Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Half Ass Victorian


Truly Victorian 462 – 1880s tail bodice

Since the next Victorian Sewing Circle was coming up, last weekend I decided to muslin the bodice for Truly Victorian 462. In my memory, back in the fall I had calculated my size via their weird-ass method (basically you select your back size based on on the width across your back and your front size based on the difference between your back size and your full bust, and then twiddle the shoulders to fit. It’s meant to help you skip the FBA, I guess, not that I’m usually an FBA candidate…) and traced out the pieces. Well, it turned out on inspection that I had picked my size, traced out about half the pieces, and then completely not written down what size I was tracing. >_< Thanks, Past Tanit.

Comparison of my traced pieces with the original pattern and some cryptic notation I had left on the instructions eventually led me to conclude that I had been tracing size C for both front and back. Great! I finished tracing it out, made my most basic adjustment (removing 2cm total length, 1cm above the bust and 1 cm below) and cut my first muslin out of some old curtain last seen in a pair of Ellen pants, if anyone remembers what those are. Um, that was over five years ago. Wow. Blog is turning six pretty darn soon. Who knew?



Version # 1

Muslin version 1 revealed some problems. Um, TOO SMALL, much? I re-took my measurements. Apparently, with the combo of corset and bra, my bust is closer to 38″ than its actual 34.” And for the Victorian silhouette I do want the boob paddage. ALL THE BOOBS. However, everything else seemed really good—back size was great, shoulders maybe needed just a little tweak for squareness—I just needed a little more room in the front. Perfect candidate for an FBA, thought I. Never mind I’ve never done one before. How hard can it be?


Yeah, you can stop snickering now.

So I slashed and spread and ended up actually with quite an improvement, except that there was a bunch of extra fabric right along the CF line—like enough to take out an almost 1″ dart. So I did, and rotated that fullness into the two waist darts.


Version 3

This seemed like it did the trick. V. 3 fit basically like a second skin. Although looking at them now, I think the darts could maybe be spread out a little more evenly across the bodice front—they are both very close to the CF after all my futzing.

But. I wasn’t ready, after all that messing around, to jump right into my good fabric. So I went deep-stash-diving, looking for a suitable fabric that I had enough of that wasn’t otherwise earmarked.

Eventually I settled on this striped suiting. The fabric is some completely non-historical, soft and drapey thin suiting, mainly rayon by the feel. I have absolutely no memory of where it came from except that it must have been a gift. If it was from you, thank you! Anyway, it looked good and felt nice and there was plenty of it.

The deep stash also provided an underlining, in the form of this bublegum pink almost-light-canvas-type fabric (much less drapy) that I was quite happy to find a use for.

12729550_1003650139696488_884951134_nEspecially once I discovered the fabric tag. Yup, this fabric was received at Fabricland on 06/05/85. Over thirty years in stash, people.

I wasn’t overly concerned about authenticity at this point—just going for a fit test here. I didn’t bother with seam finishings (in hindsight I should’ve just serged my underlining to my fabric as the inside is fraying like crazy.) But despite that I was still going for as much “authenticity” in my construction methods as I could handle—so there’s boning, and the edges are faced with bias tape, and I generally tried to follow the method described in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking. To the best of my limited comprehension and/or patience, anyway.

2016-01-29 19.23.58It felt like it took basically forever, though really I got it done in a week so that’s actually pretty fast.

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The guts aren’t pretty but they are complete—boning in channels, plus a waist stay. I think that’s a good idea with the long tails on this pattern. My materials range from vaguely plausible (cotton twill tape for the bone channels) to completely inappropriate (poly grosgrain ribbon for the waist stay. Rayon suiting)

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Bodice interior from Plain Needlework and Amateur Sewing

And then there were the buttons. Plain Needlework suggested 1″ between buttons. In hindsight (funny how perfect it is) this was a bit much for the size of button I ended up with—I think 1 1/2″ between them would’ve been adequate.

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Fabric-covered buttons!

Still determinedly stash-busting, I settled on some smallish coverable buttons that I had three packs of for some reason. I’ve never had much luck with covered buttons before. These went really well, in that I could easily pop them on to their bases once they were fabric-covered, but less well in that they tend to pop back off again quite readily.

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Lots of buttons. Also, a possible neckline trim.

They look nice, though. I did have all the stripes lined up, but as the tops kept popping off it was too annoying to try and get them back on straight. I made the buttonholes on the machine. I’ll drive myself nuts with the hand ones on the Good Copy.

(Oh, the pattern itself has a curve out at the CF bust area. This is a bit of an odd feature, but I gather is period. I had reduced it a wee bit with all my dart-moving, but I wound up making it completely straight for this version due to the stripes. Will I keep that for my “good copy”? If I don’t, my whole test fitting idea becomes kinda useless… if I do, my authenticity quotient goes down (not that I am expecting this to be overly high, mind you…)

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Sleeve with bias facing.

