Mid Century Party Dress

Last year, my family went to the local county fair. Of course, I always take a look at the sewing entries, and the costume entires. The items in last year’s display were……interesting, to say it politely. I’m a dedicated admirer of historical clothing and sewing techniques. Some of the “historical costumes” submitted last year were exactly that – costumes. There is a huge difference between historical garments used in a modern stage play about the Antebellum South and actual reproduction garments worn by history enthusiasts. To most people, the two types of clothing look identical, but to those of us who know, the disparity is drastic. It was at that moment, as I gazed on a silk child’s dress made by a competent seamstress in a completely inaccurate manner to replicate the look of a Colonial child’s dress, that I decided I would like to make and submit to the county fair a full set of clothing in period accurate materials with period accurate construction techniques.

Um, what did I just say?

I’m taking on a project to create a mid-century (19th century for those who don’t know me well) party dress for my seven-year-old, made as though it came out of great-great-great-granny’s trunk after having been put away after the last big party, and then forgotten for 150 years.

Girls Dresses (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

To do this, I will be following the techniques in Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Patterns, Girls Linens 1840-1865 and Girls Dresses 1840-1865. These two patterns were carefully researched by Ms. Clark to best represent the home sewing techniques used by most women of the era. There are various options for sleeves, necklines and trims that allow for styles across the classes – from poor to upper class.

Girls Linens (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

Now, I have been thinking about this project since last August. I have purchased white bleached muslin for the undergarments and two cuts of silk for the dress. Today I ordered fancy imported Swiss embroidered edging. I got out the pattern and read through the booklet. It’s a tiny bit intimidating when your pattern comes with a 30 page booklet of construction tips and instructions. But, this is one of the best patterns on the market, and I hear wonderful things about it, so I’m going to roll with it.

I took Melody’s measurements tonight. I have always said she is tall and lean! Her measurements fluctuate between three of the sizes in the pattern and one measurement isn’t even on the chart it is so small.

Chest 25″

Waist 21″

Back Neck Length 12″

Neck 11″

Arm Length 19″

Hip to floor 27″

Inseam 22″

Hips 27″

Her chest is between size A-B, waist is not even on the chart for A, BNL between B-C, Neck between A-B and arm between B-C. Sigh…I will have to make a muslin and do some alterations, I suppose. I expect I will start working on this soon as I’ve only got a few months before it must be turned in to the fair committee. Watch for updates as I proceed!

And wish me luck. Lots of it!

Making an easy blanket for your pet

Even your smallest members of the house need a lovey, right? I have been making these blankets for my cats and dogs for many years. My mother made them for the family dog when I was growing up. They can be placed around the house where your pet likes to sleep, they protect your light colored carpets and linens from dark colored hair deposits and pet “gunk”, and can make it so your pet can sleep on the bed without being right up in your face.

Browser likes to hang out on the stairs

Browser likes to hang out on the stairs

To make your pet a warm bed that is also machine washable, you will need:

1 yard of cotton flannel or regular cotton

1 package of Warm & Natural batting, 34×45″ size (or any low loft batting, I just like the weight of this type)

Cozy to be

Cozy to be

Step One

Lay out the fabric to make sure the edges are even and straight. Trim where necessary.

Trim edges

Trim edges

Step Two

Lay the batting on your table, then lay the fabric on top. Match the edge of the batting to the folded edge of your flannel. The flannel is going to be your guide for cutting. Cut out the batting.

Cut batting to the edge of the fabric

Cut batting to the edge of the fabric

Step Three

You should now have one yard of flannel folded inside out and then layered on top of the batting. Keeping everything configured exactly like that, stitch around the open edges, leaving yourself a 6″ opening where you will turn the fabric. Backstitch to anchor your stitching.

Before turning, trim any edges.

Cut out extra bulk before turning

Cut out extra bulk before turning

Step Four

Turn your project by reaching in through the hole and grasping the other end. Pull everything through the hole. Once it’s right side out, reach back in and pop out the corners. Next, turn in the raw edges at the opening, pin closed, then stitch.

Pin and stitch

Pin and stitch

You can either just stitch it straight down the side, or you can stitch all the way around the entire project to make a more finished look. I stitch this about 1/8″ from the edge. Finally, stitch a straight line from edge to edge in the center of the blanket. This will keep the batting from drifting around and getting lumpy in the washer or when Fido digs around in his bed for the perfect spot to settle. If you are feeling really motivated you can stitch an X from corner to corner or other designs. I find that I am not precise enough to do this and I always wind up taking a tuck in the fabric, and that makes a pucker, and that bugs me. :-)

Step Five

Present to Fluffy and collect the furry gratitude you are owed for your efforts. Start to finish this project should take about 15 minutes.

Heavy sigh....

Heavy sigh….

If your pet is bigger than medium size, you can make a similar blanket using 1 yard of flannel backed with 1 yard of cotton or flannel cut into a square, and the batting sandwiched in the middle. Follow the same steps, just stitching around four sides instead of three. I suppose you could also make a kid blanket this way too.  :-)

Extending the life of a dress

Here’s a little project I did last week…

Mrs Brewer's Parlour

Our 19th century counterparts were very good at using every resource until it was completely used up. They didn’t have a local Walmart or Target available to run over and buy a replacement. Stores were sometimes a full days ride away from home, and so they stocked up on certain things, and used and reused things diligently. In their day, it was called “being frugal.” These days we have rebranded it for school kids and we call it recycling.

