Some things start unexpectedly…. last January I picked some lovely silk that just screamed Victorian Seaside Bustle frock… And so for the summer I put a few days aside to make it – and to nip somewhere on the coast for … Continue reading
Well, I thought our previous event at the venue was a blast – but this year it was even better! After a year of preparations, marketing, meetings, sales, dealing with emergencies and unplanned changes, sewing and general organisational madness, … Continue reading
‘I need an Anne Boleyn dress… my budget is £300. Can you provide the fabrics? ‘
‘I need a complete posh 15th century outfit ( hose, doublet, gown, hat), historically accurate, silk and linen, hose in wool. I can spend £250.’
‘Can you do a posh Victorian for £320? can add another £40 if you make a corset too.’
‘ I want a duchess gown, stays and underpinnings for a ball – how much would it be? I have about £280 to spend on the project’
‘ I found this steampunk coat on ebay, I want one just like that, but in different wool, with silk lining, and made bespoke – can pay £100. ( the picture of the coat was attached – and I found it online too…. it was a Karen Miller , offered for £200.
The newest one: ‘I cannot afford this gown in silk, because I have sick relatives and the medicines cost a lot, plus I have a lowly paid job and my car needs repairs – but since it is my birthday soon, maybe you can sell it to me at half a price?’
These quotes are direct lines from many of the inquires I get – and many similar ones abound too, and I suspect there are a lot of other costumiers who get them. And it doesn’t really matter that the price guide is on my website and facebook page, plainly visible to anyone, stating plainly how much labour is for a specific item. And if you look, you will see that the labour for, let us say, doublet, gown and hose will amount to more that £250 and that’s not even including the fabrics. People look, add, decide it is too much and go and find a hire service or make things themselves. And that is fine – if you need a fancy dress for a night, you wouldn’t be spending hundreds on it – but get something cheap on ebay, make stuff for yourself and have some fun with it, or ask a sewing friend a favour ( backed by gin and chocolate, usually… :-))
But some people, knowing the labour prices still email me asking if I can make the same things at a quarter ( or less) of their usual value… why? I had no idea, until 2 ‘prospective clients’ answered that question for me.
‘ I know it is much less that you usually charge, but at least you will have some work from me’
Well…. at least it was straightforward… Needless to say that sometimes their offer would not even cover the cost of the materials – and so I would be actually spending time working at a loss. Also, needless to say, it assumes I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, desperate for anything to do, whereas I am usually booked for 9-12months in advance….
It would be an equivalent to me saying to a baker: ‘Here are 3 eggs and some icing sugar, you provide the rest and I want you to make me a 3 tier wedding cake, please’. Nobody does that, so why people assume costumiers ( or jewellers, corsetieres or generally small businesses) are any different?
I had a good think and I think there are a few reasons for it….
1. People simply apply the ‘fancy dress’ label to all unusual clothing, and think the prices are the same as the Chinese mass produced medieval/victorian/edwardian/lotr garb. Very often it is not badly meant – nowadays very few of us have things made bespoke as we can get good quality clothing from the local store. Occasion wear items are exceptions (wedding dresses etc), but otherwise, we are no longer used to commissioning gear to be made for us.
2. Also, cheap, easily available clothing leads us into the illusion that all clothing is cheap. The wool coat in M&S is £50 – but if I am to make it, the £50 will cover maybe the fabrics. The time used to research, communicate with the client, measuring and fitting sessions, patterning and making the garment would be all on top of that… But we are simply used to mass produced items ready to wear and have no idea ow much individual raw materials cost. May also have no knowledge of how much work, expertise, research and experience actually go into the item. Not really surprising since we are no longer taught specific crafts at school. Also, we don’t know how much quality fabrics cost…
3. People forget that they are also paying for the years of research, training, experience – and the uniqueness of the item. There are thousands of costumiers – but only very few specializing in historical items. To boot, the garments will be one of a kind – so a rarity value should also be considered.
4. For some reason people are convinced that small businesses are forever tittering on the verge of collapse and are desperate for any work at all. And although running a small business successfully means a lot of work and commitment, and it is not all plain sailing, I don’t think I know of any quality artisans ( and I do know quite a few) who would not be busy. Yes, sometimes the business gets slack, but that’s when many guys work on the basic stock – things that will sell at some point, whether at markets or on etsy, ebay or self hosted online shop. Those who do take commissions that don’t cover the materials, in hope of a bit of cash usually learn that in most cases, it is much more profitable to decline – and spend the time on a stock items or a showpiece that will be far more beneficial to the business in the long term. And if cash is desperately needed, well, then we do flashsales:-)
5. Small businesses are ‘more personal’ – so people ask for, sometimes outrageous’ discounts because they know the person running the business is responsible for the pricing – and have no doubt put a huge margin on the product. And so the ‘ pity me’ emails from complete strangers. The fact that a lot of us do not put much ‘on top’, but charge exactly what the product is worth is so unusual in the corporate world many people do not get it. You do not go to the BMW salon asking them to give you a 20% discount on the new model because your father is sick ( what on earth are you doing buying luxury products instead of medication and specialist care for the daddy then? ), husband unemployed and your salary is low – you go and buy a 10 year old Ford instead ( mine is 15 year old now and works great!). But the salesperson in a salon may not have the power to amend the pricing – whereas the individual might just be persuaded to do just that if they pity our situation.
I think the above are the most common reasons why we get so many request for the ‘royalty on budget’. People see The Tudors or White Queen and want a dress for their Halloween party – not realizing I am not the person who caters for such items.
It is slightly better in the established re-enactment ( though even there it seems there is an alarming number of wannabe queens, duchesses, princes and kings wanting royal kit for a few quid… ) as people realise that if you want to re-enact nobility, there will be a suitable price tag attached. In the past, a good quality, showy outfit to impress your peers at court would often cost several months of middle class salary, and although times changed, they haven’t changed that much – silk and cloth of gold may be more accessible and cheaper – but still beyond the means of most people. And to be honest, you can make a good quality kit middle class in decent wool and linen or cotton – it will look lovely and though it is not the cheapest thing ever, it will serve its purpose while you save up for the brocaded cloth…..
