Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Chintz Round Gown--Converting an open robe pattern: a tutorial

I decided that I'd like to have a round gown for summer.  Eliminating one layer of fabric certainly helps when going to events on 90+ degree days.  A round gown is simply a closed front gown and it would be worn over one petticoat.

My first task was to study some pics of extants.

You'll notice that they are all similar in style.  There is an earlier stomacher version which seems to be less common than the center front closing ones. There were a number with long sleeves.  Basically, they look like any English gown with a closed front skirt. I decided on a style representative of 1780 - 1781.

The J.P. Ryan pattern English gown pattern does have instructions for adding what they refer to as an apron front to make a round gown.  I didn't care for those instructions.  I also studied the scale pattern in Fitting and Proper.  Unlike the JPR pattern in which the skirt is attached just as an English gown with an added drop front apron, The F&P gown seems to have the skirt attached to the back of the bodice to the pocket slits with the rest of it being constructed as a half petticoat.  I figured this would be easy to do using my favorite gown pattern and can really be done with any English gown pattern.  Studying the F&P scale pattern, I determined that the entire fullness of the skirt was about 135 inches.  

The pattern I used has about 120 inches in fullness for the open robe. My petticoats typically have 120 - 130 inches of fullness.  Since I plan on wearing a bum pad, I wanted to make the skirt a little fuller.  I cut the back panel a couple of inches wider than indicated in the pattern and decided that I would add a 30 inch front panel to make the closed front.

I cut the gown out, using the bodice pattern I had outlined in this post as I wanted this gown to be a center front closing gown.

My fabric choice posed a few issues due to the prominent wide spaced stripes.  I had to take that into consideration when cutting out.  Stripes needed to match as closely as possible on the sleeves and they needed to be symmetrical in the en forreau pleats.  The stripes also were distracting when appearing on the smaller pieces --shoulder straps and back facing--so I made sure to cut those pieces in a way that the stripes won't detract from the finished appearance.

I began constructing the gown following the regular English gown constructions in my pattern.

The first change in procedure came when attaching the skirt panels to the bodice.
Typically, you mark the bodice where the pocket slits match and where the skirt front edge goes, pleat the entire skirt and line the marks on the bodice up with those on the skirt.  For this gown, the pocket slit mark is the only one needed.

The skirt panels are pleated to the pocket slit, pinned to the bodice then stitched on with a back stitch.  The rest of of the skirt will be dealt with later and will just hang free at for now.  At this point, I have not added the front panel just to cut down on all the fabric that gets in the way.

Once the back of the skirt is sewn on, finish the bodice and add the sleeves according to the directions in the pattern you are using.  The front panel will be added at the end.

When your bodice is finished, sew the front panel to each of the side panels.  You now have what resembles half a petticoat hanging free.  

Use whatever method you normally use to pleat your petticoats and pleat this part of the skirt as if it is the front of a regular petticoat. Be sure to first measure the width of the back of the bodice at the waist.  You will want that to overlap the front skirt by a little.  Baste the pleats in place as you will want to try the gown on and check for fit.

Put the gown on a dress form or try it on and someone assist you. You will want to have the gown over any clothing you intend to wear with it.  I put my gown on my dress form over my shift, stays, bum pad and under petticoat. You need to pin the front petticoat to your stays and pin the front bodice closed.  The object is to see that the pocket slits line up smoothly and that the back overlaps the front evenly.

Once you are satisfied with the way the skirt lays, mark the waist line on the front of the petticoat.  You will place your waistband on that line.  You can use whichever method of applying a waistband that you like.  I just whip stitched half inch linen tape to the front of the petticoat and folded down the excess pleated material. The tape is long enough to wrap around the back and back to the front.

Check your hem to make sure it is even.  Due to the size of my bum pad, my gown had to be almost 3 inches longer in the back.

