Nearly there…

Corset all together and tried on!




Much better! Remaining fitting problems:

  • Too high in the front and under the arms – but I knew that would be the case anyway
  • Too big in the back! Need to take a channel off each of the back pieces

It might be worth putting in a waist tape (for strength) and it would be nice to cover it. Edges obviously need finishing. But it's essentially functional! Cool!

Corset nearing completion, hopefully

Got all the pieces of the stays stitched together last night, except for the lacing strips. And it's way, way too small in the back. I have no idea how that happened! Apparently there's around 10 inches gap at the back. Oddly enough, the side seams fall correctly under the arms, but the back just doesn't exist. You'd have thought I'd have noticed that earlier, really.

Fortunately, that's a fairly easy thing to remedy. I'll just make new centre back panels 3" wider than the old lacing strips. That'll reduce the gap to about 4" uncompressed; assuming 2" lacing, it leaves me with a 2" gap, which is quite acceptable. In fact, that's exactly what I did this morning; and brought them and the rest of the thing to work so I can get on with the hand stitching at lunch. Go me!

The stays are really very rigid. They are very heavily boned indeed, and I'm doubting the strength of my handsewing. I'm thinking that the stitches will give way rather than allow this thing to be pulled snugly around me. I can always take some of the boning out, but it's all a bit scary. I'll feel much happier when I know I've spent a week's hard work constructing a functioning pair of stays rather than an abortive throwback of cotton and plastic…

In other news, the linen did indeed arrive yesterday, and it's very attractive indeed! It has a self stripe made by using different thickness warp threads, and I love it. In fact, I might have to order some more just to have around… I stuck it through a boil wash on the machine last night to shrink it, and tumble-dried it too. I didn't have time to iron it before going to bed, so it's now bone dry and creased. I'll probably wash it again, to get all its tendency to shrink well out of the way, and to get it wet enough that I can actually iron it!
Read on for the item-by-item status update (since it's a week since the last one!)

So, the current status is:

  • Shift. Linen arrived; first round of pre-shrinking occurred last night. Several pieces of lace from eBay have arrived. Must complete this over the weekend.
  • Stays (corset). Getting there, I think. If these aren't the most time consuming part of the project, I'm in huge trouble. Pray that they fit…
  • Pocket hoops. Done! The only part of the project that is
  • Petticoat. No progress
  • Stomacher. Bought fabric.
  • Jupe. Bought fabric.
  • Robe. Have one lot of fabric that I'm persuading myself to like, and a second that is tempting me to change to it. Might do both.
  • Shoes. Already own them. Phew!!
  • Hat. No progress. Have also been looking at other accessories on eBay, to whit: gloves and fan. No wig yet.
  • Mask. Hmmmm…

More fabric wibbling

Still unsure of fabrics. The large quantity of curtain fabric arrived this morning – so at least it's here. It does look rather better in quantity, I must admit. I'm now thinking I might just forge ahead with this one. I'm sure the sewing of it would at least be *easier*. And if all else fails, I can make the other one, even if I promptly sell it again! Read on for pictures of the fabrics…

OK, here we have a close up of the original curtain fabric to show the colour, a motif, and give an idea of the sheen it does have:

This is the originally intended fabric with the stomacher (RS) and petticoat fabric:

And this is the alternative fabric with the others:

And finally, the stomacher fabric(wrong side on the left, right side on the, errm, right…):

I'm actually tending towards using the wrong side for the stomacher; it's much clearer!

Hmmm. J agrees with me that the alternate just looks nicer. But I also *quite* like the original. Arrgh!! But in a less angsty way than yesterday. 😉

Aaarrgh! Fabric crisis!

I went to buy jupe and stomacher fabric today. The ones I had intended look *awful* with my fabric sample for the main gown. 🙁 The sample arrived yesterday, and I wasn't blown away with it at the time. It's a very dull gold, almost greenish. And there isn't much of a sheen, or a colour contrast between the background and the pattern. It's a shame the sample arrived 3 days after the auction ended, and I'd already bought 15 yards of the stuff… Putting it next to the other fabrics I have in mind makes it look very blah, not at all like the elegant-yet-spectacular dress of the film.

