Tall Hat, part 2

It’s been fun to make this hat and brush off my millinery skills, so much so that I’ve been spending a lot of late nights in the studio working on it, even though I don’t plan to wear it before late June. As a result, I finished it much sooner than I expected!  I took advantage of having Holly around during daylight hours to get some shots of me wearing the hat, so that you could see the scale of it on a real person. It definitely ended up big!

Front view

Front view

Side view

Side view

I don’t really have progress photos between the mulled frame and the completed hat, partly because the change from ivory batting/flannel to white velvet wasn’t really dramatic enough to bother taking pictures of, and partly because I got caught up in the work and forgot to stop for pictures. The top of the hat and crown are covered with white cotton velvet, and the underside with aqua silk taffeta, with more taffeta binding the edge of the brim. Here is it after assembly but before most of the trim was put on. I opted to pleat the underside of the brim, even though I could have saved some hours by using a flat lining. I am happy with the finished effect, however, and glad I put in the extra time.  I also fidddled with the hat band for hours, trying to figure out the best way to cut it out and stitch it on, and ended up with a shaped band barely stitched down at all. It was the only way to have it lay smoothly across the crown and not distract from the shape, which I wanted to show off as much as possible.

Assembled hat, before trimming.

Assembled hat, before trimming.

I figured a floofy bow and some feathers were the obvious choice for trim, but they needed to be big enough to suit the hat. I wanted something full like the bow on this hat, which I ended up constructing of 2″ wide tubes of silk, to match the width of the band at the base of the crown.  After playing with the silk for a while, it was obvious that the large loops I was making would need some extra support, so each one is individually wired and gathered. The wire isn’t very noticeable, but gives just enough support to keep some fluff in each loop. Each loop was stitched to a circle of buckram, padded and covered with a scrap of silk. This gave me something to stitch the loops to firmly, as well as a bit of dimension to build the bow around.  It also means the finished bow could be stitched to the hat itself with a minimum of stitching, which in turn meant less handling of the hat during construction.

Padded buckram circle and individually wired bow loops.

Padded buckram circle and individually wired bow loops.

Big loopy bow ready to attach.

Big loopy bow ready to attach.

I also spent some time building the feathers into something lush enough for this hat.  I used three ostrich “plumes” in total, each made up of three feathers pulled from an assortment of 18-24″ plumes and 17-19″ drabs. The first was a 24″ long beauty of an ostrich plume which had a graceful natural curve to it, backed with two slightly damaged plumes. Then I built two shorter “plumes” from 17-19″ drabs topped with a shorter, less pretty plume. Each was then shaped and steamed and fluffed before being attached to the hat. The longest plume wraps around the back of the hat, arches up, and droops delicately over the edge of the brim, where the tip of the plume is secured with a swing tack so it can move, but not too far.

One drab out of the package, and three drabs sewn together, shaped and steamed.

One drab right out of the package, in front, and three drabs sewn together, shaped, and steamed, in back.

I set the feathers and the bow fairly far back on the hat, to keep most of the tall sloped front of the crown visible. I placed the bow about halfway up the crown, rather than flat on the brim. The feathers were arranged so that the two largest sweep around to the side opposite the bow, and the final one crosses over the back of the hat in the other direction. I may eventually add some other trim in the back, but for now I am really pleased with how it turned out! The inside is lined simply with white taffeta and a grosgrain band.

Finished hat from the front.

Finished hat from the front.

Feathered side of the hat.

Feathered side of the hat.

Back view.

Back view.

Bow detail.

Bow detail.

 

Reform Corset

One of my current client projects is a reform corset to be worn with a WWI nurse’s uniform. This corset presents an interesting challenge because while there are plenty of old advertisements to be found, images of existing corsets are hard to find and often don’t show much detail. Back views are even harder to find, although there is a Jaeger corset at the V&A with a photo that confirms they do lace up the back. In addition, the closest pattern I’ve found is Ageless Patterns’ corset waist for a 12-14 year old girl, and the V&A corset is also sized for a young girl, which isn’t very helpful when drafting a pattern for a grown woman.

Patterning the second draft.

Patterning the second draft.

