Tag Archives: costume

Truly Edwardian

K I’m on a bit of a costuming binge, though a lot of it hasn’t hit the blog due to waiting for pictures (never a smart thing for me to do). Maybe I just like wearing corsets right now, maybe I’m just not feeling mainstream sewing fashion, maybe I actually have enough clothes… anyway. I bought the Truly Victorian 1906 Ten Gore Princess Skirt back in the fall, probably like everyone else who watched Bernadette Banner’s video around that time. I finally got it printed in early December, and over the holidays began very, very slowly poking away at it.

The process began with an epic hunt through the fabric stash. I had a feeling, not even a memory really, that I should have an appropriate length of black suiting somewhere in stash. My (arguably excessive) stash these days lives in a series of clear plastic bins stacked along one wall of my sewing room, and while this isn’t an ideal setup by any means it’s space efficient and protects the fabric from at least some of the hazards of a basement storage space. I usually have a rough idea of where most things are, but in this case I wasn’t even sure that the fabric I was looking for existed.

Anyway, my quest wound up taking me through approximately three quarters of my bins. I (re)discovered a half-forgotten length of black linen, several suiting pieces that would’ve been appropriate except for size, a VERY large length of brocade I had completely forgotten about that wants to become a tea gown of some kind, and several other pieces that would make nice skirts. But then finally, after a couple of hours and creating an impressive amount of mess, I reached the bottom of the last stack of bins (well, technically there were two other stacks, but no way I was tackling them that day)—and there it was. Five metres of soft wool twill suiting, light and drapey and utterly perfect. I can’t describe my exultation.

Anyway, once the fabric was located (and at least some of the mess tidied) the work could begin. I steamed the wool in the dryer. I muslined the lining/corselet pieces for the upper skirt, after doing a small swayback adjustment on the back and side back pieces, and determined (as I expected from the pattern measurements) that I needed to go down a size in the waist. In hindsight I wish I’d gone up a size in the hips, too, because it’s quite fitted over the hips and I always like more room there, but I should probably just let the hip seams out a bit anyway. A small adjustment gets you a fair bit of room when there are ten seams. A slightly larger swayback adjustment might be in order for the next version.

Centre back section with satin lining and hooks applied.

Like most of my sewing this fall (or the last few years) construction has proceeded in incremental fits and starts. I spent a lot of time researching my construction via a number of original sewing manuals, both electronic and paper. Not that there’s anything wrong with the methods the pattern describes, they are historically accurate and in the end my deviations were quite minor.

My biggest curiosity was on how to do the lining. I’ve sort of had it drummed into my head that historical (Western-style) clothes were flat-lined (aka underlined.) This is how Bernadette Banner constructed her lovely version of the skirt. However, that’s not the directions for the pattern, and I was curious about the disparity.

It turns out that in the 1890s, a new method of lining skirts started to gain popularity—the “drop skirt.” This is made by sewing the lining (and materials like taffeta and “lining material” are mentioned rather than cotton) entirely separate as its own skirt/petticoat, or sewing separately then sewing both skirts into the same waistband—aka a modern, free-hanging lining. By the early 1900s, the separate lining is considered the preferred method with flatlining being distinctly old-fashioned, and my 1908 copy of the American System of Dressmaking states the following:

Anyway, eventually I settled on an unlined (except for the waist area) skirt, and hopefully I will make the appropriate “drop skirt” eventually.

To line the waist/hip area I used a heavy crepe-backed satin. A lightweight coutil or heavy cotton might have been better—I thought the black denim I used for my corset was too heavy, and most of the other black fabrics I had around seemed too light. We’ll see how it wears, I guess. On the other hand, having a slippery surface on the inside may come in handy since it’s pretty hard to hook up the back placket behind myself so I often end up turning the skirt around backwards to put it on. I added a tiny red tag to the inside of the front to make it a bit easier to make sure I end up with the right seam in the right place.

I considered binding the seam allowances, as would have been period appropriate. Then I serged them. I didn’t make a lot of concessions to speed in this project, but I feel like I’d still be binding seams if I had take that route. Sometimes speed is just what you need.

I added piping to the top edge as I thought that would be a nice touch, and it is, except for the part where it’s almost invisible since it’s black and this will probably mostly be worn with blousy tops that will cover it anyway. There is a narrow bias facing sewn on the inside of that to finish the top. Potentially it might have been easier and less bulky to just use a wider bias tape for the piping and use that for the facing, but having a bit more structure at the top of the skirt also doesn’t hurt. It is VERY bulky right around the top hook, though, despite some very aggressive trimming of the seam allowances in that area.

I added a piece of spiral steel boning to each seam, more or less the length of the inner corselet/waist lining. This keeps the portion of the skirt above the waist from folding down, and smooths over the upper hips, but it did also cause the skirt to stand out from my corseted waist in a way that the un-boned skirt hadn’t. I added a waist stay to combat this effect, but I’m thinking that either the waist shaping wasn’t an adequate match to the corset or my fabric + lining combo still has too much give. On the other hand it means that even though the skirt was cut with corset-wearing in mind, I can wear it uncorseted as well.

