Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shame on me!

It has been seven weeks since my last blog update.  However, this does not mean that I have been idle on the crafting front.

When we last left our heroine, she was frantically getting her ass together for a trip to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  She had successfully constructed a lovely shirt for her good husband, and had gotten the wool for his Great Kilt trimmed and the ends hemmed (although I don't remember if I mentioned that or not).

In the process of doing this, that or the other, however, I did start running out of time for my own garb.  As you may recall, I bought a couple of brown herringbone patterned tablecloths on clearance at Shopko and had a grand plans to make myself some kind of working class Tudor-ish-era gown out of it.  I also had grand plans to make myself a new smock.  The one I have has narrow sleeves, for wearing underneath the fitted sleeves on my comfort gown, and I really would have liked something with puffier sleeves to wear with my working class kirtle.  I'll tell you right now that I ran out of time to even think about that, let alone pick out and order fabric for it. 

So with two days left before we had to leave the Great State of Wisconsin for this trip, I started my gown.  I used the custom corset pattern generator from the Elizabethan Costuming Page, and had Justin take my measurements.  I punched them all in and drafted up the pattern, fully expecting it to work as perfectly as it did when I made Darcy's gown.

Well, it didn't.

I used the pattern to make up a quick mock-up to make sure that everything was going to work, but it looked like hell.  It didn't fit at all.  I didn't even know what to do to make it work.  I guess the measurements Justin took were inaccurate because it was WAY too big.  And since I don't have a dress form or anything, I had no way of working with it to fit it and trim off the excess.  So I trashed it.  This was at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday.  We were leaving for Minneapolis directly from work on Friday evening.  This meant I had ONE NIGHT to figure something out.  Awesome.

I really didn't want to wear my comfort gown.  But I didn't have any means of making myself something else with any guarantee that it would fit.  But then, in the middle of the day on Thursday, I was struck with inspiration!

I had this other costume, a completely historically inaccurate number made from a commercial pattern.  I ganked this particular outfit from The Malthouse Theatre - Home of the Haylofters in Burlington, Wisconsin (with permission, of course).  I wore it to Bristol last year and it did the job.

Isn't it awful?

However, the most important feature of this particular outfit is that it had a bodice that fit!  Of course, it was made with darts which was not a technique that was used in that time period, but the end result was a garment that fit more or less the way it was supposed to.  So I thought, if I deconstruct this, trim a 1/2" or so off the sides, and use this as the bodice pattern, I MAY end up with something I can work with!

Luckily for me, the shoulder straps just tied together at the top, so that was easy enough to deal with.  There was some significant seam rippage going on for the rest of it, though.  There were tabs at the bottom that had to come off, and several layers of fabric that were serged together so picking out the seams was fairly time consuming.

The front piece was good to go as-is, once I had it detached from the back piece.  I just trimmed about 1/2" from the side to give myself some lacing room and that was done.  The back I actually cut in half and trimmed 1/2" from the side and the center-back of that piece.  The plan was to place both pieces on the fold of the fabric so I would have one continuous back piece and one continuous front piece, with lacing on both sides.

I had already made the decision that I was going to use a double layer of heavy cotton canvas to interline the bodice of this gown.  The idea behind this is that the canvas would offer support without having to deal with boning...and at 9 p.m. on Thursday night I did NOT have time to deal with boning.  That turned out to be a good decision.

I sewed the two back pieces of canvas together, and repeated the process with the front pieces of canvas.  I had some duct ties left over from the boning in Darcy's bodice, so I cut four bones to put at the sides of both pieces, to reinforce the area where the gown would be laced.  Once the boning was in, I very carefully sewed the canvas interlining to the dress fabric pieces that would go on the INSIDE of the bodice.  This would keep the interlining from sliding around, and since it's on the inside, no machine stitching shows.  Then I sewed the outside layer of dress fabric and turned the whole mess right side out.  The end result was a front piece and a back piece with the brown dress fabric on the outside, and the canvas and boning sandwiched in the middle.  Added bonus - all the seams were inside.  Perfect.

To make sure that everything was going to fit properly, I tackled the eyelet holes right away.  I positioned the holes for spiral lacing and got those made with the help of my handy-dandy awl, which I love with all my heart.  I didn't bother with doing any stitching on these just yet.  I used some kind of awesome linen cording I picked up in the drapery department at JoAnn.  It's grey so it's not real pretty BUT this was a working class gown anyway and it works a hell of a lot better than ribbon. 

I got the bodice laced on and imagine my delight when it fit like a glove.  The gaps on the side might have been a LITTLE bit bigger than stricly proper, but I didn't much care about that.  Once it was laced on I was able to, with some difficulty, get the shoulder straps pinned to the right length.  The whole thing came off and stitched those puppies down with a quickness.  I didn't take the time to finish the shoulder seams at all; it wasn't really necessary to make the gown wearable and I needed to move on to the skirt.

