Costuming · Sewing

McCall’s 8231 1890s shirtwaist

I was going to do two patterns in one post, and then as usual, I ended up being too verbose again. So! This post and the next one will be an exercise in compare and contrast. Both of the patterns I used are for the same ultimate end, but one of them I hated from beginning to end, and the other one I loved. Let’s dive in to the one I didn’t like.

A woman wearing an orange-and-white striped shirtwaist with an angled yoke, an orange-full length skirt, and an orange hat.

McCalls 8231 is a terrible pattern. It is a pattern designed by Angela Clayton, whose work is absolutely stunning. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. I’ll be up front that I do not blame Angela Clayton for how bad this pattern is. The design is extremely cute and I highly doubt that she drafted the pattern itself or wrote the instructions. My assumption is that McCalls’s in-house patternmakers and staff did the drafting and instruction-writing per their in-house standards. So I will be blaming them unless I hear otherwise.

For my 1890s Umbreon project, my plan was to make a shirtwaist, vest, and walking skirt. I looked at a lot of shirtwaist patterns but I decided I liked the style lines on this one the best. How cute is that angled yoke? It won’t be visible if I wear the vest over it, but I can totally wear it on its own.

I started with a mockup. (Side note: this pattern only comes as a printed tissue pattern, and I loathe pattern tissue. Give me PDFs any day.) The first and most obvious problem was the fit of the sleeve. The armscye is incredibly low, and it restricts range of motion. I could barely lift my arm. You might think that an armscye being too low, or too large, would give you more room, but it does not! (Think of hammer pants as an example of how a seam being too low restricts how well you can move.) I have no idea what kind of arms McCalls drafts for, but it sure wasn’t mine.

I did a few things to deal with the armscye. First, I took the side seam in at the top by about 1.5-2″. That helped by making the armscye smaller, but it didn’t solve everything. Then I shortened the yoke pieces by 2” by taking a straight horizontal tuck out of both front and back. This raised the bottom of the armscye. Lastly, I opened up the armscye seam and patched in a bit of extra fabric—like a gusset, except it would eventually be integrated into the flat pattern instead of being a separate piece.

Author showing mockup with fully raised arm. Underarm seam has been partially ripped to make room.
I added fabric into the area where I ripped the seam as a faux-gusset.

On my first muslin, the sleeve didn’t have enough puff, in my opinion. This was an easy fix. While I was making the armscye smaller, I did not make any changes to the sleeve. That meant the sleeve was proportionately larger to the armscye, so I could gather it significantly more in order to make it fit, and that gave me the classic 1890s poof I was looking for. I originally planned to convert the 2-piece sleeve into a 1-piece sleeve, but the seams added shaping, so I decided not to in the end.

One other issue I had with the first muslin: the button band ended up too short for the length of the front. I don’t know if that was my error or a pattern error.

Once the muslin was fitted to my satisfaction, I cut the muslin apart, trimmed off the seam allowances, and traced it off to make new pattern pieces. I find the standard ⅝” seam allowance too big, so I intended to convert it to a ½” seam allowance. Unfortunately I screwed up and ended up with a ⅜”, which was okay but made flat-felled seams feel a little bit trickier.

After my muslin, I stalled, because the next step was dyeing my fabric. I wanted a lightweight, woven-in striped fabric for this shirtwaist, but the fabrics that fit my idea of what I wanted for the weave were all white. So I bought this really nice white fabric and used Dharma Trading Co’s “hot black” dye to turn it black so it would fit the 1890s Umbreon vision. It took about 2 hours and in the end, I got what could be termed “light black” at best. Dyeing it was annoying the first time around, though, so I didn’t bother to do it a second time.

I barely squeezed the pattern out of 2 yards of 45”-wide fabric. I almost completely ignored the instructions that came with the pattern and just constructed it like a normal shirt. The pattern has very weird instructions for the button band, for example, so I had to widen the pattern piece so I could attach it like normal.

Putting in the back yoke was pretty tricky with those opposing angles. It was even trickier because I was attaching both inner and outer yoke pieces, like a typical shirt yoke, when the instructions actually tell you to hand-stitch the inner yoke pieces down after you’ve constructed the shirt. In retrospect, I’m not really happy with the point at the back. It only occurred to me later that the better way to put it in would have been to cut the back piece with a center back seam instead of on the fold, then attach the yoke pieces before seaming up the back. So I’ll have to do that next time.

Partially constructed shirt, showing front yokes coming together as an inverted V at center front.

Couple other fit notes: raising the armscye meant my final sleeve was too short. The cuff pieces were meant to be folded in half, which decreases the height by half, so I ended up keeping the cuff full-width and cutting extra cuff pieces for the inner cuffs. My armscye was also a little too tight after my adjustments, so I had to take the sleeves off, cut the armscye ½” deeper at the bottom, and reattach them.

