The big and fluffy 1920s Robe de Style (CoBloWriMo Day 9)

This project was finished for last Christmas. Ever since I entered it into the HSM, I have procrastinated blogging about it. Firstly, because I have not taken many photos to document making it. And secondly because the process has been full of bloopers.

On the bright side, this gown is big, pink and very poofy. Perfect for today’s prompt… So here we go. Perhaps it is not as frightful as I think. ;)

Lots of big poofiness happening here…

This robe de style has been my very first 1920s project. I made it out of a thin silk crepe. It looks pink in the photos but is in fact eggshell with tiny red woven stripes. The pattern, like all the other ones I have used to date, came from an issue of La Femme de France.

Robe de style pattern from Femme de France, 1927. Click for PDF.

The pattern in the diagram fits a wearer about 165 cm tall. Thanks to the darts, it is pretty flexible as to bust size. To make it fit me, I shortened the bodice by 15 cm and widened the front darts by 2.5 cm at the base.

The back piece of the bodice after cutting out.

And then I made the mistake. I tried to add a lining to make things less transparent. Thankfully, I was skeptical about that idea from the start and asked in the HSM Facebook group. Here Leimomi of The Dreamstress saved my potatoes by pointing out that sheer 1920s gowns were rather left unlined and worn over a dress slip. So I whipped one up, using this free pattern by American Duchess. Pressed for time I grabbed a sleek, taupe cotton poplin from the stash to make it.

The slip, before attaching the straps. As of yet, they are still a bit too long…

The pattern was meant for casual wear so the skirt hangs, rather than stands out. For formal wear, a pannier-like under-construction was used to hold them up. I substituted, using three layers of cream and rose tulle. For extra fullness, I sewed them to a canvas strip and gathered the skirt in one go.

Constructing a full skirt with tulle and canvas.

The un-trimmed robe de style.

To finish off, I added a big bow of leftover tulle and ribbons. Since the neckline decided to be a spoilsport and did not lie flat, I tackled it with some glass beads. In the end the gown was passable and I wore it to the family Christmas celebration. Forgive the weird expression in the photo. It is just that the person taking it had just told me I look like a pink elephant. It is his idea of a compliment but that only dawned on me later… At least my mother told me that her mother had owned a robe just like it. That alone made sewing this whole, poofy monstrosity worthwhile. ;)

The finished elephant robe de style.

Yours, Nessa

The Twice-Sewn Regency Gown

Traditionally, November is a very industrious time around my home, with a new semester of uni starting and many pre-Christmas preparations getting underway. This year, it has also been rather busy in the sewing department. So, busy that I did not manage to write a single blog post detailing the progress on my early Regency gown for you.

I am horribly sorry for the lack of updates and progress pics, but I now have a first round of pictures of the finished dress to share with you. :) First though, I will tell you a little about the making process and about why I have dubbed this costume the “twice-done gown”.

In fact, I started working on the toile for this dress way back in October. I used the Drawstring Dress from the Sense & Sensibility “Elegant Lady’s Closet”pattern with a few modifications. For those, I went back to this post about Regency gown dimensions from a very long time ago. Based on it,  I shortened the bodice by 1/4″ at the bottom seam and increased the neckline by about 1″ at shoulder level.

Once I was happy with the alterations, I went to cut out the pieces, as economically as possible, from my striped muslin fabric. As I might have said before, it was an end-of-roll piece of just under three yards, by 5 feet wide. Cutting everything from it was quite a challenge, but I managed, using up almost every scrap. Usually I am not always happy about being only 5’3″ tall, but this time, my shortness has really paid off well. ;)

After this task was accomplished, things got … interesting. Since the fabric was so extremely sheer, sewing it up was a challenge of its own. To protect the material from puckering and tearing, I decided to hand-sew everything.

This is where the “twice-done” aspect comes in: I had not fully hand-sewn a gown in over a year, so I went back and forth, sewing, ripping and re-doing about every seam in the bodice twice, until I was happy. This took up the first half of November and I was really skeptical about the outcome.

Then, when I finally attached the skirt last week, I got really excited. Once it was on, my miserable little bodice started to look like a very gorgeous Regency gown, just as I had pictured it. While I was still somewhat horrified at some badly mismatched stripes earlier in the process, they are absolutely no problem anymore. But, long story short, I will just share my joy over the finished dress with you now. Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure: ;)


The finished gown – front view.


