At some point I will continue with the retrospective part of the 1860s Zelda series where I post about how I made the skirt and bodice and stuff. But today is not that day. Today is a day I post about a little project I made because I was stalling. It took me about 2 hours total.
For background, I just got back from vacation with my partner and my sister and her husband. (A cruise to the Bahamas—and fortunately less nerve-wracking than the one we did in February 2020.) I have some neat photos coming from that soon. Prior to the cruise I had started work on mocking up my shirtwaist for 1890s Umbreon, which unfortunately had some fit issues with regards to the sleeve. Going on vacation disrupted my momentum on that, so when I got back, my studio seemed a bit intimidating. I wanted to sew, but everything had too many steps. So I decided to tackle a little project to ease myself back into things, and that’s where this silly little hat comes in.
This hat style is called a fanchon. According to Vintage Fashion Guild:
A fanchon is a flat, unstructured head covering with elongated, decorative side pieces resembling earlaps. They were worn atop the head and usually made of lace, with or without additional fabric such as linen or muslin, or of delicate, embroidered netting. They were typically triangular, diamond-shaped, or round.
The fanchon hat or bonnet is the same shape as a fanchon, but with more structure. It is a very small, often triangular or circular hat that sits atop the head and has ribbons at either side to tie beneath the chin.
Both were popular in the mid-Victorian era (mid-19th Century).
I used a pattern from The Victorian Dressmaker’s Companion by Izabela Pitcher of Prior Attire. (I have all three of the currently-available books and I love them. The instructions are sometimes a bit difficult to parse but, quite frankly, many other historical clothing resources have no instructions whatsoever, and the ones that do are often not that good either, by modern sewing pattern standards. Also, there are lots of pictures and lots of pretty outfits in them, so I peruse them just for enjoyment.) The pattern describes it as an 1871 fanchon but the style was worn both before and after.
This was a great opportunity to use little scraps of my dress fabrics and trims. In addition to saving my fabric leftovers, I also keep a separate bag with excess ruffles, bias tape, and ribbon that I used on the original costume. The little hat hardly uses any materials at all, and it made the process really fast and convenient to have everything already on hand.
What I enjoyed most about making this was how freestyle it was. You start with a diamond-like shape of your base fabric—it helps to have something to stiffen it, so I used one layer of taffeta and one layer of cotton organdy, which has sizing in it to make it stiff. I bound the edges with gold taffeta bias tape and added a very thin wire inside the binding to help shape it. After that, it was just a question of adding trims until I liked the look and decided it was done. With the exception of the top layer of trim, none of the stitching needed to be neat or invisible—it was all covered up by the next layer.
So that’s the hat! I will get some photos of it with the full costume in April—my partner and I are going to a historical costuming meetup and I specifically wanted this hat to wear then. Now, let’s see if I can get that shirtwaist sorted out…
Today, February 10th, marks what I consider my “official” sewing anniversary, and this year will make 15 years of sewing. It’s mind-boggling to me that I’m old enough to have done anything for 15 years, but here we are nevertheless. The reason I call it my official anniversary is this: I had already learned to operate a sewing machine and sew pajama pants by this point. I learned from both my mom and from my bestie’s mom in church youth group. But in those cases I didn’t have a hunger to do more than that. It seemed like a useful skill that I just wasn’t interested in. (This was the same teenage me that was “allergic to pink” and had no interest in stereotypically feminine hobbies, so it’s not surprising.)
However, one day I was trawling Livejournal, as was the custom in those days, and ran across a tutorial for making a little plushie cat backpack. The tutorial looked much more approachable than a standard sewing pattern (also keep in mind this was before indie patterns had really caught on) and I decided I absolutely must have a plushie cat backpack. So I hied to Joanns for supplies, pulled out my mom’s cranky old Kenmore machine, asked her to remind me how it worked exactly, and set off. And then I made a plushie cat backback—a finished creation, from my own two hands, just by following some instructions and pictures.
That was when I couldn’t get enough.