In a woman’s repertoire was the ability to remake dresses from one fashion to another, or to update a look with new trims and decoration. In particular with children’s clothing, it was important to make them last as long as possible because children grow! If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder, she refers to Ma “turning” hers and Mary’s dresses. This involved removing the skirt from the bodice and turning it…

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Pattern review: Simplicity 2569 Princess Dress

Melody asked me to make her a purple princess dress for her birthday, since we are having a princess themed birthday party for her upcoming 6th birthday. We looked at different pictures, I assessed just how crazy this might be, and went over to Joanne’s to buy fabric.

Princess dresses galore

Princess dresses galore

Melody selected view A, which is the blue one shown above. The pattern calls for many yards of tulle and satin, plus some tissue lame for the inset and sleeve puffs, and a little trim. Right out of the gate I ran into difficulties, because Joanne’s had two completely different lavenders – one a pink lavender and one a blue lavender. After much deliberation (no joke, easily 30 minutes) I decided on the blue lavender. It just has a more of a true lavender look to me, besides the fact that Melody already has a Rapunzel dress that is in a more pink lavender. Next, I was thinking of using an embellished chiffon in the collection in place of the top layer of tulle, but Joanne’s had exactly 1/2 yard too little.

Once that obstacle was overcome, the cutter discovered that they had exactly 1/2 yard too little of the coordinating lining fabric.

Say what, Joanne?

Say what, Joanne?

Anyway, I’m flexible, made some adjustments then went home to get this project started. I had selected an iridescent sheer instead of the tissue lame because they didn’t have a silver lame, only gold and it didn’t look good with the lavender. Let me just say, I am pleased with the results but I really regret that fabric. It was very slippery. I backed it with white satin, flatlined them and treated them as one piece. The pattern has you apply this triangle shaped piece to the bodice front in the first step, fine. But upon reading through the pattern, they have you glue the trim on at the end. That didn’t work for me because I know my daughter. That trim would be ripped off within the first day. Here’s my second regret about this dress. I picked out a really pretty sequined trim that matched the fabric perfectly; it was sold by the spool so I couldn’t open it in the store. It was elasticized! And the sequins are made from something stronger than titanium because I broke three – yes three – needles stitching it on. Now I understand that Simplicity wanted the trim to lay on top of the seam because after sewing, turning and finishing the bodice I can see that part of the trim tucks inside and it’s not a “perfect” look. However, if you use something that doesn’t have sequins, why in the world would you not sew it on? A regular ribbon or floral trim is going to be just fine stitched inside the seam and it will be a much more finished look. So there.

The rest of the dress was so easy! The puffed sleeve is a two-part sleeve, meaning you cut a small piece out of the tissue lame (or slippery annoying iridescent stuff, in my case) and apply it to a regular sleeve piece. The gathering of the fabric gives you the puff and it is really very easy. The skirt is two layers of tulle plus an underskirt. My only thought is that you really want to use fine tulle here because a rougher one might be a bit scratchy on the inside. Also, the waist is finished by turning the seams toward the bodice and top stitching. With the horrid titanium sequins I had going on, I did not top stitch that section.

I found the directions for the back opening a tiny bit confusing. They have you extend and press back 1/2″ of the tulle on the center back, but it is unclear as to exactly where it is to be placed. Looking back, I can see now it was supposed to have been folded back and placed along the zipper placement line, not the raw edge. This would allow for there to be a gap in the tulle allowing the zipper to pass through nicely and the stitching to be neat and tidy. While you won’t be able to find it on this dress, I had to do some fancy zipper foot work to make that spot work.

With those two minor criticisms, however, I’d say this is a nice pattern. It’s not a beginner pattern, but certainly not an expert level either.

But, what do you think? It fits well and I made it large so she can wear it for more than a minute. I haven’t made the hat.

Ta dah!

Ta dah!

I’m considering going back and making one of cotton for a certain little girl who’s birthday is in July.

UPDATE: I went back and made the hat. It took about 30 minutes from start to finish, and darn if I didn’t find some regular purple ric-rac that I could have used on the dress instead of the sequins! Anyway, here are my thoughts on the hat. The instructions have you apply fusible interfacing to the inside of the hat, and the pattern requirements call for lightweight fusible interfacing. If you want the hat to flop over like one of those funny men’s nightcaps from 200 years ago, go ahead and use the lightweight. Otherwise, use a heavyweight fusible interfacing. Second, they have you hand stitch the tulle to the point of the hat after it’s finished. I don’t know about you, but my hands do not fit into that tiny diameter point. I suggest either catching the tulle in the seam when you stitch that, or attaching the tulle to the fabric before the seam is sewn. Finally, my daughter just didn’t want to wear the hat for more than a couple minutes at a time so I didn’t bother with the elastic band for under the chin, but you could easily replace that with ribbon ties stitched into the hat at the time you make the narrow hem. Way more secure, less hand sewing, and actually realistic historically speaking. :-)