There are a lot of arguments floating about, how a polyester silk will look quite as good – and they cannot afford silk/handmade etc, so it will have to suffice. Well, it may be harsh – but if you cannot afford the king’s outfit ( with all the trappings it needs, jewelry, fur etc), than maybe start with a simple soldier’s kit instead and climb the social ladder – many people do exactly that and it takes years of saving to get higher class kit – but many stay at the middle class too, for a variety of reasons – and, to be honest, portraying a medieval farrier or an Elizabethan gardener is just as interesting and complex as a queen…
Obviously, lots depends on the purpose of the garment – if you need it for living history, educational displays and events, it simply needs to be correct fabrics, cut, finish etc, no matter what class you re-enact. If you participate in battles and nobody is likely poking at the seams of your doublet and fingering your collar, you may be able to get some money saving short cuts. And if you need a gown for a fancy ball, a social gathering, a photoshoot – simply an item you’ll love to wear – well, you can use whatever is suitable and you can afford – and produce stunning results with minimal costs:-)
There are a few shortcuts if you need/want a flashy outfit though, even if you want it made correctly and in correct fabrics:
*Save up! obvious, really, but there it is…. designate one source of savings a month or a week and it will happen – go our to dinner once less, buy less modern stuff you don’t actually need all that badly – or even simpler – set up a separate saving account and put an deposit there every month, deducted from your salary straight away – you won’t notice this much, and whether it is a £20 a month, £10 a week or £100 a fortnight, it will soon amount to a neat little sum.
*take small steps… you can often add on things to enrich your stature ( and clothing) in time. Opt for a woolen doublet and gown, add handmade braid on it or embroidered cuffs a few months later…. Also – buy bodice, but apply lace, braid decoration yourself
* Sell the items you don’t use any more….
* sell your products – and have one sale a month that goes straight into the new kit fund…
*barter – either skills or products. You make wooden pattens but a doublet is beyond you – talk to the costumiers who re-enact, many are happy to barter things like that. Your shoemaker needs driving tuition? a plumber? you’d be surprised how many things can be arranged this way….
*pay in installments – most businesses welcome the solution.
*learn to sew….. yes, may take time and investment in machinery or courses – but will pay off in the long run. Even if your skills won’t go beyond a simple chemise or a cap – you are already saving some money
* buy ready made items – stock items are cheaper, often quite a lot cheaper than bespoke items. If you find an item at a market or in an online shop that you know is of good quality and it fits you – grab it, will be much cheaper than ordering the same items bespoke ( then you pay for the time, fittings, individual patterning etc too ). Our stock items in the shop are often about half the price of bespoke ones – especially if i happen on a sale silk in a local silk mill…
* Hunt bargains! go to markets to look out for bargain quality fabrics – you can often save up to 50% on the fabric – and usually this is the factor that drives the price of the costume up.
And as I was often asked at how much different outfits cost – let us have a little display of different pieces and their prices…. more info on how much to charge can be read in the blog on running a costuming business
*please note that I do not subscribe to the idea of charging the retail price of fabrics if I get them cheaper at trader’s rates. If the silk from James Hare costs me £40 per metre, the client will pay exactly that, and not the inflated retail price.
12/13 century gown, middle class:
Gown in wool, lined with linen, all handstitched and hand embroidered – value £500
gown for a queen – in silk, with silk bands and girdle, lined in silk – with a kirtle in silk too. Labour (machine and hand finish) and materials £600 – £700. Together with the accessories – shoes, jewellery, crown etc, = well over £2000
Middle class kirtle and gown in wool – £300
Wealthy merchnat’s wife kit – kirtle and gown in wool, gown lined in linen with fur trim – £400
Lady/high status gown in brocade, lined with silk, all handstitched – the brocade itself ( needed 8 metres is now retailing at £140 per metre… the dress value is around £2000, plus the kirtle, shoes, pattens, jewellery – another £400
reversible burgundian gown in silk, with silk lining – – stock item – £350
Royal Tudor gown – over £3400 ( detailed pricing here ); high born lady gown in silk velvet, lined with silk – £550. same gown in wool would cost £350;
Upper class Tudor set in wool, silk and fur – around £1000. same outfit in quality, royal silks would probably double the price
off the peg high quality Tudor gown and kirtle form the shop – £400 and £240 respectively
High status lady outfit, in silk satin, with silver lace – with 2 petticoats – £850
middle class outfit in wool – £450
Courtier outfit in silk, lined with silk, silver lace, wrapped buttons – £800
Middle class kit in wool – £400
18th century set in wool and linen, with lots of handfinish – £ 600
similar set but in silk, though machine finish and blend fibre waistcoat lowers the price – £700
Day dress in cotton, £300 ( including petticoat and bonnet)
day dress in wool, stock item – £ 400
Visiting dress in silk, heavily decorated – £ 1000
WWI dress in silk with lace, £ 350
WWI dress in cotton, with a silk sash – £ 270
Victorian corset, stock item, part of our Bare basic range – £125
Victorian corset, bespoke work, with exterior channels and extensive flossing – from £300
replicas of 1885 riding habit in quality wool, with handmade ( the blue habit) and hand applied braiding, made bespoke, with a safety tailored skirt and riding trousers – coat around £1000
Also replicas ( but not exact) made as stock items, generic sizing, machine finish – pricing from £350 (these ones are actually in our shop equestrian section, here)
As you can see, it is often the price of fabric that makes the outfit expensive – or the fact that it is a commission and not a stock item.