The finished gown – back view with train.


The finished gown – side view.

To be honest, I love how the dress has turned out so far. The things I enjoy most about it are the sheer, stripey goodness of the fabric, even though it was a bugger to work with and the playful little train. In the early Regency era, short trains like these were not uncommon on day dresses, but since this is my first trained gown, I am absolutely smitten by this particular detail. ;)

Here is another close-up of the bodice back, with the self-fabric drawstring and the poofy gathers around the center back:


A closer look at the bodice back.

Another thing I am fairly chuffed with are the sleeve bands. Initially, I had planned to make them much wider, but with the help of some lovely ladies with more Regency sewing experience, I decided to make them as narrow as possible. The bands are now 1/2″ wide, made from vertical 2″ strips, folded over twice. This makes them extra sturdy, so that they can later hold the undersleeves without much damage to the fabric.


Some detail of the sleeve and 1/2″ sleeveband.

The sleeves themselves are fitted short sleeves I made by cutting off the pattern’s elbow-length sleeves. They fit a little oddly at my very weird elbows; so I went with an easy solution that also existed in the early Regency period.

Another thing I wanted to do initially was to trim the dress. Though, after looking at all the extant striped dresses from the research post again, I decided against it. I had already bought this lovely 1/2″ bobbin lace for it. Now I will just keep it for another project. Having ten yards of lace sitting in the stash is not really a bad thing, is it? ;)


The lovely lace trim I wanted to use at first.

And now that the biggest part of the dress is done, I will speed things up a bit, to get the whole dress ensemble finished in time for the HSM “Re-Do” challenge later this month. Next on the list is a chemisette to fill in the neckline; the undersleeves will follow. Afterwards, I will probably sit down again and replace the hem-facing. It simply feels too bulky for such a sheer gown. In other news: the tale of the twice-sewn seams is not quite over yet…

But, as the story of the gown continues, I will do my best to keep you in the loop with progress pics and updates as best as I can. So I am hoping to be back with you for another post soon.

Warmly, Nessa

Another Way Of Spiral Lacing – Or Not?

After posting about the finished stays yesterday, a little confusion arose about how to lace them in a period way. Of course, we all know that spiral lacing with offset eyelets was the most period-correct method of doing it before cross-lacing came around. But, when I looked at the stays, I had to frown: The eyelets on the sewing pattern were not offset, and so they were not offset on the finished garment, either. And still, the instructions suggested to use spiral lacing with the parallel eyelet set-up. How can that be?

The pattern cannot be at fault, since it is very closely based on an extant pair of long stays. And JoAnn Peterson, the pattern author, really knows her Regency garments and provides great research for all the sewing patterns she publishes. If she does not use offset the eyelets, she does it for a reason.

So here is what I found: Offset spiral lacing does not seem to be the only extant method of doing up garments. Up to the 18th century, the majority of documented bodices and stays were constructed with this lacing method in mind, since it provides the proper structure for tightening a corset. This is also what Jen Thompson’s research on spiral lacing suggests. Please do check out her blog for her finds and a very in-depth spiral lacing tutorial.

But this is not the end of the story. Offset spiral lacing has a sloppy little cousin: The parallel spiral. While researching period lacing methods, I lucked into a very old article with an engraving of 17th to 18th-century lacing patterns:

Diagram of extant lacing patterns from the 17th/18th century. (Please click image for article.)

Now look at pattern A and compare it to pattern E. Drawn up tightly, they would create a somewhat similar picture. The article’s author also admits that pattern E was the most common lacing style he has found in historical sources. But A definitely also existed in documentations. If it was used in corsetry, though, remains hard to say.

With this picture in mind, I went back to the pattern envelope of my stays, and looked at the pictures there. It turns out that pattern A was exactly what JoAnn referred to as “spiral lacing” in her instructions. So this is what I did. Now my stays look like this:

Parallel spiral lacing on the stays.

