall I found the pattern really easy to work with and the results are just as cute as I could ever have hoped. If it weren’t for the split crotch, this would be the most adorable romper (if I was into that sort of thing.) They’re going to be absolutely perfect for wearing under any late Victorian or Edwardian costumes I might make in the future, and if I end up with several, well… I might need a few more sets of combinations.
I started time-tracking with this project, because after I finished the 1860s Zelda costume I wished I knew how much time I actually spent on it. My time-tracking includes all the time involved in physically working on a pattern—including assembling the paper pattern and doing mockups and fitting—but it doesn’t include any research time that happens away from my studio (that would probably double my time spent, to be honest.) The total time I spent on these was almost 21 hours.
Fabric: Emma purple embroidered cotton lawn from Renaissance Fabrics (I don’t see the purple version on their site anymore, it might be sold out.)
Notions: Appliquéd lace from Petite Coco Crafts, beading (ribbon) lace and hem lace from Laceking, ribbon from Joanns, shell buttons from stash, bra rings and sliders from a handmade bra I made a while ago which didn’t fit so I didn’t mind destroying it for parts.
Well, we’ve made it through another year. For me, 2022 had some nice moments, but on the whole… it was not a great year for me. It peaked around April, when my family took a week-long vacation to Hawaii, which was really lovely. The rest of April into May was a really challenging time: my 20-year-old orange tuxedo cat, Tigger, passed away; we adopted the 3 Chaos Gremlin kitties; I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s absolutely beautiful wedding (in Disneyland!); I got sick; my responsibilities at work exploded; my partner’s responsibilities at work exploded; and there were some additional upsetting events that affected me and the people around me quite a lot.
I remember two main things about the summer: the weather and my first bout with COVID. The weather was actually much more pleasant than Virginia summers tend to be, with frequent rains that kept the temperatures down and the plants watered. I love summer, I live for summer, so this part was definitely a positive. My garden flourished. In August I went to a Lady Gaga concert, which was fantastic and outdoors but very crowded, and as a result, I came down with COVID. To make matters worse, my bestie and her oldest child flew in just before I started showing symptoms for a week-long visit, and… I infected them too. That visit certainly wasn’t intended to be a week of feeling like death, but… that’s how it worked out.
I tried to make the best of fall. I traveled a lot—a work trip, traveling for my cousin’s wedding, and a quick jaunt out to see a concert—and the latter two were lovely. Unfortunately, my job started to go downhill very rapidly in terms of stress and the effect on my mental health, and additionally I had a sad reason for one last trip of the year after my maternal grandmother passed away. Winter rolled in. It is my least favorite season; I hate being cold, I hate the darkness, and I tend to get pretty bad seasonal affective disorder. We got the dogs, which was both delightful and stressful, since they need a lot of watching as they adjust to living with cats. At the end of the year, I finally l finagled myself a 10.5-day break from work. My theme for next year will be “restoring balance” and “putting out the fires that burned me out so badly.” I really hope I’ll be able to stick with that.
In conclusion, 2023 can come in quietly and not touch anything.
This is mostly a crafting blog, so I’ll mention a few of my crafting goals as well. I’d love to be able to finish or at least make substantial progress on my 1890s Umbreon costume and my men’s Regency wardrobe. I’d like to finish knitting the sweater I currently have on the needles (the “Unicorn Cathedral” sweater) and spin some yarn out of the fiber I bought recently. I’d like to sew some competition shirts for horse shows. I want to continue to let my hobbies be a source of joy for me, not a source of stress.
In celebration of the newly-renewed light after the winter solstice, please enjoy these photos of a chilly autumnal day with 1860s Zelda, taken by my awesome photographer sister Cassidy (on Instagram @steelestewartphotography). They feature my newly-finished winter cloak, which is just a circle with a hood, sewn from deep stash (it previously lived in a box labeled “10 lbs of wool coating”) and my new day blouse, which is the Truly Victorian TV441 Garibaldi blouse sewn with Antoinette dotted cotton voile from Renaissance Fabrics. (That fabric is LOVELY. But it’s also sheer enough I need a corset cover, so that’s on the project list now too.)