Having said all that – I must stress that despite a few of the messages like that, the majority of people do appreciate the fact that their items are unique, made lovingly, and individually fitted. And it is those lovely people that make businesses like mine thrive – I used to teach in a college before, and the job, though rewarding, was nowhere near as rewarding ( both in hard cash and job satisfaction). I may be working longer hours, but I love my job, and would not be doing it if i didn’t – or if it didn’t pay my keep:-) 🙂
More on running a costuming business can be read about here: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/running-a-costuming-business/
Hope the post has been useful to you, if you are new to costuming. For those of you who are running businesses – have you come across similar experiences? if yes, do you have any other theories that would explain them? Feedback welcome!
I have never done a proper day 1860 kit before – yes, did ballgowns and bridal versions, but not day dresses – and not for me! I didn’t actually need one either, but when I saw that wool it just screamed late 50ties, early 60ties to me – and my will power failed me. I got the wool and put it in the fabric shed…
Over the next few months I acquired a crinoline cage and experimented with the corsetry for the era too….
Still, I was too busy dealing with commissions and stock items, so the project, and the fabric was still waiting. Then we decided to go to St. Audries Park ball – and I was kicked into a whirl of activity The venue is amazing ( indeed it is our wedding venue, and we held a short bridal shoot there too), and since we could all arrive early in the afternoon, we decided it would be a perfect place to shoot some Victorian frockage – the 1860 one included:-)
No time to rework the corsets, and since we would be shooting other eras, I decided to save time needed to swap corsetry and stay in my 1880 corset – it did provide the right shape, as it turned out.
What I did need was a proper petticoat…. 6m of cotton and tedious pink tucks sewing, the petticoat was ready 🙂
I was happy with that -time for the skirts….
Not too difficult a job, though it needed a lot of seams – the fabric I had was vintage and narrow….
lots of hemming and pleating was done, and the hem was decorated with a wide velvet ribbon in deep olive …
Bodice next – I didn’t have a pattern, and so based mine on original items found online ( my pinterest board is here), cross – referenced with pattern diagrams from Jean Hunnisett.
Mock up being more or less shaped – just getting the seam placements here, I did the detailed shaping on myself wearing a corset…
Once that was done, it was time to cut the fabric and lining….
and stitch the thing up.
The seams are boned, turned to the side and secured. the edges are faced with the same fabric
The sleeves were a modest pagoda style, trimmed with the olive velvet ribbon and a pleated satin ribbon on the inside of the cuffs. Buttons were a nice eBay find – a velvet covered metal buttons, vintage 🙂
Chemisette with a plain collar and undersleeves with lawn and lace were next…
and then, there was the bonnet – a spoon straw bonnet from Dressing History, trimmed with the following:
1 inside – a lawn lining and a cotton lace ruffle, paper and silk flowers
2. outside – combination of velvet ribbon, satin ribbon and pleated satin ribbon…. edges and bavolet in silk taffeta
The stockings and shoes from American Duchess :-), chemise in cotton and split drawers in cotton too – and am wearing my corset in silk taffeta
The result – well, I was amazed at how fetching the style was – I looked positively sweet, a perfect disguise for my somewhat grumpy personality ( and a grumpy mood on the day as I was suffering from a nasty cold) – must the be hat;-)
It was a fun style to wear and something tells me I am not done with the 1860ties yet! 🙂
hope you like it!
As Halloween was approaching and I noticed a few bits of non historical fabrics in my store room, an idea was hatched – we will do some Halloween photography! We mentioned the idea to a friend at one of the markets, and she volunteered lending us some of her corsets for it. we mentioned it on facebook and withing minutes we had more contributors and models agreed on, and time set asid e for some Halloween/Goth/Victoriana fun.
We started with an organic look for a pumpkin queen – my Spring Petal Dress had a remake ( a brief encounter with spray paint), and after an afternoon of drilling and carving the pumpkins ( the jigsaw power tool was perfect for it!) we were ready…
and on the day we prepared the set for the Pumpkin Queen in the nearby woods… the results below:-)
Next day was the big day! our make up artist, Sammm Agnew arrived just after noon, and the models, Gem and Hannah followed shortly after.
My workroom was transformed into a make up and hair styling centre…
and we shot several different looks around the house… the results below – wherever possible I provided inks directly to the products featured as many of the items are actually available to purchase straight away 🙂
Innocence Tainted – Gem is wearing a silk skirt and a corset by Prior Attire… Head by Samm Agnew!
Victoriana – the ladies of the night;-)
The girls are sporting Victorian attires – the purple one has sold already, but the chocolate pumpkin one is still available here
Pumpkin corset – Hanna had a quick transformation and here is sporing a silk corset with black lace decoration from Prior Attire matched with a black skirt
Demon Bride – Gem had a go at the wedding dress that got damaged in the fire – with a festive spray of blood….
and then got quickly into this stunning piece by Wyte Phantom
Even our MUA vamped out her make up , donned a lovely corset ( again, Wyte Phantom) and a skirt ( Prior Attire) and jumped in front of the camera
and after having my face and hair transform to fit with Vampish Gothic criteria, I joined her:-) The overskirt, corset and posture collar by Wyte Phantom, flouncy skirt ( sold already, sorry….) and the fascinator by Prior Attire
and that was it for one long day – but it was not all! 2 days later lovely Miss Lilian Love joined us for a classy corsetry shoot – and in one evening we shot some more Halloween stuff and some elegant vintage inspired stuff with superb corsets from Clessidra ( there will be a separate post on that, here’s a teaser)
and the Halloween stuff –
again, we put Lilian in the Wyte Phantom corset and a Prior Attire skirt
As you can see, it was a lot of fun ( tiring, but fun!) and that was not the end of it – the following weekend saw us at a Halloween ball from which I had a very special creation – but that a topic for another post! 🙂
Make up and hair – Sammm Agnew
models – Gem and Hanna Bow, Miss Lilian Love,
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery
1876 February ensemble
It all started innocently enough – ‘Historical Sewing’ posted a fashion plate on their timeline – February 1876, from Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine
I liked it, and pinned it to my Pinterest board, stored away on a wish list of items to make one day – there were already too many other things to be worked on. Over the last few months I got the fabrics bit by bit, so that everything would be ready for when I eventually decided to go for it – no hurry, no pressure.
