Robe a la Revamp

The robe a l’Anglaise strikes again.  One of my housemates loves costume parties, and decided to have a 1980s movie themed birthday party.  I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to make a whole new costume, so I decided it was a good opportunity to fix up the robe a l’Anglaise (shh.  Amadeus was made in the 1980s.  Terrible, terrible costumes.  But shh.  This totally counts).  I was never really happy with the skirt the first time, and it needed a bit of trim, which I’d mostly done earlier, but needed an excuse to finish.

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The trim was just strips cut out with pinking shears and then pleated prickstitched to the sleeves and neckline.  I only had one cuff left to do, so that was easy.  It was pretty crumpled from being in the bottom of the sewing chest for so long though, so I steamed it as well, using a pair of chopsticks to zhoosh it out while I was steaming.  Don’t hurt yourself with steam, kids.

I was kind of dreading re-doing the skirt in a faint pit-of-the-stomach, this-should-be-easy-but-god-I-hate-it way that’s normally reserved for filing my tax return.  The original problems were that it wasn’t long enough at the back, and the pleating was meh.

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You can see a good 6 inches of petticoat at the back in that picture.

Weirdly enough, the solution wasn’t that hard.  The skirt had been made of two rectangles sewn together selvage to selvage originally, but I HAD left them longer at the back… I’d just been a dill and sewn the wrong selvages together.  The short ones.  The ones that were meant to go at the front edges. So I took it off the bodice, unpicked the CB seam and re-did it on the right edges.  Problem solved.

I then decided that seeing I’d been such a grownup and done my tax properly the last couple of years, how hard could re-attaching the skirt properly be?  I just needed to approach it with a strategy for a change.

The strategy, for all ye who struggle attaching skirts to quarterback-style Anglaises is that I measured how far around the bodice I wanted it to go, then measured that length on the ironing board, putting pins at the ends and at the half and quarter-way marks.  Then I divided the skirt in halves and quarters and pinned it to the ironing board where the marker pins were.  Then I knife-pleated it until it fit and basted the pleats in place.  Then I just backstitched it to the bottom edge of the bodice.  The back point isn’t as pointy as last time, but the whole thing just sits better.

Finished product:

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Who’s your favourite 18th century babe?

Also, behold my mad hedgehog skillz!  It partially works because my hair is very layered at the moment, but also because period curling techniques work really really well.  And all you need is some tissue paper and a hair straightener.  I didn’t even use curling product this time and it still worked.  Then brush it out with a bristle brush, tease the crapola out of all of it except the long curls at the bottom, hairspray till you can’t breathe, and boom, you have a hedgehog.

I don’t think I’ll be wearing this dress again though, unless I let it out a bit.  I’ve gained some muscle in my new job.  Not much, but enough that I should be wearing the stays looser, but the l’Anglaise doesn’t close unless they’re done up all the way.  So it wasn’t very comfy, and on top of the fact that I was super tired already and loathe late nights, I spent half the party napping on a chair in the corner.

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Who’s the life of the party?  Not me.

So That Construction, Eh?

I said I’d post about the construction of that robe a l’Anglaise later, and this is later, so here we go.  In case anyone else is crazy enough to muddle their way through one of these as a beginner, here is my experience doing just that, for better or worse, with all the links to things that I used.

I finished the stays first (well duh), in all their historically inaccurate glory.  The multicoloured thread is particularly great.  You can just see it here in this picture, where I’ve only lined half.  Luckily, extant stays are pretty messy on the inside too, so I don’t feel quite so bad.

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Messy, neat.

Basically, I drafted the pattern myself, flying very much by the seat of my pants and relying heavily on the stays-related posts from the Mantua Maker and the Dreamstress, because they’re professionals and know what they’re doing.  Mine are nowhere near as nice, but they are my first set and they do the job.  I decided on a 1780s-y ‘prow-front’ shape, made a toile and fiddled with it until it vaguely fit me.  Then I cut out the two layers of calico (because I’m a cheapskate), basted them together around the edges, sewed the channels with a backstitch, (gosh it sounds so quick here.  In reality it was like 6 months of jolly procrastination), then cut the cableties that were the bones to size (without hurting myself this time.   When I made the Green Soprano Gown back in February I managed to take a chunk out of that bit between the thumb and index finger cutting cableties with blunt scissors.  DON’T DO THAT.) and put them in the channels.  Then I whipstitched the seam allowances down and joined the pieces together with a whipstitch as is the done thing.  Then I covered them with brown linen and a spaced backstitch, cut the tabs, attached the shoulder straps and bound the edges with a bias binding that was sloppy as all hell because I suck at bias binding.  Possibly also because I did it while working Theatre box office shifts, having to sit out front for 2.45 hours doing nothing while they did the Tempest. I was dog tired.  Then I poked lacing holes (spaced for spiral lacing) with my dodgy-brothers awl (a really really sharp pencil followed by a size 5 metal knitting needle), and bound some very sloppy eyelets that look like wilty daisies.  Then I lined it.  Behold:

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Functional wilty daisies.