Author with shirtwaist on, sans collar.
Mid-construction, pre-collar. I felt like this had a real Lady Gaga vibe.

Also, the collar is a completely straight rectangle, which I really did not like. A curved collar band would have fit much more nicely. Since I didn’t have enough fabric to draft a new collar and cut it from my fabric, I added some darts to my collar piece instead. It’s okay but I don’t love it.

Additional construction details: all the seams are flat-felled except for the second sleeve seam, which is done with a French seam, and the armscye, which is serged because life is short. My buttons are shell buttons from Mood. I didn’t add anything to the sleeves to help support the structur of the poof, they just do that on their own.

A note for anyone trying to install a tower placket into a two-piece sleeve: this is apparently a thing no one on the internet has ever done, but for once McCalls’s instructions helped. What you have to do is sew the sleeve seam up to the point your placket slit opens. Finish the seam above that however you like; I flat-felled mine. Cut away the seam allowance on one side. You now have a flat piece of fabric with a slit in it; put your placket piece on top and install as normal.

The back has a little section that’s gathered and held in place with a rectangular tab sewn to the inside, as per the instructions in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. I omitted the recommended waist ties because I didn’t want to make them.

Author wearing shirtwaist underneath fitted black vest, black leggings, and Doc Marten boots.
Apparently I just didn’t take very many pictures of the final version! I finished it at sewing camp so I was occupied with other things.

Overall verdict: the result is pretty close to what I wanted, but it took a lot more work than I expected to get there. I’ll probably make this again, with a few more tweaks as noted above.

Pattern: McCalls 8231

Fabric: “Kitty” cotton dimity from Renaissance Fabrics, dyed

Notions: Cotton organdy and black knit tricot as interfacing, buttons from Mood.

Costuming · Sewing

1860s Zelda: Garibaldi Blouse and Revere Bodice

Even though I haven’t caught up on my retrospective look at the 1860s Zelda costume enough to have documented the ballgown bodice, I’m going to skip ahead in time to talk about two pieces that I finished more recently. These are my Garibaldi blouse and Revere bodice/jacket (both from Truly Victorian patterns), which collectively make up my Zelda day bodice, thus enabling me to have the much-envied capacity to “go from day to night.”

Author sitting on grass next to Korok plushie

And yes, this is a thing! Having multiple bodices to go with the same skirt gives an outfit that much more versatility and was fairly common at the time. It was also quite the done thing to have these all made up in the same fabric—Victorians love a matchy-matchy set. I did plan on eventually making a jacket once I had finished the ballgown look, so I bought extra fabric right at the beginning so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding more.

1860s Link and Zelda standing in a garden

First let’s talk about the blouse. The Garibaldi blouse, named for an Italian folk hero named Giuseppe Garibaldi, originally caught on in women’s fashion as a red wool shirt with military-style trimmings, mirrored after the uniforms Garibaldi’s followers wore in their fight for Italian independence from the Austrians in 1860. Over time, variations appeared, including in white fabric as seen in my version. Eventually this style would lead to the shirtwaist and blouse of the later Victorian period. Before this, “separates” were not really a thing—dresses may have frequently had separate components, but worn together were meant to look like a single ensemble, rather than having a “mix-and-match” look.

Another blouse shot with gazebo

I made mine last fall out of a gorgeous cotton voile from Renaissance Fabrics. It’s lightweight and a bit sheer, so it will be nice for the summer months especially. The pattern has a lot of gathers, and the voile gathered beautifully.

I don’t have much to say about the pattern itself! I made the long version without a waistband, meant to be tucked into the skirt. It went together like any other button-down woven shirt. I had no issues with the instructions, but I’m also pretty familiar with how to put together a button-down shirt, so it’s possible it may be trickier for inexperienced sewists. I found it interesting that the cuffs and button bands were not interfaced. Interfacing wasn’t really used historically, as best I can tell, so this would be period-accurate, but modern sewists may be surprised by its lack. It does mean the cuffs and button bands are somewhat floppy in the sheer fabric, but I haven’t found this to be an issue.

Author wearing blouse, back side

I did discover the voile is sheer enough that I need to wear a corset cover underneath it to prevent my corset from showing through. So I had to make one. My corset cover is a quick and dirty project; I took a lot of shortcuts, like serging the seams instead of using nicer seam finishes like a flat-fell. I didn’t want to buy a pattern, so I used a suggestion I found on Youtube, which was to use an existing bodice pattern and adapt it. Basically what I did was took my ballgown bodice pattern, cut it off at the waist, added button bands and a waistband, and ran a ribbon through the top binding. I would have liked to add lace to the top, but I didn’t have any in my stash that I liked for that application, so I didn’t.