The pattern calls for a bias hem for the facing, made out of self fabric. I wanted to add a velveteen binding to the bottom of my skirt. long story, but basically velveteen seems to have been a material of choice for this purpose. Or braid. I do actually have a length of vintage braid that I think must be similar, but it is only about 3m long and the skirt requires over 5m, so that won’t work. But I did have a lovely little remnant of black velveteen, that turned out to be just enough for what I needed.

Most of the descriptions I read of the velveteen have you apply it after creating the hem, faced or otherwise, but one from 1903 mentioned how the velveteen could serve as a facing. Since the pattern calls for facing the hem anyway, that’s what I went with. And also I’m a lazy 21st century person disinclined to hand stitch around a hem like this three times, which seemed to be what most of the descriptions called for. I will say, intentionally rolling a facing out so that 1/16” of velveteen showed at the bottom of the skirt felt VERY unnatural, and there are definitely places where it doesn’t show as much as it probably should. Will I go back and fix that? I’d like to say yes but, um, probably not.

I wasn’t sure how to finish the top of the velveteen, but eventually decided I didn’t want the bulk of folding over the hem. I didn’t have 6 yards of black seam binding in stash, but I did find a rather lovely red vintage rayon seam binding, so I went with that. It did NOT like being sewn to the velveteen, and stretched it out terribly, despite my best efforts, so it’s incredibly wrinkly and gathered in the final skirt, but I don’t hate the effect.

So the pattern is drafted to have a finished length of 41” at the front, from the waist down. My measurement was 42”, so I added 1” to the skirt length all around when cutting. Now I’m not sure if it’s just that my soft wool fabric is prone to stretching, but when it came time to hem I wound up turning up close to 2”… so I could most likely have saved myself that added effort and fabric. Oh well.

Anyway, I’m super happy to have this in my wardrobe, hopefully bridging the (ever diminishing) gap between costume and everyday wear. Before the twins I had a black wool gored skirt made from a 1970s Burda pattern that was an absolute workhorse, and I have missed it sorely. The only thing this skirt is lacking is pockets, which I may yet decide to add… I don’t want to interfere with the gorgeous line of the hips, but I really, really like to have pockets at work. Next: definitely need to start planning a lacy blouse to go with.



Filed under Sewing

Hallowe’en (Epilogue)

Y’know, that slow bit after all the exciting stuff, only read by the true fans who love the characters more than they love good storytelling? That’s kinda how I feel posting this so long after Hallowe’en, when all the excitement, and even most of the candy, is long gone.


Regardless, because it’s my blog and I’ll blog late if want to ;), here’s some quick and not terribly organized glimpses of my Hallowe’en outfit. It’s not really a costume since I’m not actually anything in specific, but I still had a lot of fun making it and wearing it. Even if I did work the whole damn day AND evening so the only pictures I got were crappy bathroom mirror pics and staffroom selfies. I am obviously not a real “Millennial;” I suck at selfies.


Man I miss my basement-bedsheet-photo studio! These days even if I might have time to take some decent pics it’s a gamble whether I’ll even be able to FIND my tripod, and that doesn’t even address the complete lack of any thing approaching appropriate space in our current home.


You can’t have a circle skirt without a petticoat (ok, I can’t, anyway), so of course I had to make a crinoline. As it turned out, I had to make two—the neon green tulle one I made first was, unsurprisingly, woefully inadequate. So I pulled out the black crinoline fabric and ribbon I bought last spring to make a black petticoat, which worked really nicely, although I fear it’s more costume-grade pouf than everyday pouf. I may have to make another, not-so-fluffy one for every day wear. Which means I’ll have four crinolines to store. My husband may leave me, just so you know.


Also, no circle skirt is complete without horsehair braid. I covered the join in a scrap of my fashion fabric, which, if you can’t tell, was an awesomely over-the-top acid-green taffeta with black spiderweb flocking. Don’t ask me why it needed to be a circle skirt, but can you really imagine it being anything else? Short of a complete eighteenth-century ballgown, anyway. That would also be awesome.


I constructed my circle skirt EXACTLY the same as my old grey one, even using the same waist template from Elegant Musings. This is the facing for the slit I made for the not-invisible zipper.


Of course poodles are traditional for circle skirts, but this one had to have a spider. I wish I’d had enough of my green thread to go around the applique a second time so the black edges didn’t stick out—I wasn’t really thinking about that when I bought my thread and only got an itty bitty spool. I used a supplementary (acid-green) cord of embroidery floss under the zig-zag to give it a bit of dimension, and because, ah, the manual for the Rocketeer (on which I sewed all of this) suggested it. I love the little techniques old manuals suggest. Although somehow they never mention all the massive amounts of actual skill it takes to use most of these techniques. So, y’know, your black velour fabric doesn’t stick out on the wrong side of your zigzag.


I used a skirt hook and a thread-chain loop. We’ll pretend this was a couture touch, and not because I couldn’t find a bar to match my hook. It needs a second hook & bar, too… I confess day of I just used a safety pin. Do you see how wide that waistband is, by the way? I think it was around three inches, finished. Which pretty much brings the top of the waistband right to my underbust. Fortunately I’m fairly cylindrical in that area, so I can get away with a straight waistband rather than a contour one.