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But also vaguely attractive.  The maroon ribbon was a good choice, I feel.

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Here they are with and sans petticoat.  Dido hasn’t quite got as broad shoulders as I do, so the straps sit funny on her.  But on me they’re vaguely indecent, so Dido’s what you’re getting.

Stays done, and maximum uplift achieved, I could then pattern the robe.  There’s also another great post, again from the Mantua Maker, about draping and constructing robes a l’Anglaise which was EXTREMELY helpful.  It seemed like gibberish until I had the bits in front of me – much like pinching the laterals off tomato plants seemed unintelligible until I actually had tomato plants with laterals to pinch – and then it became crystal clear.  Basically, I put my stays on Dido and draped the pattern over her.  Sadly she’s…. just a little less squishy where it counts, let’s put it that way, so I made a toile first and then tried it on myself, and a little adjustment was necessary.   It’s a really efficient way of patterning though, because you don’t have to true the seam lengths or do any geometry, as fun as that is.  This was the pattern I ended up with:

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Complete with curved back seams. Hawt.

Then I cut out the fabric and lining (eek):

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Yes, I’m aware stripes are scarier, and I’m not the best at stripe matching.  I’m both an idiot and a sucker for a pretty stripe.

Then I basted the back panels together, wrong side to wrong side, seam allowances inwards, and sewed them together with a backstitch very close to the edges, leaving a little gap at top and bottom for turning in at the end.  I used some twill tape to make boning cases for the CB.  Then I did the same on the front, only sans twill tape.  I finished the front edge with point a rabbatre sous le main, and then I pinned the front and back to my stays (on myself) and worked out the placement of the side seams from there.  At this point I had a strange dream (well, strange for me.  Most of my dreams are incredibly violent and involve using machine guns or Buffy-style kickboxing to fight either zombies or Voldemort.  I kid you not.  For me, a bloodless dream qualifies as strange) that I went to New Zealand for a costuming workshop run by Leimomi from the Dreamstress, and got loads of help fitting the robe, so she’s now the Dreamstress quite literally.

I found these tutorials from the Fashionable Past immensely helpful too, even though I wasn’t making mine en fourreau.  She uses so many pictures and is so clear.  It’s impossible to miss the point, really.  I’m thinking if I’m crazy enough to attempt another of these, I’d make a jacket with an en fourreau back (I don’t even know if that’s really historically plausible, but hey.)

Then was the bit I was secretly excited about: the sleeves.  I’m not great at modern sleeves, but I feel like the 18th century version had more room for adjustment, so I was interested to see how it panned out.  I drafted a pattern, tried it on and adjusted it.  This is what I ended up with (and then I closed out the dart because it ended up laying flat that way anyhow):

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Sleevilicious.

And exactly as I anticipated, the 18th century method of sleeve setting in was easy, fun, quick, and generally awesome.  This post from American Duchess made it very clear.  Because Dido is as armless as a Greek statue, I did make sure to try them on pinned first, but there was relatively little wrestling required, and I even fluked some bonus stripe-matching.  Here is my catalogue of stripe-match flukes:

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Top-sleeve fluke-match.

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Two more flukes.

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Yet more sleeve flukes.

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Here’s some of the damage the robe took when I kept trying to reach glasses on the top shelf in the kitchen.  Stupid.

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This stripe-match was deliberate.

Also the last photo shows how I closed it with pins in the end.  I had hooks and eyes, but they were stupidly fiddly getting dressed, and after ten minutes of struggling I caved and broke out the straight pins.  Next time I’d do buttons maybe.  Or just pin it again.  Hell, here I go talking about next time again like it’s a thing.

Then I attached the skirt.  I know that’s meant to be the easy part, but I struggled.  Next time I’ll do it differently.  (Bad Belinda.  Stop talking about next time.  There is no next time.) I may even detach it and try again if I get massively bothered (no I won’t, what am I saying?)  It was a big rectangle. Why are rectangles hard and yet sleeves are easy? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  I am that crazy lady who can sing the Lied der Lulu standing on her head, yet would prefer to be disembowelled with a plastic spoon than sing Vedrai carino.

