18th c. Embroidered Waistcoats

Without question, what most people ask me for are 18th c. embroidered waistcoats. It makes sense, since that was the first truly ambitious embroidery project I tackled, and to this day, it’s still my favorite.

Last year I made a second version of the same waistcoat, this time in much more muted grey tones on white linen, to match a linen suit my client was having made. Stitching it out again made me realize that even when the end result looks great, there are many technical details that make it difficult on the embroiderer. Copyright restrictions prevent me from ever selling that design as a product unto itself, so it doesn’t make much sense at this point to go back and clean it up.

C&B Waistcoat

However, I do want to have waistcoats in my product line, since so many people have expressed a desire for them. I was aiming for Summer 2016 as a release date, figuring that 2015 would focus on smaller borders and accessories. Luckily, I get to move that up a year, thanks to a couple nudges from the universe over the last couple weeks.

First up will be something a little simpler: a late 18th c. or early Regency style waistcoat based on this pink striped linen example in the Met. I’m so excited about this one, it went into development within a day of getting the nudge to do it! The nice part about this design is that the floral motifs would be just as well suited to women’s garments or heirloom sewing, in case a waistcoat isn’t your thing.

The second one will be a more traditional 18th c. style with a slightly earlier cut, around 1770. This one is inspired by another example at the Met. This design will take a little longer to produce, since I will also be publishing a waistcoat pattern to go with it, so you can be confident that the pattern and the embroidery will match up.

I’m so excited to be tackling these projects sooner than anticipated. I really love menswear, and I love the challenge of making items like these come to life again. These will probably only be two of many waistcoat designs I will eventually offer, so that men can have some options when picking a design.  Even though the cut of waistcoats remained more or less the same, there is a lot of variety in how bold or delicate the actual embroidery was, and I want to be able to reflect that in the designs I produce.


Costumes for Sale

I am such a sporadic blogger that I don’t know if anyone is even still reading along.  However, I am selling off some of the sample pieces I’ve featured here, and I wanted to spread the word to anyone still following.  Time to clean out the closets and make room for new projects!

NOTE: Most of these are prototype garments and may be slightly flawed. All garments have been worn 2-5 times. I’m happy to discuss details if you have any questions/concerns. All sales final.

Regency Gentleman

Men’s Regency grey wool coat lined in black silk, blue silk waistcoat, and black wool breeches. Made to fit measurements Chest 38, Waist 34, Seat 40, Sleeve 32 1/2. $400

Small issues with lining on coat, lapels on waistcoat, knee bands on breeches.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

18h century Court Suit

18th c. court suit of blue silk taffeta with pink silk lining, embellished with machine embroidery and silver spangles. Coat and breeches ONLY. Waistcoat not for sale. Made to fit measurements Chest 38, Waist 34, Seat 40, Sleeve 32 1/2. $600

Issues with sleeves (mostly hidden), small issues with lining, breeches need closure added at the knee, small flaws in embroidery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Regency Stays

Regency corded stays with wooden busk and embroidery. Cotton sateen over coutil. Mix of cording, flat steel and spiral steel for support. Measurements when worn with 3″ gap at back: 51-45-54. $350.

Prototype garment, some changes were made during the process and show needlemarks/wear where stitches were changed, most noticeably right below the busk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Renaissance Woman

Renaissance upper middle class brown wool doublet with velvet ribbon and handmade trim, slashing, and handmade buttons, lined in burgundy silk. Matching open skirt of burgundy silk with cartridge pleated waistband. Doublet and skirt ONLY. Approx measurements Bust 48, Waist 40. Skirt hemmed for someone 5’4″, but hem could be let down. $500

Slight repairs needed on button placket. Nothing wrong with this one except the size!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lady’s Victorian Ensemble

Victorian blouse of sheer sprigged muslin lined in cotton, and pink linen walking skirt lined with cotton and interlined with crinoline. Made to fit measurements 52-40-56, and hemmed for someone 5’4″. Hem cannot be lengthened easily. Lace jabot not included. $350

A few loose stitches in the lining of the blouse. Nothing wrong with this one except size. Made with Truly Victorian 1893 Blouse Waist pattern and Laughing Moon Walking Skirt pattern.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two steps forward, and one back

I locked myself out of the sewing studio for a few days, which meant no sewing at all aside from some hand-sewing I had in the house.  I finally had more keys made and a long weekend home alone, so I designated it an all-sewing weekend, and invited over a couple of friends.