I muslined with long sleeves and (gasp) didn’t even add any length. I did take some width out of the sleeve, especially around the elbow curve, and tweaked the hell out of the sleeve-cap/armscye. It’s still not exactly perfect, but I have a pretty decent range of motion. The sleeve as drafted came just above my wristbone—which, actually, looking at my pinterest boards, seems to be accurate for the period, but would drive me absolutely batty. So I cut back to 3/4″ sleeves. Those I can handle. As per Amateur Dressmaking instructions, I faced both sleeves and bodice with bias tape made from the fashion fabric.

2016-02-16 06.02.37Back in the fall I was playing with some satin ribbon and my ruffler and made this pleated trim. The slightly rusty red colour is perfect—I’m a bit torn about whether to use it or not. I actually like the simplicity of the plain bodice with the menswear-type fabric, but the lower neckline I chose is more of an evening style (which does not go with the menswear fabric at all, by the way, but it’s my party and I’ll show off my upper chest if I want to) and should probably be adorned. We’ll see how I feel once the skirt is gussied up a bit more.

2016-02-21 00.09.06Which brings me to the skirt. Um, yeah. I didn’t have quite enough of the striped suiting for the skirt, or at least not for the skirt plus whatever overskirt draping I might eventually want to do. So I ended up breaking my stashbusting streak and picking up a few metres of this rusy red “wool crepe” (allgedly 65% wool… I am dubious). It was cheap, though, so it’s ok? Anyway, right down to the wire I managed to get it cut into gored panels, mounted on some black broadcloth underlining (salvaged from the same curtain as the cuffs for my blazer, so the walk through Deep Stash was not entirely finished). At 10:30 am Sunday morning, I had to admit, even as I finished pressing the hem facing, that it wasn’t going to be stitched in the hour I had left before I had to leave the house (and be showered and costumed), so I reluctantly but effectively broke out the safety pins. And I won’t even show you the joke of the waistband (more safety pins), but it covered my bottom half adequately, at least once I managed to half-ass a bustle for it.


Bustle, otherwise occupied.

(I made a perfectly good bustle already, but it’s adorning the mannequin that is holding my half-constructed blue skirt at the Marr Residence, so not actually accessible for wearing to said residence. I never said I had good planning skills. (Incidentally, yes, this does mean that I got further on my red skirt in approximately three hours of work than I have on the skirt I’ve been working on since October.)

2016-02-21 11.00.35I did have a teeny little bum pad I made last spring, fairly softly stuffed—probably perfect for an 1890s “figure enhancer,” but not what I was looking for here. I decided to amp it up with a bigger cousin to get something a little more satisfactory; I stuffed it with fabric scraps (serger offcuts work well as they’re so teeny) from the sewing room garbage bag and had to largely hand-stitch it to the other as I couldn’t get the seam allowances anywhere near the sewing machine’s presser foot. This is a much heavier and less convenient option than the collapsible wired bustle I made before (especially for driving) but it was definitely functional, and didn’t collapse much, which I’m a bit worried the wired one will.

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1880s outfit!

It made for a very plain ensemble, but at least the silhouette is there! Well, as close as I am likely to get to it, anyway. I meant to get some pics while at the Marr because DUH, but of course completely forgot. So rather than a beautifully restored period setting, you get narrow-cropped kitchen shots of my bathroom door. Which is probably close to period (well, early 1900s, anyway, and the only original door in our old wreck of a house), but not exactly gorgeously restored.

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Back view. 

I thought the plain tails of the waist (aka bodice) were a little, well, plain, so I tried pinning them up. I think the general principal is sound, but should probably be done by someone who can actually see what they’re doing, and not by me just randomly grabbing bits and pinning them blindly behind me while already dressed.

And just in case you aren’t thoroughly sick of this half-ass outfit yet have some mannequin shots of the half-finished skirt!

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Skirt, front

Why did I let it sit wadded up on the ironing board for two days before I took these?

2016-02-23 19.12.11

Side view. I think my other bustle definitely has a nicer shape (the fluffy petticoats would help, too.)

Pleats in the back. Also, the half-ass waistband. It’s just the black broadcloth (thin yet strong) basted quickly to the inside, and held closed with safety pins. I’ll do something better for next time.

2016-02-23 19.11.54Why yes, there’s a dress form beside my front door in half-Victorian costume.

2016-02-23 19.12.29I’m kinda tempted to leave it there all month.



Filed under Sewing


  For my February project at Fabricland I took out a double project of lingerie: the plan was for one Watson set and one Marlborough (ulp!) + underwear to be determined set (ended up being another Watson bikini, because why mess with perfection? 😉 ).  

