Monday, December 22, 2014

The 10-Day Tailoring Challenge - Completed in 8 Days!

Well, here it is, my 1935 jacket, on my body.

I'm super proud of this project, even with all the mistakes I made. It's wearable and looks pretty alright (please forgive my car-ride creases in the photo).


Now I want to *tailor ALL the things.* I have a couple 1940s repro patterns, and a great 1930s coat pattern from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library just begging to be made up (for a couple years now, in fact).

...but those projects are for when we get back, in 2015. Chris and I are off to spend Christmas and New Year abroad with our family. We've not had a true vacation, and never one together, since we started AmericanDuchess.com back in 2011. This is a much needed break.

So with that, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 19, 2014

My 10-Day Tailoring Challenge

McCall 8420 Junior Miss TwoPiece Suit 1935

About 7 days ago I decided to start a tailoring project.

Years ago I received McCall 8420, a 1935 pattern with a skirt and kinda-half-Norfolk jacket. The pattern was my grandmama's, who resembled one of the illustrated women, and the size was a junior 11.

24 inch waist, are you kidding me!? There was no way it would fit me, so this turned into a grading project.

...which I stagnated on (of course), until I bought Simplicity 3688, containing a retro 1940s blazer pattern, to use as a cross-reference on the 1935 jacket.

Using the jacket pattern to cross-reference
It worked! I traced out the vintage pattern and new pattern pieces on my brown wool and adjusted accordingly.

So with 10 days until leaving for the holidays, I sliced into the wool, muslin underlining, hair canvas, and satin lining, tailor-tacking and pad stitching like a boss.

The hair canvas on one of the front pieces
The front piece with the hair canvas attached, trimmed, darts done up, and the lapel pad stitched and taped, steaming for shape over a rolled towel.
I was thrilled with how easily things went together. I had the complicated back assembled by the end of the night, along with the front pieces darted and steamed to shape.

The jacket back, made up of  5 different pattern pieces. I made several mistakes here and even had to recut the skirt. All noted for next time, though...
Day two had me pad stitching the lapels and taping the edges. Day three I was working on the collar, crashing through the tailoring sections of Vogue Sewing Book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, and Couture Sewing Techniques to understand this delicate and complex part of the project.

At this point it looks a bit like a rumpled mess, but you can see the lapels rolling nicely, and the under collar has been pad stitched and steamed to shape. It looks too long right now, but ended up being a little short when all put together and attached.
Facings went on and collars were attached, but at this point my little mistakes made at the beginning started to become bigger problems. The biggest one was that the belt in the back wasn't straight. I know now why it happened, but it was stupid of me not to see the flaw when everything was flat and fixable. Another issue arose in my choice of materials for taping the edges - I used cotton twill tape when I should have used super-thin seam binding. My patch pockets weren't applied all that well, and my collar knotches are funky.

Last night I set in the sleeves, easing and shrinking an extra inch and a half into the armscyes and achieving a smooth sleeve cap (this is sorcery, I swear), and you know what? Even with my mistakes and fumblings, now that it's starting to look like a proper jacket, I'm proud of it!

Facings are on, sleeves are set, and now it's looking pretty good. Time for lining and closures
You see, tailoring is a dark art. I don't mean just the taking in or letting out of clothes to fit you; I mean the manipulation of cloth, by means of hidden structural and shaping techniques, to hang and act as intended on a specific body. The amount of engineering that goes into a Saville Row bespoke dinner jacket is staggering, but even cheap suit jackets have these interfacings and stabilizing layers.

There's tailoring. And then there's tailoring.

It's at once forgiving and punishing, but somehow always rewarding. Even just a *little* tailoring goes a long way, and the difference between a tailored and un-tailored garment is huge. Once you go down that pad-stitched rabbit hole, you can never...ever...go back. So perhaps spending my 10 days pad stitching, steaming, and easing pieces together appears to be a waste of time, but the result is well worth it, and in the words of Guy Martin, "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right."

As 007 says...
So today I will be assembling and attaching the lining, and working the buttonholes, and then I'll be proud to say that I finally made Grandmama's 1935 half-Norfolk jacket...

...and it's tailored.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Antique Edwardian Shoe Rehab

I'm going to call it rehab instead of restoration, because these shoes were in a *state.* They were sent to me by a lovely follower who saw the potential in a pair of sad, squished, absolutely filthy old stompers.

If these shoes could talk...

These poor shoes have seen better centuries...
Upon closer inspection, beneath the grime, I saw some interesting brogueing details and  imagined these would be actually quite charming oxfords.