My plan was to finish the black silk petticoat and get started on the Victorian outfit I plan to wear for croquet next month. I had new patterns and thread and other goodies just waiting to be used.

The petticoat was supposed to be a quick and easy project.  A simple pattern, a few ruffles, some lace, and done. The ruffles set me back for a while, but I was finally past that. All that it needed was the last of the lace sewn on, and for the finished yoke to be sewn to the finished ruffle. One seam. Easy, right?

Not so much. The seam did go together and was neatly finished, and I had a finished petticoat.  I went to try it on and was horribly disappointed. It was short. Inches too short. Also, it was all out of proportion and just looked awkward and unflattering. Uh-oh. How did such a simple project turn out so wrong?

First, the length issues are all me. I was matching the length to an existing petticoat, the one I wore for my wedding.  The two petticoats were exactly the same length, so it wasn’t an error in patterning.  After trying on both of them, I realized the wedding petticoat is just as short, and I had never noticed. The drawstring waistline and weight of the ruffles mean it rides lower than my actual waistline, no matter how firmly I tie it, and the train means that length is only an issue at the very front.  The fabric is a soft, thin taffeta, whereas the black silk is very crisp, so each petticoat also hangs very differently.  So while I perfectly matched the length I was aiming for, I really needed to add about 4″ to the black silk.

After discussing it with my sewing buddy, I considered taking out 2 of the 5 tucks, gaining a quick 2″ of length with minimal effort. However, that meant talking about the real problem with this petticoat: the proportions.

The pattern illustration shows a deep ruffle with a narrow band of small tucks along the bottom edge, with a narrower ruffle below that. The tucks take up maybe 1/5, or less, of the space on the deep ruffle, and the narrow ruffle appears to be about 1/2 the depth of the deep one.  It’s adorable.

The actual pattern creates a deep ruffle with 5 widely-spaced 1/2″ wide tucks at the bottom edge, which take up a significantly larger portion of the ruffle.  I was also expecting pintucks or 1/4″ wide tucks from the illustration, so they are much wider and much more widely spaced than I was expecting.  The narrow ruffle is also only 1/4-1/3 the depth of the deep ruffle, so those proportions look very different, as well.  I went with it because I didn’t want to recalculate the length and re-mark the lines and cut new fabric, and maybe it would look fine when it was done.

It’s “just” a petticoat, it was going to be lacy and ruffled like I wanted, so I tried not to be bothered by the difference between the illustration (and my vision) and reality.  Once it was together and on me, it was too obvious to ignore – it was frumpy and unflattering, and that wide ruffle was out of proportion to everything else.  It really needed to be shorter, and taking out tucks would only make it deeper. So much for an easy fix.

So what was left to do but take scissors to all of it?  OK, not all of it, but at least to the ruffle.  Since it needed to be shorter and the yoke needed to be longer, cutting it off the existing yoke seemed the fastest way to making progress again. But taking scissors to a pile of silk that is perfectly finished and 98% complete is sheer torture.

So now the deep ruffle is shorter by a couple inches, and the yoke is longer by quite a few inches, and everything is ready to sew together again. Is it still progress if you end up back where you started?

I hope to finish the petticoat today, barring any other major issues.  In the meantime, I did make some other progress this week:

  • The early 1900’s princess slip has been washed to remove all the stabilizer, and is ready for a final pressing and some ribbon. I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
  • Ditto for the silk corset cover that coordinates with the wedding petticoat.
  • The Armistice blouse was almost finished, but the sleeves I cut out (how many years ago?) were not anywhere close to the right size for me. I think the style is meant to be a little long, but these are just too long, and too full, and very unflattering. Luckily, I have more of the cotton lawn I used, so I just need to cut out new sleeves and then finish the hem and buttonholes. I don’t love this blouse on me, but it is very sweet and dainty and has so much work and lace in it that I really feel I should finish it and try wearing it.
  • The blue silk men’s court suit had sleeve issues, so we tackled that problem this weekend.  Lots of patterning later, we have a sleeve with an actual sleeve cap! Imagine that.  Some careful cutting and piecing of the old sleeves should make it just barely possible to cut the new sleeves from the same fabric, since there is absolutely nothing left of that silk. I still don’t know where we went wrong originally, but I’ll be so glad when I can finally call that project complete.
  • I spent a fair amount of time washing and measuring the cotton print I hoped to use for my new Victorian outfit, and was totally in love with the pink-and-green dress I had in mind.  Unfortunately, it turns out I can’t use the fabric after all, so I had to dig through my stash and see what else might work.  For now, it looks like some dusty rose linen for a skirt, and leftover Regency gown printed cotton for the blouse. It’s very different than what I wanted, but it will be pretty and slowly I am coming around to the change. I still need/want a pink and green dress, so I guess I’m on the lookout for new fabric.

