So, we have the design, now on to the pattern cutting and toiling process. My colleague focused on the pattern cutting for the bodice, whilst I went ahead and jumped in with the skirt. The design features a 3 tier skirt, with a yoke (cliche, I know, I know), but to conserve time and fabric I just toiled a full skirt without the tiers.
My university keeps a supply of crinolines for bridal projects etc., and luckily they had an adjustable one we borrowed for this project! Doing a skirt of this design threw so many learning curves at me, and I was trying out new things everyday! Finally trying out cartridge pleating was amazing-its the most satisfying thing ever…if it goes right.
Figuring out the height to set for the mannequins was complicated; all the displayed dresses would have to stand at the same height. We eventually settled on 5″2, mainly as the crinoline was on the shorter side, and because it worked with the proportions of the design. After toiling the skirt successfully I went on to dividing the pattern into tiers-the pattern took up two whole pattern cutting tables! I wish I had taken a picture.
The dresses were to be made in calico, and our uni supplied baled calico-which meant lots and lots and lots of pressing. Baled calico isn’t pre-shrunk, so to avoid any nasty surprises when we pressed it as we sewed, we had to give it a good run over with the steam irons-all six and a half meters of it. Side note-does anyone else love the smell of steamed calico? It’s like boiled rice or something…
After pressing and cutting the patterns out I started on the tiers for the skirt, hemming them first, as well as finishing the top of the main skirt body. A note about the measurements of the tiers-with the bottom tier I made it 2 x the skirt width, the mid tier was 1.5 x the skirt width and the top tier was the same measurement as the skirt width (as its so close to the cartridge pleats I let them do all the work). I began by gathering the bottom tier, just in case there had been a mix up in tier heights so I could adjust them, and here’s where I learned a very important lesson kids-gathering calico sucks. Seriously. No matter what I tried the thread broke. Despite having every other sewing machine known to man, my uni doesn’t have a gathering foot, so I had to use a mix of hand gathering and hiking up the machine tension to do it for me-neither of which was terribly accurate. Eventually I managed it to the point that I could top stitch it to the main body of the skirt, but some parts of the tier are more gathered than others-annoyingly the sparser areas are at the back where the volume should have been concentrated.
The second tier was top stitched down, hiding the seam for the first, and the third was sewn right sides together and upside down to the main skirt-again hiding the seam of the lower tier when flipped back over. I then went on to cartridge pleat the skirt, using two rows of pleats gathered with button thread (I think I spaced the gathering points 1″ apart, but it was a while ago now so I may be wrong.) After gathering I sewed the main back seam of the skirt leaving a gap big enough to fit the skirt over the mannequin shoulders, and the sewed the center backs of the tiers together. I then hand stitched the cartridge pleats to a waistband, and finished it with some heavy duty hook and eyes. My lecturer after reviewing the skirt told me to machine the pleats to the waistband as well, just because of the weight of the calico, but I don’t think this would have been necessary with a lighter fabric.
And here’s the finished dress! I can’t really speak on my colleagues experience on creating the bodice, but we spent the same time on each of our garments, and it really shows in his beautiful fit of the bodice! We came across some Nottingham lace in the workshops and created the under sleeves from it-whilst Nottingham lace was definitely manufactured at this time, its use in this kind of clothing is unlikely. However, we thought it perfectly complimented the dress because of the color so we took some artistic licence, along with the synthetic lace trimming the bodice.
The skirt is needing a bit of a ruffle and a press, but we waited until it was taken for display because, quite frankly, its huge and we couldn’t be bothered ironing more than necessary! Overall I’m absolutely thrilled with this project! I’ve been desperate to make a mid 19th century ensemble for years, but lack of time, and a tiny student flat got in the way. This project was such a learning experience that I’m feeling really confident about jumping in on my own project when I have the time.
We went to visit the lovely Hawick Museum a few months later when the exhibition opened. If you’re in the Scottish Borders, I highly recommend a visit-its a small but really charming museum, with lots of history of life in the surrounding area, and some lovely staff. I was so excited to see something that I contributed to displaying a 160 year old garment! And I thought it was incredibly effective, if I do say so.
So that’s it for this project! Sorry for the weird tutorial/history lesson mash up of the posts-hopefully when I can start blogging about my current projects they’ll be more coherent!