Tag Archives: historical costume

A dress for Victoria

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A dress for Victoria

I have loved the absurdity of the 1830s since I first discovered fashion plates of it almost 20 years ago. I’ve made four previous 1830s dresses and love wearing them but I had been longing for a formal dinner party. Wandering a historic site just isn’t quite as glamorous as candlelight and friends. Finally a friend suggested if you can’t find and event, make one! So the Young Victoria Dinner was born.

Major thank you to the Joseph Ambler Inn for being so welcoming!

Fashion Inspiration


But what to where?! Obviously any of the four other perfectly serviceable gowns I own just WOULD NOT DO. Why?…because I said so and it’s my party.

I ask you IS there anymore delightful than 1830s hair? There isn’t.

When looking around at fashion plates I realized there’s a pretty large range of things to choose from, but evening ensembles seems to have a few common threads.

Portrait of a lady by Antoine Plamondon

Short sleeves, or short sleeves with a net over sleeve, wide necklines (some off the shoulder even) and they are made of either silk or a sheer. In today’s world that sheerness in not-a-silk would be cotton or if the fabric gods love you a wool but I’ll never find that in my life time.

She gets major points for the jaunty headnecklace

I also really enjoyed the delicateness of many white gowns I found. Which I would hazard a guess is a hangover from earlier in the century when delicate white muslin gowns were all the rage. If it’s not broke don’t fix it? slash use up the fabric you already made…

All of the inspiration images I liked best (slash pretty much all the images of early-mid 1830s gowns) have huge delightful sleeves, full skirts and a wide waistband. Or what I’m assuming is a wide waistband because they’ve accessorized with a belt or sash. But you know same “wide band of waist” thing.

In the end this image from the 1832 Costumes Parisiens is what stole my heart. Except not in that shade of yellow/green as this heart looks very sickly in that shade. So I decided to do a smash of the white airy dresses and the hanging ribbons with lilacs (or maybe hydrangeas hard to tell)

Construction


I’m sorry to tell you I took not-very-many construction photos because I don’t really deem my Victorian dressmaking all that interesting. The dress is made out of Pure Silks cotton organdy which was both very reasonable in price, got here quickly, had a nice stiff hand and smelled funny. I flatlined the bodice and sleeves with a white cotton broadcloth.

I used the Truly Victorian 1860s ballgown bodice as my sloper…Yeah I know it’s marketed as being 30 years later but I promise it really is the same shape. Please note how far ON my shoulder it sits. I didn’t change this angle at all, the gravity and heat of my body caused my final neck shape to stretch. You have been warned if you make a cotton dress.

Standard Robin bodice construction

  1. Cut everything out. Forget something. Cut more. Hate cutting, and neglect to cut sleeves.
  2. Sew; side back seams, front seam, side seams, shoulder seams.
  3. Finish neckline with a bias strip facing, machine sew to right side, then turn inside and whip stitch.
  4. Turn in center back opening 1/4″ and then 1/2″, whip down.
  5. Try on bodice. enlist well trained husband to pin the back closed, remembering why back closing dresses are dumb. Pin in the darts.
  6. Contemplate making darts even, then realize I’m crooked so it’s probably better this way and sew darts as they were fit. (don’t do that it’s wrong)
  7. Realize you didn’t cut out the sleeves. swear at past Robin and cut out sleeves.
  8. Finish the arm slit in this sleeve pattern. gather giant circle into armscye.
  9. sew sleeves. take out part you caught from the underside. swear more. redo. ta-da have sleeves.
  10. Sew hooks and bars up centre back.
Plate from the 1838 Workingwoman’s Guide

My sleeve pattern is figure 30 in the plate above. Previously I’ve used the one from Patterns of Fashion that is a circle with no flat side, but my intelligent self didn’t pay attention when lining up my pattern and it hung off the side of the fabric so flat side it was! I did use the vertical slit opening from PoF though instead of the centered circle. Also my sleeves are always a 30″ circle as it’s an arbitrary measurment I picked the first time and it worked great.

there’s a theme in my house, have you noticed? I’ll give you a hint it has to do with dated carpet

The skirt is super easy. It’s 3 straight panels of 54″ width with a 6″ hem. I gathered it down to a waistband.

