Friday, August 7, 2015

If the dress fits . . .

I've been cleaning through my vintage clothes and I came across this dress that I made for a contest in the early 1990's.  The Martha Pullen Company held a contest for heirloom sewn by machine garments.  Heirloom sewing is that style of sewing that you see in those lovely white lacy Victorian garments of the past and it was done by hand.  Rows and rows of French cotton lace and ruched fabric strips stitched together are very typical of this style of sewing along with details like pin tucks and hand embroidery.  To make it more complicated, the lace and fabric strips are typically joined together with entredeux which is a tiny strip about 1/8 inch wide (sometimes less) that looks like faggotting.  These rows are typically hand whipstitched together.  It includes tiny hand rolled and stitched hems.  However when sewing by machine, one must use very tiny zig zag stitches that fall in the little holes in the lace and make tiny rolled hems with the machine to replicate the hand stitches.  It takes some practice, but I enjoyed this type of vintage styling and made a number of dresses for Emily when she was little.

My inspiration for this dress was a single piece of 14 inch wide Swiss embroidered cotton lace that dates to around 1900.  My brother, the antiques dealer, had gifted me with a Hefty garbage bag full of old store stock French Val and Swiss embroidered laces from that time period.  I lovingly restored all of them and I've enjoyed using them over the years.  This one piece though was simply spectacular. The lace, while white, did not match the stark bleached white imported Swiss batiste that I bought so I had to tea dye that then lightly bleach out the dye until I got the right color.   I don't like to wear pure white so I chose a cream color Swiss batiste to use as an under layer.  The sleeves were kept sheer, using only the white batiste.

The dress had some spots on it so I spent a day carefully removing them and gave it a light hand wash.

I've always treasured this frock.  It was a lot of work.

Front and back views:



Closer views of the bodice.  The wide lace inset at the center front, dropped waist and cuff was also vintage.  The insertion lace with the ribbon and the edging on the collar and cuffs was new.



Hand pulled thread and shadow embroidery done with silk floss.

Collar detail--The front and back are white batiste, the pointed shoulder piece is the cream colored batiste.


Cuff detail

Detail of cuff showing the tiny stitches connecting the different rows of lace.

Detail of sleeve seam showing the entredeux used to connect the sleeves to the body of the dress.

Inside of bodice showing entredeux seam and French seam.

Waist inset

The gorgeous piece of lace that inspired the dress.  

Skirt details


Knotted ribbon rosette--I loved making these.  Ems wore them in her hair all the time as a little girl.

I dressed up a straw hat to wear with this dress which I really liked at the time.  I'm thinking that I should remove the ribbon trim and make a cloche styled or Edwardian type hat and put the ribbon on it.  I have to figure out the period I want.


I wore this with white leather flats.  Now I have the perfect shoes--Seabury Edwardian pumps by the American Duchess with clocked Edwardian silk stockings!

I'll have to keep this frock handy to wear to one of my teas or other functions.  It's just too pretty to sit in the closet!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Where's the Pattern?

This is one of my catch up posts from my hiatus from the blog.  I've always loved Burda patterns. They had European details and fit and they didn't have seem allowances which I also loved. They also fit like no other commercial patterns.  Sometime during the 90's (I believe) they were purchased by Simplicity.  Seam allowances were added and they took on the qualities of the other American pattern companies which I wasn't particularly fond of.  Oh well.  It was nice while it lasted.  It was a few years later that I discovered Burda Style Magazine which contained patterns that retained all of the qualities I loved about the original Burda patterns.

While thumbing through this issue at G-Street Fabrics one day, I came across this pic:
I fell in love with this tunic.  There's just so much to love about it.  It has girlie details like the pleats, lace and crocheted flowers.  The white gives it a nice clean airy look and it's long enough to cover all of my figure flaws.  I purchased some slightly off white Swiss batiste and set out to make this.

Opening the pattern sheet was like playing "Where's Waldo."  All the patterns are on one sheet overlapping with each pattern having different colored lines and each size of the multi-sized patterns having different styled lines.  It made me want to go blind!

I think tracing the pattern was the worst part but I came up with this which was a big improvement.