Because I’m bored of detail shots, here’s a slightly naughty pic of my layered petticoats. You can see clearly the sheer inadequacy of the green one (sheer… snork… see what I did there? hyuk, hyuk.), but the black filled it out nicely and the green was still a nice touch of colour.


And this eye-searing green is actually the little tank-top I made to wear under the black lace blouse. I used my brand-spanking-new walking foot to sew it, and while I don’t sew enough spandex to really compare, it sure handled it nicely. I didn’t get any actual shots of the tank-top, (I used my old pattern… the real miracle is actually that I FOUND all these old pattern pieces), without the ruching, of course, but it went together fairly nicely until I got to the straps. They are ugly. But I can always cut them off and do better at some point, I suppose, and they weren’t exactly a prominent part of the costume. I cut out bikini bottoms at the same time, should I someday wish to own an acid-green tankini.


I decided, rather belatedly, that what the ensemble really needed to finish it off was yarn falls. Pushes it a bit into anime territory? Anyway, it only took me three different yarn shops to find what I was looking for, which turns out to be 100% wool superwash, whatever that is. It certainly was warm, and the texture was great, although a bit fluffier would’ve been nice. These are ridiculously easy to make, just cut a bunch of lengths and tie them on to a hair elastic. I’ve been trying to look up the knot I use but I can’t seem to find it…


Oh, look, here you can actually see me edging the applique! (which I adhered with Steam-a-Seam, by the way) I forgot I took this one. I’m using the “Special Purpose Foot” on the Rocketeer, which has a little piping-hole. It seems like a really flimy, cheap little foot, but I guess it’s held up for fify-some years already, so it can’t be too bad. It worked fine, anyway.


The blouse was made out of a spiderweb lace. This pattern, McCall’s 6467 (view D), was not the best choice. WAY too many seams, all of which had to be finished super-neatly, in this soft, floppy, annoying-to-sew lace. Of all the frilly blouse patterns I possess, why did I pick this one? *headdesk.* To make it worse, the pattern had hella crazy ease and I did not want it to be a sack on me (the way it looks on the envelope model). I made the size 8, a full two sizes smaller than usual. I went a little easy on my usual bodice shortening because of this, but apparently not easy enough because I had to cut down under the armpits to make it fit. In the end it looked fine and the sizing was about right, but it really wasn’t the best pattern for the job. And did I mention that’s a lot of annoying seams to sew in an annoying fabric?

Ah, well. Deep breaths. A week later, it’s all water under the bridge, right? It was a really fun outfit when it was all put together, and I have at least a couple of pieces that will (maybe?) be useful in the future.

Hope you had a scary Hallowe’en!



Filed under Sewing

Another little thing.

It seems to be the season, or perhaps I’ve just reached a certain age. Anyway, I had to make another baby thing. For those of you keeping track, that brings my total of baby clothes ever made up to three items, two of them in the last two weeks.

I had a baby shower to go to. It was Epona’s. Some of you may have picked up on the fact that she’s, well, a bit of a cowgirl (the bit where she wore cowboy boots with her wedding dress might’ve given it away). I try not to hold it against her. So, of course, I had to make something that no one else would possibly give her.

I made baby chaps.


Yup. I went there.

After I had thought of the idea, I went to the googles and found this tutorial, which was enough to get me started, anyway.

baby chaps diagram

baby chaps diagram

I started with a baby pants pattern, since I didn’t have a pair of baby pants handy. It got me in the right scale ballpark, anyway (since obviously I no longer have any idea what size babies are, see my last post for evidence.) I wanted an outseam so I could add fringe to it; in hindsight I could’ve made the inseam on the fold and saved myself, oh, six inches or so of sewing. Anyway.

I chose for my fabric this browns stretch velour a friend of my mother’s gave me because she didn’t know what to do with it. Obviously I didn’t know either, as I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of years now, but it’s soft and cozy and the colour was reasonable for leather, so I think it may have found its true calling, presuming I need to make about fifty pairs of baby chaps. I made each leg lined, so they’re fuzzy on the inside, too. I used my new walking foot from Sew Classic, and while I didn’t do comparison samples without, it did a very nice job of feeding all the layers together, straining only little when I had four layers stacked to sew the outseams.  I stitched the outseams so that the extra-wide seam allowance was on the outside, and then went to town snipping little fringes. They’re super cute now, although I won’t vouch for how they’ll hold up in the wash. Then I added the band at the top, with elastic (hopefully about the right size for a baby waist, I have no frickin’ clue at this point.), and made a belt buckle out of some silver lining left over from this vest. For the belt-buckle, I followed Sew A Straight Line’s tutorial pretty much exactly.


Baby big-ass belt buckle.

Then I sewed it on backwards. That is supposed to be a Z, not an angular S. And my latent dyslexia kicked in, so I didn’t even realize it until looking at photos after. Just shoot me now.


With fringe.

I actually thought the fringe turned out really well; I was not at all sure it would, and they looked pretty lame before I snipped it, but I think it worked great, maybe because there were four layers of fabric to snip.