December gets a tiny bit of a pass, because people put fairy lights up and there’s celebrations and the solstice comes and goes and we all just try to get through the darkness as best we can. For reasons that elude me, though, we then take??? down??? the lights??? in January and February, when everything is dark and dreary and cold and wet and gray. Regardless, my goal in winter is to stay warm (I get cold easily and I’m solar-powered) and stay cozy.
In 2020 my local yarn and fabric shop received a new quilting fabric collection, as they are wont to do, and I was sewing a lot of masks, because it was 2020. And I really liked the fabric from that collection. Two yards was enough for two masks, two placemats, and two coasters, and lo, they were pleasing to me. It was a good amount of visibility and use for that fabric I loved. But it was not enough. So I bought the entire collection as a 10″ layer cake (precut squares) and additional yardage in plain red. I then added enough of my favorite print to serve as the backing. In flannel.
If it surprises you that the stash had to age a bit before I could sew it up, then you don’t know me very well. But eventually, in October-ish of this year, I got to work. I picked a fairly simple pattern because a) I don’t quilt much and I didn’t want a lot of fuss and b) I wanted to show off the fabrics. The pattern is the Salt Air Lattice Quilt by Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night. The top went together easily, although not perfectly, and my seamlines didn’t always meet where they should have. I’m pretty sure I misunderstood the instructions somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. This is for Cozy, not for Show.
I always get intimidated by putting together the “quilt sandwich” of top, batting, and backing. This is mainly because most of the instructions assume you have a large, hard-floored space to do it on. It’s very important to get the quilt sandwich smoothed out of any wrinkles; it’s this step where you baste it (temporarily attach the layers with either pins or spray adhesive) before quilting. I’ve got a sufficiently-sized floor area, but it’s on carpet. I’ve basted quilts on a wall before, but I couldn’t find my painters tape. Eventually I decided just to do it on the carpet anyway. I had to work around a wonky section of the carpet, but in the end it worked just fine. I used spray adhesive because pins are really annoying.
Quilting was very straightforward. I used my walking foot and followed the seamlines. Again, the quilting lines are not perfect, and again, it doesn’t matter. I used a green flannel for the binding and hand-stitched it down. I also embroidered a label and hand-stitched that down.
The quilt has since been undergoing a very rigorous testing process.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cozy-ing to do.
P.S. I also knitted these tiny Weasley sweater ornaments for all the new pets this year. I’ve been doing these for family members and very close friends since 2011, and these five will bring me up to a lifetime total of 39 tiny sweaters. They take me about 45 minutes to make and I knit them out of either City Tweed DK or Wool of the Andes Tweed from Knitpicks, then duplicate-stitch the initials. The pattern/instructions I use are here (Ravelry link—please contact me if you would like the pattern without going to Ravelry.)
We shall pause the recounting of the 1860s Zelda project so I can catch up on a few other things. First, and most importantly, my partner and I got a brand new pair of projects. Meet Cookie Dough and Tater Tot.
We were not planning to look for a dog quite yet; that was going to be an undertaking for spring. However, we were “soft-launching” our search, you could say, by being open to the right dog if it crossed our paths. We adopted the kitties, Brie, Nadja, and Jellybean, in April, and our goal was to let them get settled and really own the house before bringing a dog into it. (Note how I keep referring to “a dog” in the singular.) Then we were going to look for “a small, chill dog.” A dog to go on walks with and cuddle. Not a puppy.
What happened was my office hosted a fundraising/awareness event for animal charities, several of which brought in dogs (and one cat) to lure people to the conference room where the event was happening. I have always been in favor of Morale Puppies, and so of course I made time to go pet all the dogs and boop the cat. While there, I was rather taken with a little pup named Cookie Dough (a Maltese/Yorkie; she’s very soft). The rescue told me she and Tater Tot (a Chiweenie) had been together their whole lives, they were 9, oh and by the way, they were looking for a good home.
In consultation with my partner, we put in an application with the rescue that evening. The next day the rescue called me after they had contacted our references and approved our application, and said “We’d really like to keep them together. You’re sure you’ll take both? Okay, do you want to pick them up today or tomorrow?”