What does this mean for you as a costumer? If you want to imitate spiral lacing on stays or bodices with parallel eyelets, you do not have to resort to ladder lacing (pattern B above) right away, if you do not want to. You can try and use parallel spiral lacing instead. Even though the historical evidence remains somewhat patchy, it will get you a little closer to the desired effect. Maybe “closer” is not 100% accurate, but at the moment, it will do for me. ;) Using it has made self-lacing a bit easier than with the previous crossed pattern, too…

Wishing you a calm and happy week!

Warmly, Nessa

I Will Start My Corset … Tomorrow

The time has come: I am finally out of good excuses for not starting the Laughing Moon Regency corset. My motivator to get this project rolling at last is June’s HSM challenge, which is aptly named “Out Of My Comfort Zone”. Its goal is to make a fashion item from a period that is new to you, or employing a technique you have not used before.

Since the Regency period is not quite new to me anymore, I will make the corset for this challenge because it employs two new-to-me, and rather discomforting, techniques: Cording and the use of metal boning.

It is my luck that this particular corset pattern has very well-written instructions. Furthermore, it has been made and reviewed favorably by many other Regency costumers. This fact, and the existence of a support group on Facebook, really eases my nerves. And, to further rule out the unnerving effects of time pressure, I have extended my personal challenge deadline to late August.

The LMM Corded Regency Corset pattern.

Thus far, I have already gathered a few of the supplies: 48″ of corset laces, a skein of cord and two metal busks. Once I have made a first mock-up and determined how much boning the back section will require, I will go ahead and place an order for it as well. The fabric is already here, too: White cotton twill for the inner layer and the same yardage of cotton sateen for the outer part. In case I should end up making a bad slip-up, I bought a little more than twice the amount given on the pattern. ;)

The first batch of corsetry supplies: Corset lace, busks and cord.

When ordering the supplies, I also got twice the amount of busks required, namely two. One is of the recommended length (12″), while the other is 2 inches shorter. I took this little precaution, since I am slightly shorter than the average lady. As a result, most garments need a bit of shortening to fit me properly. And, in this special case, a shorter corset might also require a shorter busk.

The cord I am using comes from a rather amusing source as well. It is actually kitchen twine, also know as butcher’s string. The pattern instructions list it as a suitable substitute for regular cotton cord. Just like the cording from the craft store, it can tolerate both soaking and higher temperatures, such as those it might encounter in the wash. And, in fact, it is not very pricey either: I have bought this 100-yard skein for under €3 at a local drug store. Yay. :)

That is how matters stand on the corset front so far. And I will do my best to get started tomorrow… honestly this time. If not, you are free to pick up one of the busks and nudge me. ;)

I wish you a pleasant rest of the week and hope to see you all again soon.

Love, Nessa

A Few Updates From Sewing Life

Oh dear, the new is ten whole days old already. I think it is time for a little update about how my sewing has been faring so far. Even though it might be a bit early to say this, I have a feeling this year will be special, at least as far as costume is concerned… ;)

Last weekend I got the chance to kick off the sewing year with a visit to my friend and fellow HSM(F) contributor Britta. We spent the afternoon admiring her wonderful collection of costumes. You might have already seen some of them on her blog, but they are even more awesome in real life.

Thanks to her, I also got the chance to try on an 1860s corset and crinoline for the first time. It was a special feeling. We found a corset that fit me almost perfectly and got a little excited over it. Here are a few pictures. I am wearing her “whipped cream” petticoat from last year’s HSF #1 challenge. Oh, and forgive the striped sweater. Next time I will wear a proper shift underneath, promised. And I am sure there will be a next time, since I seem to have fallen in love…

Wearing an 1860s corset and crinoline for the first time.

Mastering the door frame with 6 m diameter. ;)

The chance to share some costume geekery with a good friend has given me a motivational blast for my sewing. On Monday I started working on my split drawers for the “Foundations” challenge, but the pattern and I still have to become friends. Since I am not really used to working with commercial pattern from big companies, we still need some getting used to each other. The fact that the tables on the envelope told me I was a size 18 came as a bit of a shock.

But, thanks to the support of the HSM Facebook group I got over it rather quickly. I learned that Simplicity patterns contain a somewhat excessive amount of ease and that cutting them one or two sizes smaller is a viable option. Today, I cut out a mock-up in size 14. It still looks a bit wonky to me, but then these are my first historical drawers. Here is a picture of the progress so far. I will keep you posted on how they are coming along.