But then, due to a sudden change of plans it turned out that we would be attending a Victorian Christmas Market at Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham. In itself, noting extraordinary here, until it was pointed out to me that there would be a skating rink on site! That was all I needed to get my imagination going and I immediately saw myself gliding effortlessly across the ice, swathed in that lovely February attire.
The timing was tricky – I had commissions to work on first of all, but I reckoned if I got them sorted out and could have a day to get most of the work done with the machine, then I could spend Saturday at the market hand finishing the last bits, and Sunday would see me wearing the completed outfit. Just about doable…
As a matter of fact, I managed to finish the commissions early enough, so had half of Thursday at my disposal – it almost seemed too good to be true, so I embarked upon the project. And it was indeed too good to be true – my new machine threw a wobbler, and as a result it was sent back for servicing/repairs… meaning that I ended up with a brand new semi industrial machine in its place! So don’t be surprised if you see different machines in the pictures.
I did manage to do all of the machine work on the Friday and took the lot to be hand finished at the event.
Anyway – a step by step account below, should you wish to recreate the outfit for yourself!
Wool (with nap, so limits the direction of cutting) – 6m (5-5.5 would probably do the trick if using plain fabric with no nap)
Black silk for the bodice front insert – 0.5m
Lining – cotton, 5m, two varieties (I used up left over bits)
Fur trim – 12 yards (an Etsy find)
Velvet ribbon, narrow – 25 m
Double sided velvet ribbon, wide – 15m
Bits of black silk velvet for binding,
Buttons, covered with black velvet – 20
Waist stay – cotton tape
Hooks and eyes for the waist stay,
Boning for the bodice and tape to form boning channels
Total cost of the materials – Fabrics ( wool and lining) £115, trims, notions etc – £ 130 ( fur trim was a bit pricey… )
The skirt and the overskirt.
In the original the skirt is trained, but since I wanted to use the ensemble for winter sports, a train would probably be a bit of a hindrance– so a walking skirt length was required instead. As such, I simply used one of the patterns that I have been using for my walking bustle-skirts.
The overskirt pattern was a bit of an adventure – given the limited time allowance, I sketched the shape more or less, cut it out, and it sort of worked. On second thoughts I think I should have made the hem more curved – a suggested improvement is marked on the drawing. Mind you, keeping the shape rectangular makes sewing the ribbon trim rather easier than following curved lines – if you plan the trim, it is easier to change the upper part of the piece – (also marked on the drawing)
- Cut out your pieces in top fabric and lining. The skirt will be flatlined, so pin or baste each piece together (front top fabric to front lining) before assembly.
- Mark and pin the darts in the front piece. Sew the darts
- Assemble – sew the side pieces to the front piece.
- Decide where you want the opening to be – centre back, if you are not cutting the back piece on fold, or side back, as I did.
- Stitch the back piece(s) at the side panels. Press the seams open, if you can (not advisable on my napped wool – heat flattens the nap and leaves marks )
- Pleat the pack of the skirt so that it matches the length of the waistband.
- Place the waistband on the skirt (right sides together), pin and stitch.
- Grade the seam, reducing the bulk of the pleats, then flip the waistband over and secure it with small stitches (or run the stich on the sewing machine). Since my fabric was quite bulky, I cut the waistband with the selvage – so that I didn’t have to turn it under and create another layer of volume
- Add a button hole and a button.
- Place the skirt on the dummy, over the undergarments that you plan to wear. Adjust the hem, marking any corrections. Just to be absolutely sure, try the skirt on – again with the undergarments on, and the boots you will be wearing.
- Once you are satisfied with the length all around, finish the hem. You have a few options here – you can bind it; you can fold the hem over, secure it with stitching and then add a tape-over to straighten it (see my previous article on how to make a walking dress ). You can use a facing too. Here, I simply folded the allowance under, basted it and then, on the right side, sewed on the velvet ribbon. A tape stitched to the inside hides the machine stitches and protects the hem too.
- Finish the interior seams – trim them, making sure the lining seams are shorter. Secure the seam allowances with small stitches, sewing them open, to the lining
- The skirt is now ready.
The front part.
- Cut out the piece in top fabric and lining. Assembly will depend upon the amount of time and the kind of fur available. With ready trim, either hem the piece, stitch the trim on and then add the lining, or, do it all in one go, treating the fur trim like a piping. This can be tricky, but saves time . If you are working using fur trim cut out from a plate, baste the two layers first and then bind them using the fur strip as binding.
- Mark and sew the darts
and the front is ready!
The back piece.
- Mark the position of the ribbon trims, (or use your machine’s guidelines). Sew the 3 rows of ribbon trim.
- Hem the piece
- Stitch the fur trim onto the hem. Pin the lining and sew it alongside the fur trim.
- Again, if using fur strips from plates, binding the piece will be easier and less time-consuming.
Pleat the panel and to the desired width and pin it onto the waistband. Pin the front piece onto the waistband – it should overlap at the sides. Try it on a dummy to see if the overlap is sufficient.
Adjust as necessary, and sew the waistband on in the same way as you did the skirt’s waistband
All you need to do now is to finish your overskirt is to add the decoration – but that can wait until you have bodice made, as it is then easier to judge the best position for the bows. Here shown already decorated
Pattern – again, I simply adapted my template bodice pattern by making it slightly longer in front, and adding a bit of fullness at panel 2 to mirror the shape on the fashion plate. The back pieces are substantially longer and flare quite dramatically . Neckline was adapted too.