Which went SUPER smoothly

I re-gathered to a new new-long-enough waistband and then tried it all on with the skirt over the bottom unfinished edge of the bodice and pinned where it wanted to sit. I then carefully hand backstitched through all the layers.

I tried to drape the bertha on Polly (my dress form) but Polly was a Christmas present in college back in *cough2001cough* and she just hasn’t…grown with me as a person. She’s kind of stuck in the days of our youth

FLOP right off the shoulder

And it turns out for almost-off-the-shoulder-just-kidding-it-stretched-all-the-way-off gowns you need an actual SHOULDER to drape the bertha around. So on Friday night before the party Amanda was super kind and did it on me. (and convinced an old lady it was my dress from our wedding-which-had-already-happened). The bertha is just a rectangle I ironed the edges under and gathered down the CF, the shoulders got pleated and to be honest I need to try ironing it a little flatter as I’m not a huge fan, it’s a wee bit to enthusiastic for me.

trying shoulder bows…and realizing berthas are stupid

The ribbon is from RibbonStore on Ebay and I give them two thumbs way up. The quality is great and shipping was immediate. The flowers were from Michael’s. I looked for vintage millinery or paper ones but that many flowers was prohibitively expensive.

The Dinner


I styled the dress with two pearl necklaces (more is more), new earrings from Dames a la mode that I LURVE and a pair of matching bracelets.

My I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E hair was a combo of custom piece from Jennylafleur and some cheap side curls from ebay. My apollo’s knot is probably the most beautiful hair I’ve ever had. My wedding included. It was fantastically easy to wear as well. I put my own center section into a high ponytail and pinned the hairpiece in front of it. I braided my hair and wrapped it around the base. My side sections I braided and crossed in the back and wrapped around the base as well.

Mr. Sewloud and I got married at this venue and I have a wedding photo in this spot
my net mitts were bought off an etsy seller that I don’t believe sells them anymore

Katherine found amazing square toed shoes and I ordered a pair from ebay. They came super quickly and the size 8s fit my dead average size 8 feet. Very comfortable, would order again.

Taylor is prepping the Pope Joan Board…I’m paying the bill…one of these is VASTLY more fun
I love this photo of all our hair!
I thought ever single person in the group was stunning! I have the most talented friends
you can just see my yellow shoes peaking out
I was STUPID proud of my pineapple centerpiece too
Mr. Sewloud and I looking tired. party planning is a lot of work!
a view from the dining room
Discussing the finer details
The background on this one makes me think I look like a 1990s glamour shot.
Our Victoria and Albert

A recipe for 18th Century Mitts

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A recipe for 18th Century Mitts

Last week the Usual Suspects and I went to the Museum of the American Revolution’s History After Dark event which promised dancing and embarrassing the Couture Courtesan into admitting she knows us (did a fantastic hand sewn polonaise gown for them for an Eliza Hamilton exhibit). It being winter in Pennsylvania the forecast was brisk and I deemed it time to get around to making the set of silk mitts I’ve been meaning to make for 25 or so years.

Patterning

This is a pattern for a pair in costume close up. If you don’t have that book, get it.

I thought I might make this a sort-of tutorial, okay more like an old school dress diary for how I made them. I’ll even leave in my mistakes!

Step 1. You’ll need a few measurments

  1. Around the widest point of your hand
  2. Around your wrist
  3. Around your forearm
  4. The length you want them to be
  5. length from the base of your thumb to where you want your mitts to end

Step 2. Lets start badly patterning together! I began with scrap fabric and drew a straight line on the bias. Mitts are always cut on the bias because you need as much stretch as possible. This line will be come the point where you fold the mitts in half.

Why am I including a photo here…I’m sure you all know what this would look like

Step 3. (which is what I really SHOULD have taken a photo of) You’re going to take your earlier measurements and draw horizontal lines off your center line. You basically center your measurment on the line.

Divide your measurements by 2, use that number to center the amount on each side

Line A is the measurment around the widest part of your hand. Line B is the measurment around you wrist and Line C is around your forearm.

The length of your point is complete personal preference

Step 4. pick one side to be the top of the mitt. I picked the right side. from the center line to the edge is the width over the top of your hand, draw on a point on that side if desired. There are examples without the point but I think it’s very elegant.

Please admire my terrible photoshop skills here

Step 5. Connect the dots for the outline. You’ll end up with an hour glass shape.

