Monday, June 1, 2015

HSWTF #5: Fancy Clothes Can Be Practical

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for May was "Practicality."  The prompt said something about princesses needing grubby clothes too, so of course I made a silk dress for this challenge AND made it fit the theme.  Disregard the constabulary!

Well, no, actually, it was because I had an old dress that didn't fit anymore and needed something relatively fast and forgiving for Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance over Memorial Day weekend.  Also, to be fair, my living history projects have been HEAVILY weighted toward the practical end of the spectrum.  For 1860s I've splashed out for silks and fashion-plate inspired garments, but my 1812 and 18th century clothes have mostly been sturdy, sensible garments.  Therefore I feel no guilt at all in re-purposing a nice dress, making it over into another outfit, and calling that practical.  It is practical.  And period.

Some of you may recognize the skirt.  You can see it here in its original form, with a matching pink silk bodice.  I always liked that dress, which was inspired by an 1863 fashion plate.  As you can see in those photos, I was significantly larger when that dress was made.  I tried it on to see if it was salvageable for this year, and both my arms fit down inside the bodice with me.  I would have had to take the whole bodice apart, which sounds much less fun than making a whole new top!

The new look is inspired by another 1863 fashion plate, along with another from 1861.  This type of ensemble would have been fairly fashion-forward, not typically what you would think of as a practical kind of outfit.  However, remembering how many hours I spent on the skirt trim alone makes me think that re-using it can't be anything but practical in this case!

To re-use the skirt, I unpicked it from the waistband in the front and re-pleated it to fit my new waist size.  The sheer waist and corset cover were adapted from the same Laughing Moon pattern I've used since I started doing 1860s, with a modified Full Bust adjustment because my proportions in a corset are a bit problematic.  That's one thing about weight's not necessarily predictable, and some areas lose faster than others.  I my case, my bust did shrink...but so did everything else at various rates, so now I'm out of proportion according to clothing manufacturers and pattern-makers.  I guess I shouldn't complain, but...what size shirt do I buy?!

Oh, and I suppose I should mention that the corset cover (which you can't see except through the waist), is actually made from parts cannibalized from my old corset cover, so if nothing else...THAT is practical!

The Swiss waist (the little black belt/corselet thingie) was draped on my mannequin, which I dialed to approximately my measurements.  It ended up a teeny bit small thanks to turn of the cloth and the fact that I am wearing at least 3 layers under it, but I actually like that.  The lacing showing in front is quite fetching and you see it often in period photos, and it means that I might be able to eke out another couple events in this even if I lose more weight.  Or change shape.  I left the side seams exposed inside for future alterations as well, so further adjustments will be fairly easy (she said, optimistically.)

All in all, I am very pleased.  I've always liked that skirt and I'm glad it has a new life with this outfit.  I also am always in favor of plans that maximize time and minimize stress, like re-making an old outfit for a new season!

Historical Sew Monthly TL;DR:

What the item is (and what practical things you can do in it): Corset cover, sheer organdy blouse, and black silk Swiss waist, paired with a re-purposed silk skirt trimmed with velvet. The practicality comes not so much from choice of materials (obviously!) but the fact that the outfit re-uses a skirt from a dress that became much too large for me to wear anymore after I lost ~60lbs. I had a relatively tight deadline to figure out an outfit for a big event, and so re-sized the skirt to my new waist measurement and completed the upper garments to freshen up the look. In addition, the new corset cover also works under my sheer dress (not pictured here) and replaces an old one that ripped irreparably when I tried to re-size it.

The Challenge: #5, Practicality

Fabric: Cotton organdy from my stash (thanks Ginger!), Pimatex from Dharma Trading, brown polished cotton from Needle & Thread (also stash), black silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics.

Pattern: Laughing Moon #111 for corset cover and waist, self-draped for Swiss waist

Year: 1860s, first half of the decade. I took inspiration from fashion plates dated 1861 and 1863, as well as from photos from around those years as well.

Notions: Gutermann sew-all, cotton, and silk thread, Coats buttonhole thread, bargain-bin hooks, silk ribbon for lacing Swiss waist, antique china buttons.

How historically accurate is it? I really don't like this question. My sewing skills are nowhere near what you see on originals, so in that respect I'd say at most 10%. In terms of looking quite like the plates that inspired me, the percentage is much higher, but it's very simple in comparison with those--the waist could easily have insertion lace, or ruching, or both...etc.

Hours to complete: Too many. Many, many episodes of Burn Notice and Midsomer Murders played during the making of these garments! The Swiss waist and corset cover were relatively quick, but I had fits sewing on the sheer organdy.

First worn: Sunday May 24 at Greenfield Village Civil War Remembrance.

Total cost: Surprisingly little. I took quite a bit from the stash and each individual garment didn't take very much fabric. Maybe $50?


  1. Given the time period, is is also period-correct to re-purpose old clothes. ;)

    1. Very much so! Next step would be making it over to fit my younger sister (except she wouldn't wear a big fluffy pink skirt in real life!) ;)