Saturday, August 18, 2012

Butterick 3418 Skirt

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to make Susan Sto Helit's costume from the movie Hogfather. This pattern is a simple, straightforward way to make her gray skirt.

I've tried four different skirt patterns at this point, and so far this has been the best of the batch, and the closest to period imagery. I do hope to eventually get a more authentic pattern from Truly Victorian or the like, but for right now this is what I've got to work with.

My first go at this pattern was with a cheap and ugly brown cotton/poly blend. I really try to never waste my good fabric on the first go with patterns I'm unsure about. By following the pattern exactly, I ended up with a very slim skirt that fit into the waistband without pleats or gathers.

Even though I won't use it for the Susan outfit, I decided to sew another one with a turquoise linen I've been hoarding for a while. I bought it during the Alaskan winter when I was yearning for color, and then couldn't for the life of me figure out what to do with it. Now that the skirt is finished, I have just enough left to do a small matching jacket, but that will come later.

I love the effect of the black grosgrain ribbon at the bottom. I was planning on doing the pattern's design, but I ran out of ribbon. If I decide to do it again, I will use a thicker ribbon, because this 3/8" ribbon is a little too thin.

For this version, I used what I learned on the brown mock-up to make some more shape-flattering alterations. I didn't want to interfere with the smooth front, so when I cut the back pattern pieces I added 3-4" to their width.
Here in the back, you can see where I gathered the extra width. I don't really care for the small gathers, but fortunately I needed to take an inch off anyway. I accidentally made the waistband too long, so when I re-do the waistband I am planning on thicker pleats instead of these small gathers. If you want more information, you can to to to see my review of this pattern.

Simplicity 9723 Gibson Girl Blouse

Michelle Dockery as Susan Sto Helit in Hogfather, 2006.
If you've ever read the works of Terry Pratchett's Discworld or seen the movie Hogfather, you probably know who Susan Sto Helit is. Just in case you are so sadly deprived, I'll tell you - in the Discworld, she is Death's granddaughter, and one of my favorite characters.

Our local ComicCon is coming up in October, and I would like to do something with a bit of her flair.
In her role as a governess, she wears a simple striped blouse with a vest and skirt. I've found the pattern I want to use for the skirt, so now I'm working on the blouse. This first blouse project is a test-run. I had some horrible Symphony Broadcloth (a poly/cotton blend) left over from another project and decided to try out one of my patterns, to see if elements of it would work for the Susan costume.

Simplicity Pattern #9723
Now, Victorian blouse patterns are not thick upon the ground. Actually, they're a bit of a pain to find at all. So far, the closest I can get to her shirt pattern is something modern. Then I found this pattern, and wondered if it might be the right way to go.

Wrong! So wrong! Please visit my review on for the full story on this pattern. Basically, it's costume construction and not historical construction at all. The blouse is actually sewn to the skirt! Since I had already forked out the money to buy this out-of-print pattern on eBay, I decided to tough it out anyway. I'm actually surprisingly pleased with the blouse that came out of it, but I think I may be missing part of the pattern - I couldn't find the right sleeves for Susan's blouse, so I decided to make the puffier sleeved version instead, and just use the bodice to gauge the feasibility of using the pattern for the Susan costume.

I'm a little larger than the pattern, so I used the multi-size pattern lines to go up about three sizes. It worked surprisingly well, and the only issue was the shoulders - they were a little wide.

The front strip in the pattern was much thinner, which would have been pretty unflattering for my body type, so I decided to use a wider strip of fabric and frame it with black lace. Before I started this project, I had never used so much lace in my life! I am very glad that I picked up a 100 yard reel of the stuff last time I was in town for Fabric Depot's outdoor sale. I just wish I had found white at the same time!

Changing the blouse pattern from the sewn-in version to a standalone piece was pretty straightforward. I added about 6" in length and flared it towards the bottom a little, to allow for hips.

What gave me the biggest problems were the arms... specifically the long cuffs. I glared at the directions for a long time, then I asked my husband - who is in his senior year for engineering - to look at it. Finally, I went through my pattern stash and found something remotely similar to help give me an idea of what they were talking about. It took a long time, but I think the cuffs you see here turned out fairly nicely, all things considered. They even fit well!

Finally I came to the collar. I followed the pattern at first, but when I tried it on it looked more like a turtleneck than anything of the period. I shortened it by half, and it was perfect. It looked nice and allowed me some breathing room.

As a final touch, I added this wonderful "Lady of Death" brooch I found on Etsy. Made by ProjectPinup, I think it's a fabulous connection to the Susan costume I'm trying to make. I've learned a lot while working on this blouse, and I have another pattern that I'm going to try before I decide what to use in the final version.

Costumes on Parade: Flickr

I finally got around to compiling pictures of as many of my projects as I can. I created a Flickr account and have been combing my old files and boxes for costumes and quilts as yet unrepresented. So far, it's working fairly well. There's still a lot out there that I don't have pictures of, but it's a great start.

If you happen to have something I've sewn for you and don't see it represented, please send me a picture!

Thank you so much!

Victorian Petticoat: Truly Victorian TV170

I'm trying to write a historical novel, so I decided to try my hand at Victorian costuming to help me get into the mindset. After a few starts, stops, and pitfalls with the big names in sewing patterns, I discovered that the best way to go is straight to the smaller and more historically accurate pattern companies.

Working from the skin out, I decided to undertake the petticoat first. I used the TV170 pattern by Truly Victorian, and I am delighted at how well it turned out. It went so well that I will be sewing it again, as a winter holiday present for one of my best friends.