Normally I would have made a mock up, but with the time constraint I decided to risk it – after all I know the pattern fits me well as I have made a few bodices based on it – so in theory it would be fine! Still, if you have time – do make a mock up…..
- Cut out the pieces in top fabric and lining. Pin or baste the wool and lining pieces together – if authenticity is not a priority, you can overlock (serge) the pieces – much easier to work with and will save you hours of hand finishing the seams.
- Pin and sew the front darts
- Assemble to bodice – sew the front piece to the side, then add side back (leave the seam from the waist to the hem open between the side-front and side-back panels) and back. Repeat on the other side and lastly, sew the two halves together at the back-centre seam.
- Sew the shoulder seams. The mini bodice is now assembled
- Try it on. There is still time to check the fit, and make adjustments. In my case it was evident that the front darts were too short – and the shoulder seam needed taking in.
- Once that was sorted I only needed to reduce the flare in the front panels at the hem – just half an inch less did the trick
- Once satisfied with the fit, press the seams open (if your fabric allows for it!) and you can start working on the sleeve. I did cut mine with a loose fitted cuff and pinned it on my arm to make sure that it looked correct
- Sew the sleeve parts together along the back seam. Before you sew it to the front one, sew the ribbon decoration onto the cuff – this is much easier than dealing with a closed sleeve!
- Decoration on, complete assembling the sleeve. Pin it into the arms, matching the back seams, and ease it in. (you can do that after decorating the bodice itself – easier to manoeuvre the bodice without the sleeves!)
- Bodice decoration – apply the ribbon trim to the required parts of the bodice.The original here didn’t have any ribbon on the front part – since I had some left over ribbon at that point, I added it there too. Next, add the fur trim.
- The front part – I simply bound the front edge in silk velvet strip.
- The mock vest – this step can be skipped if you plan to wear a blouse or a chemisette underneath. I had just about sufficient scraps of silk taffeta and decided to go for it.
- Trace the shape of the piece onto a scrap of calico and adapt it until you get a result you are happy with – I used 2 calico mock ups to arrive at the piece with a collar pointing downwards.
- Cut your pieces in silk – you will need 4. Sew them with right sides together, alongside the collar edge. Trim seams allowances, turn inside out, and press. Apply ribbon to your liking
- Before you mount the piece onto the bodice, finish the neckline of the bodice – hem it, and apply the fur trim. Add fur onto the cuffs too.
- Pin the insert in and stitch it in place. Try it on to see if the position is satisfactory, and whether you need to put in hooks and eyes. Trying to emulate the original, I also added a wide ribbon trim going from the shoulder to the centre front, with a bow conveniently hiding the hook and eye closure.
- Add lace frill if desired.
- Next step – add buttons and buttonholes, or settle for hook and eye closures. I admit I did neither – since the straight stitch machine doesn’t do buttonholes and I had no time to stitch them by hand, I settled for buttons and hidden loops – once I have my proper machine back, (or more time on my hands to fiddle with hand stitched buttonholes), I will remove the loops. It will also make the jacket a little better fitted)
- Finishing the seams – unless you have overlocked them, you now need to deal with the insides of the jacket – as I bet it is looking pretty messy! Trim the lining seam allowances, as you did with the skirt, and then shape the top fabric allowances to reduce bulk, then finish the seams by hand. Armholes – trim and bind in cotton tape
- Make boning channels out of tape ( or, if your seam allowances are big enough, you can actually place your bones inside the seam allowance and stitch it closed – (a good post of that by Historical sewing – http://historicalsewing.com/boning-in-bustle-bodices), insert the bones and secure the boning to their corresponding seams
- Stitch your waist tape to the centre back, and to the seams, over the boning – it will reduce pull on the buttons.
Last thing to do – decorations!
Put the whole ensemble onto a dummy and plan the decoration placement.
I had sufficient buttons to go on the apron front and lots of bows made out of double-sided ribbon to go on the bodice and overskirt
How to make bows – beautifully explained here (http://historicalsewing.com/how-to-make-ribbon-bows-for-victorian-costumes).
Stitch on the decoration , and you are done!
Now, only a muff, hat, gloves – and we are ready for a winter outing. Alas, no skating – the ice rink at the event turned out to be a tiny affair with plastic ice. I tried it out on Saturday with a friend, and my skates did manage a bit of a glide, but the ones for hire there were hopeless – plus, the plastic ice was sticky.
We just took a few pictures and decided to have a proper skating photo-shoot later on in the winter, on real ice. So instead, it was promenading on the lovely grounds -:-)
Things to change – make a better hat, for once. I have also learnt that the ready made fur trim is stiff and that stiffness translates onto the garment. Next time, I will save for a few high quality plates and work with them to achieve a wider and softer trim.
The skirts – looking at the pictures the lines are not exactly right – the original’s overskirt is a bit more slanted. Easy to remedy though – will fiddle with the length of the pieces at the waistband as indicated on the pattern.
Working with wool – sheer pleasure. It is the second Victorian outfit I have done in wool and I love it. It doesn’t fray, has just a little tiny bit of stretch in it to make fitting easy and wrinkle – free, and is a pleasure to wear too.
hope you enjoyed the post:-)
and a few more pictures from the day – the place was a heaven for photographers!
Well, as much as I love flowing trains swishing behind me, there is no denying the sheer elegance and practicality of a walking-length costume. Considering that we do quite a lot of Victorian interpretation work in all seasons, particularly the muddy ones, I had to consider making one that would not suffer damage when working on muddy floors or streets. Last winter we were hired again for Victorian Christmas celebrations at Holkham Hall, this time for 4 days; although I had already decided to make a nice winter polonaise with a train, I simply needed another outfit – and a practical one too.
A perfect excuse to make a walking dress, if I ever saw one, and since I had picked up some interesting silks at a recent market, the decision was made.
