So today I am writing about the planning process I went through, as well the creating the boned foundation piece that serves as a base for the whole garment. I’m going to split the construction posts about this dress in half. One post for the inner parts of the dress, and one for outer pieces and finishing details.
So to summarize the challenge: I sewed this for an independent event at the state Thespian conference, they provided a list of historical patterns to choose from, and there was a budget of 100 dollars (not including the pattern). I decided to participate just before registration was due, giving me just over 2 months to complete my project, though as long as they do not change the patterns you can really start whenever you want to (another girl I talked to had started hers at the end of the previous summer, giving her about 8 months). The process also had to be documented, and receipts had to be kept.
After choosing Simplicity 1517 I did some research on the era and construction of the dress, just to figure out what I had gotten myself into. While I was doing this I stumbled on Andrea Schewe’s blog (she created the pattern), there I found 6 posts on the pattern covering everything from research to construction details.I referred to this throughout the project and it was a useful tool. I decided view A would be the best to make because it had no train, or overdress which would require additional expensive fabric, and honestly just more work within my limited timeframe. I also decided I wanted to make the dress in dark green, but decided to settle for a wine color when the Joann Fabrics website did not list any greens. I also knew that because of timing and my location I would have to rely on the local Joann Fabrics (which is by no means one of the big ones), leaving my selection of trims, fabrics, and notions limited.
When I finally went fabric shopping, coupons in hand, I was very lucky and managed to find what I needed without blowing my budget. I decided to use a matte satin (my favorite fabric), because of its drape, weight, and lack of a shine that could appear costmey and tacky under stage lights. When I was looking at my fabric options I happened to find a shelf of discontinued colors, that had a matte satin and matching chiffon in the dark green I had originally wanted, as well as a champagne satin for the corset piece. All of the discontinued colors were 60% off, and that was the day I did a happy dance while hugging bolts of fabric in the middle of the Joanns.
Now on to the actual construction:
The dress is made of a boned foundation piece (called the “corset” in the instructions), overdress, and belt. In this post I’ll be focusing on the foundation as it was probably the most complicated part of the dress. It is underlined in an unbleached muslin and made out of champagne matte satin. It also features 6 channels of boning and a waist tape.
The first thing I did was the embroidery along the neckline. I didn’t want the ends of the thread or the back of the embroidery to show on the inside of the corset so I cut the corset pieces, adding a marked inch and a half to the top. I also marked off seam allowances about two inches from the top of each section along the right and left edge so I knew where to match patterns. I then cut a strip of paper that was the width of the trim as the pattern required, and about a foot long. On this I drew the pattern of vines and flowers that I wanted along the neckline.
I used some transfer paper and the back of a seam ripper to transfer a random part of the pattern to the different pieces, but I stopped a bit from the edge. Once all of the pieces had embroidery marked I freehanded the edges so they would all match up once they were sewn together.
After that I was able to begin the actual embroidery, I used a raised fishbone stitch, stem stitch, and daisy stitches to create the pattern. After I had done a panel or two, it just looked flat, so I took some light pink beads I had from old projects and sewed one into the center of each flower for a subtle bit of sparkle. I also added a cameo to the front (cameos are my thing), by stitching on a hoop of beads to the front where I wanted the cameo, then i cheated and superglued the cameo into the bead frame. Total the embroidery took me about three weeks, and I would carry it around with me in small bag and embroider in my free time.
Then I was able to construct the corset, because of the underlining the edges of the fabric are free and trimmed with pinking shears. The boning is just plastic, though I will probably replace them with spiral steel when I get around to making an actual corset (foreshadowing?).
It is supported with a grosgrain waist tape that closes with a skirt hook, and finished on the top and bottom with bias tape which is sewn to the underlining with a small slip stitch (nothing visible on the outside). One of the things that I found to be very interesting is that thin pieces of ribbon are attached to the tops of the side seams and run through the channel created by the bias tape and come out the back. This creates a drawstring effect that makes the top of the corset adjustable, handy for my narrow ribcage and holding the very top together. The back closes with half inch hook and eye tape that I purchased here. I do not recommend this seller, the two sides of the tape arrived mismatched, but by the time it arrived there was no time to order anything else and returning it wouldn’t be worth it so I used it. It worked for what I needed to and is only noticeable if you look closely.
This part of the pattern is labor intensive, and detail oriented, but I think I was able to create a lovely and sturdy foundation for the rest of the garment.