Mr. Darcy Comes to Visit

This is my 2011 Double Period Project for Your Wardrobe Unlock’d.  I don’t have pictures of the process, as I was generally working in a hurry and kept forgetting to take pictures along the way.  I do have some notes, and will try to give as much background as I can.

Menswear is still pretty unexplored territory for me.  I’ve done plenty of women’s clothing, but I’ve never really been asked to do menswear.  Luckily, I have a male best friend who is willing to be my guinea pig, so over the last couple years I have been working on menswear, improving my skills, and teaching him patterning and sewing in the process. It’s working out well for everyone.


Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail features a number of lovely coats from the V&A. These detail shots were my primary inspiration. In particular, I was drawn to the pleats, buttons, pockets, collars and stitching on these coats. Details like hidden buttons and flaps that hold a pocket closed, gathered sleeve heads, and M-shaped collar notches really stood out as different and unique to this time period.

1810-20 Hunting coat with gathered sleeve heads.

1815-20 coat with unusual M-shaped collar notch.


1810 greatcoat of superfine wool with hip buttons and back pleats.


1815-20 Coat. Detail of pockets and back pleats.


The red and blue coats both have gathered sleeves, which the V&A says was a typical detail from 1815-20.  This seemed a rather unusual detail for menswear, since styles both before and after were fairly smooth at the sleeve head.  They are also both double breasted and have M-shaped collar notches, although the one on the blue coat is a rather unusual variation of that style.  The line drawings on several coats also show a seam at the waist, with a very short piece of the skirt wrapping around to the front.

Another detail that I was drawn to was the pattern of braiding on a pair of trousers at the V&A.  Braiding and military details were common on fashionable dress, although the information for these trousers speculates that were actually intended for military wear.  I liked the detail enough that I wanted to work it in to the breeches I was making, figuring it was possible in that time period, even if not common.

1810-20 trousers or pantaloons of machine-knitted cotton with silk braid.


There are very few patterns for menswear from this period.  The only one that came close didn’t have the right sleeves, collars, skirt, or pleats for what I had in mind.  That left one option: drafting my own pattern.

Feeling confident that I could tackle this, I grabbed a stack of tailoring books that had line drawings and instructions in them.  I found an illustration of a coat that had similar lines to what I was working towards, grabbed some pattern paper and pencil, and set to work.

Book number 1 seemed to be going well.  I was drawing all the lines in the diagram, calculating measurements and angles, and connecting the dots when… it stopped.  There was no more.  I wasn’t missing any pages. What was wrong? Well, the book in question was an overview of tailoring systems over a long period of time, and the pattern I was studying was only being used to demonstrate a particular tailor’s work.  Apparently, the author who compiled these systems into a book felt no need to print all the pages that went together; one page of directions and an illustration apparently sufficed to demonstrate his point.

I crumpled up my work thus far, grabbed book number 2, and started over with a fresh sheet of paper.  I didn’t like this diagram as much, and the directions seemed more complicated.  I was still laying out lines and connecting dots, but then I had to start taping in extra paper and measuring strange lines that I didn’t even have a ruler long enough to draw.  By the time I got to the armhole, it seemed hopelessly muddled.  There was no way an armhole could even fit there, and the lines for where the collar should go also looked strange.  I smoothed out my first draft and compared them, and the difference was striking.  My second draft seemed all out of proportion to what I expected to see in a pattern.

I figured I must have done something wrong somewhere, so I started all over again, only to come up with the same result. I finished the pattern the best I could, and mocked it up.  It was horrible.  It was way too big, the pleats were hanging funny, and it was wrong in so many ways. This certainly knocked the wind out of my sails and made me question my sanity in taking on this project. I called it quits, and figured the only thing to do at this point was do more research.