The petticoats were a different matter though.  Nice and simple.  There’s a tutorial from A Fashionable Frolick that had way more detail than I needed, not being any kind of re-enactor, but was also very straight-forward and made it a breeze.  I made two.  I was going to make three, but two seemed to cut the mustard, especially with the Alligator Bum underneath, and I didn’t have loads of time.  The under-petticoat was a plain cotton that had loads of body, and was hand-sewn, the outer was of a soft off-white silk twill and was machined because I ran out of time.  I also half-hand-sewed/half-machined a chemise, and didn’t bother to finish the neckline or hem (again because time).  Then I didn’t bother to roll a hem on my fichu either.  God I’m lazy.

So to summarise:

The corners I cut:

-I didn’t make pockets.  I used a small drawstring bag I made when I was like, 13 tied onto my petticoat waistband.  I started pockets but never finished them.

-I didn’t end up bothering with stockings.  It was 28 degrees, and I was wearing an anachronistic pair of red patent clogs.  Also, I found that my legs are so damn skinny that even with the garters tied below the knee as was the done thing, they fell down pretty much right away.  What did skinny girls do back then when this happened?  I’m curious.

-General lack of finishing/trims.  I will trim it someday.  I like it plain, but I feel it wants a row of pleated or ruched trim around the neck and sleeves.

-Various material inaccuracies.  The chemise is cotton, not linen.  Basically anywhere a linen thread would have been used, I used cotton because I’m cheap.   The waist sash is unknown content synthetic that was in my stash.  The structural layers of my stays are cotton calico rather than linen, and the ribbons are nylon rather than… whatever was used then. I’m pretty sure they didn’t use nylon.

-The mad machine rush to the finish line.

The things I would do differently:

-I’d try another method of attaching the skirt.  I found that really tough.

-No hooks and eyes.  They are the work of bealzebub.

-Shorter petties.  Like, walking length.  To show off my anachronistic clogs and keep them out of the damn way.

-The clumsiness of the tabs on my stays bugs me.  I want them more tooth-y and less deflated-balloon-y.

What I liked:

-Silk thread is great.  It’s like butter.

-Spaced backstitch is awesome.

-The period method of setting in sleeves is fabulous and I wish modern sleeves were as easy.

-Fishing around the blogs of awesome people for inspiration.  You are all magnificent and wonderful.  Particularly American Duchess, the Dreamstress, Before the Automobile, Temps d’élégance, The Fashionable Past, the Diary of a Mantua Maker, Dressed in Time, and Démodé.  I am always inspired by what you do and in utter awe.  Many a happy hour was spent procrastinating and not writing program notes for my recital.

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This is how it is now, on Dido.  God I need to piece a wedge onto the back of the skirt….

So I Finished a Heap of Stuff

Like a Masters degree.  Well, almost.   I finished classes, and now all I have to do is my final recital!

Also, I kind of finished my robe a l’Anglaise.  And two petticoats.  And my stays.  And a vegetable garden.  And the 24th year of my existence.

All round, it’s nice to finish things, so I can start other things (hooray!).

I also apologise, this is going to be a massive post.

But back to the finished things.  I don’t have oodles of photos of stuff on me, because I’m a strangely lazy individual – quite happy to spend weeks sewing various projects, but unwilling to bother with putting them on and photographing them.  Maybe I should do that now while it’s Sunday and the house is clean (as clean as it gets anyhoo) and there’s not a massive backlog of dirty clothes for washing.

So on that note, remember way back in the mists of time when I altered a dorky op-shopped Jigsaw skirt but never put up a photo of the finished product?

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Before.  Icky frump.  Like ecky-thump, only not cool.

Also, what’s a girl of my age doing making Goons jokes?

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After.  Much better.  The lace is too nice to hide with a black lining.

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Strategic arm placement to hide the seams, which in retrospect I should’ve done a little differently.

I love that skirt.  Never was $6 better spent at Savers, nor a better three hours spent driving myself batty altering something.   And the mystery-content synthetic I got from one of the little dodgy fabric places on Sydney Rd is perfect: doesn’t stick to the stockings, looks crisp and not too shiny.  Little dodgy fabric shops can be awesome.