Anyway, I think they went over well. There were plenty of onesies and blankies and even a full-blown diaper cake, but there was definitely only one pair of baby chaps.

Although, I have a sinking feeling I should probably get started on the next size up…


Filed under Sewing

Historical Dabbling


Old sewing books

I am not, in any way, a historical seamstress. I don’t even think of myself as a particularly “vintage” one, though I definitely have leanings in that direction (I may be in denial.) The Dreamstress I ain’t. However, back in my hometown, I have Connections. In particular, a local history site my mom has been involved with for yonks, has some antique machines that I wanted to play with. They were amenable to me playing around, and wondered was I amenable to doing a program or two on Victorian sewing? (The house, the oldest in my hometown,* does low-stress, small-scale historical programming, everything from Victorian laundry to kids games. Strictly speaking the time period is 1880s**, but they’re not particularly picky about that.)

Originally I had hoped to play around with some antique attachments on the actual machines in the house. There’s a National machine that fits this set of attachments, and a singer Model 12 that’s, frankly, a caveperson of the treadle world. Sadly, the National is missing part of the tension apparatus so isn’t currently usable (although I have hopes of fabricating a replacement piece in the longer-term), and the Model 12 needs some new needles before I can assess whether it’s skipping stitches because it’s old and gunky or whether it’s just that the needle that’s currently in it is about as thick as a tree stump and equally sharp.



Anyway, not having the treadle option, I packed up my Featherweight (which has the look and the attachments, even if it’s far from the genuine article) and set about sampling some examples of Victorian embellishment, at least as it occurs on linens and underthings. I figured my goal for the day would be making some samples and, if all went well, starting on a pair of Victorian drawers, which you can see part of in the picture above. To go with the corset I haven’t made yet, you know.

(And to those who are justifiably appalled that I, having just professed myself Not A Historical Sewist, am doing educational programs on historical sewing, well, I did know a tiny bit more than anyone else who showed up that day, and I did read about five different Victorian sewing manuals in the days leading up to the event. If a real re-enactor shows up, though, I’m sunk.)

Drawers draft

Drawers draft

It made for a lovely, low-key afternoon, anyway. I’m oddly thrilled by the experience so far. There’s a lot I could babble on about the styles, my research, and the individual techniques, but a) I didn’t take any good pictures (I did some totally killer lace insertion on a sample, doods. OK, not actually killer, but I’m stoked) and b) I have to go to bed, so I’m going to hit publish and bore you with the obsessive details some other night.

*On its original foundation, which has to be the most annoying footnote to always have to add to a “oldest X” claim.

** People reading in the many, many parts of the world where established human settlement stretches back more than a century and change, feel free to laugh your asses off.


Filed under Sewing

A tiered skirt workflow

Tiered skirt

Before I get into the meat of this post (the construction of a basic tiered skirt), allow me to philosophize a wee bit. Y’know the best thing about being home? I have my village back. You’ve heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, maybe it doesn’t, but life is sure a lot better when you have one, and not just for the free babysitting. Case in point? My dance class. I bellydance with what just might be one of the best groups of ladies in the universe. I’ve been involved with the troupe for over half my life at this point, and many others have been there longer.

Dancing c. 2005, dodging a very small Syo.

It’s the kind of class where I could bring my kids when they were babies and everyone would hand them off during practice. Where I could show up for street-fair performances with toddlers in tow and never worry that someone wouldn’t watch them while I danced. Where I can talk to the instructor about paying my fees this term in sewing. But the coolest thing since coming back has been the way my kids interact with the troupe now they’re older. Syo, in particular, has decided she wants to dance this year. Not just the kids class. Every class (well, every class that I go to). Which means that most of the costumes I have to make so far are for her, but anyway. It’s so neat to see her following along with the adults, and also the moments in between where one teacher or another takes a few moments to show her something we didn’t do in class, or go over something a bit more slowly.

Which ties into this post only because one of the costume pieces I’ve been making for Syo is a tiered skirt for American Tribal Style Bellydance. And while I’m sure most of you don’t have use for a ridiculously full tiered skirt, well, it’s exactly the same idea as making a crinoline or a fluffy petticoat. The only differences really are a matter of proportion, fabric choice, and fullness.

Fluffy petticoat

Now, this is not a particularly original concept for a post, and I know there’s some lovely tutorials out there (feel free to link your fave in the comments!). I particularly like this one by Sugardale, of the petticoat variety, for the fine finish she gets using ribbon to cover the seams. Zena has a nice post or three on her particularly painstaking (and super-well-finished) method. But I’ve made enough of these, at this point, that I feel like I have at least something to contribute in terms of what works, for me. (And I will confess to being much more slapdash and imprecise than either Sugardale or Zena.) This falls into basically two categories:

I) workflow
II) gathering techniques.

I’m going to talk about gathering techniques separately, so today I’m going to go into my workflow.