The fabric shop do have a nice, damask, self-patterned satin back dupion. It's the right colour, very light, and its main downfalls are that the pattern is very non-period (roses), the pattern is not cream (which at least doesn't show off the roses), and it's synthetic, and looks it. Politely synthetic, but definitely synthetic. And it's much thinner than the brocade, so will need stabilising/interlining. Hmm. I did pick up 3.5 metres of satin backed crepe (again, polyester) in a pleasant cream, that I could use with either as the jupe (I wasn't sure what to do about the jupe, and this stuff was reduced and I can always make a dancing skirt out of it anyway). And I did buy half a metre of the gold-brocaded stomacher fabric, which was cheap.

So current options include:

  • Go to Robert Sayles' and see if I can find a less 'glitzy' stomacher fabric that is more complementary to the brocade
  • Sell the brocade, or earmark it for another project, buy the gold satin and make it in that.
  • Make both. Plan to sell at least one. (This was always a possibility for the dress after it had been worn anyway). Time constraints could kick in here…
  • Live with it and stop fussing. It's just a fancy dress costume.
  • Give up on this idea for now and do something else. I'm starting to think that no-one's going to know who I'm dressing as anyway. Everyone (who's seen the movie) knows Elizabeth got given a dress and passed out in it, but I'm betting that most people barely remember the colour of it.

Hmm. Will stew on it a bit more. And make a mental note to myself never to make a costume replica on a short timescale unless I already have the perfect fabric to hand.

More small updates

Got up before half 6 today; J had to go to London, so I stayed home on post-watch (linen due, I hope!) and got nearly 3 hours sewing in. All panels except the triangular one and the lacing pair are done now; I can start handsewing them together!

Predictably, the linen didn't arrive, but a sample of the fabric I won at the weekend did. Hmmm. Think it's probably too orange. Not sure about that. Shame I've bought 15m, really…

I've bid on yet more lace that I think will work for the cuffs (engageantes) of the shift; it's very white, probably synthetic, but a pleasant design and, importantly, wide enough! So that's good. So, handsewing it is, then!

Still no linen…

This is getting annoying… }:( They tried to deliver the linen yesterday, but J was in London, so they've taken it away again. It will now not be delivered until tomorrow. Bah.

This project is getting seriously tight on time now. I just hope the main fabric arrives soon enough… This weekend, I will have to make sure that the shift and corset get finished, and the petticoat, jupe and stomacher. Wow. In addition, I need to drape the dress itself – which should give me the dress lining, effectively. Then *all* I'll have to do is cut out the dress, sew it and attach it to its lining. With any bits of anti-wrinkle boning that are required, plus any interlining needed to stop the boning showing through… Piece o' cake

Progress is… slow

Spent most of the weekend working on the stays; after the first set of photos, I made the adjustments I thought necessary, sewed it together again and got laced in again. J took more photos, and they look *worse* than the first ones – arrgh! I think there's a few good reasons for that, though, and I think they're really all good signs:

  • I'm sure J laced me in tighter this time, making the stress wrinkles worse
  • The fabric was already creased from the first lot of trying on, so was looking very tired to start with
  • The original stays were a pretty good match for my *natural* shape. The adjustments make it force me into the *period* shape. There isn't enough boning in it to make it do that, so it doesn't look good.

Anyway, I went ahead with the adjusted pattern. Cut out two layers of the whole thing in my cotton twill, sewed right sides together along the vertical (i.e. side) seams and turned it inside out. I already know now that next time I would combine the side back piece with the odd looking wedge one – the latter was impossible to turn properly, and it would make planning the boning channels much easier.

I put three strips of hoopsteel down the centre front of the front section (side by side, not on top of each other!) and a single strip down each 'v' side of it. The remaining boning in the front section is all done with cable ties, which gradually transition from vertical at the centre front to parallel to the sides.