Next, that bubble skirt I made way back in summer from some shiny green stuff I got at the UMSU Theatre garage sale.  The hem’s too deep, and it did something funny to it when ironed, but in general I like it.  None of the photos do the green justice.  It’s quite a deep rich hunter green.  Not dusty olive, not grey.  Speaking of, my legs aren’t actually that orange either.  Them be tights.  I tan like a redhead.

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Before.

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After.

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It’s considerably bubblier from the side. And there be my best surly model face.

Now I know what you all want to see.   That fabled robe a l’Anglaise that I’ve been banging on about for however long. Drumroll please:

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Hello sailor!  Where did those come from and why do I not have them all the time?

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About to pop the bubbly and whack the neighbours house with the cork.

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The Duchess feels that goggles compliment her coiffure a l’enfant perfectly.

I was going for a hedgehog hairdo, and got a coiffure a l’enfant instead because that’s how my hair rolls… er, curls.  Pretty much no matter how I do my hair, this is what it turns into within an hour or so.  What the heck is a hedgehog, I hear you say? Demode Couture has an excellent post that explains the hairstyles and cosmetic trends of the 18th Century, including the coiffure a l’enfant my hair ended up resembling most.  I swear it looked like a hedgehog in the morning.  I followed this tutorial by Lauren at American Duchess, only sans hair extension.

Anyway.  I’ll post about the construction and stuff at another point, because I just want to show off my clever friends and their costumes now.

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From left to right, we have Wolverine, my housemate the Clever Coffeemaker as a monk, another friend the Retro Economist in the best skort I have ever seen.

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And the Adorable Folkey as a mad scientist and one of my workmates the American Guy as a thief.

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The Sardonic Bassist as Audrey Hepburn, and Death as Little Red Riding Hood. 

Here is Brave Sir R. as himself at a concert… DSC_0146small

…and the Gorgeous Daredevil as a 1950’s babe.

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My lovely Baroque Flautist made her own suffragette outfit, and The Coat and his girlfriend came as a matching Doctor and Tardis, which was AWESOME!

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Finally the Quirky Composer came as an alternate reality version of the fourth incarnation of the Doctor.  And then she too found the goggles… oh those goggles…

Poltergeist Stole my Icecream (well, cableties really…)

The stupid Poltergeist is at it again.

I might have had my stays finished by now, but oh the trail of destruction wrought by that bloody poltergeist!  Firstly, he’s gone and nicked one of the back-panels.  Secondly, BOTH the Officeworkses (plural of Officeworks?  Like pocketses?) were out of jumbo cable-ties, and I need like another 30 or so to finish them.  The awkward be-acned attendant at the second Officeworks I visited looked like he was going to die of altitude sickness in search of where the re-stock box was on top of the shelf.  I just gave up and went home.

So I put the stays aside and completed the Badass Ass instead.  Not much to relate, really.  I stuffed it with scraps (which makes it a bit heavy, but that’s what I had to hand), closed it up and added tapes.  From what I can tell, on a scale of one to bootylicious, it’s about a 5.  As in it makes Dido look vaguely female.  At least, here it is pinned on her, with the done half of my stays and some of the assorted fabrics I’m using.  Pins and dressforms and bits of fabric are mighty addictive.  I’ve halved and flipped some of the pictures to get an impression of what the finished thing might (one day…) look like.  Yay inspiration!

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Such a badass ass.  Blurry, but badass.

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Needs to be higher though…

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The Completed Embroidery

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Rorschach-test dress!

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And as it really looked.

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More Rorschach-dress, this time with a ribbon.

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And the money-shot.

Because it’s so heavy and solid, the weight of the fabric didn’t appear to compress it at all, but it (unfortunately) migrated south and started looking a bit more 19th-century saggy bustle than 18th-century perk-tastic.  Tying it on a bit more firmly will fix that.  Also because Dido’s just hanging from the curtain rail, the extra weight at the back caused her to tip a bit.  On a real person that can hold themselves up against the call of gravity better, it won’t do that either.

The stays thing is frustrating though because if they’d been done I could’ve been making petticoats already.   But instead I guess I ought to finish the Circus sailor costume seeing I’ve teed up a fitting for Friday.  I only have to hem the shirt and make some britches now, and the britches are going to be completely and utterly inaccurate because of the demands of ropes-acts.  Oh well.  Knowing me it’s going to take me all week, so I’d better get started now.  Grumble grumble, grouch, grumble.

Robe a l’Anglaise Envy and Other Envies

Envy is probably my go-to sin.  Apart from posting on Good Friday.  That’s probably a sin too.