1) Design Decisions

Tiered skirt in action

A typical tiered skirt is a layer-cake of gathered rectangles of fabric, smallest at the top. The most common gathering ratio is 2:1—that is, each tier is twice as much fabric gathered on to the tier above it. There’s nothing sacred about this ratio, but it’s a handy starting place. How full (or poufy) your skirt is will be determined by several factors: 1) gathering ratio, 2) number of tiers, 3) fabric. I tend to cut (or rip, for preference) my tiers across the width of the fabric, so I tend to measure my fullness in terms of fabric widths. (Ideally 60″/150 cm)

So, how long do you want your skirt to be?
–A typical Tribal skirt goes from hip to floor. A typical petticoat, maybe from waist to knee. I’m told petticoats should be about 1″ shorter than the skirt they go with, if that’s what you’re trying for. Measure this distance on yourself.

A long, long time ago…

How many tiers?
A minimal tiered skirt has three tiers (two doesn’t work. I tried. It looks like a dumpy mermaid skirt). Personally, being a fan of excess, I like four or five or, y’know, nine. OK, 9 was maybe overkill. (Obviously: number of tiers interacts with your gathering ratio to create fullness: eg. at a 2:1 ratio, if your top tier is two widths and you have three tiers, you’ll have eight widths on the bottom tier. If you have four tiers, the same ratios will give you a bottom tier with 16 widths, unless you reduce the gathering ratio.

For Syo’s skirt, I picked four tiers. I planned for the top tier to be one fabric width (60″/150cm in this case), next tier down two fabric widths, ending up with eight at the bottom tier.

Divide your skirt length by the number of tiers

For Syo, this was: 28″/4—my tiers for Syo’s skirt needed to be 7″ high. Add width for two seam allowances to each tier—for simplicity’s sake, I’ll go with 1/2″ seam allowances, so I add 1″ to each tier. So I’m going to cut all my tiers 8″ high.)

Advanced Tip #1: Some people are particular about where the tiers fall on their body—there’s no rule they all have to be the same widths. It just makes the calculations a bit more complicated. Similarly if you want to allow for a waistband casing on the top tier, or a wider or narrower hem on the bottom tier.)

This skirt has seven or eight tiers and thirty-two fabric widths along the bottom tier. This is overkill.

How full at the hips?
My first few skirts I made as narrow at the top as I could. I’ve since decided this isn’t actually the best look, especially if your tiers are tall (or, like me, your hips need all the help they can get). For Syo here, I used one fabric width for the top tier; I’d probably do this for myself if I made another skirt, at least if the fabric was 60″ wide. If you’re quite large, one and a half widths or even two would be good.

Advanced Tip #2: If you’re concerned with bulk at the hips, you could make your top tier circular or semi-circular. You will have to correct for some bias stretching, but this is a really nice look. This also uses a bit more fabric.

Full Skirt

How full at the hem?

A “typical” ATS tiered skirt is sometimes called a ten-yard skirt—it has ten yards of fullness at the hem. A petticoat could have much less, a crinoline much more. I actually prefer my ATS skirts much more full, in the 20+ yard range. Note that this is just the length of the bottom tier, not how many yards of fabric are required, although skirts like these are still fabric pigs.

Anyway, for Syo’s skirt, I didn’t want to go too overboard (as I have in the past for myself), but I also didn’t want to skimp. I decided to stick with my default gathering-ratio to determine the number of tiers at the hem:

2:1 gathering ratio, 4 tiers

1 width
2 widths
4 widths
8 widths

Since my fabric was 60″/150 cm wide, this will give me a final hem of 13.3 yards/12 metres. Just over my “bare minimum” of ten yards.

Advanced tip #3: depending on the fabric, it can be just as easy to construct your skirt using strips cut lengthwise from your fabric. I find it easier to do the calculations (especially determining how much fabric I need) using widths, but on the other hand there’s less joining together of panels of fabric if you use one or two long lengths rather than eight or ten or twenty short ones.

A very minimal tiered skirt

So, how many fabric widths is that?


I will need to be able to rip/cut fifteen strips from my fabric length.

Now, how much fabric do I need?
15 widths x 8″ high = 120″ = 10′ = ~3m. (Ooo, look what I did, switching to metric like that. I wish I had the self-discipline to do it all in metric. I think Imperial is kind of like a drug… awkward and bad for you, but you keep coming back to it…)

I would, however, recommend buying a bit more fabric than strictly necessary. At least one extra tier’s worth. Sometimes, not everything works out according to the math. You may also want to add a waistband casing on the top.

There are many ways you could go about constructing a skirt like this—mine is what works for me psychologially.

1) Cut fabric
First, I cut or rip my fabric into panels (I’ll keep calling them widths) of the right height. If I can at all possibly rip the fabric, I will, but for this project I was using satin (oh, how I hate satin) and I had to cut.

For this project, I was using two different fabrics—I cut the eight widths for the bottom tier from the purple satin and the remaining seven widths from the black satin.

I always start with the bottom tier—it’s the most daunting, by far, and once it’s complete the skirt is over half done!

2) join panels together.
Join enough panels to make your bottom tier. For troubleshooting reasons, I usually don’t do all the tiers at once.

Finish the seams as you go, using your preferred method (mine is to use the selvedges so I don’t need to finish them. 😉 )

NOTE: I do all the construction for a tiered skirt flat—I will sew the single vertical seam turning it into a “tube” (cone?) almost dead last.