Step 6. add a thumb hole. Honestly start small and when you try them on you’ll tweak this. But a word of warning. My first mock up I centered the hole on the line. But thumbs aren’t centered on our hand. The beefy part of your thumb is more on the palm side.

Off center thumb adds extra wrinkles

Step 7. Cut them out and pin up the side seam. Try them on. If you have a very large hand to wrist ratio you may need to add extra ease to the wrist measurment so you can get them on. But make them as tight as you can, I made mine super tight and by the time I wore them an hour they stretched so much I want to take them in.

mock up #2 with off center thumb, muuuuch better

Now the awkward part. The thumb. I started by drawing a straight edge and then folding it around my thumb and pinning.

If there’s a way to draft this it’s beyond my skills

I wish I had helpful thumb advice but mostly I just…futzed. I promise it’s not hard. Just wrap your thumb and trim away the excess. You’ll be left with a pattern that’ll sit nicely on top of the body of your mitt.

ta daaa a finished mitt…pattern

Here’s what my final pattern looks like. But again everyones arm measurements are different so no one-size-fits-all pattern will look good on everyone. It’s really very easy to fit your own, don’t be intimidated!

I kept my seam allowances small, 1/4″ to reduce bulk

Decorate

embroidered mitts from the MET

If you want to add any embellishment it is MUCH easier to do so before you assemble them. Mr. Sewloud got me a tambour embroidery kit for christmas so I wanted to try a small bit of practice embroidery on mine.

Drawing out a simple design
One of my mitts has WAY nicer embroidery as I was getting better as I went. Don’t look close

Assembly

Okay you’ve made a lovely pattern for a pair of mitts….now what? The fun part! Sewing them together. I feel the need to point out here that there is no one way to sew together mitts. Four sets of mitts went to the MAR in the car I was riding in, and all 4 were sewn together differently, and all 4 were documented ways. This is just the way that I found easiest.

Step 1. Iron all the seam allowances in on both the lining and the fashion fabric. I made mine out of silk taffeta scraps and cotton broadcloth scraps. You need such a small amount this is a great “use up scraps” project. Just remember to cut them on the bias. This is important for giving you the stretch needed to get them on over your hands.

why yes I DID burn my fingers, what makes you ask?

Step 2. Place the lining over the silk, wrong sides together.

it’s so pretty when all the edges are encased

Step 3. Fold in half and sew up the side seam. I personally used the “English Stitch” Which is demonstrated far better than I could by American Duchess Here. I was really pleased with this stitch though as it provided a stretchy very small flat seam allowance, and I didn’t want bulk on the inside of my mitts

Step 4. Sew the top and bottom hems, I used a hem stitch but a whip stitch would work, or really any hand stitch will work.

Thumb seam ready to be sewn before applying to mitts

Step 5. Thumbs! Thumbs are fiddly. No way around it. So I can’t stress this enough, it’s like 4″ long, it’s worth it to hand sew it. You just can’t fit that small space in a sewing machine. or if you can you’re a better woman than me. (making these did lead to a long thought experiment where I wondered how they mass manufacture barbie clothes). Begin by pressing all the thumb seam allowances up the same as the mitts. Overlap the side seams and top stitch into a tube.

Imma thumb!

Step 6. Pin the thumbs onto your mitts. Make sure they point in the correct direction.

It’s happy to see you…

Step 7. Sew your thumb! I used tiny back stitches. This is the one part of your mitts that will really take strain so take the time to really sew them on.

I use gutterman silk thread and I do recommend waxing it

ALTERNATIVE: Amanda made her mitts by folding under the seam allowance of the mitt body and inserting the thumb from below.

That’ll work

Step 8. Thumb lining. Assemble the thumb lining in a tube same as the thumb, now turn the entire mitt inside out so the thumb is sticking up, shimmy the thumb lining down over the thumb. Whip stitch in place to the lining and slip stitch to the top edge.

This would be easier to see if both my mitts and lining weren’t white

Step 9. If you want a facing of a contrasting silk or leather cut a triangle the size of your flap and iron the edges under. I used a scrap of lavender silk and whipped it into place.

Step 10. WEAR YOUR NEW GORGEOUS MITTS AND BASK IN YOUR GLORY

A note on fit

You may be like me, tempted to be annoyed that your mitts are wrinkly in the arm, live with it. The wrinkles come from the bias, and if you have any difference in the width of your hand and the width of your wrist you will have wrinkles. You NEED those wrinkles to get them on.