Hem your gown and add any trim.  I will be adding simple elbow ruffles made from cotton mull.  I measured the width of the bottom of the sleeve--12 inches--and cut a strip 2 3/4 inches wide by 30 inches long (2.5 X the sleeve width).  I sewed the short ends together with a tiny felled seam, roll hemmed one long edge and whip gathered the other.  I made 12 inch loops of 1/4 inch linen tape and whipped the ruffles to them.  The ruffles were basted into the sleeve and can be removed to use in other gowns.

One thing that threw me was all the fabric in the gown as it isn't open and has extra fabric in the skirt.  The gown was worn over a lightweight linen under petticoat, bumpad, shift and stays.  To wear it, I had to first put on the gown bodice.  You can see how the skirt just hangs!

Next I took the front ties, wrapped them around the back and back to the front where they were tied then tucked into the skirt.

Then the gown was pinned closed like a typical English gown.

I was very pleased with the way this gown turned out. It eliminates one layer of skirt which makes it nice for summer.  I wore this gown to celebrate Independence Day at Mount Vernon.  Here it is all finished:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Two-fer Tuesday: Summer linen edition

Summer is a time for lightweight linen garments so when Burnley & Trowbridge got in some lovely lightweight pastel linens, I couldn't wait to get my hands on them!  I decided to use my favorite pattern to make a couple of summer gowns. This pattern is incredibly versatile so I decided to make a mid 1770's and and early 1780's gown.

First up the 1770's gown.  I made the gown exactly following the pattern instructions.  I added horizontal strips to one side of the stomacher and faced the wrong side with the fashion fabric to make it reversible.  I can wear the plain side out or I can wear the side with the strips showing.  I really like the way stripes show on a traditional English gown.  They are set off nicely in the robings and back facing.

Here is the gown as it was being fit tested:

While I hope to make a matching petticoat, I decided to wear this with an indigo one for this photo shoot.  I also have a white linen petticoat which will work with it. Here is the final result. The gown is also worn with a lightweight linen apron, an Indian block print neck handkerchief, and a ribbed silk market bonnet made from the Fashions Revisited pattern.

For the second gown, I decided to make it with a center front close and a shorter length.  I cut it out using the bodice I altered in this post.  I also decided on a shorter length adjusting the hem to accommodate a generous bum pad.

Here is the gown as it is being fitted:

And with the skirt pulled up at the side seams:
In order to determine where to put the ties, I placed the gown on my dressform and experimented by pinning it up various ways at the seams. I ended up sewing tapes at the waist at the side seams and the back seams.

The second set of ties were placed 18 inches below the waist ties at the side seams and 20 inches below at the back seams.

The ties are simply tied in bows to draw up the skirt.

Here is the finished result.  The gown is worn with a tambor work neck handkerchief and apron, both made from vintage linens, white linen mitts and cap.

I'm ready for some summer garden parties!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Repurposing: Thrift Store hats--a tutorial

I love millinery.  Every gown needs a perfect hat to go with it.  While convenient, buying ready made hat blanks can be costly if you wish to have a large hat collection.  Repurposing quality straw hats is really quite simple.  First of all--straw, like other natural fibers, has the ability to be reshaped and sized with the addition of heat, steam, starch and molds.

I've been very fortunate to find decent straw hats literally every time I enter my favorite thrift store.  The trick is knowing what to look for.  First of all, make sure the hat is actually natural straw.  Typically there will be a tag indicating that it is straw. Another consideration is the construction of the hat.  Most of them seem to be made from braided straw which is more desirable than woven straw. Woven straw blanks are fine if you are just going to reblock and completely cover the hat, but braided straw is so much more versatile and it is what you see in period hats.  How do you tell?

Woven straw looks exactly like what its name implies:

Braided straw is made from a long braid of straw that is spiraled and sewn to create the hat form--much like a braided rug.  You can see the machine stitches which secure the braid.  You will see different grades of braid--the better ones being narrower.