To be honest, despite the intention of getting one dog only, I can’t bring myself to break up a bonded pair. Or trio, in the case of the cats—Brie was sort of an “extra” to the babies, but they got along well and she didn’t have anywhere else lined up, so we said “screw it, throw her in too”. This urge of mine has now resulted in us having three cats and two dogs, as opposed to the original intention of two cats and one dog. (And a horse.) I’m not a hoarder, I swear.
Anyway, the dogs are settling in pretty well. We’ve had them a little more than two weeks and they still get really excited about seeing the cats, and we’ve got some work to do with training, but they’ve already come a long way in those two weeks. I do wish I knew their previous situation, but the rescue didn’t have any more insight. They’re great walkers (as long as they don’t see any other dogs) and cuddlers.
Also, that quilt? Will be the focus of my next post.
An essential, unseen component of many eras of women’s clothing is the petticoat(s). They serve multiple purposes: they add volume, keep the skirt from clinging to your legs, smooth out the shape of what’s going on underneath, and in the winter they can add warmth, especially when made of wool. (In some cases, like the 1860s, you might wear an under-petticoat beneath your crinoline so the wool is actually close to your body.) If I were to listen to HistoricalSewing.com, which I frequently do—it’s one of my most-used resources for this project—then I should have at least two petticoats. Alas, I don’t. I decided to make one super-ruffly one instead of multiple flat ones. I think it’s probably fine, especially given I have an underskirt and an overskirt.
The petticoat goes over the crinoline, aka hoop skirt. This was called a “cage crinoline” at the time and was made possible by the Industrial Revolution and the increased availability of steel to support the hoops. Prior to this, the increasing hemlines of women’s dresses were created by more and more petticoats. The cage crinoline actually improved breathability, but enabled even more levels of ridiculousness. My mother-in-law lent me hers, since she used to do Civil War reenacting.
I wanted to leave my options open for making a larger hoop skirt in the future, so I decided to make this petticoat with a 120″ hem circumference. The actual construction was super simple. I used stiff cotton organdy that was 60″ wide and sewed two lengths of it together. I didn’t have to do any seam finishing since the edges were selvage. I also left the second seam unsewn until all the ruffles were attached, because it’s much easier to maneuver a rectangle through the machine than a cylinder. I did hem the bottom of the petticoat.
I have a ruffling foot for my sewing machine, and I’d like to thank that ruffling foot for making this whole thing possible (and sanity-preserving.) I got it for about $10, it’s nothing fancy, and sometimes it stops working, but it does a really fast job of putting tiny pleats into fabric. It has various settings you can adjust for the depth and frequency of ruffles. I did a whole bunch of tests and used that information to decide a) what my settings would be and b) how long my fabric strips needed to be before I ruffled them.
At first I started with a 9″ long ruffle with somewhere around a 2:1 ratio of initial length to ruffled length, and added that to the bottom of the petticoat. But I was a bit underwhelmed by that, so I changed my mind and went with 6″ ruffles at a 2.5:1 ratio. Then I cut a whole bunch of 6″ strips, seamed them together, and used my rolled hem foot to hem them all in one go. It was a looooong strip of fabric.
Then I used the ruffle foot and ruffled the whole thing. At that point, the beast became somewhat unwieldy, as my next task was to attach the ruffles strip by strip to the base of the petticoat. I ended up with seven ruffles all told. Bit by bit, it started to turn into a gigantic fluffy cake.
I seamed the petticoat up the back the quick and dirty way, just putting right sides together and stitching it up. The nicer way would have been to leave the ruffles free at the edges, sew the seam along the base, and then seam the ruffles individually and finish attaching them. I didn’t do that. It’s fine.
After that, the last step was to attach a waistband with drawstrings (instructions: fold over a rectangle, attach it, sew some channels, leave a spot for drawstrings to come through, add drawstrings), try it on, and enjoy my new cupcake identity.
I have a few other things to post on the blog before we can move on, but the next post in this series will tackle the largest piece of the costume: the underskirt.
Confession: I did not need a new corset for this project.