I ended up on Amazon, ordering several more tailoring books.  One of these books was Men’s Garments 1830-1900: A Guide to Pattern Cutting and Tailoring, by R. I. Davis.   1830 was a bit too late, but the coat on the cover looked enough like what I was after that I figured if it worked, I could adjust the details I needed.

Chris was almost exactly the measurements of the sample used throughout the book, which meant I didn’t have to recalculate anything.  It was right there in the directions, making it much simpler. The directions were easy enough to follow, and soon I had a pattern I could feel good about mocking up.   The fit was really close, and only needed a few modifications, especially from the waist up.  I also needed to change some design details, such as the shape of collar, cuffs, and sleeve heads.

One modification I struggled with was the amount of “spring” at the hip.  There seemed to be a magic measurement that would let the back pleats hang nicely without pulling the skirt out of place or looking funny in the front.  This part of the process set me back quite a while. I went back through all the books and looked for directions about how to adjust this measurement.  I drafted and re-drafted the skirt a number of times, and finally felt it was decent, but never did feel like I really nailed this part of the pattern.

It also took quite a bit of spatial reasoning to draft out a collar with that distinctive M-shaped notch.  Drafting out the collar in the book was fairly easy.  Trying to figure out which pieces would sew together and how to adjust the angles on paper to get the desired result was a lot harder. I thought the pattern I finally ended up with looked pretty good in the mock up, but later realized it still needs a little tweak to lay the way I want it to.  That’s something I will certainly address if I make the coat again.

Overall, I found the pattern in this book to be reasonably simple to draft, and would recommend the book for anyone looking for Victorian menswear patterns.  That doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near beginner level, and it might not work so well if someone doesn’t match the sample size used in the book.  But the drafting itself was a matter of drawing out lines, placing points on those lines, and then drawing lines and curves to match up the points.  If you feel like you have a decent grasp of patterning and have wondered what it would be like to tackle a pattern in a book like this, I’d encourage you to try it and see where you end up.

The breeches and waistcoat were also drawn from books. Since they were a bit simpler in shape, they were easier to create from the scaled drawings in books rather than from the drafting instructions in a tailor’s manual.   Shirts hadn’t changed much since the 18th century, and these directions for Making a Men’s Shirt were similar enough to get the basic pattern.  The most significant change was to draft a much deeper collar, so it could nearly brush his cheekbones.  Chris also requested a ridiculously long cravat that would wrap around his neck several times.


I have a little experience with modern and traditional tailoring techniques, and had a drawerful of tailoring supplies that I’d picked up during a trip to LA. What I didn’t have was much info about period tailoring techniques and materials, or a lot of time.  I knew I’d be sewing most of the coat by machine, and using as many traditional tailoring techniques as I had time for.

The result was a bit of a hodgepodge, I’m afraid.  I cross-referenced modern tailoring books, notes from school, and anything I could glean about period tailoring. A few books on period costume showed where interfacings, padding, and other hidden materials would traditionally be placed.  The materials I used were more suited to modern tailoring, but did the job reasonably well.  The wool was just a standard wool, not a superfine or broadcloth, which are slightly felted and can be handled differently.

In a couple of places I had to guess about what materials to use.  There might be a dotted line on the pattern, but no information about what weight of linen, canvas, or other interfacing would have been typical. Or when a description was given, I didn’t know enough to translate that into the modern materials I had on hand. Some of these guesses worked out fine, and others were too bulky or too limp, and I had to take it apart and try again.

I wasn’t confident in my hand sewing ability, and so I sewed most of the coat by machine. If I had it to do over, there are some areas I wish I had taken the time to sew by hand, because I simply couldn’t achieve the same results on a machine.

The M-shaped collar notch was particularly problematic. There is no way to sew those tight points and turn them right side out without blunting the tips. The period examples were so delightfully pointy, that this was a bit of a disappointment.  The V&A coats were made from superfine, which is felted enough to keep the cut edges from raveling.  The collars could be cut out in precise points, and the layers were stitches around the edges with topstitching or some kind of overcast stitch. Between fabric choice and hand sewing, they had no need of turning those same tight corners.

I also struggled a bit with setting the collar and getting all the points to match up.  Many of the problems I experienced could have been avoided with better basting and more hand sewing.