3) hem bottom edge.
I use a rolled hem foot on a regular sewing machine; if your serger does a fancy, easy rolled hem, that would work fine, too. Or, of course, lace or ribbon if you’re making a petticoat. This is a great chance to practice your rolled-hem technique, though, as a) a perfectly straight edge is the easiest to hem, and b) over this many feet of hem, you really won’t care about the odd booboo later.

4) Gather upper edge of bottom tier.
I use a ruffler attachment for this stage. I’ll talk more about the particulars of the different gathering techniques in the future. If you don’t have a ruffler foot, I’d recommend using a zigzag casing gathering technique, which I’ll also talk about next post.

Testing the gathering ratio.

5) Measure gathered length, and make next tier up accordingly.
This only really applies if you’re using a ruffler foot, which produces a gathered length of a fairly fixed ratio. Otherwise just make up your next tier, and arrange the gathers on it.

6) Attach gathered bottom tier to next tier up.
On a ruffler foot, it is actually possible to do steps 4 and 6 together. I don’t usually do this, mostly because I’m chickenshit. Also I feel more secure having two rows of stitching in place. Finish the seam allowance using your preferred method.

Fancy topstitching

Advanced tip: I really like a bit of topstitching to hold my seam allowance up… it smooths things out and tidies the inside. In this case I got to play with embroidery stitches on the fancy machine, so WOOT!

7) Repeat steps 4-6 until all tiers are attached.

8) Sew vertical seam along whole length of skirt. Finish as desired.

9) add elastic/drawstring casing to top edge of skirt.

10) Wear, and sweep them off their feet! 🙂

Ooo lala!

I mentioned above not making your next tier up until the lower one has been gathered. This applies if you’re using a ruffling attachment, or using a differential feed on your serger. Although the ratio of gathering it outputs is adjustable and you can (and should) do some tests to make sure your ratio is roughly correct before you start, often (always) there is a slight discrepancy between your calculated gathered length and your actual gathered length. This isn’t the end of the world, but it does require a bit of finessing. I usually make my next tier up to match my actual length, which can involve adding a bit more fabric or shortening the tier by a little bit. A few inches one way or another is NOT going to affect the final look of your project. (Although ask me about the time what I thought was a 2:1 ratio turned out to be more like a 4:1 ratio…)

In this particular case, it turned out I only had enough of the purple satin to make seven panels, not the eight I had planned for. I used a slightly lower gathering ratio… and really no one will ever notice a difference.

The other thing that can be a bit of a wild-card is length, partly because of some simplifications I made in the calculations (not accounting for hem depth or added width for an elastic casing on the top tier), but mostly, in my experience, having to do with how much a fabric stretches under the weight of all those tiers, or shortens (visually) as it poofs out, in the crinoline variety. The easiest way to adjust the length of a tiered skirt is on the top tier, by removing (pretty obvious) or adding length—usually just adding a casting or waistband to the top is enough for the kind of adjustments I’m talking about.

And finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. Tiered skirts of any variety are exercises in excess—there is a lot of fabric involved, a lot of hems, a lot of poof. Small flaws in your hemming or slightly uneven gathering will not be noticeable.


Whew! That’s a lot of post. And a lot of memories. Not exactly a tutorial… but that’s how I do it.


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Something old, something blue…

tribal showing hip tucks

Bellydance belt and headband

Not at all wedding-related, in case you were wondering.

Since the sewing’s been slow (aka non-existent) with me this week, I thought I’d pad things out with a retrospective piece.

This is a headband-and-belt set I made five years or so ago, as a costuming element for American Tribal-Style Bellydance—not the only style I do, but probably my favourite (I should note here, since a lot of the elements of adornment I used in this derive from First Nations and Native American traditional arts, that ATS bellydance has nothing at all to do with any group of native americans. It was invented by a white lady in San Francisco and utilizes elements of traditional bellydance, flamenco, and east Indian dance). This particular set is a knock-off I mean inspired by the early costuming of a Tribal Fusion bellydance group called The Indigo, and if you’re not a bellydancer that’s probably so much gibberish so I won’t go into it. It’s probably my absolute fave piece of costuming, ever.

There was little, if any, machine sewing involved in these pieces; a fair bit of hand-sewing, and a LOT of beading.

I made the patterned bands of beads on a bead loom. This is one of my favourite forms of

Left: commercial bead loom. Right: home-made bead loom my mom made me when I was twelve for so.

beading—it’s comparatively quick, and you can make lovely patterns without too much thought. I don’t think there’s anyway I could have hand-beaded the entire thing this densely without shooting myself.

My mom made me the bead loom on the right when I was twelve for so, around the time I discovered a box of beads and some bands she had created herself at some point in the past (my mom is a worse hobby-slut than I am). And I banded merrily away for awhile until I reached the same unhappy realization that I cam to with cross-stitch: when I was done, I had all these little bands of bead work, and nothing I really cared to do with them. So I was pretty stoked, a decade or so later, to come up with the idea of using them in this outfit. The nice thing about tribal bellydance is you can pretty much throw anything into the mix and make it work.

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Headband with flowers, bead medallions, and cowrie falls.