See? period correct wrinkles

Also fit them as tightly as possible because any fabric, even stiff silk taffeta will stretch with repeatedly be taken on and off. I could BARELY get them on when making them and in an hour of wearing them I need take in the palms.

also…I don’t normally flip my wedding ring that way..I blame the cold.

Lets end with more beauty shots

The Scarlet Pimpernel

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The Scarlet Pimpernel
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They seek him here, they seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere

Wherein my husband is a very “good sport”

Or at least that’s what my mother persists in telling me constantly.  Jenny-Rose and her family (they’re all just as amazing and talented but I don’t think they have blogs…) decided to host a very swanky 18th century dinner party called The Pimpernel Dinner, and one cannot have a Pimpernel Dinner without well a Pimpernel. So who’s got a husband with great acting chops and will wear whatever he’s handed? *looks around the room*…*crickets*…shit I’m making menswear again aren’t I?

Now I’m really not a fan of menswear making for a few reasons.

  1. I don’t get to swan around in the results and look pretty.
  2. Men are strangely shaped with bits in places. BITS I SAY.
  3. Pants.

The Inspiration:

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And that sassy pose

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They seem to have suffered microcephaly a lot though.

One of the things I like about this period in menswear is how patently ridiculous it gets. You do see some matched three piece suits, but more often then not it’s a free for all. My friend Ginger nicely picked up some silks in the L.A. Garment district for his jacket and breeches and I found some fabric for the waistcoat online. What I didn’t have a lot of was time (we’ll leave out the part about the party being announced like a year in advance or that I committed to two major events two weeks apart and that was probably maybe my fault…I said we won’t discuss it).


Breeches:

I was trying to keep the budget for this monstrosity to within semi-reasonable levels. I splurged on the silk so one of the ways I save money was to re-use a pattern I had for breeches that was just slightly off period. a68ec9e4f1a67f1d7a0571bf977ae08c

Technically this pattern by Country Wives is for 1800-1825 but the narrow fall is close enough and I was working with what I had.

I shortened the legs, then tried him on the victim husband and took in the legs till we reached foppish-vacuum-sealed and added knee bands. My knee bands gaped just a tiny bit…so bows.

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Waistcoat:

I used the pattern I draped for his Mr. Darcy waistcoat and added to the length and front width. Re-drafted the collar. It’s really a beautifully embroidered waistcoat…too bad you can’t see it worth a damn. I should have just skipped it.

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after party shenanigans


Coat:

For the coat I did spring for a real pattern and bought Laughing Moon 124. A word to younger costumers, when you’re choosing where to invest and where to cut corners. Sometimes if you don’t have the right sleeve pattern it’s worth the money to pay someone else.

Lets take a moment to appreciate the absurdity of the collar. I meant to cut it down to be more proportionate to Rob’s average height, but 11pm Robin forgot. So absurdity it is! For next wearing I would like to properly finish it with all the called for buttons, shorten it about 2″ and shorten the sleeves an inch. But considering I did zero mock ups and just made it…I got away with highway robbery in terms of fit.

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how DARE YOU MADAM! With Modern Mantua Maker.

His stockings were borrowed from my closet, Amanda gave them to me for Christmas a few years ago so I can’t be sure, but knowing her shopping habits they’re from sockdreams. (regardless of these stockings another highly recommended shop). And the absurd pointy shoes were from target the night before. Yeah the costume gods smiled on me on that one.

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There was stiff battle required to save the champagne!

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With two of our three beautiful hosts

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I happily re-wore my copper open robe and feel beautiful

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Did I mention the location was stunning?

Wow you’re still reading? Colour me impressed. Thank you to Ginger for getting fabric in LA, thanks to Jenny-Rose for styling his delightful hair and thanks to my husband for always being a good sport.

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Remember to shop small

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Remember to shop small

On this Small Business Saturday I wanted to take a moment to shout out to my favorite small costume businesses. This community of ours is rich and vibrant with many successful small businesses. When shopping for holiday gifts this year think about supporting some of these great (mostly woman run) companies.