Plotting the boning for the two side pieces was more tricky; I wanted to follow period patterns as much as possible (after all, there had to be a reason they did it that way!), I wanted as much boning as possible in there, and I wanted the tabs to be well-boned. I was also keen to avoid any boning ending near my waist, as I can well do without things digging in to me. Think I'm getting there tho; pics to follow…

New adventures in corsetry

Last night saw the draft corset stitched together (actually I did a fair amount of it at the pub yesterday lunchtime, by hand, much to the perplexity of my work colleagues!), a pair of temporary lacing strips made (that I will detach and keep for future projects) and the corset tried on. I stuck a grand total of six pieces of boning in there (a cable tie in each lacing strip, two pieces of hoop steel down the front in lieu of a busk, and one piece of each hoop steel down the sides of the front 'V'), and was very pleasantly surprised by the sturdiness of it all:

Immediately obvious problems in the photos are:

  • The expected hideous stress wrinkles – even where there was boning, it wasn't closed in at the ends, so the corset slid together along it – and there are only six pieces in there!

  • The back gaps much more at the waist than at the top, and the cable ties bend to allow this to happen… I'm not sure how much to correct for this as my waist will 'squish' more when there's more boning, but I think it's safe to say that the corset is too big at the back top.

  • The lacing goes too far down – it should stop just below the waist.
  • The neckline is just the wrong shape – it shoul basically be straight across. But to where? – Looks like basically the bottom of the armsceye to me…
  • I also think the front V should be narrower at the top – extant examples seem to have that seam running over the apex of the (natural) breast or just outside it. That point is quite wide on me, so the apex it is, then.

However, the fit in general was pretty good; the front looks OK, the side seam is pretty vertical and the waist seems to fall at roughly the right point. I'm pleased. 🙂 Onwards!!

Works, spanner in the

After ringing Whaleys earlier to enquire about the delivery timescales of my linen, I was more than a little peeved to find that their Amtrak delivery service (cost: £7.50, billed as "Quick, inexpensive delivery") can take up to a week to get your fabric to you. That is neither quick nor inexpensive in my book, and wasn't stated on the website, so I had a good whinge at them. Thing is, I know that Amtrak deliver faster than that, so it's their dispatch service that takes the time. That's particularly irritating because, unless they're continually accumulating a dispatch backlog, they must, on average, be shipping a day's worth of orders every day. So they're just running late! (And that's nothing; they say standard parcel post can take up to 14 days to get to you. Royal Mail may have it's downsides, but they're not that bad!)

So I was surprised to get back from lunch to find an email telling me my recent order had been partially refunded – but no reason why. So I ring them again, hoping against hope that they've refunded me some money for being pants at delivery (though 50% would be rather generous…). Of course, my linen is out of stock. Now I'm *very* peeved!!
Happily, I do know that they have some white self-striped linen that is rather nice; it's a woven stripe, and I've had a sample of it before. They haven't run out of that, so I ordered that instead. And am now faced with the delivery dilemma again. I can either pay £16.50, and get the stuff by Tuesday(! – it's Friday today) or pay £7.50 and get it *next* Friday. Which is cutting things a little fine – there's only 2 weeks left to get it done in.
So I go quiet and mumble about disappointment and urgency and the fact that the delivery will be costing me more than the fabric (considerably so – this stuff's only £2.25 a metre!), and the nice girl eventually says she can do it delivery free for me, since they've let me down. Yayyy!! Wish I'd ordered more of it, now. But still, no linen till Tuesday, so no shift-making till Wednesday, at least.
In *good* news, I finished the hoop pockets last night. They are remarkably sturdy. And they are made out of foxglove pink glazed cotton, and make me look like the dame out of a pantomime. They're great!! I think they should be tied further away from the waist than I have was trying them, though. Period pictures seem to show the natural (well, corseted) swell of the hips for a short way before the skirts really get going. See? This will also make the top of the hoops less horizontal, giving a gentler swell to the skirts rather than an enormous 'floof'. They are very 'floofy' at the moment; I can't go through doors straight on, for example. I think the somewhat extreme angle may be toned down by wearing lots of heavy skirts on top of them. Hope so! Will try and get a photo of them up at some point, along with design sketches (whose skirts look a lot less floofy than the paniers, and which I infinitely prefer!) Slightly worrying, that… 😉