All of the edges of the coat are hand finished with a running stitch, similar to the stitching on the period examples I was looking at.  The greatcoat shows some good detail about how the back vent and pleats were stitched.  I found references to swing tacks being used to hold the pleats together, which helped the back lay much nicer.  My aim was to give the coat as much of a period look as possible, while saving as much time as I could by using modern techniques in places they wouldn’t show.

I learned so much during this project.  It had a huge learning curve, and I wish I had known more about tailoring when I started it. I can see so much room for improvement, but that really only serves to whet my appetite and get me thinking about the next coat I’ll make.

Detail of M-shaped collar notch and gathered sleeve head.


Detail of back pleats and pockets.

The finished outfit in all its glory.


Court suit – putting it all together

Sorry, this is a long post without any pretty pictures.  I was hurrying along to finish the coat, and didn’t have much time to take pictures of the progress.

I finally had the nerve to pull out all the pieces of the court suit coat and figure out where I had gone wrong.  When I left it in February, it was with the sickening realization that somewhere along the line, I had eliminated most of the neckline curve, making it impossible to draft a collar.

This wouldn’t have been so bad, but I had transferred the pattern to the fabric, since we were barely squeezing the coat out of the available yardage, and needed to know exactly where to place the embroidery.  I could tape on more paper, but I couldn’t piece in more fabric in such an obvious location.

Luckily, when I looked at it I determined it wasn’t as bad as I thought. If I moved the neckline out slightly, I could redraw the curve and meet up with the existing front edge.  This made the neckline and collar much wider and chunkier than the waistcoat, but that seemed fine to me.  Looking at period garments, it seemed several coats had similar necklines, in order to show off and complement the waistcoat.

So, onward.  More spangles. Hundreds and hundreds of spangles, reaching into the thousands.   I’d ordered two 10-gram packages (about 450 spangles each) back in January, and had to order 4 more. I have some left, but I also have several empty boxes.   I also still need to spangle the embroidery at the back vent and make two more buttons.  That’s a lot of spangles.

Luckily, my friend Chris, who is wearing the suit, was on board to help sew, embroider, spangle, lose sleep, curse, watch movies, and make tea.

Once we had spangled everything that was currently cut and embroidered, I moved on to the collar. It was drafted, the embroidery was designed, and then stitched out and spangles added.  Unfortunately, this process turned up another problem: somewhere along the line, the pieces of the coat had shifted, and the shoulders weren’t lining up quite right.  This made one side of the neckline longer than the other.  A little more hair-pulling, some tweaking of seams, and I was able to get something that fit together without too much weirdness.

The second pocket surround also needed to be embroidered, and somehow, the design did not get mirrored when it was stitched out. It meant the pocket was at the completely wrong angle on the coat.  Again, after much frustration and a few tears, we figured out the only solution.  Picking out the entire design wasn’t happening. Besides being enormously time consuming, the taffeta was just too damaged from the embroidery.  We removed the line of chainstitching that outlines the pocket, and one rose near the front.  We flipped the design, added the chainstitching back in, as close to the proper position as we could.  The old line shows in places, but much of it is hidden under flaps, buttons, and pleats.  To finish, we nudged the rose into a slightly different position, hiding most of the old stitching holes. Not perfect, but not glaringly obvious, either.

Somewhere in the middle of all this – about 3 days before the coat needed to be worn – I decided to sew the major pieces together by hand.  Yes, it was crazy, but I had my reasons.  First, I didn’t want the coat lining coming all the way to the edges of the coat.   If I’d sewn them together by machine, that is the only way I could do it.  By hand, I could do a more traditional stitch, allowing me to fold in the lining just a touch further and then leaving a little running stitch showing on the outside. As well, a sewing machine stitch is much more permanent and leaves much worse marks on the taffeta, and I wasn’t sure if I would need to adjust the seams later, when time wasn’t an issue.

The hand sewing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, or as time consuming.  In some places it was much easier than using the machine, because you can never catch a fold or tuck in a seam as you’re stitching, something that happens all to often when pushing fabric under a machine.