Corset cover worn over corset and tshirt
It does the job. The job is “covering my corset.”

On to the jacket! I wasn’t planning on getting around to this right away—I was planning on focusing my spring/summer on 1890s Umbreon—but two things changed my plans. The first was a friend pointing out that, with the new Zelda game coming out May 12th, more Zelda content would probably be very well-received by fellow Zelda fans. The second was my plan to attend my first-ever historical costuming meetup, where I decided I’d really love to have my full day look completed.

Back view of dress with jacket, author standing in garden
You know what’s fun? Walking through crowded Washington D.C. streets and confusing people by dressing like, well, this.

The pattern is the Revere bodice/jacket from Truly Victorian. “Revere” in this case is the term for those folded-back corners. In some examples, Victorians would sew faux folded-back sections directly on top of the garment, but in this case, they are actually sewn on as facings and folded back.

I made a quick mockup before cutting out my fabric, and made two adjustments. The first is that I shortened the sleeves an inch so that my poofy blouse sleeves would show more. The second was letting out one of the darts to give myself a bit more ease. This turned out to be insufficient—with the additional underlining layer in the real thing, the jacket was still really tight, and I ended up letting out the other dart too. Fortunately this was really easy to do even after everything was assembled, because the jacket is underlined (fabrics treated as one) rather than lined (two separate layers.)

Jacket muslin with one sleeve
I probably was too generous thinking this would have enough ease.

I found the construction mostly straightforward. There were a few places the instructions could have been better. The sleeve was too large to be eased as per the directions, so I did had to gather it instead, but only after I’d futzed with it long enough to get frustrated. (I skipped the armscye piping, which is not shown in the illustration anyway.)

Additionally, the instructions on attaching the hem piping were unclear; it has you “match” the hem and tail facings, then sew the piping, then sew the facings, but you need to attach the piping before the facings come into play at all. Also, I’m not sure I like that the boning in the darts stops at the waist. When wearing the jacket, I found that created a distinct wrinkle and a possible pressure point where the boning might try to poke through.

I skipped making real buttonholes on the sleeve and tail reveres and just sewed the buttons directly in place instead, but I did make buttonholes for the lapels (because I thought I might need them unbuttoned at some point???). I also used my serger to finish seams instead of doing a period-correct finish, because it was faster and the taffeta really wanted to fray if I so much as breathed on it.

I did add a waist tape for support, which turned out to be less necessary after I let the darts out for ease.

Inside of jacket, showing boning and waist tape
The waist tape is tacked down at the side back seams and hangs loose otherwise. It fastens in the front with hooks and eyes and helps take the strain off a tight bodice.

Overall I LOVE the results. The look is really cute and feels very tailored—I might like it even better than the ballgown bodice! And it has a lot of versatility, too. One of the bonuses is that I can almost entirely get dressed by myself in this look—I do need a little help with the skirt hooks and eyes—whereas the evening bodice definitely requires some assistance.

Still to come—posts about the underskirt, overskirt, and evening bodice!


Pattern: TV441 1861 Garibaldi blouse

Fabric: Antoinette cotton dotted voile from Renaissance Fabrics

Notions: buttons from my stash

Time: didn’t track

Corset cover

Pattern: bodice from Simplicity 5724

Fabric: 118″ Kona premium cotton from Dharma Trading Co. (leftover from petticoats)

Notions: buttons from my stash

Time: 3 hours


Pattern: TV449 1861 Revere bodice

Fabric: polyester taffeta from Mood Fabrics, cotton sateen from Renaissance Fabrics

Notions: gold buttons from Joanns

Time: 14 hours

Author sitting on grass next to Korok plushie

1860s Zelda fanchon hat

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.

Author modeling the hat

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:

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.

1871 Fanchion photo from book; woman with dark hair wearing a frilly lace confection on her head

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.

Hat with final layer of turquoise and gold metallic trim
With every layer of trim, I navigated the corners by using the incredibly scientific method of folding darts in and topstitching the trim down accordingly.
Final hat, with several layers of trim and an organza ribbon bow and side ties
I was undecided about “bow” vs. “no bow.” Instagram voted “bow.” The ribbons at the side can be used as ties.

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…

Hat modeled on a wig and wig head combination, with a bow
Hat modeled on a wig and wig head combination, with a bow

A Tale of Two Petticoats

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.

Person with blue hair wearing a black corset and white petticoat

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.

Person with blue hair wearing a black corset and white petticoat

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.

Person with blue hair wearing a black corset and white petticoat

Pattern: Truly Victorian TV170 Victorian Petticoats

Fabric: 118″ Kona Premium cotton from Dharma Trading Co

Lace: beading and hem lace from Laceking on Etsy

Total time: 13:19


1890s Umbreon: Combinations

Person with blue hair wearing embroidered combinations

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.