Another consideration is whether or not the hat has a double braid at the edge of the brim.  You can usually see if there is only one or 2 layers at the edge. This isn't terribly important unless the particular style you wish to create requires it--as you can see in this post.

Last, consider the overall shape of the hat and the changes you want to make to it.  Sometimes, no amount of blocking can do what you need to do.

Let's consider the above picture.  All of the hats above except the one in the center front, can be remade into flat hats with some simple techniques and blocking.  The one in the center front cannot.  My plan for that hat is to flip the brim down and reblock it into a 1920's cloche shape.  The large hat at the left in back will be blocked to be a large Gainsborough style hat.  The one at the left in front is small and almost a flat hat.  That one will be made into an 18th century hat for my granddaughter.  The other two have yet to be determined!

So--how do you repurpose a hat?  First you need forms to block the straw over.  I have a 3 pound coffee can for a straight crown with a flat top.  I have a large plastic container that is slightly sloped (at the post linked above) and I have a stainless steel mixing bowl that works great for cloche style hats.  You also need a stiffener--I use spray starch or you can use Knox gelatin in water.  Steam and a good iron help.  I actually iron directly on my flat hats.  Sewing machine, thread.

My 2-part tutorial will show you how I made a floofy French hat.  I've always been enamored by these somewhat silly hats:

The first hat is the one I wish to make.  It's not quite so over-the-top as the others. Analyzing the picture, I see that it is a braided straw hat with a fairly large brim. It could be a flat crown but I believe there is a crown under the ruffle that supports the flowers.  I like the daintiness of this one even though it is quite fancy.  I've decided to remake a thrift store hat to have a 2 inch tall flat crown, a white silk taffeta ruffle that lays on the brim and one that sticks up around the crown, both ruffles being scalloped and pinked. Mulberry paper flowers will fill the crown and there is a twisted 2-color ribbon trim at the crown.

Here's my hat:

$2 at the thrift store! Just the size I need. The brim is stapled up so I removed the staple first.  Unfortunately the flower was both stapled and hot glued on.  I discovered that a few blasts of steam from the iron softened the glue enough to easily pull it off.

Next, I starched and ironed the brim

Obviously, I will need to change the shape of the crown and reduce its height.  I also need to shrink it a bit.  Since this hat was going to be covered with ruffles, I simply cut the crown off. I figured any stitching I need to do to reattach it will not be seen. You can also snip stitches and unravel it but I only do that when I need to reduce the width of a wide brim. Notice that I left a little lip of the crown to have something to stitch the new reshaped crown to.

Next, I wet the crown and placed it on my mold.  Here I'm using a 3 pound coffee can with a piece of foil on it.
The crown is quite loose on the mold so bent the top around the edge of the can and wrapped the sides of the crown with some old bias and twill tape to hold it tightly to the mold.  Basically, this will shrink the crown to fit the mold.

I left it to dry for a day then took the crown off the mold.  You will notice that the crown it uneven due to the spiral construction.

I laid the crown top down on a flat surface and measured 2 inches up all the way around to even it out.

After trimming the crown, I pinned it into the brim with the brim overlapping about a half inch.  In retrospect, I probably should have blocked it before cutting off the brim because the opening in the brim was bigger due to the shrinking of the crown.  I pinned it in 4 places (12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock) and steamed the brim to shrink it a bit.  Then I placed it on the free arm of the sewing machine and stitched it using the widest zig zag stitch,  I used white thread since the braided straw is also stitched with white thread.

The stitching barely shows and this could be used with just a ribbon trim.

The top of the crown is a bit sunken so I sprayed it with starch, steamed it then turned it upside down and weighted it down to dry.

Perfect! You can see how easy it would be to have made this a flat hat by making the crown about an inch high instead of 2 inches. I'm really happy with the result. The brim will undergo some additional blocking in the next phase.

Now for the fun part!  Decorating the hat!  Stay tuned for Part 2.