When it came to the sleeves, it turned out there was another issue with fit and pattern. Of course, the sleeves had already been cut out, since we were short on fabric.  I clearly remember patterning them, mocking them up, and being very happy with the fit.  At the end, however, the sleeves were much too large for the armhole, and also too long/too short in places along the armscye.  The sleeves were the last thing to go in, everything else was spangled and assembled, it was late, and the coat needed to be worn in a few hours.  I did the best I could to make them look decent, and will go back and deal with them later.

There really was not enough time in February, and even with another full week of late nights and early mornings, not enough time to properly finish this coat.  It looks decent, but I see all the issues.   It is definitely a prototype, and I learned a huge amount.  There will be another one in the future – but not too soon.

Things I learned during this coat:

  • You need lots more spangles than you think.
  • Bigger spangles have more size/shape variation, and it’s hard to sew them in a line that doesn’t look wobbly.
  • Never embroider on taffeta.  Silk satin is a dream, however.
  • Machine embroidery pulls things out of shape, making matching up with a pattern later somewhat tricky. A thin fabric like taffeta had much more pulling than the satin we used on the waistcoat.
  • Hand sewing is much easier than you think.
  • Work on the coat first! If I’d realized how tight it would be to cut out all the pieces, I would have made the breeches in satin, and only used the blue taffeta for the coat.  Instead, I went for the easy project first, and regretted it.
  • The next time I tackle a coat, I will make a meticulous mock up, including finishes and lining, before progressing any further.  I think it would have helped eliminate issues with both of the coats I’ve recently made.

18th century frolicking

Last week was a flurry of sewing. We had an 18th century event that was fast approaching, and a client’s project that just would not go together right kept pushing off my personal sewing time. In the end, I did manage to get everyone clothed, even if it meant a severe lack of sleep for a few days.

Now for photos of the fun!

The Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain were in Port Angeles this weekend, fighting a mock battle on the open seas. We attended with a local costuming group and had picnic on the pier during the battle.

Admiring the Hawaiian Chieftan before the battle.

I’m on the left, in my new gaulle and a straw hat with some hastily tacked on ribbon. My friend Zoe is on the right, in the new gown that I, bad influence that I am, encouraged her to make the night before. And of course, Zoe’s adorable baby decked out in vintage white gowns.

Tea on the pier.

We unpacked a pretty little picnic, complete with china and silver, and settled down to watch the ships. Chris was offered a spot on board at the last minute, so he rushed off and left the ladies to watch from shore.  More sandwiches and tea for us!   Based on weather reports, we expect clouds and scattered showers, but it turned out to be a glorious, sunny day.

Denise and Holly after tea.

After tea, we posed for pictures of the new gowns.  Me in my gaulle, and Holly in a new jacket and petticoat.  The jacket is listed in my laundry list from last week as a polonaise.  When we found the fabric, we only had 2 yards and decided to do a jacket. Then I found more fabric online, and we ordered it thinking I would make the polonaise instead.  The skirt was assembled and hemmed before I realized that it was the same designer, same manufacturer, and same collection – but from the next year.   Very similar, but also very different.  There was no way to put the two into the same gown, so we went back to the original plan of a jacket. It took a lot of planning to piece together a peplum and trim from the remaining fabric.  Not thinking I needed to be extremely frugal, I hadn’t been, of course.  In case we do track down more fabric, I left the back point of the bodice intact, and simply tacked it inside when I added the peplum.  I added ruched fabric trim around the neckline, sleeves and peplum, and antique lace flounces at the elbow. Holly got a new hat for the occasion, which was decked out with some scrumptious vintage ribbon.

Me posing in my new gaulle, with a breeze adding some artistic flair.

A closer look at my new frock.  The fabric is very light cotton, with a tiny openwork stripe.  It is made from fabric I picked up in LA for $2 a pound, then tossed in a pot with Rit color remover.  It turned out just right for a light floaty dress. The back is fitted, based on a Regency gown pattern that I lowered the waist on.  Two widths of fabric are gathered into the back. The front is a single width of fabric, with bodice and skirt pieces seamed at the waist. The bodice is open at center front, and tied closed with the 3 drawstrings.  I originally planned to do some sort of drop front, but was so tired by the time I got to that part that the drawstrings seemed easier. It worked perfectly, so I’ll probably stick with that method for any future chemise dresses.  The top hem and waistline seam are drawstring casings; the third casing is formed by a tiny tuck under the bust, with the tucked fabric inside the bodice.  I wanted something that was narrow, wouldn’t add bulk when gathered, and wouldn’t show through the fabric.  The tuck was the perfect solution.   The back and shoulder straps are lined with white muslin.  It is worn over my new stays, unbound and unfinished, but wearing them told me what changes I need to make before finishing them.  I wore my Regency shift under the stays, and my corded bodice petticoat over, to help muffle the lines of the stays and keep them from showing through.  A pink silk taffeta sash and a cameo were my accessories for the day. I intended to have big hair and an even bigger hat, but those will come later.  In the meantime, my curly bangs succumbed to the sea breeze and made a brave attempt at frizzing into a hedgehog.