The (one-legged) drawers mock-up.

In other news, the embroidery fever has infected me again. At the moment, I spent most of the time working on a very late Christmas present for a friend. It is a mini-tapestry featuring her favorite animal: a dragon. Well, actually, it is a baby dragon. I copied the pattern from a childrens’ coloring book and, so far, the little fellow looks like this:

My current embroidery project.

Tonight, I will start filling him with satin- and long-short stitching. I am really excited about how he will turn out. He also still needs an apt name. So far, he is called Leopold-Napoleon. But, perhaps, some of you have some creative name suggestions as well. If so, please let me know. I am very intrigued to hear them. :)

This has been the gist of my sewing year so far. I hope yours has been off to a good start as well. I am much looking forward to seeing the gorgeous costumes everyone will be making. Happy sewing to us all.


See you very soon, Nessa

HSF #16: From the Calico – My First Regency Dress

It is official, I am a laggard. This is the first time I am a little late posting a challenge item for the HSF. But, now that the craziness of the last eight weeks is slowly subsiding, I am slowly getting the hang of sewing and blogging again. (And yes, I did not forget the week roundup I promised you last time. But so many new, exciting things have happened; so it ended up being postponed until I find the right words to tell you all about that.)

But first things first. Here are a few facts about making the dress and how it ended up in the “Terminology” challenge:

This is my first attempt at a Regency gown and the very first time I altered a pattern almost entirely based on the mock-up. And the good news is: there were barely any alterations needed. Because of this, I was able to keep the toile and re-use it for the bodice lining. Since the gown was originally meant for the “Paisley and Plaid” challenge last month, this was my way of smuggling it into the HSF after all. ;) To do so, I needed a fitting term from The Dreamstress’s Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia. Luckily I ran into “calico”, which is also sometimes used to refer to mock-ups, along with toile and muslin. And, because this aspect was pretty important to me, it fit.

Cutting out the bodice pieces from the calico.

Since this is a first attempt though, I am not entirely happy with the result. The other day my side seams decided to rip clean through because there was a little too much strain on them. And then there are a few issues with the trim, half of which merely exists because the skirt came out a wee bit too long and I forgot to shorten it until everything was made up… *headdesk* But, in the end, I quite like those tucks and the dress is actually wearable. Still, I cannot wait to start the next one, if only to iron out those silly beginners mistakes. ;)

Now, that was enough moping, here are the challenge summary and photos:

The Challenge: HSF #16 – Terminology

The Term: Calico (European use)

Fabric: 5 yards of “Moscow check” poly-cotton for the dress and old calico bed-sheet for the mock-up and lining.

Pattern: Janet Arnold’s 1806-09 Muslin frock, without major alterations.

Year: Early 1800s-1810

Notions: 1 3/4 yard soft cotton tape and 2 ecru shank buttons for the back closure; 5 yards of satin ribbon and 5 yards satin bias tape.

How historically accurate is it? Pretty accurate. The pattern is derived from an extant gown, about 80% of the seams are hand-sewn and the lilac check fabric was sampled in an early issue of Ackermann’s; except that the fabric I used had some synthetic fiber content.

Hours to complete: about 70 hours.

First worn: For the photos and fitting.

Total cost: about € 35 altogether.

And here are a few pictures, posing with one of great-grandad’s very old books. ;)

The front view.

The back view.

And now, unto the next challenge. Hopefully this time it will be on time. And I will keep you posted again more regularly from now on, promised. :)

All the best, Nessa


Unexpected Things (and a bit of a hiatus)

As some of you already know, I will be separated from my sewing for the month since I am doing an internship far away from home. Well, not that far away… in Bavaria, which is actually my heart’s home because the biggest part of my family are Southerners.

So, I just wanted you to know that I am still around and to explain the longish silence on the blog. The decision to give my sewing a rest for the next few weeks was a practical one, because yes, I was only allowed to bring 45 lbs with me on the plane and I am staying in a smallish, but very lovely, attic room here. Besides the work is taxing but also a lot of fun. When I get back home in August, my latest Regency projects will commence, but there will be some shuffling-around with the HSF challenges to be sure. I have a feeling that the “Terminology” challenge will be getting a wee bit overcrowded, not to speak of the “Re-do”. =)

And, since this is Bavaria, I do not have to go without wearing costume the whole time. On the weekends I am making a point of donning my folk-wear clothes, such as one of my dirndl dresses (sadly I only had space to bring one of my five) and my cropped wool jacket. And yesterday I lucked into buying a vintage, embroidered “Mieder” which is worn over a blouse but shapes the bust in a very similar way to my Regency short stays.