The second project was similarly from a Livejournal tutorial, except it was how to make a dress out of quilting cotton. My middle sister and I decided to tackle it together and make our own dresses on a day my mom happened to be away. The magic of making all those tiny perfect machine stitches, and then pressing the seams, and then somehow having an entire garment that I could wear out in the world the next day was just as heady, if not more, than with the cat backpack.
From there it took me some time to come back to commercial patterns. I used informal tutorials whenever I could and tried to tackle self-drafting basic shapes, only to learn some lessons the hard way (like that you can’t evenly divide bust fullness around the entire torso, because boobs only exist in the front.) I bought my first sewing machine with my high school graduation money. I was incredibly fortunate to have a 2-bedroom apartment to myself in college, and I turned my second bedroom into a studio. Before long I bought a refurbished serger… and then several years later, a destashed coverstitch machine, and then a computerized machine, and, well… now I own 6 machines, including a huge fancy embroidery machine.
Indie patterns were starting to appear, and I remember making a lot of Sewaholic patterns (many of which I still love and wear regularly), and eventually, Closet Core Patterns. Occasionally I tackled Big 4 patterns, and they began to make more sense to me. I took a Susan Khalje couture sewing class and learned that “couture sewing” didn’t mean what I thought it did (it’s about taking absolute care in how a garment is constructed, not about fashion design), but I did make a beautiful raw silk dress with a hand-dyed panel for my college graduation. I sewed jeans. I sewed a plaid blazer, messed up the plaid-matching on the back panel twice, and had to secretly piece a new panel together to make it work (but you absolutely can’t tell unless I show it to you up-close.)
In 2018, ten years after I started sewing, I made my own wedding dress. I designed the ensemble (separates, actually),made several bodice mockups, dyed the silk for the skirt, hemmed 27 yards of super-fine silk, and walked down the aisle to marry my amazing partner in a masterpiece of my own making.
In 2020 I decided I wanted to start learning about historical costuming. My 1860s Zelda project took me about a year and a half starting in 2021 and served as a launching point for what will be many future historical pieces.
I remember when “Me Made May,” which is a challenge to wear something handmade every day in May, first popped up. The first few years after I became aware of it, I remember wishing fervently that one day I’d have enough handmade garments to participate. Then it seemed like overnight, I went from “I have nothing handmade to wear” to “I wear handmade clothing every day of every month.” I don’t remember MMM being a challenge; I remember it being an impossibility and then suddenly a thing I could take for granted. (What helped was my love of making t-shirts, which are easy, fast, and feature prominently in my wardrobe.)
So I’ve definitely come a long way in my sewing journey and I look forward to many more years! I thought I’d compile a few things I’ve learned in the past 15 years about how my sewing practice is different now than it used to be, or about things I’ve learned really help me out.
Experience Breeds Efficiency
These days I am a fast sewist when I want to be. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that I am familiar with most of the techniques I encounter, whether it’s “how to install a waistband” or “how to do a flat-felled seam” or “how and when to clip curves,” which means I don’t have to look them up or troubleshoot when they’re needed. I’m also familiar with the process of clothing construction in general, which means I typically don’t need to look up pattern instructions for items constructed in a standard way, such as buttondown shirts or pants or t-shirts. The second reason is I know which shortcuts to take and when. I rarely pin, for example, and I often sew multiple seams before going to the ironing board and pressing. The third reason is that I make fewer mistakes than when I first started out, which means I spend less time fixing them, and I also spend less time trying to figure out what the hell I messed up in the first place.
Taking the Long Way
In opposition to the above, I also know when it makes more sense to use the slow method rather than the quick and dirty way. Sometimes going slowly or taking extra precautions saves time, like hand-basting a shifty seam on a plaid fabric I want to match up perfectly. Sometimes it just looks and works better, like hand-sewing something in place. I recently made patches for the armscyes of my partner’s well-loved vest and hand-stitched them in place. It looks way better than if I’d machine-stitched them. Sometimes taking a bit longer adds efficiency in other ways. For example, I typically cut fabric flat on a single layer, or I make folds the size of individual pattern pieces to cut something out double. I’m usually able to save at least half a yard of fabric that way, with less waste. Lastly, sometimes I take more time because I like the result better. I have a serger, but I don’t usually use it to finish seams on woven fabrics. I much prefer the look of a flat-felled or bias-bound seam, and so I often take the time to do those seam finishes. They’re beautiful even if they take longer.