So I’ve been slicing and dicing the pattern I do have, making it bigger, adding curves, and adding style lines similar to those on the V&A corset. My first draft was for the rough shape and size I would need, and the second draft focused more on the proportions of the front panels. Luckily, the photo in Underwear: Fashion in Detail appears to be nearly life sized, at least around the neckline and bust. I’m basing this on the fact that the buttons in the photo are approximately 5/8″ and the twill tape binding is about 1/4″, both of which make sense with the scale of the overall garment. The buttonhole openings are 3/4″ wide, measuring from seam to where the edge is bound, which is right for a 5/8″ button. So even though the overall proportions are smaller than what I need, I was able to get some valuable measurements that I could apply to my own version.

I’m not reproducing the Jaeger corset exactly, although I am drawing heavily on it for inspiration.  I’m leaving in a hip gusset from the Ageless Patterns corset, because several the other reform corsets have this detail and it seems useful in fitting a woman rather than a girl. I love the pleated bust gusset, but since my version will be in cotton and my client wants it to be washable, I’m doing a gathered gusset, which is actually more common in the other examples I can find. I don’t see any need to change the width of the buttonhole placket or the straps, other than length.  I intend to copy the method of making buttonholes by leaving spaces between folded and topstitched pieces of fabric rather than by cut and bound buttonholes, because I find the detail very attractive and think it will be sturdy, as well. I also like the quilted detail on the back of the straps and all the cording, so those will also be in my version.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

The second draft fit really well, and my client reports that it is very comfortable.  The bust gusset starts at a good point right under the bust, but needs a little more fullness in the gusset itself so the gathers don’t have all their fullness pulled out.  The straps are a little short and I’d like to fine-tune the shaping on some of the pieces, and make the curves a little more elegant. It doesn’t need many changes, however, and I’ll be moving on to construction this week. Before that can happen I need to experiment with the fiddly details, like the strips of fabric that make up the buttonholes down the front and on the straps, and how to cord and bone it without losing too much width and making it smaller than it should be.

Also in progress for this client are a pair of chemise-drawer combinations, to be trimmed with tatted lace and embroidery made by my client’s grandmother, the beginnings of a 1912 long and narrow corset, and a princess slip. I’m also busty checking off items on my personal project list. I started an 1830’s corded petticoat and the 18th c. tall hat was finished over the weekend, with pictures coming soon.

18th c. Tall Hat

I love really enormous hats, but have never actually owned one.  Well, I did try to make one years ago, but it wasn’t exactly a success and it got crushed in the process of a couple moves, so it seemed like a good time to try again.

Last year after Costume College I picked up some delicate silk and cotton sheer fabric in an aqua and white stripe, some aqua silk taffeta to match, and some vintage grosgrain and velvet ribbons to trim a potential hat.  At the time I wasn’t sure if I would go late 18th c. or 1910’s, but either way I envisioned something with a sash and a big hat. I don’t really do 1910’s, and I love 18th c., so I finally decided to use the stripe for an 1780-90’s open robe and make a giant hat to go with it.

I really love the curved shapes of these hats, as well as slightly sloped tall hats like these, so decided to combine the two.  As a starting point, I used the pattern for my Renaissance tall hat, which is slightly sloped top to bottom as well as front to back. Just as a guess, I widened the brim 6″ all around. After making up a paper mock up in tag, I ended up scaling it back just slightly, taking 1″ off the sides and 1/2″ off the front. The existing measurements on the sideband of the crown and the head opening on the brim didn’t quite match up, so I enlarged the brim opening, making the oval slightly wider at the back than at the front. It wasn’t my intention, but I liked the way it looked and thought it enhanced the fact that the crown is also taller in front.

Any hat needs some wire for structure, but one this large was going to need a LOT of structure. In one of my books two methods are listed. 1) a continuous piece of wire bent back and forth around the brim, or 2) smaller loops of wire attached at the edge of the brim and at the head opening. Method 2 is what I used on my first big hat, since it seemed easier and maybe used a little less wire.  I was always unhappy with how it turned out, however, since there were lots of poky ends of wire and I felt like every join acted like a hinge, allowing the hat to flex in ways I didn’t want it to. So on this hat, I tried the method with one continuous piece of wire.