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Want gorgeous jewelry? Taylor is the woman! Her collet necklaces are all handcrafted from gorgeous settings. Not only is she a true artist she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I wear her earrings to work on an almost daily basis. Cannot recommend her enough.

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Need a corset? or corset pattern? Redthreaded has you covered! My new 1860s corset is from her pattern and I LOVE it. Also one of the nicest people…sensing a theme here.

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I have a pair of their Connie shoes I wear with all of my 18th century stuff. I love the straight lasts and they have held up like iron for 10 years. 

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B&T have fabulous period correct fabric and their kerchiefs are my personal favorites

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Historic hair. All of it. The supports, the BANGS. love it. 

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Gloria makes lovely custom jewelry, another person who’s earrings feature in my work wardrobe regularly.

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Can’t have a historical small business list without AD. For all of your footwear needs!

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Okay so they’re not historical, but all of my favorite stockings are from them. 

So that’s my little reminder of suggestions. Do you have any favorite small businesses I should include on the list? Who did I forget?

Lavender Anglaise

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Lavender Anglaise

Once upon a time in a far away land (Pennsylvania circa 2008) I was working as an indentured servant to the lady Joann. I noticed amongst her wares this lavender silk dupioni. Since it was of fairly low quality and left over from someone’s special order it languished, and languished, until finally she let the price go to something I could afford on my pitiful salary. I planned to make the lavender dress in Costume Close Up. Just as soon as I thought my skills would do it justice….

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In the Colonial Williamsburg collection

Then I waited and waited till I achieved the mythical sewing mastery I was hoping for…………………………Finally Amanda asked if I would participate in a “dress in a day” style demo for a The Indian King Tavern where she volunteers, oh and did anyone have a dress length of silk?

When in doubt, if you don’t have the skill level to do your fabric justice? TRICK SOMEONE MORE TALENTED INTO IT!

We began with a linen lining cut to my 18th century body block. Amanda and Alice draped and pinned the en fourreau pleats.  For those NOT 18th century sewing nerds that means that those beautiful pleats going down the back start as one long piece of fabric from neck to floor and the pleats are shaped on the back and flare into the skirt. And when your friends have perfect tiny stitches the effect is quite beautiful. Adrienne worked on the petticoat. I stood there and looked helpful.

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fun fact my left hip is higher, yay scoliosis! 

We got…maybe 2/3 of the dress finished at the demonstration. While we’ve done a dress in a day in the past and ended up with a lot more dress, it’s just slower when you’re enjoying chatting with the public.

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I got the better end of the deal, it was 90 degrees in there, my undies WAY comfier                  Photo from the Friends of the IKT facebook page

Because we did not finish the dress in one day I took it home and did the finishing bits. It was much more pleasant to sew a fully fitted dress that I just had to hem and finish edges on. Oh and sleeves.

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We thought we would visit the IKT the week later for their presentation on tea in the 18th century (which was excellent) and to show off the finished gown. I borrowed Amanda’s DELIGHTFUL cupcake hat. I cried a little when I gave it back.

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Overall I’m really happy with this dress. I wore it polonaised like the original in the Colonial Williamsburg collection.  The silk is really poor quality so it put purple fluff fibers EVERYWHERE.

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We got asked a lot of questions about buttons and why didn’t women’s wear feature more buttons? And the best I can say (having not done a thesis on this) is that some women’s wear did have buttons, but experience has just told me how easy it is to adjust the fit on a pinned dress. Plus something with so little ease is hard to keep the buttons from pulling and rumpling.

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So that’s a huge costume off my bucket list. What dresses are on YOUR bucket list? Do you have any perfect fabric stashed for a someday project when you feel brave enough?

Now who wants to help me distract Amanda so I can make off with her hat forever…

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Orange Pet en l’aire

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Orange Pet en l’aire

In my last post I casually teased that I went to Jennylafleur’s AMAZING Big Ass Hat Tea, it was pretty overwhelmingly fabulous.

An invitation to a Jennylafleur party is basically the golden ticket of costume events, and I felt pressure to live up to the people I would be with. I was waffling around trying to decide what on earth I wanted to make for this era I don’t really feel good in and my awesome friend Adrienne plopped orange check silk in my lap…yes the largest part of it is earmarked for my Gettysburg ballgown this year buuuuuut…a minimal amount of debate later (I.E. 30min over tea and cookies at sewing day) a plan was concocted for a pet en l’aire or caraco jacket.

