Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dress dreams

I've been gone a while. I know.


I've been making a new dress for my local Renaissance Faire.

By hand.

Yeah, I know, I know. Those of you who know me personally know I'm nuts already. Those who don't... well, now you know.

I've had requests to document the process of making my dress, and I put it off for the longest time, thinking “well my skirt's already partly done...” or “it's already mostly done” or “that takes time I don't have.”

I'm calling bs on myself. Sure, my skirt's already mostly done, but that doesn't mean I can't document what I have, and the process until it's done. Also, time I don't have? I'm definitely calling bs on myself – if I have time to play WoW every night, I have time to take a few minutes a week to update a dress diary.

Why am I doing my dress by hand? Because I can. And I'll let you in on a secret: parts of the dress will be done by machine.

I started off with a lovely blue linen, and an idea: a split-front kirtle. I had no idea what I was going to do, other than that. But, I knew I was going to make one – so I had to have a plan for my skirt.

I decided that, since my underskirt (which was already made, taken from last year's garb) is three panels, my overdress needs to be at least as full. Next time I make an underskirt, it will be less full. And, because I like to keep things relatively easy and like I've done in the past, I decided that two panels would be in back, and the front would be one panel split in half.

That was rather daunting. So, instead of jumping right into my skirt, I decided to add a guard to my underskirt, first. To make it coordinate with this year's dress.

What you see here is my underskirt – a rather pretty brown, though drab. I promise, it's not as beautifully rich chocolate brown as it appears in the picture. I have issues with lighting. All those little dots around the guard are pins. I stabbed myself a lot.

Underskirt done, I knew, this was it: I had to cut into my lovely blue linen and start my skirt for my kirtle. I took a deep breath and (remembering to make this year's skirt three inches longer than last year's... yeah, I'm kind of embarrassed to look at pictures from last year) cut the first two panels for my dress.

Have I mentioned I'm also using period seaming techniques? It's actually rather sturdy, though time-consuming. I learned what I could from Extreme Costuming, and I was off.

For those of you who don't know period seaming technique, let me enlighten you. First, you iron raw edges down, just like a hem. Double-fold them in, just like a hem. Then you sew it down with a straight(ish) running stitch. Sounds pretty simple – and it is. Do this on both pieces of fabric you need to seam together. Then put your two pieces together, right sides facing, and whip stitch the edges. You heard me. Whip stitch them. The picture you see is of my two pieces pinned together, waiting to be whipped. (*grin*) When they're whip stitched together, you can pull them “apart” and the seam will lay flat – it's very very sturdy. I'd trust a seam sewn like this to last more than I would trust a machine-sewn seam.

So, I sewed my skirt together. And cut the third panel out, cut IT down the middle (split front, dontchaknow), hemmed, seamed, etc. then it occurred to me: gathering the back just won't work. I have several yards of fabric in the back two panels; the bodice they're going to be gathered into is only a foot wide in the back. I had problems with this last year. Uh-oh. Solution: cartridge pleat it! But, this presents another problem: cartridge pleating will effectively shorten my skirt. And I don't want that. Sooooo I had no choice but to cut out a 4-inch strip the width of the back of my skirt, hem it, seam it on, etc. That's a week of my life I'll never get back. Want to see the result, sewn in?

Pretty ugly, huh? It's ending up on the bottom, with the visible seam just above the guard. (This picture is of the inside, but it shows you what a puzzle my skirt is turning into.)

So, skirt is FINALLY sewn together. Now I get to add my guard. I had no idea what to use! I'm broke, don't have any fabric that will work... ACK! This is where I have to say, I love my friends. One of my faire friends had the perfect solution: she needed her dogs watched for a day, I needed fabric which she had. Guess how I got paid for puppy-sitting. I ended up with a beautiful light peach/pink almost gauzy linen.

My guard is two inches wide, sewn right to the outer hem of my skirt. I'm so pleased at how it's turning out!

The only thing I'd forgotten to take into account is how MUCH skirt I have. I ended up needing 234 inches of guard – that's 234 inches of hand-sewn seam, twice (one for top and one for bottom). That's 468 inches of hand-sewn hemstitch. Ouch.

Anyhow, the end result is that two months later, four weeks from opening day, I have most of a skirt done. Want to see?

That's my skirt, draped over my couch. Notice it's a three-seat couch. Notice how folded over itself the skirt is. (Also, notice that only half of the guard is sewn down – guess what I'll be doing for a while during WoW breaks.)
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