The first order of business was to wash the dirt away. Then, while the leather was still damp, I applied a thick coat of Angelus Lustre Cream in brown. This stuff is a hydrating cream that keeps the leather supple. The pigmented lustre cream does an amazing job at evening out coloration in the leather and covering scratches, tears, and scuffs.

With the dirt rinsed away, I applied a thick coat of Angelus Lustre Cream and let it dry
After buffing off the lustre cream, I applied Angelus Shoe Wax in brown. The wax fills in cracks and crevices and creates a nice barrier. It also buffs to a fantastic shine and protects the shoes.

Shiny and preserved. Though they still show their extensive wear, now the details and shape of these oxfords comes through
These poor babies are rotten on the inside, where the thin, cheap leather has flaked away almost completely. This is the part of antique shoes that goes first and is usually the worst. It's unrecoverable too, so the best that can be done for these is to stuff them for shape and protect them in shoe bags, only to be brought out for study.

Looking so much better!
And they really did turn out to be a great pair of shoes. Somebody wore these as their everyday shoes, but also took care of them, having them resoled more than once. They were originally cheaply-made, with rough-cut lining and corners cut on areas like the tongue, typical of non-rationed, factory-produced footwear during the Great War period. Never intended to last very long, it's amusing to me that these simple, well-worn, common shoes have out-lived the company who made them and the person or people who wore them.

Now ready to be stored and studied for another 100 years

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Late 1860s Aubergine Ballgown

Me and Kristen at the ball - photo by Nevada Live Magazine
I couple weekends ago I was all a-tussle finishing the evening bodice for my new purple 1860s gown. I intended to wear it to a local Civil War ball, and was happy to put the finishing touches on it a couple hours before leaving for the ball.

I didn't take the easiest path on this bodice. I scaled up a gridded pattern from Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909, using a new-to-me digitizing technique, and after a quick toile (maybe a bit *too* quick), I cut into my silk and stabilizing layer.

Well it all worked out in the end, despite fussing with the side seams and performing an impromptu nip-n-tuck on the back pieces. I stitched in some hand-sewn eyelets, and bound the bottom edge in self-fabric piping. At this point, unadorned, the bodice looked very bridesmaid, which influenced my decision to add sleeves (because I'll avoid them if I can!). Again using Hunisett's instructions, I mounted organza puffs on muslin bases and stitched them in.

The bodice base without sleeves or any boning int he front point. It looks so...modern.
The bodice with the sleeve puffs and the base pieces for the bertha pinned in place. Still no boning in the bodice.
It's amazing the effect this little detail had on de-bridesmaiding the design, but the bodice needed the big finale to truly look period - the bertha.

One invaluable tip I picked up from Hunisett and Janet Arnold both was to cut bias strips and lap them onto a base, to create the pleated look of the bertha. I found this method SO much easier than trying to pleat a piece to shape, and gleefully layered on bias strips in the silk and organza, followed by a super-shreddy strip of ruched silk, and some trickier-than-they-look finishing pieces to cover where the berthabits met on the center front and shoulders.

Layering bias strips of organza and silk. Note to self - change the friggin' thread color next time, because that sh*t's visible!
The nearly-complete bertha pinned into place. My first base wasn't big enough, so I added more organdy and kept layering until getting to the size I wanted
Ginormous bows and bling finished it, and at least on the dress form the thing looked glamorous.

Day of the ball - adding black taffeta bows, big sparkly things, and planning jewelry for the evening.
I wheezed a sigh of relief when the bodice fit my actual body like a glove, and everything stayed put, despite the incredibly low-cut design, and constricting shoulder (can I even call them that?) straps.

Photo by Willie P. 
Photo by Kristen - everything stayed put, thank goodness.
Chatting with a gentleman I met at the dance. I need a bit more oomph in the skirt - elliptical shapes are a bit tricky to support. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
For hair I used several hair pieces and a wash-out mousse to color my own hair brown, so it would blend with the hairpieces. The tiara could use a better method of sticking to one's head. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
I made little rosette clips for my Tissots dyed to match the dress, and attached a ribbon temporarily under the arch, to tie them on for dancing - this was a very common addition to evening slippers of this and other periods, though more often they were stitched onto the sides of the shoes.
Tissots with ribbons - if I hadn't run short on black satin ribbon I would have made the ribbons much longer, to loop around the ankle. Photo by Nevada Live Magazine
Most importantly, I felt wonderful in the gown. I felt regal and glamorous and graceful, and I can't wait to wear it again!