Speaking of which, I also got myself a little sewing goodie for when I return home. Usually I try to do without commercial patterns, but as I had a lot of difficulty drafting my own split drawers, I got this: With a few alterations, the Civil-War era chemise should also do well as a spare one for my Regency wardrobe. ;)

In any way, I will try to keep the posting, and sewing, break as short as possible and will try to be back with you by August. I will also be checking in to read about your beautiful creations whenever I can. Until then, I wish you all the best.

Take care, Nessa


HSF #10: An Attempt at Medieval Tunics

For the HSF’s “Art” challenge, I ventured into the unknown waters of a new-to-me period: the early Middle Ages. So, here is the wrap-up of this little expedition: A Saxon gunna, or over-tunic. The occasion for making it was a Medieval fantasy fair I attended with my friend. Since the general focus was more on the “fantasy” aspect, I had a lot of freedom when it came to making the tunic. Hence it was a good entry project to warm to Medieval fashion. The cut I was going for was fairly close to that of a t-tunic, which made drafting the pattern quite easy.

After finishing the initial pattern sketch, I drew it onto a quartered piece of fabric. This way, the gown was symmetrical and got by without a shoulder seam. While researching for the project, I found that this kind of seamless cut is actually period-correct. When I tried it all on though, I found the one-piece tunic to be somewhat shapeless and baggy. So I cut a set of front gores and some side gores from the leftover fabric. Before sewing it all up, my pattern pieces looked like this: And, yes, I was feeling a bit lazy and actually patterned in the underarm gussets. I am still feeling like a total cheat about it. But, on the upside, this little shortcut worked really well. ;)

The three pattern pieces of the tunic.

To finish the tunic’s hems and keyhole neckline, I grabbed a scrap of self-dyed cotton to make facings. This, too, was a very common finishing method all through the Middle Ages. Since I wanted the contrasting fabric to show on the outside, I sewed it to the garment’s insides first and then folded it to the outside. When everything was in place, the finished product looked better than I had expected, for a first dabble into Medieval styles. The biggest embarrassment of it all was that the neckline was not really symmetrical after finishing it. So I whipped the top corners back together, to balance things. As you can see, it looked pretty even afterwards:

The finished tunic, with a half-closed keyhole neckline.

Sadly, my friend and I had little time for taking photos at the fair. So I went ahead and posed for you in my living / sewing room the next day. I hope you do not mind. To round it all off, here is a brief summary of the challenge details:

The Challenge: HSF #10 – Art

The Inspiration: This 11th-century text illustration:

Fabric: Burgundy cotton gabardine and a scrap of self-died cotton.

Pattern: My own, inspired by researching on some SCA sites and “Historical Costumes and How to Make Them”.

Year: 900-1100.

How historically accurate is it? It was my first Medieval gown, made for a Medieval fantasy fair. I hand-sewed most visible seams but finished everything else by machine, for the sake of durability. The pattern though is fairly close to extant sources.

Hours to complete: About 16 hours.

First worn: On the fair, last weekend.

Total cost: Around € 11 for the gabardine. The dyed cotton came from my stash and was free.

That all being said, I will admit that I had wished for the gown to turn out more historically accurate. Usually, I am a bit of a pedant, intent on accuracy and little details. Yet, throughout this project, I felt a little out of my depth. Now that it is done, I am much looking forward to continuing my Regency journey. I am feeling so much more at home in this period.

The other day, I began drafting my first 1810s day dress, using one of Janet Arnold’s patterns. The draft and toile are coming along nicely. Starting this project has excited me so much, I even told my parents about it. And, in the past, especially my dad has frowned at the whole sewing business a little. But this time, he sounded almost as avid about it as me. It was a first and really cheered me on. If he goes on like this, he might end up with his own period waistcoat at some point…

I will try to give you a little update on the Regency progress very soon. :)


All the best, Nessa