As is so often the case, I had to make certain changes.  This pattern had a side zipper which I dislike so I moved that to the center back.  I also decided to add the crocheted lace to the hemline.

The tunic went together smoothly but the real challenge was creating crocheted flowers that I liked.  I first looked for doilies that I could take apart but didn't find anything that I liked.  So I found a book of crocheted flowers.   The sizes of crochet thread at the craft/ yarn stores had gauges that were either too big or too small and the colors were either too light or too dark.  Fortunately I found a size online that was right between the two sizes in the stores and a lighter off white.  It was perfect.  Honestly, I don't know how I ever managed before having the internet at my disposal!

I was pleased with the final result which you can see here.






This has become one of my favorite summer pieces!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taming the Beast

I have a big project coming up.  I'd like to be almost finished with it by the time school starts.  I've nicknamed this project "The Beast" because it is massive.  Here is the inspiration:

This dress currently resides in the Metropolitan Museum.  I found a research paper written by the conservator of this dress.   Apparently, this dress was styled in silk taffeta during the 1780's from another dress that was made during the 1760's.  This was common practice at that time because silk was expensive and had to be imported from the Orient.  The conservator went on to describe how the dress was originally a standard mantua that was made into the zone front gown we see today.

This is the dress I intend to make.  I don't do pink, however so I found a dark red stripe in the same approximate size.  I literally bought the last 9 yards in stock from Renaissance Fabrics.

There are two main challenges with this dress.  First is how to make the bodice.  I found a pattern that has a tabbed stomacher that looks very similar.  The problem is the slanted zone sides hook to the stomacher.  I dislike hook and eye closings as they don't allow for fluctuations in size and they are just a pain in the rear.  Most zone front gowns at the time fastened in the center front.  The "zones" on the bodice--the slanted pieces--were mock closings and stitched flat allowing the wearer to just use straight pins at the center front.  I think I'd like to make this dress like that.  Here are the patterns I have to work with:


The pattern on the right is the correct style except it shows the sleeves cut with the stripes going horizontally.  The original dress above has them running vertically which I prefer.  The stripes on the stomacher on the pattern run horizontally whereas the ones on the original dress run vertically.  I like the vertical stripes better and I'll probably run the stripes on the zone front more diagonally.  I think I will draft a new bodice using the J.P. Ryan pattern on the left, creating a sewn down zone front and tabs at the center making it more of a mock stomacher so my first task will be to do a mock up of the bodice.  Once that's done, I'll be good to go on cutting and sewing the gown.

The next challenge is the pinked scallops you see on the petticoat ruffle and hem and the sleeve cuffs.  Cutting scallops like this with pinking shears is a no go.  Fortunately I found a tool maker who makes leather punches like this.  He said that many people purchase the punches to cut silk.  He said to use a dead blow hammer on shoe sole rubber material.  I tried this with one layer of silk and it didn't work.  A costumer told me that she used 4 layers of silk and glossy magazines under the fabric to do the punching so I will try that.  She also said that she used a wooden mallet.  I'll try that if the dead blow hammer isn't working.  This will be fairly labor intensive.  I do not intent to punch the hem of the petticoat because I think it will suffer abrasion from brushing against my shoes and that will cause some raveling.

So this week, I hope to attack the bodice mock up while finishing some other projects.  I think I'll also start experimenting with how to punch the scallops.  This gown is to be worn on September 20 and I don't want to be worrying about it when school starts!  I'll post my progress as it is made!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Whimsy -- 18th Century Peeping Fan: A tutorial

I've always loved hand fans -- ever since I can remember.  I recall visiting the 1964 World's Fair in NYC as a kid and the first souvenir I bought was an Asian silk fan in the China exhibit. Love them. Fans were not only fashion accessories in the 18th century, they also served a very real purpose since there was no air conditioning.  Ladies used fans as a non verbal way to flirt as well.  Fans of the 18th century were quite decorative--often made of vellum or silk with the frame being ivory.  Fans were often souvenirs, decorated with paintings of famous people, places or events.  My favorite of the 18th century fans, however, are the peeping fans.  I've read that these fans were created so that proper ladies could watch scandalous plays without being embarrassed.  I've also read that they were used for flirting.  A number of these survive today in museums:


French fan, 17th century


 18th century Spanish, Met Museum


 1770 of unknown origin

Being a crafty sort, I decided to embark on making my own peeping fan.    I had made some souvenir fans using pre made white paper party fans using this tutorial and they turned out quite well so I thought I'd try this starting with a paper prototype and if successful, making a silk fan for the final project.