This was prompted mainly by timing—it’s a season where they don’t really want you to take out projects in last fall’s fabrics, but we didn’t have much in for the spring fabrics yet—so the selection is limited to the “regular”, non-seasonal stock. This lack of options made me finally buckle down and get around to doing something I’ve been procrastinating at for years now. A lingerie project. 

My fabrics of choice were from the bridal section, stretch mesh and non-stretch lace, and the main inspiration: some really gorgeous ruched elastic they carry at a ridiculously inflated price, that only comes in these stupid little one-yard packages.  Way too annoying to spend my own money on—perfect for a project. Part of the problem with sewing bras based on Fabricland stock is that things are a little hit and miss—the strap elastic doesn’t match the band elastic, there’s underwires but only one style and there’s no actual power mesh. So in many ways these projects feel very ad hoc. However, having done this I’m feeling a bit more comfortable with that—it’s not like I have significant support needs requiring industrial materials. 

I started with the familiar; I’ve made the Watson set before, so you’d think it would’ve been a breeze. Well, blame passing time or being still sick, but I managed some pretty good stuff ups, despite the previous experience. The stretch mesh I was using for the back band has a LOT of stretch, so I downsized the band. And the first version of the cradle I cut out, I didn’t realize that apparently a large corner had torn off the pattern piece. So I had to recut all that (in three layers), after I had basted everything together and then realized my cradle didn’t match up with my band piece. D’oh. 

  Then, when applying the elastic to the panties, I used too much elastic on the first leg, leaving me short for the second leg (remembering my elastic all came in 1 yard packages)—so the elastic for the second leg is significantly tighter. Either looks fine, though I suspect they will feel a bit weird on, but the bikinis look rather weirdly lop-sided. Bleh. The project must hang. 😉 one thing that did work out was adding a panel of my lace to the front of the bikini—this turned out super cute. I basically just traced off the front pattern piece, sliced where I wanted my panel to end, and added seam allowances. 

Once I recut the cradle, the construction of the bralet wasn’t bad, but a couple of things bit me in the ass. First was my decision to downsize the band. BAD idea.  Especially when I had also decided to double the mesh in the band. Too tight. Way too tight. 

  Fortunately (?) the bra backs Fabricland sells come with this weird chunk of elastic attached to one side, which I was able to use to extend the back. So it will go around, even if it’s a bit fugly. 

  My biggest problem with my first two Watson bralets is that the wide long-line bands don’t stay in place. My ribcage flares at the bottom, and they just wriggle their way up. So to try to ameliorate that for this one, I added boning channels (with some scraps of my fancy elastic) over the side-seams. This seems a bit overkill for what’s supposed to be a soft bra, but if it works, it works, right? Mind you the jury is still out on it working. Because:

When the great try-on moment came, it became clear that the cup size that fits me in a cotton spandex jersey, does not fit me very well in a non-stretch lace. Lots of cutting in. Pouting, I got Tyo to try it on, since her bra size is about one cup letter smaller than mine these days. Yup, great fit. But, it’s a sweet off-white lacy bralet with rosettes… Not really her style. At all. Syo, on the other hand, seems to like it. Oh, and it fits her, too. So I think it will have a home. Maybe. Both my kids, like me, are foam cup types, so I’m actually not sure anything else will get worn. 

  And then, with the warmup done, it was time. Marlborough time. A scroll back through Instagram informs me that I muslined this pattern a mere 76 weeks ago! Yikes. At that time I was pretty impressed with the fit, which seemed to need only a minor tweak to the side seam. But in the meantime plenty of sewing anxiety had set in, and I stalled and faffed over not having the right notions and wrang my hands about what colour my first bra should be and generally just avoided the problem. So really, taking this out as a project with a deadline, was pretty much perfect for cutting through all that avoidance. 

  And now, having done it up, I’m not quite sure what I was so nervous about. Yeah, there are lots of little pieces and I wish there were maybe a few more notches to help keep track of which way the pieces fit together, but I love sewing with 1/4″ seam allowances, and by hopping back and forth between my 1/4″ foot and my edge stitch/stitch in the ditch foot the sewing itself was pretty slick. And the Instagram peeps were there to hold my hand while I panicked over my half-ass channeling, arguably the scariest part of the whole process. 

For this set I layered the stretch mesh and non-stretch lace over a thin grey poly spandex knit. I kinda wish the grey showed more, actually, and maybe that I had used mesh over the power bar rather than lace, so it would show more. And maybe stretch more. 

  Because the biggest problem, again, is that the non-stretch lace is less forgiving than the stable-but-with-some-give earlier version. The power bar—the vertical piece at the side of the bra—actually kinda cuts in at the seam to the other pieces, not a nice look, though also not evident in the pictures, so it probably isn’t as bad as I think it is. And the shape is more pointed in the lace than it was in my scuba first version. Not a bad shape, but a little different. 