This weekend's aims, then, will include fitting the stays, making the stays, making a petticoat from the remains of the pink cotton, and if I have time, draping/drafting the robe pattern using the calico that arrived this morning (that I ordered yesterday from Online Fabric UK – shame they don't do linen). If I'm lucky, the draft can also be the robe lining – 2 birds, 1 stone. I must remember to take a paper pattern, though, if I do that – don't want to have to do it all again another time!

Ideally, I'll also find fabric for the jupe and stomacher, but we'll see.

So it's not like Whaley's have severely impacted my sewing schedule – I'll be amazed if I get through that lot, and I have three skirts and a dress to make on order, to boot – but I'm still peeved. I'm really looking forward to making a shift, for some reason!

Another day, another huge project with an unbelievably tight deadline…

Costuming, costuming, costuming… Planning frivolously unwearable outfits, spending more than you meant to, sewing all evening and then being unable to get to sleep because you're too inspired. Waking up early, knackered but still buzzing, and taking bits of stuff to work with you – not because you actually anticipate being able to insert corset boning in the office, but because you can't bear to leave it behind… Ahh, why can't I do this for a living?? (Because it's less fun if you've done it before, and if you *have* to, I suspect…)

If you don't already know what I'm planning to wear for Alex and James's joint 30th birthday party, and would actually like it to be the intended surprise, read no further now…

So, Pirates of the Caribbean, then. Fab movie, fabber costumes – rooted in historical fact, even. A little battered by the tempests of Hollywood design, but recognisable, nonetheless. So when Alex suggested a Masked Ball theme, what could be more obvious than to recreate Elizabeth's Gold Dress? (the one that her Dad gives her with the tight corset that makes her faint. Hopefully, I won't be reproducing *that* detail…) So this week, I've mostly been researching 1770s fashion (ahem). I think that it's basically a fairly early robe a l'anglaise with a triangular stomacher (cream with gold embroidery) and a cream damask petticoat (or jupe). The fabric is a gold satin brocade with a large floral-type design – conveniently similar to some curtain fabrics available today. The costume goes together as follows:

  • Under everything, she wears a linen shift, which in period would have had lace attached at the neckline and cuffs (which are elbow-length, rather than the very long sleeves seen on Elizabethan and renaissance chemises). In the movie costume, the lace may be attached to the dress itself, for ease; I'll construct it the more period way.
  • Over the shift, the aforementioned corset is worn, and a pair of 'false hips' – the movie costume actually uses a short hoop-skirt, but I'll be using a pair of pocket hoops. Over the hips, I may need one or more petticoats, to stop the boning in the hoops showing through the top skirt.
  • Then the decorative petticoat that shows through the split in the robe is worn on top of that, and the stomacher is pinned or laced onto the front of the corset
  • Finally(!) the robe is pulled on like a coat and fastened to the stomacher, by pins, ties or hooks and eyes.

So, I have a fair bit to make, then! I have ordered linen for the shift, and I think I have tracked down some suitable lace on eBay (lots of it actually; we'll have to see how the prices go…). The linen is bright white, so once I've made up the shift, I may try tea-dying it. Apparently, 18th century shifts were made of quite sturdy, shirtweight linen, not the extremely fine stuff you would see a couple of hundred years earlier.