Anyway, the band patterns are variations of greek key, which is a pattern I love because a) it’s gorgeous, and b) it’s found all over the world, despite the name. The centerpiece on the headband is a Hand of Fatima, which is a symbol of protection and good luck; it’s a stylized hand with an eye in the palm, though the eye didn’t show up very well, I’m afraid (and also really beautiful… and pretty much my only nod to the middle Eastern origins of bellydance in this particular ensemble).

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Headband beading

The belt is based on simple rectangles of layered denim, covered with black cotton velvet; the headband I glued a a stick-on felt backing, which works well for not sliding around and was quick, but was a bad idea for ending up with glue showing on the upper side of the beads as they rotate. It would’ve been better to quilt it down to a sturdy piece of felt (or more of the cotton velvet) by hand, especially since I ended up going over all the edges to apply more beads anyway.

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Hand of Fatima

The beaded medallions were made of slightly larger beads hand-sewn to plastic canvas circles like these ones here. This took the longest and probably drove me the most nuts of any part of this project. It was BORING! I believe these, like the bead-bands and the dress-jingles, are also nods to Native American crafts, though not ones I’m personally familiar with, unlike the bead-bands and the dress-jingles. Again I used a variety of spiraling motifs.

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Beaded medallion

The little mirrors embroidered on the belt and at the centres of the beaded medallions are generally called shisha and are common in (east) Indian adornment. I lurve them. If you find ones that were actually made in India or thereabouts, spend some time looking for lettering on the glass—often it’s

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Shisha mirror

some fragment of “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. I love that! Mine, on the other hand, come from mosaic supplies found easily (but not nearly so thriftily) at Michael’s. My embroidery holding them down is fairly crude compared to the real thing, but again, I’m an impatient North American. It was also another handy use for that long-hoarded cross-stitch embroidery floss ;).

Also, you can see an example of my love for decorating stuff with buttons.

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Belt ornament, from left to right: dress jingles, narrow beaded strip, buttons, wide beaded strip, shisha mirrors

I finished the bottom of the belt with some small dress-jingles. I purchased these at a tiny little shop in my hometown; the lady makes moccasins and mukluks and sells powow costume supplies. I felt so authentic! They’re smaller than a lot of the ones you see on costumes, but I love them that way. Figuring out how to attach them with yarn, as opposed to the traditional leather fringe, was a bit of a trick, and involved threading beads on the yarn, popping them inside the little cones, and then squishing the narrow end of the cone with pliers so the beads couldn’t get back out again.

The belt---on. An OLD picture

Then, of course, there’s the yarn. You could not (at least at the time I was making this) have a fringe belt like this without having this kind of chunky, variable yarn. In this case, I combined two yarns, both souvenirs—the purple/blue bought at a yarn shop in Regina, Saskatchewan, and the tan/cream bought at a yarn shop in Ottawa, Ontario. Possibly I could’ve found the same stuff in my home-town, but a) I never went looking, and b) it’s much more fun to say you found it while travelling.

Blue-beaded dance headband & belt

Bead and cowrie falls on headband

Hmm. I think that mostly covers it. Oh, there’s also the cowrie falls on the headband. My mom put these cowrie shells in my stocking one year. Cowrie falls are about as integral to this look as the slubby yarn is, and there were (probably still are) about a million tutorials out there on how to make them, so I won’t go into it. It’s not hard. I do think they finish off the headband nicely, though.

Here’s another action shot to leave you with:

In action, 2008

And you can find more closeups of the pieces here.

Whew! Although I’m feeling much better, even sitting up to write this post is enough to exhaust me.  So I’ll leave you with some blurry SSS pics, they’re from yesterday but I’m wearing the same thing again today. I know, not even spacing out the repeats, but considering I’ve only been dressed for about three hours/day most of this week, I’m not going to feel too bad about it. I think I am kinda hitting self-stitched exhaustion, however. I’ll be glad to get a bit more variety back into the old wardrobe next month.

Self-Stitched September, day 22

Self-Stitched September, day 22 & 23

I know, the focus is crap, but that’s probably a good thing ;).

Self-Stitched September, day 22

Self-Stitched September, day 22 & 23

Top is the short-sleeved Lydia, which I’d actually almost forgotten about; it has the same gapy problem around the bust from the too-long armscye, but the short sleeves don’t seem to bind as much as the full-length ones do, and wearing it with the Bullet-Proof Bra does seem to help “fill it out” a bit. Of course I mainly wear knit tops so I won’t need a bra, so combining the two is a bit counter-intuitive in my books, but if it makes a wadder workable, I’ll go with it. For now.