 

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I am a big fan of this one in the LACMA collection

I started with Katherine’s francaise tutorial. If you’ve never read it and ever wondered anything about how to construct a francaise gown I demand you stop and read it…hold on I’ll wait…It blew your mind and made it all make sense didn’t it?!

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draping the back pleats on top of the fitted lining

Basically I followed the francaise tutorial but in short. Instead of inserting full side panels I laid out my side seams about 8″ in from the edge of the fabric to build in the skirting.

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sewing pleats

I hand sewed all of it, mostly because I find period construction techniques just work better with hand sewing. Well that and I happen to find it really relaxing.

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Smoothing on the front panel..see that waist wrinkle?..more on that later

I did struggle with the waist dart, in the end, I let it win. I didn’t WANT to put in a waist dart, but there are originals that have one and sometimes you just gotta listen to what the fabric wants.

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Jerk. Please admire the AMAZING carpeting in my sewing room too.

In the end I was moderately happy. I need to insert a little gusset under the arm to increase movement. But it was comfy enough that I stayed in it for 12 hours without noticing the time flying by.

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I borrowed Jenny-Rose’s petticoat, Adrienne’s hat, Jenny-Rose’s cap, Bridget’s earrings…it was a team effort.

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I did back lacing down the lining for adjustability, and bonus tie peeking

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It’s hard enough finding pictures I don’t look dumb in..closed eyes is bound to happen…also my petticoat came untied playing aggressive Graces

A huge thank you is due to our gracious hosts Jenny-Rose and the whole White Family. They throw a party like none other.

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Modeling Jenny-rose’s hat. Tell me that’s not a confection of delight.

A Paletot for Ice Skating

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A Paletot for Ice Skating

Amanda turned 29 this year and for birthday festivities requested “Victorian Skating.” Which gave everyone lots of room for interpretation. On the suggestion of Jennylafleur I decided to be smart (I know crazy right!?) and make the paletot that I know I need for Gettysburg this year AHEAD OF TIME…..I’ll give you a moment to recover from the shock………Good? okay onward!


In doing my virtual shopping research I discovered there’s a fairly large range of 1860s outerwear.

From the ever stylish circus tent….

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Oversized shoes encouraged

To more svelte fitted styles..

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Gurl you rock that sassy fringe…brick..layer..look

Some like the image above have narrow coat sleeves but some have GIANT SLEEVES.

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What? no it’s not drafty at all…why do you ask?

Common trims involve soutache or fur.

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With hands like those you could be president

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I killed a bear with my gaze for this fur. don’t you forget it.

And quilted trim was sure to keep you toasty

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For that un-made bed look

I found examples of length that varied form short and cute to almost wrappers.

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another theme? muffs make everything better

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“I’m not wearing a corset…BUT YOU’LL NEVER KNOW! MWAH HA HA. *ahem*”


So all this to say that when it comes to 1860s warmth you have a huge range of options. I only focused on coat-like-things here, but the cloak-the-size-of-Montana was also a popular look. I just have enough trouble feeling like a giant blob most days, a sleeve seemed helpful. I’m calling this a paletot because to the best of my knowledge a sleeved coat with no waist seam is a paletot and I’m not expert enough to disagree with THE Katherine C-G.

I used navy blue 100% wool flannel with an orange silk lining. The curly lamb trim was a find at a local fabric store maybe 6 years ago that I had been hoarding for such a project.

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Construction wise I used the Homespun Patterns “1860s Paletot coat pattern” on a recommendation from the ever wise Katherine. I was very very smart and didn’t notice that it came in sizes. so please imagine my face when I opened it and realized I had ordered the size 8-10-12 and I in fact needed a size 22…This is when it pays to have friends with fancy sewing degrees as Adrienne graded it up for me. I promised to have her babies.

 

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Derpy faaaaace

I did NOT follow the pattern construction instructions..they made no sense to me. I pieced the fashion fabric and the lining separately then turned under a hem and whipped the lining in.

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I love the “swoop” of the back

I chose to split the difference between tent-and super fitted. Seemed most versatile while flattering that way. and I have to say I’m HUGELY pleased. It was comfortable, easy to wear, easy to put together.

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And REMARKABLY easy to skate in!

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All together now “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMANDA!!”