I put the bodice back on and laced it up, and then had Justin measure from the bottom of the bodice to the floor in the front, at the side, and in the back.  I have a big butt so the back measurement was slightly shorter than the front, but whatever.  Once I had that measurement, I took off about an inch and decided that was going to be the length of my skirt.

At this moment I decided that using a tablecloth for this was the best decision I had ever made in my life.  The tablecloths were quite wide, and the edges were already finished.  I had already cut into both tablecloths for the bodice - front piece and back piece out of each one - with the idea that this would leave the most length on each cloth for the skirt.  It worked out every bit as well as I'd hoped.  I measured from the un-cut end of the tablecloths and cut them at the proper length.  I then sewed the sides together to make a tube.  I left about six inches at the top of each side seam unsewn to give myself enough room to actually get into the thing.  Hemmed edges = no seam finishing necessary!  Woo hoo!

At this point I was feeling like I was pretty much home free...all I needed to do was attach the skirt to the bodice and I was good to go.  I gathered the skirt to the bodice all the way around.  I attached the skirt ONLY to the outside layer of the bodice, with the idea that I would hand-stitch the inside to enclose all the raw edges.  I made several passes to make sure that the seam was strong and wouldn't rip out if I tripped all over myself or something.

Once that was done, I had a wearable gown.  It was by no means FINISHED...I didn't sew any of the eyelets, the shoulder seams weren't finished, and the inside lining of the bodice wasn't attached to the skirt.  However, it was WEARABLE, and that was the point!  I ran upstairs to try on the entire ensemble.  I threw on the smock and put the gown over it.  I stole a brown leather belt from my husband and wrestled with the arisaid.  That took some time but I finally got it right.  I used a safety pin to attach it to my shoulder and had a look in the mirror.  IT WAS FULL OF WIN AND AWESOME. 

My research has informed me that married Scottish women in this time period wore a kertch, which was a one-yard square of fine white linen (usually given to the bride by her mother on her wedding day - she wore it for the first time when she got up the day after her wedding), which was folding into a triangle and wrapped around the head like a babushka.  I had enough of the handkerchief weight linen from Justin's shirt left over, so I used that to make my kertch, and so I had put this together a couple of days prior to the Great Gown Adventure.  It took some practice to get it on right, but it ultimately looked awesome.

And so it was that I had an awesome new outfit to wear to the Ren Fest.  You can't even tell that it was made from a tablecloth.  I got lots of compliments, and mad ups to Peggy for helping me lace into the damn thing. :)  When I started this project on Thursday night I really expected that this would be a one-time-wear piece of garb, since I was flying by the seat of my pants when I made it.  I am very pleased to say that this is going to be going into regular rotation because it turned out so well.  Also?  I didn't finish the eyelets on this before I wore it for the first time, and it was laced TIGHT.  I did not expect the holes to hold up, but they totally did!  No ripping, no stretching, no nothing.  I'm actually not sure how that happened.

Here are some pictures of the finished product - I didn't get any pictures of the process because I was in such a damn hurry.


Cleavage rating in this gown: 10 out 10.  Amazing.

It was also incredibly comfortable, believe it or not.  Even though the fabric was a cotton/synthetic blend (though admittedly more cotton than synthetic - 65% cotton), it was light and comfy.  And even though the arisaid fabric looks really heavy, it's actually extremely light.  It's not woven very tightly, in all actuality, so the additional layer didn't cause me any discomfort at all.

Remember how in that post about the arisaid I talked about how you could use it to keep crap in?  WELL.  We were not very far into the day when we realized that the belt we brought for Justin was NOT going to work to hold his kilt up.  He wasn't not having a lot of fun because he had to keep hiking the thing up.  So we stopped in this random leather shop, the name of which escapes me unfortunately, and imagine our pleasant surprise when we found they had some super nice leather belts for $25!  Normally that kind of thing, even a plain one with no buckle and no embellishment like what we got, is going to run you $50 or better at a Faire.  So we snatched that puppy up.  The dude at the store showed us how to fasten it, and then Peggy and I took Justin off to the side to try and get the new belt on and the old belt off without making him drop trow.  AND we succeeded.

Now, we didn't want to ditch the other belt, because it's actually pretty awesome and will work well for other outfits.  Brad helped Justin make it last year for Bristol.  So I put that bad boy in my arisaid and I didn't even know it was there the rest of the day.  AWESOME.

And because I know you're dying to see how awesome Justin's outfit was:


It was wicked hot that day.  Like UNGODLY hot.  I was so glad I wasn't wearing my comfort gown because I would have died.  But Justin, who is more susceptible to heat than anyone else I know (due to the fact that he doesn't sweat - true story), was completely comfortable all day.  Yeah for natural fabrics!