I realized that I would need to cover the entire fan with images and to create a face for the center.  I also realized that I would need to cut holes in the fan and that those holes needed to be placed between the fan spines so as not to cut them.

Here is the process.

Step 1:  Completely flatten your fan and trace the paper part.  This will mean tracing the outer curve and measuring the depth of the paper to get the inner curve.  I needed larger paper as the entire fan did not fit on 8.5 X 11 inch copy paper.  I decided to divide the fan in half so that my final images could be digitized and my printer won't handle 11 X 17 inch paper.

Step 2:  I cut out the left and right templates and laid them on the flattened fan to check for fit.

Step 3:  I scanned the templates and made several copies.

Step 4:  Next came the face.  I sketched some rough shapes and played with sizes.

Step 5:  Check the eye placement to make sure the eyes can be cut without cutting the fan spines.

Step 6:  Creating the face.  I traced the outline of the face and eyes with pencil and created a watercolor prototype.

Step 7:  Scan the face into a graphics program--I used Photoshop Elements.  The color and detail often washes out when scanning so adjustments will most likely need to be made to the color.

Step 8:  Print a copy of the face to check your corrections.

Step 9:  Collect appropriate images for the rest of your fan.  I did several Google searches like "18th century arts,"  "18th century theater," and "Roccoco images" to find some that I liked.  I used images that were from paintings.   I saved the images to my computer and resized them in Photoshop Elements to sizes that I thought would work.  I then just placed them all in a word document to print and save for future use.

Step 10:  I cut out the pictures in random shapes and laid them over the template, making sure that the face was centered (I had a line drawn at the center.)  It's important to make sure that the outline of the template will not cut off the faces or main elements in the pictures.  This is probably something that could be done digitally using Photoshop or Illustrator, but I'm not that proficient with doing things that way.  I centered the same theater graphic on both sides of the face.


Step 11:  I glued the images in place and cut out the templates, checking for fit on the fan as best I could.

Step 12:  Scan the cut and paste template so that you only have a single thickness of paper.  If you've done your cut and past digitally, then you can probably skip this step.

Step13:  Apply a fixative to your printed graphics to protect them from moisture--here are two possibilities.  I selected a gloss finish.

Step 14:  Cut out your templates and glue to fan using paper glue.  You may have to do some trimming.  I found that my face was off center and I ended up cutting the spines to make the eyes.  It was okay as the added layer of paper stabilized the fan. Paint a gold trim on the edges of the fan and face and when dry, carefully fold your fan and rubber band in place for a while. 

While I was happy with the result in paper, I didn't care for the thick, bulky feel of this fan so I decided to go ahead with my original plan and reproduce it in silk.  Since all my templates were digitized, this was an easy task.  I purchased silk fans that were the exact same size and had the same decorative frames as my paper fans.

Step 1:  Print images on printable silk, peel of the paper backing and apply very fine fusible web on the back of the silk.  Then cut out your templates.

Step 2:  Pin your silk fan flat to a padded surface.  

Step 3:  You will need to line up your images. This time the face must line up as the silk graphics will not have enough support for you to cut the wooden spines of the fan.  I lined up the center first and started pressing my images moving toward the sides.  I ended up having to trim the graphics at the sides by 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Step 4:  Trim both the top and bottom of the silk with gold and outline the face and eyes with gold.  I started with Decoart fabric paint markers which were okay but they bled a little when outlining the eyes.  I went over it with Martha Stewart acrylic paint in gold that was much better so that's what I'll use from now on.  I also painted the two wooden ends of the fan with the acrylic gold paint.

Step 5:  Refold the fan and rubber band closed for a day or so.


Voila!  Finished project!

Over all, I'm pleased with the end result.  Since I digitized my templates, these can be made quickly and I won't have the paint issues.  You can add sequins and crystals to your fan to make it as fancy as you want!