In this case, I’m going to jump a bit out of order. You see, I originally planned to use the perfectly cromulent TV110 corset I made a few years ago. It’s appropriate to the era, it fits well, and most importantly, it was already done. Indeed, up through the point where I finished the enormous ballgown skirt, I had planned to use that very corset.
It’s just… I changed my mind, and I wanted a new one. So, a new one I made.
The biggest thing that drew me to the Redthreaded 1860s corset pattern was the gores at the bust and hip. That hip spring… just, damn. It looks so good. So, I bought the pattern and made a mockup. (ALWAYS MAKE A MOCKUP OF YOUR CORSET FIRST.) I ended up not needing to make any adjustments; I didn’t fully fill out the bust area, but that’s what padding is for. Also, in retrospect, I would have liked more room at the hip so that I could fill that out with a little padding as well. As it is, it fits my hip very well, so I can’t really complain.
(Relatedly, that’s one thing I love about historical clothing. Sure, there’s a lot of change and a lot of extremes in the various silhouettes, but it wasn’t achieved by people trying to change their bodies, like we try to do today. Victorian women did not all have tiny waists! They had regular waists and bust padding and enormous skirts! Anything looks tiny in contrast to a huge crinoline. Trust me, humans do not evolve nearly as fast as silhouettes. Historically, people were quite adept at optical illusions. In conclusion, your body is absolutely fine and the idea that there’s one perfect body type is super fake. Thank you I will get off my soapbox for now.)
It was important for me to finish the new corset before working on the ballgown bodice. Different style corsets shape your body differently, and ballgown bodices in particular are tight-fitting. So I made this in between sewing the skirt and sewing the bodice. I constructed it like a two-layer corset, although it was actually three layers: sky blue silk taffeta flatlined to satin coutil (which I will now refer to collectively as the fashion fabric layer) and a second layer of satin coutil. I figured the sky blue would be both versatile and complementary to Zelda’s character.
I think I would have preferred to do a one-layer corset construction (as the pattern describes), except I can never find instructions I like on finishing the seams on the inside without covering them in boning channels. The Redthreaded pattern suggests serging the seam allowances, which is too modern for my taste.
For this corset, I made boning channels between the two layers. My construction method started with assembling the inner and outer layers together at the busk and center back. I sewed the bust gores separately on each layer, but for most of the other seams, including the hip gore, I sewed them all at once, with four layers together. With the hip gore, I left the seam open across the boning channels so I could insert the boning later. Each seam was topstitched twice with silk thread, partially for strength and partially because I liked the look. Altering the pattern instructions in such a reckless way was a lot to keep track of and I’m not sure I’d do it like this again, but at least I know this corset will be incredibly strong thanks to the two layers of coutil.
After that I inserted the boning according to the pattern instructions. In most places I used spiral steel bones, which are fairly flexible. At the center front and back, I used flat spring steel boning, because those sections should not be able to flex, especially side to side. I made bias tape from the silk taffeta and used that to bind the top and bottom. (I always wear safety goggles when sewing that bottom binding, because there’s a risk the sewing machine needle could hit the boning, break, and fly into nearby soft tissue. It might seem overly cautious, but my dad once got an x-acto knife to the eyeball, so I’d rather err on the safe side.)
At some point during this process I also inserted eyelets. At that point, the corset was functionally done. However, it was very common in this era to “floss” the bones. Flossing is both decorative (there are many pretty shapes that can be creative) and functional. The stitching helps keep the bones properly positioned in their channels and can help strengthen the areas where boning might wear through the fabric. I used a fairly heavy silk thread and flossed the end of each bone, as well as the points where two boning channels crossed seams (because of the weird construction order I did things in, the seams aren’t actually stitched down at those points.) I also reinforced the points of the bust gussets, which are spots where the seam allowance is very thin and extra reinforcement is helpful. Some of this was an enjoyable process, but I admit I did get bored partway through and finishing was a bit of a slog. I’m pleased with how it looks, though! (On the outside. The inside is messier.)