I chose to sew View #2. According to the Truly Victorian pattern company, View #2 is based on petticoats worn from 1877-1882 and is part of the Natural Form style. In their words, "This version has a slim front and does not fit over a bustle. Suitable for under Tie-Back skirts. Also works well for 1890-1891 slim skirts."

Last year, when Jake still had to make the drive to Spokane every day, I asked him to pick me up some black solid cotton. The wonderful man found me the best he could - the quilt back cotton, which is something like 120" wide instead of the usual 45". There was so much of it that I had to put it aside for future use, and I am happy to say that length of fabric will not only make my petticoat, but a whole other one as well!

But back to the pattern. Being as naturally rounded as I am, I appreciated the flat front and more elaborate back. It's a much more flattering style for me. I haven't yet worked up the courage to make a bustle, but I'm starting to see it inside the realm of possibility.

This skirt required an amazing amount of gathering and pleating. Before I purchased the pattern, I read several reviews on and other related sites. Everyone mentioned the vast time you'd spend gathering and pleating, but until you're faced with it, you can't really see how daunting it is! I keyed up a mini-marathon of Warehouse 13, pulled my ironing board over to the couch and lowered it until it was the perfect working surface. Some days (okay, every time I sew!) I long for the truly massive muslin-covered work table back at the Theatre UAF costume shop, but as we're in a rather tiny apartment, my ironing board will have to do!

I also had way too much fun with lace, as you can tell from the pictures. I did have one little issue - I was so excited about it that I completely forgot to do the horizontal pleats. If I had remembered to do them, it would have impacted the flare of the skirt as well as the length. I ended up taking off part of the bottom ruffle to make up for the length, but I'm not upset - I love the effect of all those short black ruffles.

Here's a close-up of the waistband. I was initially surprised that it was a drawstring, but it does make a lot of sense. It's much more adjustable and forgiving - especially if you're going to layer multiple petticoats. The drawstring I ordered online was surprisingly thick, but it actually worked out rather well. It's so bulky that it completely fills the channel, keeping the fabric from shifting around when you don't want it to.

This was the only place where I was unsure about the pattern's directions - the diagrams were very sparse, and it doesn't actually tell you how to finish the waistband. What I did was lay it out like the pattern directed and sewed it down. Next, I took the raw 1/2" left on the sides and folded it twice towards the skirt like a hem, so that the raw edge would not be rubbed out by the drawstring. I sewed that down before closing the waistband.

Unlike the pattern's directions, I did not sew the waistband with the drawstring inside. I have a handy-dandy little tool called an Easy Threader for that and it keeps me from making embarrassing mistakes (like sewing things together that shouldn't be) and having to take them out again. I'll be honest - it's happened before, but it's avoidable!

All in all, the design was simple and yet quite effective. The pattern directions were sparse yet easy to follow, and the final result looks exactly like the image on the pattern. I absolutely love this petticoat, and can't wait to start on my friend's!

Want more? You can read my pattern review at for more information.

Viking Apron Dress - Take, 6... I Can't Count!

The Viking Apron Dress. The term has different connotations to every SCAdian costumer you talk to. It can be short or long, flared or straight. The straps can be solid or loops, crossed or straight. Until more extant information is available to us, it's a huge guessing game

For those of you who aren't aware of it, this woolen over dress has become a staple of the SCAdian scene. Pretty remarkable for something which survives as only fragments and scraps in the archeological world. We have no complete images or sculptures, just some loops and - maybe - part of the top and torso. There really is no telling.

It's a fun mystery, and even a bit of an informational treasure hunt. For my part, I have tried out many different versions and I have a stockpile of research which could support any one of them.

In the image to the left, you can see I'm wearing a fitted and flared version with solid straps. It is one of my favorites (it has a totally awesome swish factor that my inner 5-year-old adores) and I actually managed to get some kind of trim on it. The under dress is more medieval than Norse, but that's a topic for another day.

One of the things that's open to interpretation is the strap construction. Cut along the same lines as the top dress, the gray version to the left features a different kind of strap. Most of the scraps which have survived have managed their journey through the years by being near metal as it corrodes. This corrosion process manages to preserve precious bits of fabric while the rest of the deceased's clothing gives way to decomposition.

Take for example Inga Hägg's work at Birka. The large turtle brooches that were so popular with women during this time period have managed to preserve a small snapshot of the garments they were directly above. It's surprising how many layers of wool and linen she discovered, and it's even more difficult to figure out what each of them were and how they were constructed.

In the picture to the left, I have turned over my brooch so you can see the way the straps fit into the pin. Imagine if it were right side up. Hägg found 5-8 layers of fabric underneath, and up to two on top. Some can be explained away as trims and facings, but that's still a lot of fabric. In this image, you only see two layers: The wool Apron Dress and the linen under dress. Every time I delve into the research, I get a little distracted wondering about those other garments. There are some small images which have survived - small metal figures that many think to be representations of the famous Valkyrie. Even those are abstract, shown in profile with few clothing details to help us out.

While there are still other versions of the Viking Apron Dress that I have not tried out, I think I will stick with this one and move on to work on those other layers. I have dialed in an Apron Dress pattern that I both like and find vaguely supported by the research. Now for the next mystery. I plan on working on those other layers Hägg mentioned - the pleated linen shift she talks about and the wool and silk caftan or ???

I like a good historical clothing mystery.