I felt like I should lay out all the wire and get it bent into shape before zigzagging it onto the brim. However, millinery wire is springy, this is a lot of hat, and I couldn’t predict exactly where my bends should be until I was right on top of them, so I ended up just winging it while stitching it down. I did take care to keep the wire as flat as I could, although getting the brim through my sewing machine sometimes meant I had to bend things more than I liked. Still, it turned out more or less flat, and I was happy enough with the somewhat irregular wire placement. Next time I think I’d pencil in some guidelines instead of completely winging it, but I think (hope) this will work just as well. I’m not 100% sure I like the shape of the brim in the front – at some angles I love it, and others it looks clunky, but since it’s already wired, I’m not changing it!

With the brim wired, I decided to start to bend it into shape before I covered it with anything. While you can shape a hat somewhat after construction, I wanted to make sure I had enough ease in the outer fabric that it wouldn’t strain after I shaped it.  This shaping also led me to a patterning decision I hadn’t yet considered – do I shape the sideband of the crown or leave it flat?  It’s really hard to see the join between the crown and brim in most illustrations, because there is so much decoration on the hats. This one shows the crown deeper in the front and sloped up along with the brim at the sides, but plenty of others look like the crown could also be a straight line all around. The difference is somewhat subtle – the outer edge of the brim can be shaped into a curve either way, but it will either continue the curve all the way to the crown if the crown is shaped, or flatten out as it reaches the crown if the crown is straight.  I decided that curving the crown would help support the structure of the curve I was building into the brim, rather than possibly fighting against it and/or weakening the join between the crown and brim.

Luckily, the sideband is the piece not already wired, and it was easy enough to change the shape before I got any further. I ended up raising it almost 1″ at the sides, blended in at the front and back. I had the forethought to measure it again and found that this change shortened the circumference of the bottom edge by 3/4″.  This meant that the previous sideband I had cut out could no longer be used, but cutting a new piece was simple enough at this stage.

From there it was easy enough to join the new sideband to the tip, and get the frame ready to be covered. Since the extra wire would be on the underside of the brim, I decided to mull this side with a layer of cotton batting to help hide the lines of the wire. The top side of the brim and the crown will be covered in velvet, and could do without mulling, but I think a layer of cotton flannel makes the velvet look a little more plush without blurring the edges of the hat as much as the batting would. I also used cotton flannel for the bias around the wired edge of the brim and top of the hat.

Now I just need to get it covered in the outer fabrics and decide on trim. Here’s the construction so far:

 

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The calm before the storm

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I took some time last week for a thorough spring cleaning of the studio. It’s amazing what odds and ends linger in strange places long after a project has ended, and it felt good to get everything back into it’s proper place and all the surfaces cleared off. We also moved in a new piece of furniture – an antique cedar chest that belonged to my wife’s grandmother – so we had to do some trial and error to figure out where it fit best. In the photo you can see it in the back left corner.

So now that everything is cleaned up, it’s time to make a mess again! This is going to be a very busy spring in the studio, with many projects lined up. Here is the current to-do list:

Embroidery – I’ve been working on a line of machine embroidery designs that are currently in the testing phase, and which I hope to release for sale this spring. That means lots of stitching out, making samples, and taking pictures. As well, I have an 18th c. man’s waistcoat of white linen that I am embroidering with a floral design in shades of grey and white.

Client projects – I am working on several big projects for a client. On the list are a WWI ambulance driver’s uniform and nurse’s uniform, a 1912 silk suit and all the underpinnings, and some early 1920’s lingerie.

Costume College projects – I’m also thinking ahead to this year’s CoCo, especially since last year’s weight loss means my closet is empty! On my list are 1830’s underpinnings, a day gown to match a lovely red bonnet I have, and crazy hair to wear with the underpinnings for Sunday undies. I also plan to make a new 18th c. chemise gown and open robe, new stays, and a fabulous new hat. I have a partially-completed pink silk striped gown and raspberry pink petticoat that would be nice to finish for the gala.  If time allows, I’d like to finish a 1950’s day dress and a Gatsby-inspired day dress to wear to classes (and summer picnics!) We’ll see how far I get on this project list, since they have to work themselves in around everything else.

I’m really excited about this list, and as luck would have it, some projects tie in nicely with this year’s Your Wardrobe Unlock’d competition. I hope to have better luck blogging this year’s projects, since they aren’t secrets, rush jobs, or boring renovations of costumes I didn’t originally make.