A dapper Regency gent.

Our friend Chris in the Regency garb I made for him. His 18th century coat is still in pieces, and I wouldn’t let him wear the silk waistcoat in the forecasted rain.  Good thing, too, since he not only got to board the ship, but helped the crew manage the sails!   He’s wearing a white linen shirt and cravat, with a blue silk waistcoat, black wool breeches trimmed with soutache braid, and a cutaway wool coat, all made from my own patterns.  Chris helped research the patterning and sewing, and we both learned a lot.  I see several areas I’d like to improve in the next coat, but I dont think I could have seen most of them until he was wearing it.  If time allows, I’d love to rework the pattern and make another coat, this time with more hand sewing, possibly in time to submit to the DPP project next February.

We had such a fun time playing in our new clothes. Luckily, there are several more 18th century events coming up so we’ll have plenty of opportunity to wear them again.

A leisurely stroll on the pier.

DPP – Coat Progress and Decisions

Parts of the coat are coming along nicely:

Coat front being embroidered.

Coat pocket and lining fabric.

Coat buttons.

The fronts and back vents are embroidered, pocket flaps spangled and assembled, sleeves cut and sewn, cuffs embroidered, lining cut and sewn. Most of the major pieces are there.

That said, it’s really not ready for assembly. The DPP deadline is looming, and even with as close as I am, there is no way to finish this coat well in time to submit it for the project. It’s a tough decision. Without the coat, I feel like the submission is lacking completion, even though I am very proud of the pieces I have completed. With the coat, I feel like the submission could suffer because the focal point of the outfit wouldn’t be up to the same quality as the rest of it.

There is just barely enough blue silk to make this coat. I really don’t want to mess it up because I am hurrying. Also, the more I work with it, with this deadline looming, the more stress I feel and the less I like the coat. I need some breathing room, some time away from the project, and some perspective so I can come back and finish it properly.

So I’ve made a decision: My DPP entry will be the breeches, shirt and waistcoat. Not what I wanted to submit, but very good pieces and I am proud of them.

DPP – Waistcoat

The waistcoat for the DPP is finished. Here’s a recap of some of the steps along the way.

First the pattern was drafted, mocked up, and fitted. Once the pattern was right, I started arranging the embroidery files to fit the pattern exactly. I ended up using a sprig and rosebud as a border, with a double row of chain stitch along the edge. Pockets and pocket surround patterns were more elaborate, using sprigs of greenery and open roses to fill out the pattern.

First the embroidery was stitched out on lengths of satin:

Once the embroidery was complete, spangles were sewn alongside the double line of chain stitch, and smaller pieces like the pocket flaps and collar were assembled. Pocket flaps were then sewn on to the waistcoat fronts.

Waistcoat parts waiting for assembly.

Buttons were embroidered then spangled:

Buttons being spangled before being cut and assembled.

The finished buttons:

Waistcoat buttons ready to be sewn on.

Then everything gets sewn together. The waistcoat was backed and interlined with a plain, natural colored linen. The fronts were interlined with more linen, and lined with a natural silk taffeta. Most of the seams were sewn by machine, but the final seam along the neckline was finished by hand.

Finishing the neckline by hand.

The last steps are to make the buttonholes (always a bit scary), mark button placement, and sew on the buttons. An underlap was added during patterning so that the waistcoat edges would meet exactly when buttoned.

There were a couple major setbacks on the waistcoat.

The first one came while stitching out the embroidery for the waistcoat fronts. The pattern was broken up into pieces: 3 sections forming the outline of the waistcoat, a fill of small flowers for the body, and the pocket flap surround. I’d stitched each section individually and together, on muslin, using the same colors or very similar colors. I liked the combined effect of all the parts, right until they were all embroidered on the satin. Uh-oh.