The very, very last thing I did was to sew a hook on. I’ve seen these referred to as petticoat hooks, but I’m not sure if that’s an official name. The idea is that you can tuck the waistband of your crinoline and petticoats under the hook to reduce bulk at the waist, thus creating the visual effect of a smaller waistline. This is seen on some, but by no means all, corsets from the period.
With that, the corset was ready to go! Next I’ll jump back in time to talk about my ruffled petticoat.
The first things I made for my 1860s Zelda project were my base layers: a linen chemise and drawers. These were usually linen, sometimes cotton, and go next to the skin to absorb sweat and body oils, because they can be washed much more easily and frequently than the outer clothing layers. I used handkerchief-weight linen from Fabrics-store.com and Truly Victorian 102. For some reason, despite being perfectly capable of reading that I should buy 6 ⅝ yards of 45″ wide fabric for both pieces, I bought 3 yards of 58″ fabric instead. That left me with a bit of a challenge cutting it all out, but I did succeed! I had to cut most things on a single layer, which I often do anyway (or I fold the fabric in specific ways rather than cutting on one singular “the fold”.) I also had to piece a smidge of the chemise that wouldn’t fit. That’s historically accurate—piecing is period, and fabric is precious!
The chemise has buttons at the shoulders, which can be folded down for more revealing ballgown necklines, and beading lace (that’s the name for the kind of lace with openings to run a ribbon through) at the neckline. I initially tried to use a lace the seller claimed was cotton, but unfortunately, cotton doesn’t melt under an iron. After that I got much more careful buying lace on the internet. You can tell the difference if you know what to look for (many of the more complex designs are nylon, and cotton lace doesn’t have any sheen and is more expensive.) The neckline and sleeve lace and silk ribbon are from Sew Vintagely.
I sewed all of the construction seams on my machine, and finished a lot of stuff by hand. I even did hand-worked buttonholes for the first time, thanks to an excellent and timely tutorial in Threads magazine. My enthusiasm for the project, which I’d only just begun, made me want to handsew, which isn’t my default state of being at all. I sewed all of the lace on by hand with cotton thread.
The drawers have a split crotch—this is because there’s no way you’re removing any items of clothing just to answer nature’s call. (No, you don’t wear anything underneath, that just makes things much more difficult.) The front and back were close to identical, so I sewed a little lace motif at the back to serve as a “tag.” I also sewed lace from Petite Coco Crafts at the hem of the chemise and the hems of the drawers, just for a bit of pretty. These are, after all, garments for a princess.
I’m going to be posting somewhat non-chronologically for a bit. I’d like to post the whole process of 1860s Zelda, but that process took place from early 2021 to mid-2022, as in, The Past. But I’d also like to keep up with my current projects. Therefore, I give you: 1890s Umbreon.
I’ve just started work on my next, and second, historical costume. Instead of staying with the same era as my first, like a sensible person, I’ve decided to jump ahead three decades so that I have to make entirely new underpinnings before starting the costume itself. And to be honest, none of the concepts I have in the pipeline are in the same era as each other. The benefit to this, in the long term, is that eventually I’ll be able to jump start future projects because I’ll already have underpinnings suitable for a wide range of decades.
(This is kind of like when I tell myself that buying perennializing fall bulbs for the garden means I won’t have to buy as many next year. I always buy as many next year.)
The good thing is, my trusty Truly Victorian 110 (TV110) corset, which I originally made for another cosplay (Stripper Jessie and James from Pokemon, maybe I’ll blog about that one one day) should do me pretty well through the mid- to late 19th century, so I’m not planning to make a new corset for this.
But before I get into detail about that, let’s talk about the concept!
The 1860s Zelda dress taught me that it’s really fun to mix together historical costuming and cosplay. I attend anime conventions regularly, while I haven’t yet attended a historical costuming event, so making costumes that are recognizable at anime conventions and other fandom gatherings means I get a lot more occasions to wear the outfit.
When I cosplay, I almost never stick exactly to the character. I can’t help myself—I have to put my own twist on it somehow. So adding in historical clothing is a really fun way to do that. However, it’s pretty important to me to be recognizable to other people when cosplaying, and that’s doubly so when I’m not exactly replicating the character design. As a result, I like to focus my cosplay designs on widely recognized, popular characters. If I chose an obscure character that people would have a hard time recognizing normally, and then put a historical spin on it, it would probably be a pretty cool outfit… but it doesn’t give me the massive psychological reward of people getting excited when they recognize my character.