I Am Not Immune to Dumb Mistakes
“I know how to do this” is a mindset that leads to autopilot sometimes. And on occasion, being on autopilot backfires. (Please see the 1890s combinations post for a great example of how I spaced out on multiple aspects of a single garment.) Experience doesn’t mean I don’t mess up sometimes. I’ve managed to screw up pajama pants, literally the first things I ever learned to sew, as recently as 2020, leading to them being completely unfixable. I’ve melted some of the polyester on my Zelda gown because I am hopelessly reckless with my iron’s temperature settings. There are plenty of dumb mistakes on the road ahead of me, too.
Good Tools and Good Workspaces
I’ve been fortunate enough in my life, and have made it a priority, to have a dedicated sewing workspace everywhere I’ve lived. In some cases it was as small and simple as a sewing machine set up on a desk in a corner of my bedroom or living room, but it was there. My sewing practice has benefited enormously from not needing to set up and put away the sewing machine every time I want to use it. It’s so much easier to go sew for a bit, even when I’m not feeling motivated to do more than a couple of seams, because I don’t have to overcome the hurdle of inertia. It’s been even more helpful when I’ve had spaces with a door I could shut (or cats I could trust), because I can leave projects out mid-construction too. Right now my studio space is a basement room that doubles as my partner’s exercise room and the laundry/utility area, but it has enough room to hold two sewing tables with three machines set up at a time. One day I dream of having a huge, sunny studio with room for a cutting table and all of my machines set up at once.
Good tools are also incredibly important to me. “Sturdy” (and sometimes “sharp”) are far more important than “expensive,” but sometimes the right tool for the job does require an outlay of cash. You can do amazing things with a cheap machine and dull scissors, if you know the workarounds to do so, but it’s so much easier when you have a machine that can properly handle your fabric (and yes, in my opinion this means a serger for knits) and sharp scissors. I don’t remotely have a top-of-the-line machine, so don’t get me wrong there (my main one cost about $500 back in 2015) but it works a lot better than the “economy” lowest-priced machine I started with. It’s also made a lot of difference in my t-shirts to have both a serger and a coverstitch machine rather than trying to make do with substitutions that I don’t think work as well. Good fabric makes a difference—poor-quality fabric can be off-grain, might not press well, might not drape well, and might not be comfortable to wear. Good lighting makes a difference. A good steam iron makes a difference. (I have an extra-wide ironing board I got at Target and I love it so much more than a standard-width one.) A variety of quality cutting implements (good shears—I love my Kai shears—thread snips, pinking shears, duckbill scissors, tailors points, a rotary cutter) makes life so much easier.
(Also, make sure to get your machines serviced regularly and your scissors sharpened when needed.)
Spending Longer on Fewer Pieces
Since I have a pretty full handmade wardrobe (and no way to upgrade closet space right now), I don’t try to churn out garments as fast as I can anymore. I don’t have many gaps in my closet, and what I own I try to make last. It’s no coincidence that this stage of my life is when historical costuming decided to jump in. Historical clothing takes longer to make and tends to do best when made with higher-quality, natural fiber fabrics. Making fewer items more slowly allows me to budget for more expensive fabric when I need it. I get to enjoy all the processes of making clothing without overwhelming my day-to-day closet. (I do wish I had room for a costume closet, though.)
So that’s my fifteen-year wrapup! I’ve got a lot of projects to tackle on the horizon and many more I haven’t even thought of yet. I’m looking forward to many more years of this fabulous hobby and spending time with the fabulous community as well.
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.