Fortunately, my recent bouts of eBay enthusiasm have resulted in a plethora of odds and ends that will be very useful. I bought a huge quantity of cotton drill that can be used for corsetry (or at least the mock-ups), and 20 metres (yes, really) of plastic covered boning that will be used for the pocket hoops and the longer bones in the corset. I'm hoping to try using cable ties for the rest of the boning, but there may be a problem in that I'm pretty darn *tall* and cable ties only come in lengths up to 30cm or so… I also have some glazed cotton that someone on eBay sold me as 'satin or something similar' that is proving useful for the pocket hoops, and which may be used to mock up the dress itself – or at least to provide the 'structural' petticoat to go over the hoops – there's about 5m of it.

I think I've tracked down a suitable brocade for the robe itself, but I'm awaiting photos to be sure. I've also ordered a bunch of cream coloured calico that should be useful for draping and/or lining the robe. The stomacher and jupe are more problematical; there are no shortages of cream damasks, but a lot of them look like curtains or throws. It would also be nice to have a design that 'fits' the triangular shape of the stomacher, but that's probably hoping for too much (or at least, I'd have to embroider it myself, and that's probably a leap too far).

I've come up with a few sketches that I really like for the dress itself (in a meeting, oops). Will try and scan and upload them sometime. As far as I can tell (not being an expert), it's not really a truly historical shape, but a mix of elements from the era. The bodice is quite restrained and upright – very wide necklines were in vogue for a lot of this era, but I guess wouldn't be practical in the Caribbean anyway (especially as fair skin was a beauty asset). It's my guess that it was designed that way to make Elizabeth appear more of an innocent girl-woman than a flaunting rich girl. It's also possible that most paintings are not of day-wear, which this gown is, but rather people decked out in their finest evening-wear.

The skirt is also intriguing; the robe is definitely a l'anglaise – that is, it isn't a sacque dress, where the back part is all loose and pleated. The fashion with this style of bodice was to have the narrow centre back panels cut all in one with the back of the skirt, with heavily pleated sections over the hips – as seen here. That later became reduced to a point at the centre back, on a fully cut waistline. But I don't think either of these patterns would account for the slight train the gown appears to have, when you see her full length and in profile. I haven't found any shots of the back waist of the dress, but I think I'm going to treat it like an Elizabethan dress – straight across at the back. Dresses with this cut were generally worn polonaised (i.e. the overskirt all gathered up and floofed out), but at least that means it's a plausible cut!

Equally, I have a feeling that the gathered sleeves of Elizabeth's dress are an invention of the costume designer. I haven't seen similar ones anywhere else! They're cute, though, and a defining feature of the dress, so I'll see if I can manage to recreate them. So, the current status is:

  • Shift. Linen ordered, lace eyeballed, free pattern found here. Linen will need pre-shrinking before sewing can commence…

  • Stays (corset). Have fabric, have ordered cable ties, found free pattern here, which I have since sliced up in the interests of adjusting it to my size, and reproducing the piecing seen in extant examples.
  • Pocket hoops. Nearly done! Started them last night (again, pattern here) and they are so coool!! Am slightly worried that with a slight train on the dress I will also need a bum pad, or would have been better off with the short hoop skirt that was worn in the movie, as these will not support the rear part of the skirt at all…
  • Petticoat. Probably use the glazed pink cotton for this, as well as a first draft for the skirt. I know how it's supposed to be put together, but have no pattern…
  • Stomacher. Probably the least defined item to date. Still hunting fabric, although I do have a fallback or two lined up…
  • Jupe. Pretty much the same as the stomacher, but less demanding on the fabric.
  • Robe. Exciting!! I think I have tracked down the fabric – fingers crossed!! Lining is ordered. No pattern – planning to drape it (mostly rectangular skirt, and the bodice can be taken at least in part from a well-fitted corset).
  • Shoes. I'm planning to wear a pair of heeled boots with this. Non-period, but I already own them, and if I am in any danger of looking wide in this gown, they should help. (I'm not as narrow as Keira Knightley, but hopefully won't look like a complete lump by comparison!!). I will, however, look very, very tall.
  • Hat. No lady is dressed without her hat. 😉
  • Mask. What?? It's a *masked* ball you say? Oooh, my bad…

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