Enter: Historical Pokémon.
Long story short, I searched through the fandoms I’m familiar with to find easily-recognizable, easily-reinterpreted characters to adapt for historical costume, and Pokémon jumped out as a really great option. They’re well known, especially the classic ones; they’re not terribly detailed compared to many, many anime/video game characters out there; and the designs lend themselves well to experimentation.
For those not familiar, Eevee is an adorable little fox/cat sort of creature that can evolve into a much wider variety of new forms based on what it’s exposed to. In the long term, this could result in a really damn cool rainbow of linked costumes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I opted to start with Umbreon, a Dark-type Pokémon that evolves at night, and paired it with the 1890s walking outfit I’d been craving for some time.
My goal here seems pretty simple compared to the very-involved layer cake that was the Zelda dress. Thank goodness the skirt hems shrank down again after the ‘60s. There will be a wool walking skirt, a wool vest, and a cotton shirtwaist. The gold trim will probably be the same base as whatever it’s stitched to, and it will probably be stitched on permanently, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to permanent stitches for those ovals… the skirt would be more versatile without. We’ll see.
Oh, and there’ll be a hat. And ears. I don’t know how I’m going to do those. I’ll figure that out later.
On January 3rd, 2020, I woke up with the sudden idea that I needed to make a historical cosplay.
Now, I’ve been sewing since 2008 and cosplaying since around the same time, so this wasn’t as wild an idea as it could have been. Still, it did seem a little out of left field for me, since I’d never done a historical costume before and had no idea where to start. I didn’t even know what historical era I wanted to do. What I did know was that my partner and I usually go to two anime conventions a year, and I had previously remarked that it would be nice to have a formal cosplay for the formal ball at one of them. I’ve been a Zelda fan very nearly my whole life, so when I had this spark of an idea, it was quite specifically to do a historical interpretation of Princess Zelda (Breath of the Wild version).
I did a bunch of research that day, and eventually settled on the U.S. Civil War era, not least because my partner’s family used to do Civil War reenacting.* Thus, my partner was fully on board for a coordinating Link cosplay, and my mother-in-law would be an excellent resource for women’s clothing.
Then… I did nothing.
It wasn’t until almost exactly a year later that I started working on the costume itself, starting with the underpinnings. Ultimately, the whole process took a year and seven months to get to what I’m calling the “base” costume. The tricky thing with historical clothing is that you can’t just do the outer, visible clothing—you need to have the correct undergarments to create the right silhouette and structure. At a minimum, that means chemise, drawers, corset, crinoline/hoop skirt, and petticoat. Then, of course, I had to create a dress fit for a princess, and then find all the little pieces and accessories to top it all off. My goal is to document the process of the entire costume creation, because it’s going to take a lot more space than Instagram offers.
I’ll begin with my concept sketch, which I didn’t actually create until I’d started the project.
My plan was to use Simplicity 5724, a Martha McCain Fashion Historian pattern.
When I first started, I was still very new to the process of researching historical clothing and how to make things historically accurate, but generally the pattern seemed to be well-regarded. I decided to adapt Princess Zelda’s formal gown for this project. The curly designs on her sleeves transferred to the skirt petals, and I could copy the triangle design from the hem of the gown. After that, it was mainly a matter of representing the color scheme in a way that looked more or less recognizable. I also decided to borrow the Triforce brooch/medallion seen in several of her other costumes. I had vague intentions of inkle-weaving an appropriate trim for the bertha, which so far I’ve never done.
Zelda’s outfits in Breath of the Wild
My sketch (the gloves would ultimately shorten to a more historically accurate length)
Up next: underpinnings, including my chemise, drawers, and ruffled petticoat.
*This project was initially nicknamed Civil War Zelda, and occasionally people refer to it as such. However, very shortly after I started working on it, January 6th, 2021 happened, and that name felt… uncomfy. So officially the costume name is “1860s Zelda.”