 For my own information, I’m going to add that the underwire I’m using is about two sizes larger than the “right” underwire for this size. This means it’s wide enough not to cut in at the side of my breast, which is one of my biggest complaints with store bought bras. I also had to shorten them significantly on the cleavage side to fit this pattern, which is fine if you have the tools for that but less fine otherwise. 


At the end of the day, though, the biggest issue, which has nothing to do with the pattern or fit itself. This is a soft cup bra. I’m a foam padding & push-up girl, if I’m going to actually wear a bra. The last time I wore a soft cup bra was over a decade ago. In particular, the right padded bras mean I don’t need to worry about small bust adjustments in my sewing. So that, more than anything else, might be what keeps me from using this bra much. But I am curious. It wouldn’t be the first time sewing has coaxed me to experiment outside my comfort zone. 



Filed under Sewing

A Victorian Skirt Pocket


Almost skirt!

I haven’t blogged it much, as there hasn’t been much progress, but the skirt for my 1880s ensemble is coming along, finally
. I kinda stalled out before Christmas as I needed to put in the placket and pocket, and I was skeered. But this past session at the Victorian Sewing Circle, I tied on my big-girl apron, did the research (two whole paragraphs of it, as it turns out), and put the pieces in.

I found a quick description of what I was looking for in “Studies in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking” by Mrs. H. A. Ross. (Published 1887)

 Here’s my source documentation. P. 11 from the above.. It does seem to require a little bit of decoding, however.

“Skirt pockets are cut from. the lining”-ok, check.

“And are heart-shaped when opened flat. Twelve inches long by six wide is a medium size, leaving one side double and straight on the fold; the other wise rounded to a point on the top.”

There are definitely times when a picture is worth a thousand words, and the downside of the old sewing texts is the further back you get, the more scant the illustrations become. It sounds like what she is describing how you would cut out a paper heart for a valentine, but upside down…


Victorian pocket diagram

Pocket, cut on fold

“Sew around the bottom and five inches of the rounding side, leaving the remaining space to be sewed in the skirt seam. Unless covered by the drapery the pocket should be faced. Leave three inches of the pocket at the top, above the place for the hand.


She does like to leave the important bits for last. So the opening for the hand is on the curved side of the half-heart, towards the point, but at least 3″ down from it so the pocket isn’t too narrow for your hand to get into. Also, the pocket opening is sewn into a gap in the side seam, after it’s all complete.

“A tape must be sewn to the point and jointed to the belt (waistband). There is danger of the pocket being so narrow at the top that the hand cannot be inserted, though the pocket was cut plenty large enough.”

pocket and facing

Pocket, unfolded to show facing

“All pockets are sewed in double seam. first sew the seam very narrow upon the right side, the pocket turned and stitched again on the wrong side in an ordinary seam, without taking in the seam first sewed. This makes a strong seam and required no overcasting.” (AKA French seamed. Got it. Except that it’s the last bit and I didn’t read it before I sewed the actual pocket. Oh, well. Overcasting edge it is.)

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Pocket in seam.

Unfortunately I didn’t actually think to get any photos during construction, and I’m a smidgeon too lazy to make another one for demo purposes. 

As implied by the rather terse instructions, I left a gap in my skirt side-seam the length of the pocket opening (and hopefully in about the right place) and stitched the pocket to it after the fact. This wasn’t as slick as a modern inseam pocket but wasn’t as cumbersome as I originally feared it might be.  I think as a method it makes more sense for something hand-stitched, where the fold would decrease the time it took to sew while the stitching it in afterwards wouldn’t be nearly as cumbersome by hand as it could be by machine. (Though as I said it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.)

I also did the placket for the skirt opening, which I was also kinda dreading for no good reason. The page above describes about four different methods in about 20 words each; I used the instructions for making the slit version for this petticoat, but for the skirt I planned to have the opening in a seam. In the end I just cut a rectangle of my cloth and used it to face/lap the opening in one piece, down one side and up the other. Not quite what was described, but simple and it will function just fine. It needs hooks, and of course the whole thing needs the waistband, and then I’ve got to start thinking about trim. 

This is where shit gets exciting. Or intimidating. Oh, hell.

  I’m thinking about using the middle skirt for my inspiration, though I also really like the one on the left. This is a picture from a reproduction of an 1886 Bloomingdales catalogue, belonging to my mom. I love the online resources but it’s so amazing to flip through the catalogue. Anyway,  I definitely want an overskirt reminiscent of the two In the picture—I have TV368 (below) for a pattern. 

  Getting mighty ambitious, aren’t I? 😀

And then I will have to start muslining the bodice, I mean waist. O_o somehow compared to that decorating the skirt doesn’t seem so intimidating…




Filed under Sewing