Dilute tortie cat laying on fabric
Jellybean is a great sewing helper. Well, she thinks so, anyway.

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.

Various lace and purple ribbon
I ended up not using the lace on the bottom, which was intended for straps.

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.

Person with blue hair wearing a beige mockup of combinations

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.

Bodice front of combinations
Flowers oriented the way I wanted them.

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.

A long strip of fabric (future ruffle) hemmed with lace, scissors on top
A ruffle prior to gathering. I absolutely love a good flat-felled seam.

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.

Person with blue hair wearing embroidered combinations

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.

Person with blue hair wearing embroidered combinations looking very cold
Photographing lightweight cotton underwear in January is not always the wisest idea.

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.

Person with blue hair wearing embroidered combinations

Pattern: Edwardian Combinations from BlueFineGoods

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.

Total time: 20:45

Costuming · Life

Happy New Year and Winter Zelda Photoshoot

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.

1860s Zelda black and white looking from gazebo to woods

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.

1860s Zelda wearing a cloak in the woods

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.

1860s Zelda in a gazebo looking toward the woods

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.

1860s Zelda looking wistfully out the gazebo

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.)

1860s Zelda in front of a gazebo in a white fluffy day blouse

Back view of dark blue cloak

1860s Zelda in the woods extending a hand toward a Korok (forest spirit)

Plushie Korok (a Zelda forest spirit that looks like a twig with a leaf face)
While out in the woods, Zelda encountered a Korok, or forest spirit, and had to say hello.

1860s Zelda in a cloak looking into the distance in golden evening light

Happy New Year, everyone.


1860s Zelda: Corsetry

Confession: I did not need a new corset for this project.

Woman with blue hair and pointy ears wearing a light blue corset over a white chemise

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.

Woman with red hair wearing a black corset with R on the bust points, holding a riding crop and a Pokeball
I used this for my Stripper Jessie from Team Rocket costume.

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.

Corset pieces cut out
Three layers of fabric, so six pieces of fabric per pattern piece to account for both left and right sides.
Front of corset, partially assembled
I found the bust gores a little tricky to insert. Also, the center front is cut on the bias, so it distorted slightly when inserting the busk.

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.)

Half of a corset fully constructed
There are two eyelets close together at the waist, which is where the corset is actually tightened from. The lacing makes “bunny loops” at those points instead of crossing over to the other side. When wearing, the bunny loops are pulled tighter and tied. Also, I can’t really do this by myself.

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.

Author with blue hair, white chemise, and light blue corset

Pattern: Redthreaded 1860s Gored Corset

Fabric: silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics

Satin coutil from Corset Making Supplies

Notions: Boning, eyelets, and busk from Corset Making Supplies; petticoat hook and satin ribbon from Jo-Ann


1860s Zelda: Underpinnings Part 1

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 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!

Barely any fabric left after cutting out
Not much fabric left after cutting out.

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.

Author wearing finished chemise and drawers

Next up: corsetry.

Chemise and drawers

Pattern: Truly Victorian 102

Fabric: IL020 bleached white linen (3oz) from

Hem lace: Petite Coco Crafts

Neckline/sleeve lace and silk ribbon: Sew Vintagely


1890s Umbreon: Concept Development

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.

Enter: Eeveelutions.

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.

Drawing of a woman wearing a flared black skirt, close-fitting black vest with gold buttons, and black shirtwaist. Also wearing a straw hat with long black ears.

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.

So. The plan.

What I need:

  1. Combinations. I don’t technically need new underwear—my chemise and drawers would work fine. But I want them. Planned pattern: BlueFineGoods Edwardian Combinations
  2. Petticoat. Probably two; one specific to the 1890s, and one suitable for the Natural Form era that I’ll wear underneath for extra volume. Planned pattern: Truly Victorian 170
  3. Shirtwaist. Planned pattern: haven’t decided yet, but maybe Angela Clayton’s McCalls 8231.
  4. Skirt. Planned pattern: Black Snail Patterns 0414 Fan skirt
  5. Vest. Planned pattern: Black Snail Patterns 0220 1890s Ladies’ Vests
  6. Hat/ears
  7. Wig

What I already have:

  1. Corset
  2. Shoes (American Duchess 1890s Paris boots)

And so it begins!


1860s Zelda: The Beginning

Blonde woman with elf ears wearing blue 1860s-style dress, parasol, and fan

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.

Woman wearing enormous white ballgown trimmed with red flowers and black lace

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.

Series of screenshots of four Zelda outfits from Breath of the Wild

Zelda’s outfits in Breath of the Wild

Sketch of 1860s ballgown: blue main color, gold accents, white contrast panels

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.”