The floral sprigs I was using as the fill on the waistcoat chest area had problems. Even though they were the same threads used everywhere else on the project, these particular flowers seemed to emphasize the darker green stems and medium pink buds, rather than the lighter greens and pinks in the waistcoat border. They just seemed really dark in comparison. Also, the floral sprig being used, while from the same set of patterns and originally used together on a period waistcoat, just felt like they were too different from the roses and buds used elsewhere. And finally, once it was all together it was obvious that the buds were too large, and placed too closely together.

I went from being totally in love with the project when just the border was stitched, to hating it once the fill was added. It was hours and hours of work, never mind the expensive materials. The question was – do I feel strongly enough about it to start over? This was the time to make the decision, before I put any more work into it. After a cup or tea and a chat, I decided that yes, starting over was exactly what I needed to do.

I started stitching out the waistcoat again, while editing a new pattern for the fill. I chose the same rosebuds used in the border, and made sure the scale and spacing was much lighter than before. The end result is what you see here:

Rosebuds pattern filling the chest area.

The second setback came when I was about to cut the embroidered and spangled waistcoat fronts for assembly. From looking at multiple period examples, it seemed that most of the waistcoats did not have an underlap for the buttons; they simply overlapped and part of the embroidered was covered up when buttoned. I wasn’t 100% happy with the idea, but it was period and it saved time (and money), since the side of the waistcoat that would be hidden would not need spangles. I kept wondering if it was the right decision, and with 2 fully embroidered waistcoat fronts laying in front of me it was finally clear: I needed that underlap. When the two sides overlapped, the embroidery on the right was almost completely hidden. Period or not, it just looked unbalanced. I had enough seam allowance to create an underlap, so a quick pattern change was all that was needed. Well, a pattern change and a few more hours sewing on more spangles.

In the end, I am very glad I took the time to re-do those steps. I absolutely love the way it turned out. It really shows off the embroidery and hand work that went into it.

Embroidery, take 2

A while back I posted a picture of a sample button for this suit. I’d selected an embroidery file I liked, and have been working with it on and off to create designs I wanted to use on this project. I haven’t really been happy with any of the combinations I’ve worked up.

I was originally very excited about this embroidery file in particular because it was all in chain stitch, like the inspiration photo, and it had both pink roses and a blue flower. It seemed to have some interesting possibilities for using pink on the suit and blue on the waistcoat.

I’ve finally had to accept a couple things about this file. First.. it’s just horribly complicated to find a pleasing arrangement that uses pink on the blue suit, but pink AND blue on the cream waistcoat. If I don’t use pink on the waistcoat it feels like two disconnected pieces, and the blue flowers disappear on the blue silk. So I’m going to only use the pink roses.

Which brings me to the next issue. I think the pink roses I am using look sort of mushy and shapeless much of the time. I keep stitching them out in different color combinations and sizes and I haven’t really fallen in love with them yet. I do love that they are in chain stich, but I think that is also the root of the problem.

So back to the drawing board, as they say. My choices of embroidery files are slim. Of the handful that are suitable for waistcoats, a couple just don’t appeal to me aesthetically. One of them is quite nice as far as layout, but I was unhappy with the stitch quality. I thought I had stitched out all of the files, but couldn’t find a stitch out of one last pattern. So I stitched out a sample and I love it!

I’ll be using bits and pieces from multiple files and patterns, but the main design elements will be a chain stitch loopy braid pattern and satin stitch roses. Now back to editing and combining files on the computer.

Fabric Selection

Fabric selections for the DPP were fairly easy, since I planned to use as many fabrics as possible from my stash. I had plenty of lightweight linen for shirt-making, and a few yards of a cotton French lace for ruffles at the front and wrists.

For the waistcoat, I plan to use the most wonderful fabric I’ve ever worked with, a lovely double-faced silk satin in a rich creamy color. For the rest of the suit, I have a beautiful cornflower blue silk tafetta. I would rather have had a second satin to use for the suit, but not enough to spend money to buy the yardage.

The fabrics and lace were originally used to make this 18th century inspired wedding dress:

18th-century-inspired silk satin wedding gown.

I think they’ll be equally stunning in an 18th century court suit, don’t you?