The inspiration – Harper’s Bazaar, Autumn costume 1883
Cotton for lining, 6m
Silk brocade 5m
Silk twill 3m
Interlining for the waistband/front vest
Cotton tape (5m)
Velvet ribbon (2m – but cotton tape can be used here as well)
Bodice: my own – well, I did adapt my wedding bodice pattern (again), experimenting with how to best achieve the front with the ‘false vest’ effect . A similar pattern is available from Vena Cava (http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1884_French_Vest_Bodice.html)
Skirts – again, I have adapted the pattern from my wedding skirt, simply by making it shorter at the back, so that with the bustle it was an even length. Similar pattern of a plain underskirt can be found here – http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1885_Four-Gore_Underskirt.html
Apron front – adapted from: http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1886_Autumn_Overskirt.html
If this is the first Victorian skirt you have ever made, then I recommended that you make a simple toile in calico, just to get the length, darts etc right. It is much easier to get the desired even hem when draping it on a dummy than when trying to wrestle with maths. Also, you can use the calico pieces as a template for future skirts, saving you loads of time.
- Cut out your pieces (in my case: front, 2 sides, 2 backs, plus waistband) in top fabric.
- Place the pieces on lining and pin together. (You can cut the lining first and then the top fabric – up to you!)
- Cut carefully, but DO NOT unpin – leave the pieces as they are, pinned together. If your fabric is ‘slithery’, baste the two layers together.
- Sew in the darts on the front piece, and press.
- Place the side panel onto the front, right sides together, and sew through all 5 layers. Repeat for all the other panels, making sure you leave the back seam open a little at the back – that’s your placket opening.
- Press the seams open. You can pink the seam allowances to limit for fraying before couching them down – or simply fold under and secure them with small stitches. For the placket opening, simply fold the edges under and stitch on the machine – even easier if you are using the selvage as I did
- Put the skirt on the dummy. Make sure the dummy is wearing correct undergarments – a bustle cage or pad, and a petticoat. Pleat the back panel: knife pleats towards the back work best in my opinion. Pin the pleats in place and take the skirt off.
- Prepare the waistband – either baste in the interfacing material, of if using a fusible one, fuse with the top fabric.
- Pin the waistband into the skirt, right sides together, and sew. Press, flip it over, securing the edges of the skirt and pin on the other side – then fold the raw edges of the waistband under and sew – either by hand or by machine.
- Work the button hole and sew on the button.
- You can add a proper placket – a piece of fabric to cover the opening; since my skirt is to be worn under the apron, the opening will not be visible anyway, so I decided not to bother in this case…
- Put the skirt on the dummy again –this time you are working on the hem. Play with the arrangement of the skirt itself, as well – more often than not it will need tapes attaching at the side/back so that the fullness is contained over the bustle and not at the sides. Only once you are satisfied with the fullness distribution/tape arrangement should you have a look at the hem.
- Adjust the hem length as necessary, making it even all around. To finish it, fold the hem under and stitch. You can also add ruffles etc.
- Since my skirt was to be used a lot, I decided to reinforce the hem by using a strong cotton tape. A ruffle would go on outside of the skirt, (though you can also attach it on the inside – both work 🙂
- Ruffle – mine is of the silk twill, with cotton lining. Cut the ruffle (3 times the length of the hem usually works for me). Place the top fabric and the lining right-sides together and sew along one edge.
- Flip on the other side and press, positioning the seam not on the very edge, but slightly up on the wrong side, so that the lining is now longer at the top. Stitch the top edge together, cutting out the excess lining.
- Pleat – Either pin every pleat, or cut corners- use machine ruffler (I love mine!) or a pleater.
- Press and starch.
- Once ready, pin and sew your pleats onto the skirt, right sides together.
- Fold down and press. You may further secure the ruffle by stitching it to the hem by hand,
- Your skirt is now ready! 😉 – here the inside view
- Cut out the pieces in fabric (and the lining, if you are lining it).
- Sew the darts into the front section
- Hem the pieces and add ruffle or any decoration you would like to use
- Mark the pleats at the sides and sew the pleats in place.
- The back – hem this, including the placket opening. Pleat according to the diagram on the pattern, then pin.
- You now have the apron, the back, and the waistband. Try the pieces on, pinning them to the dummy, or on yourself; Check that the pleats look the way you want them to . If all is ok, sew the back pleats and add the waistband.
- Position the back and front pieces on the waistband and pin in place. It will overlap a bit with the back piece on top, this is ok. Try it on yourself, or on the dummy, to ensure that the fabric hangs properly. If necessary, you can still change the position of the pleats.
- Sew on the waistband, and finish as with the waist on the skirt. Finish all buttons and buttonholes.
- The front pieces will require a tape, as they will pull the apron into position. Stitch a length of tape (enough to tie over the bustle) at each side as indicated by the pattern.
- Your overskirt is now ready!
Again, if it is your first bodice, do make a mock-up – do not rely on the pattern to fit perfectly well onto your corseted form! Needless to say, wear your corset for all fittings. I made a mock up with two different fronts – one sported one dart and the vest part sewn along the second one , and the other had 2 darts and a vest added in a third seam. The first option worked much better for me, so I tweaked this side and used the pieces as a pattern for the proper bodice.
- Cut out your pieces in top fabric.
- Place the pieces on the lining, pin together and cut. Do not unpin – treat as one layer. If the top fabric is slippery, baste the pieces together. Again, you can cut in reverse order as I did – lining first,
- Prepare the vest part – I decided to interline the silk twill to make the buttonholes sturdier. I also used the silk brocade as a lining for the twill. Sew the piece right-sides together along the front edge and bottom, press open, poke the corner, and flip onto the right side, press again. Pin or baste the other edges together and treat as a single piece.
- Sew the darts onto the front piece first.
- Sew all pieces of the bodice together, (don’t worry about the sleeves or collar for the moment), and try it on. This is the last opportunity to make changes to the fit, neck or arm scythe shape, so DO take your time checking the fit.