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Gambeson pieces---see the markings for the quilting lines on the (white) lining side

This is not strictly my project, but a re-enactor friend wanted some help with making a gambeson, a kind of quilted shirt for wearing under his armour. So yesterday we spent some time looking at pictures online, and then trucked off to Value Village (which might actually be redeeming itself in my eyes) where he was able to pick up a nice heavy blue cotton curtain (Ikea), a large white cotton tablecloth (I hated to cut it up… it was actually quite nice) and a raggedy-ass old polyester duvet, all for under $20. We brought it back to my house, took some measurements, and cut out a the various rectangles (fronts, back, sleeves), stitched them together, and then began fitting. I’ve never done a draped pattern before (using the term “drape” very loosely), but it was really neat… as we pinned it on it became pretty obvious where we needed to remove

Test sample of machine quilting. The hand-quilting sample was too embarassing to show.

fabric around the arms and neckhole (and add a gusset under the sleeve)… and by the time we were done we had what actually resembles a fairly “modern” pattern silhouette. Nifty! Anyway, this is how it sits right now. I was trying to convince him to hand-quilt (time-consuming but less fiddly since I don’t have a walking foot and more authentic, but he wants to use a contrasting thread for the quilting  and neither of us were going to be able to make that look good by hand. Ah well.. this way he’ll probably have the shirt in a week or two, rather than it taking months.

Now, for a disclaimer—I’m not and never have been a re-enactor, although I can understand the appeal. But if I were, I’d be such an authenticity snob… I can totally see myself fully hand-stitching a garment just so that it had the right “look”. Making something with a re-enactor who really doesn’t care about authentic detail as long as the general look is right… well, it’s not what I would want in a garment. However, not my problem, right? 🙂


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An oldie… Kids’ choli

My daughter showing off

This is a dance shirt I made three or four years ago now for my older daughter. The idea is loosely based on an Indian choli, a kind of cropped, sometimes backless blouse worn with skirt or sari or whatever (depending on the region). They’re popular in tribal bellydance, and a little more modest than the traditional bellydance bra top. I have about a zillion of my own, made to various patterns, which maybe I will talk about at some point, but this one seemed like it would make for a nice quick post.

I drafted the pattern for this shirt based on her measurements; kids’ patterns are SO nice to draft because you don’t have to worry about bust shaping. There’s a theme or principal in “folk” clothing where you try to be as economical with the fabric as possible—most pieces will be rectangles, triangles, or trapezoids. This makes sense if you have to spin and weave your own fabric—you don’t want to waste ANY of it. It comes at the

a choli (a kind of backless top popular in bellydance) designed by my daughter

expense of fit, of course… but that’s the nature of the beast. The other upside, however, is it makes the patterns dead easy to draft. My daughter chose the kimono-inspired sleeves for this shirt (and made up her own pose). Since you can’t see it too well in the photo, here’s a rough technical drawing of the shirt: as you can see, nary a curve in sight. The triangles under the arms are actually square gussets.

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Oldies but goodies: Pantaloons

Because I should be in bed right now, I’ll start working on a post about an older project.

In case you didn’t know (and why should you?) I’m a long-time hobby-level bellydancer (I did mention I have way too many hobbies, right?). The best part about bellydancing is how totally awesome it is, but the second-best part is the costumes. Dance costumes (and a few club costumes) were the first full-size things I tried sewing, in my late teens. One of the staples of bellydance costume is pantaloons—aka harem pants. By themselves for a more athletic dance or under a full skirt to show when spinning, they really finish off—and fill out—a costume. And the best part (for my neophyte seamstress-skillz—is they don’t require a pattern, really, at all.


My first pair of pantaloons

These are my first pair; I was 17 or so when I made them. I was totally digging the side slits. I always meant to jazz them up with some gold trim, and tack the side-slits closed in a couple of places, but I never did get around to it. The waistband was a rectangle. The cuffs were rectangles. The legs were two big rectangles with a bit cut out at the crotch. can we say simple? (though not AS simple as pantaloons can be… the absolute base-line would be just an elasticized casing at waist and ankle. Which brings us to my next major pair:

These blue satin ones were made from a pseudo-sari type fabric. Aside from the gold pattern in the blue, there’s a wide, ornate gold border on top and bottom (which of course you can’t really see at all in the picture). These are absolutely-basic harem pants: two panels, elastic casing at hip and ankle. And they were MURDER. Almost enough to get me to give up on sewing. I mean, it doesn’t get much easier than harem pants, right?

I knew the satin was ravelly, so I figured I would serge the edges of the pieces. I did. The serging fell off. I hadn’t heard of fray-check at this point, so I muddled on, ending up with some truly massive French Seams. It’s a good thing the fabric itself is so gorgeous, because there’s nothing great about the workmanship itself.

Blue satin pantaloons... "simple"

My most recent attempt at pantaloons was in a cream damask. These ones are easily my most complex pants to date. The fabric was a light upholstery weight, so bulky, and I wanted them HUGE. I mean, HUGE. The fabric was almost two yards wide and I used a full width for each pant-leg. (For reference, the blue pants were a metre width for each leg, ok maybe a yard after all the fabric I lost to ravelling, while the first pair were even less than that). To accomodate this bulk, I wanted to pleat the top onto a yoke, and I used another trick I’d read about on the bottoms: I gathered the ankles onto a smaller doughnut of fabric, and put the cuff on the inside of the doughnut. My aim on these was to have the inside be as nicely finished as the outside (my main issue with my costume-grade sewing), which I almost achieved.

cream pantaloons: ankle circle

Maybe at some future date I’ll add more on my latest pair of dance pants, the rufflies…


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