Anyway.  I have a roaring case of robe a l’Anglaise envy.  I’ve just had two days of a delightful virus (pretty much all of Lent crammed into two days of dizzy, nauseous, achey-painy starvation, with my Dad helpfully informing me on the phone that I wouldn’t actually starve to death for another six days.), so I fed my eyes instead with lots of piccies of robes a l’Anglaise.  I want an excuse and or occasion that is both solid enough to withstand Catholic guilt and yet doesn’t cause me to hyperventilate over a silly self-imposed deadline.  My handsewing is like a French bulldog: sturdy, but not fast or pretty. (Though having said that, I rather like French bulldogs.  They have cute scrunchy faces.)

Sizzle-reel time:

LACMA RalA 1785-90

Mmm…. stripy goodness…  Loving the crisp silk twill!  Feeling it wants a sash.

LACMA RalA 1785-90 back

Love the back point and the puffiliciousness… also the not-quite-perfect stripe-matching. It’s like some ancestor of mine was at work!

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Always always ALWAYS love a contrast petticoat!

All above images from LACMA.  SO GOOD.

I also particularly love American Duchess’s Revolution Dress.

I have a feeling this is going to be a terrible addiction.

Now, if I can justify stays I can sort of justify a robe, and I can justify stays because Mozart.  Mozart is the cornerstone of just about everybody’s repertoire, and most houses still like to go with period costume for Mozart (because people like it, so money), so I feel like it’s a safe bet that one day, somewhere, I will be singing Zerlina or Despina or Susanna or Blonde or the Countess or (fingers crossed!) Fiordiligi dressed a la late 18th Century (SQUEE), and so I would like to have my own comfy stays to sing in.  Having worn other people’s corsets before I can safely say that off-the-rack really doesn’t work out with my odd measurements in a comfy way, and I know that in the great cableties vs spring steel debate I prefer cableties.  Spring steel is great if you have some assets there to squish, but yeah.  Total lack of squishability.

I finished the toile last week, and, like everything else I’ve ever made, they are Mysteriously Too Big.  WHERE DOES THE EXTRA WIDTH APPEAR?  I took a good two inches off a tight bust measurement and a good inch and a half off the waist before I even patterned, and somehow they still manage to close easily and I can feel oodles of room in the damn things.  I followed all the rules!  I basted on the seam lines!  I whipped and butted them closed like a good seamstress (only messier)!  I need to curve the side seams more, but there’s so much to take off the bust that it’s going to mean some interesting adjustments.  I took a good 2cm out of the CB seam last night and it fixed the waist but not the bust. So I think this means taking it apart, adjusting everything and re-seaming.  Whoopee.  At least I didn’t run into armscye issues.  I never seem to have armscye issues. Thank the Lord.

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Stay toile ahoy.

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Arg stay toile fitteth not.  I know it looks like it does, but that’s just my ass going for contrast. 

Hopefully the acquisition of some kind of dressform will help with draping the robe.  I looked into it last year when my mother offered to get me one for my birthday, and found that, like everything else, they don’t exist in my size.  I could probably get a child’s one and pad the hips out, but it wouldn’t be long enough in the waist, which is one of my main fitting issues anyway, so purpose defeated.  I’m starting to think that if I sew up a very sturdy version of my tried-n-true princess seam block in upholstery fabric and stuffed it very tightly that it might approximate well enough?  Should be just like re-stuffing a chair.  I have some upholstery fabric lying around from the UMSU Theatre garage sale…  Maybe today.  I’m feeling I need it for my second load of envy:

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Here are my sketches.  Ignore the hand-shadow.

The Bottega Veneta dress envy.  Tucked in a secluded corner of this month’s Vogue is the inspiration for my Fabric Store silk-cotton ikat dress.  The colour and the detailing aren’t what got me (peach silk with what looks like the reflector tape on my cycling vest, only with studs…) but the cut is perfect.  It’s a good big picture, nice and uncluttered; just four of the models hanging out backstage and thankfully the one in my dress isn’t holding a bag and is towards the front so I can see the details of the dress.  Thanks, anonymous model!  So helpful! The print of my fabric will provide some visual interest to make up for the lack of studs and applied contrast… it’s the skirt patterning that’s bugging me though.  I think they’re crisp knife-pleats that’ve been tacked under the contrast strips, but how I pattern that sleek but relaxed shape for someone of my distinctly un-runway-model-like waist-to-hip ratio boggles my tiny soprano mind.  I’m not sure how to proceed.  Here’s my pattern so far, but the skirt is a bit too mega-flare:

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It’s like the ’70s.  Oh dear.