- Time to work on the sleeves – sew the parts together, hem the cuffs and add ruffle, decoration, etc as required. Pin into the bodice and try on.
- Once everything is in order, sew the sleeves into place.
- Press all seams open, or to one side; pink the seam allowances ( or fold over and secure with stitching)As for the seam connecting the sleeves to the bodice – use a cotton tape to enclose the seam, a simple, neat and period technique.
- Collar – place both parts (plus interlining) right sides together, sew along the top edge.
- Trim seam allowances, turn over, poke the corners out and press.
- Pin the collar into the bodice,( the top fabric and interlining but not the lining part) and sew. Fold over the lining and stitch, hiding the seam.
- Now for the edges – either pipe them, or bind them – I made binding in the brocade and bound all edges apart from the vest part. Sew the binding first, right sides together , flip open, press and fold over the seams, then sew the inside by hand.
- Mark the buttonholes and work them – either on the machine or by hand
- Sew on the buttons.
- Pleat the peplum as indicated on the diagram , or as desired – and secure it with a few stitches (or a piece of tape)
- Cut a piece of ribbon for your waist tape, ( grosgrain is best, but other tight-woven ribbons about 1inch wide will work as well), and stitch this at the back seam. Pin the tape at your waist, at the seams. Attach hooks and eyes in front – the tape will take some of the strain from the buttonsJ you can also attach the tape over the bones – will work just as well.
- Mark how long you want your boning to be and cut the bones. File the ends and enclose the boning in the channel (here I used a few readymade ones).
- Sew the channels onto the seams, placing the boning over the tape . An excellent article on the boning and waist tape position in the bustle bodices can be found here- http://historicalsewing.com/boning-in-bustle-bodices
- Your bodice is ready!
So we have got a new website – and it comes with a shop! Online shoo for some essentials has been on my to do list for quite some time, and so I decided to go ahead with it. And your products need to be photographed, right? Well, since we were moving house, we decided to get as many pictures sorted before we do so – and 2 long sessions have been set aside and done!
The first was a fun session with Miss Lilian Love – featuring our modern corsets – the elegant sheer…
and a cyberpunk/sci fy underbust – in a few looks!
then a week later we had Anett, and Adrianne..
and a few outtakes from the shoot…
after the shoot the girls went to bed…. 😉
The next day Helen joined us for more fun..
and then Lizzie got to model some more stuff too 🙂
even I got to model one of our stock items!
and after all the shooting was done, it was editing time – photos, of course, by Pitcheresque Imagery
All the items here ( and many more) are already available in the shop – but will get a proper post on the shop at some point too!
Many thanks to all our models for their hard work, creativity and simply being great company!
In this article we willcover the construction of a typical late Victorian petticoat with back flounces. We will also discuss the steampunk version of the traditional petticoat – and how to get 3 styles out of one skirt in seconds!
The flounced petticoat by Prior Attire
Inspiration: Harper’s Bazaar, page 135, figure m, Foulard petticoat
4m of cotton twill; for steampunk version any non stretch fabric can be used, here 5m of embroidered silk
10 – 15 m of decoration – broderie anglaise lace etc
Buttons; for the steampunk version, 05m of elastic
Also, for the steampunk version you will need 5m of ribbon or a string; here Russia braid was used
Adapted from Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes, p. 206, 208
- Cut the base for your petticoat: front and back pieces.
- Cut the flounces – the front can be decorated with one, and the back will have a few – aim for about 5 – 8 flounces. The length of the flounces varies, depending on your gathering/pleating method, but aim for a minimum twice the length of the finished row. So if your bottom hem at the back is 1, you will need min.2 metres of fabric to gather.
Step 1: making the flounces
- Work on your front flounce first. You can skim this step if you plan to have one bottom flounce going around the whole petticoat, like the one in the steampunk version.
Different styles were possible, you can gather the flounce loosely, box pleat it or use a combination of the methods. Here I wanted to replicate the one in Harper’s Bazaar, and used the combination of trimming and pin tucks.
Divide the flounce into equal parts and work out how deep your pin tucks have to be to pleat to the desired width.
Deciding on the size and amount of the pin tucks
Hem the edges and sew on the trim, and then work on the pin tucks. You can use a pin tuck foot for that – though I realised that the tucks on mine will be far too shallow to my liking, so I simply stitched it with a normal foot.
Front decoration with pin tucks and lace – all ready for pressing and starching
Press – if you have spray-on starch, use it. Sew the flounce to the bottom of the front petticoat piece.
Flounce pressed, ready to be sewn on
- Prepare the back flounces. Hem them, by hand or using your machine – I find the rolled hem foot works great on both silk and cotton. It still takes a very long time, but much faster than by hand!
Hemming the flounces of the steampunk petticoat
- Sew on the decoration on the flounces
Sew, fold over and press.
If you want, you can add a row or two of pin tucks running horizontally – particularly effective on either front flounces or back bottom ones – or for the sleek Natural Form petticoats!
Flounce with 2 rows of horizontal pin tucks
- You can pleat the flounce using the ruffler on the machine or simply pleat them with knife of box pleats.
Knife pleated ruffle – warning, takes ages!
- You can also use a gathering foot (note – does not gather enough, in my opinion!). Or simply run a basting seam through the top (by hand on machine) and gather the fabric on the thread.
- All of the techniques work, however, having made 4 other petticoats I realised that, barring the machine ruffler, the method described below works best for me.
- Lay the back piece on a table or the floor. Mark the lines along which the flounces will be attached (use with any of the method). For the steampunk version, leave a very generous seam allowance – 2”
- Take the bottom flounce and pin it at both sides, within an inch of the side edges of the piece (for seam allowance – leave more for the steampunk version).
- Mark the centre point of the petticoat piece and find the centre of the flounce. Pin these two together. You now have half the flounce on both sides. Repeat the step on both sides: mark the centre of the petticoat line (the quarter of the entire length) on one half and find the half of the flounce on that side. Pin the m together and repeat on the other side. You now have the flounce pinned into quarters. Continue dividing the parts into smaller and smaller halves, until you have the entire flounce evenly distributed along the bottom of the petticoat.
Pinning the flounce, dividing it into smaller and smaller parts
Sew it on, gathering the extra fabric.
- Repeat for the next rows. The technique takes some time and patience, not to mention the amount of pins, but it results in evenly distributed gathers that look natural.
- For the steampunk version pleated the flounces with the ruffler and then decorated the whole length of the bottom flounce and the top back flounce with a sequined braid, before stitching them on.
- Pin your back ruffles alongside the lines, and sewn on, starting from the top. The bottom ruffle, decorated with both broderie lace and braid will go all around the finished petticoat – put it aside for the time being.
So far the instructions for both types of petticoats have been almost identical, but at this stage I am going to split the rest of the instructions in two.
Assembling the Traditional Victorian petticoat:
You should now have two separate pieces, the flounced back and the front with one flounce. Joining them will hugely depend on how you want your petticoat to close – you can join the pieces on both sides, leaving only small opening at the side, and button it there. Or, you can leave one seam open completely at the side and use buttons all the way through.
I chose the latter, since I knew that then I would be able to open the petticoat at the bottom, if I need more space for riding or dancing, and it would also allow for faster changes if needs be.
- For the petticoat opening at the side, just sew the two parts together at one side.
- Cut out the waistband.
- Mark the darts in the front part and pleat the back part. Secure the pleats with pins and try the petticoat on the corset and the bustle. Adjust the pleats/darts as necessary.
- Take the petticoat off and sew on the waistband – sew right sides together first, then flip it over, fold the hem and either hand stitch down, or run a seam, encasing the seam allowance
The waistband and the darts in the front part
Pleats and waistband at the back
- Hem the petticoat, by hand or using a hemming foot. Hem the open sides as well.
- Mark and sew the buttonholes.
- Add the buttons.
- The petticoat is now ready – can be worn on its own, with a bustle pad or with a long bustle cage!
Here worn over a long bustle cage
If you plan to wear your undergarments for more robust activities, like riding, dancing, tennis playing of skating, do try them on before you start making the garments going on top, as some alternations may be necessary.
I discovered that I needed to leave the two bottom buttons in the petticoat undone for dancing (to keep pace with my partner in the Viennese waltz I needed bigger steps! The video of the dress rehearsal can be seen here:
As far as riding was concerned, I needed to leave the petticoat open (3 buttons here), but when worn on the bustle pad it turned out to be rather comfortable – I was able to perform all kind of tricks on horseback.
Note the unbuttoned petticoat
and another flounced petti, this one wit 4 flounces…
Assembling the Steampunk version
- You now have your petticoat in 3 parts – the front, the back with the flounces, and the long bottom flounce.
- First, sew the darts on the front part
- Place the front part on the back part, right sides together. Pin the edges, but remember to leave a wide seam allowance – it will be made into the channels for hitching the skirt up. Alternatively, create the channels by stitching long tape over the seam – much less fussy!
- Sew together, remembering to leave about an inch between the seam and the line at which the ruffles start – and do not sew over any stray ruffles either!
- Press the seam open, and fold the seam allowance under – and stitch, creating a channel wide enough for your ties to pass through. Repeat on the other seam allowance.
Forming the channels – inside
And outside view
- Repeat the steps for the other side seam.
- Hem the skirt
- Pin and sew on the long bottom flounce
- Prepare openings in the channels, just over the bottom flounce. You can use just one on each side or, for a greater control, make one set of eyelets onto the left side and then openings on the channels only on the inside – the ties will pass from the inside to the outside. Thread in your ties, from the top to the bottom openings and back.
Outside view: small eyelets go all the way through all the layers of the fabric
Inside view showing a second pair of eyelets – opening to the channel, stitched over one layer.
- Cut and attach the waistband : sew right sides together first, then flip it over, fold the hem and either hand stitch down, or run a seam, encasing the seam allowance., leaving a small opening for the elastic to thread through.
- Attach the elastic to a safety pin, and thread through the waistband. Sew both ends together and then close the opening in the waistband. It is also possible to attach the elastic only to the back, if you want to keep the front fitted.
Your Steampunk petticoat is now ready! – a few examples below
You can shorten the skirts on the sides by pulling the ties at the bottom and knotting them into a bow. Here only one side hitched a little bit:
And the skirt hitched upon both sides, for a sexy ’saloon girl‘ look
and fee more….
Happy sewing! and, if you are in a hurry, you can always buy one of ours – basic stock petties can be found in our shop!
And if you prefer crinoline styles – you might find this post useful too!
Jean Hunnisett, Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909, Players Press, Inc, 1991
Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600- 1930; Faber and Faber, London, 1994
Norah Waugh, Corsets and Crinolines, Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, New York, 2000
Stella Blum, Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar 1867-1898, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1974
The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute; Fashion, a History from the 18th to the 20th century, Taschen, 2002
Since after the WWI corsetry shoot we still had the set living in the garage, I decide to use the opportunity to snap a few atmospheric shots of a circa 1885 day dress in cotton from our stock.-a skirt with an asymmetric drapery and a bodice, both lined in cotton. It was about 2 sizes too big for me, but clever pinning and padding worked, to some extent . Would suit a corsetted size 14-16, with bodice closing at 34 inches, chest 40. sleeve 23 “, skirt length 41inches. here worn on a corset ( unlaced) and a bustle cage and a petticoat. It will be available to purchase from our online store soon:-)
And in the meantime – enjoy the pictures – really happy how they turned out, Lucas is really getting the hang of it now!
credits – Clothing: Prior Attire
photography: Pitcheresque Imagery
shoes: American Duchess
hair ( well, the fringe)- Wonderland wigs