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Titantic “Flying Dress” – Gets a work-over

It needed it.  Something.  A little “bling” as it were.

As many of you know, Sir Harry of Essex and I are historical costumers and belong to Somewhere in Time, Unlimited (SITU).

A few years ago, SITU held a Winter Event called “Titanic – The Survivor’s Ball”.  There was a 13-piece orchestra, 7-course Edwardian dinner, the lady guests came in beautiful Titanc inspired gowns, while the gentlemen arrived wearing swallow tail tuxes.  It was very elegant indeed.

In time for this event, I had designed and put together the same navy blue velvet top that Kate Winslet had worn in the “Flying” scene.  Mine is very pretty with the heavy lace center piece, but the collar looked rather naked.  I think I’ve solved that problem.

Top of collar with lace flower vine.

The Butterick pattern calls for this contrasting lapel area to be beautifully set apart from all the velvet.

I found some interesting vine patterned stitching which was attached to net backing.  Probably intended for a VERY expensive gown (the product was $60 per yard), I chose instead to stitch the vine carefully by hand onto the lapels, removing the the netting as I worked.

In this photo, you can see the lapel top area, as well as the dupioni white silk which I had over laid with heavy bridal lace which I found at JoAnne fabrics.  The vine lace, which BTW matching perfectly in tone with the outfit, I found at Nancy’s Sewing Basket (a specialty store for the discriminating seamstress), located on the top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle.

Lapel area at bottom with lace vine.

Why did I want several years before I attached the lace?  Well, in the beginning I didn’t have time to get the lace onto the garment in time for the event.  I just kept the lace handy so I could put it on later.

 Well, “later” finally showed up.  Sir Harry and I were invited to a swanky cocktail hour with the French-American Chamber of Commerce.  They were holding a Belle Epoque event at the Arctic Hotel in downtown Seattle.
The organizer, Madamoiselle Casey, had seen Sir Harry and I at a Port of Seattle Centennial Celebration, where we appeared in 1910 attire.  There, Sir Harry wore a frock coat and Banker’s hat, while I wore a custom designed and made 1910 day attire. 
The large blue hat I wore, I personally replicated from an historical photo I had found some time ago.  Each of the ivory fabric roses on the hat were hand crafted and sewn into place.  There are a few Swarovski crystals which have also been selectively sewn into place on the roses in order to reflect some sunlight when worn in a parade.
These are the same outfits we wore in a documentary movie directed by Vaun Raymond for the Port of Seattle.
Fun clips of this documentary are available on the SITU Seattle website if you have interest…
I digress.  Back to the French event –
Sir Harry and I were requested to arrive “fashionably late” at 7 pm.  We did so.  Upon our arrival, we stepped off the elevator and were “announced” to the massive crowd who had gathered for the evening’s entertainment.
At the event, we also spotted our local friends, the Baron and Baroness Von Kleinschmidt.  We chatted briefly and then began circulating about the room greeting people.  Several members of the French Chamber expressed how delighted they were in our appearance at their event, stating how we lent such color and classy flavor.  Several of the gentlemen had arrived in tuxedos.  The Baron and Sir Harry were both wearing swallow tail tuxes and white tie, along with the obligatory top hat! Very classy event put on by the Chamber!
Here are a couple of photos of my finished “Flying Dress” work-over, an image of Sir Harry, and then one snapped indoors on an iPhone by an attendee of the event.  If you’d like to learn more about Lady Victoria and Sir Harry of Essex or Somewhere in Time, Unlimited, please visit the website.  We look forward to having you “come dress up with us” soon!!!


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Victorian Bustle Era Dress

What else conjures up the image of a Victorian bustle dress better than an outfit complete with ruffles, lace, extensive pleats, swagged overskirt and plenty of trim?

With impending holidays looming in the near future, this historical costumer decided to tackle the construction of a bustle outfit (or dare I say two?) in time to be all festively decked out with ample “junk in the truck”!

Having already visited several fabric/textile stores in the general Seattle area, I had scoped out and then purchased, my stash.  Additionally, I had attended an estate sale, managing to pick up wooooonderful Pendleton wool fabic in smaller yardage quantities, but I think I can make it work.  Victorian fashions after all, seemed to be about as colorful as the homes in which they lived!

So where to begin?  Fortunately, Lady V already has a beautifully constructed corset, originally designed and built by the famous Marie Cooley of  “The Fitting Room”  Over this would be a corset cover (just bought a pattern for a new one!), followed by, ta-daaaah, “The Bustle”.

What exactly IS a bustle, say you?  Most simplest of terms, it’s the cage, wires (padding too), contraption, covered in fabric, which holds all the subsequent layers of the outfit away from the body.

For my complete outfit, I chose to work with patterns designed by the sisters from “Truly Victorian” patterns. 

The photos I am showing you here, are of pattern TV101.  Laying out the pattern was very easy and the instructions to put the item together, were also very straight forward.  With very little exception, I think that even a novice could understand the directions enough to put this together.

To make life easier and so that I had sturdy wire to use, I ordered the correct lengths of wire from Truly Victorian.  These arrived with the ends of the wire beautifully covered with “tips” to protect my fabric from fraying, due to the stress of being bent and straining to pop flat again.

One of the big challenges of the garment, was to sew down channels for the wires to travel within.  I used a wash-out-able, pink marking pen to designate where I’d need to stitch down the channels.

My friend, Miss Bobbie, who had already created the same garment before, advised me to use heavier fabric as my base, to help lessen the wear from wire from punching through thinner fabric.  The only place where I have used this heavy fabric thus far, is in the triangular back section which will house the bustle wires. 

Keeping this in mind, I chose to use a left-over, flat-fold item that appears to be white duck, twill, or possibly denim as my base.  To create the channels, I chose not to cut strips of fabric.  Instead, I purchased enough length of corset bone channeling, plus enough for turning and double-thickness for the ends.

Lickety-split, this part of the project went together  quickly.  Now it was on to preparing the length of fabric which would become the ruffles to cover and hide the structure created by the wires.

The bottom flounce and subsequent back ruffles, are all created from white eyelet.  The flounce has a 3″ hem.  I also clean finished all the seams using a French seam method.

On the inside, I was instructed to sew strings, ribbons, tape to hang down loosely inside the structure.  These would be tied together eventually (left to right), forming the “u” of the cage needed for “Da Look”. 

As you can see, I used ribbon instead of string.  The type is flat and has the little “bumps” along each edge.  My reasoning (tho I might be incorrect in this assumption) is the more texture = better traction to hold the bow the ribbon gets tied into in order to hold that “u” shape of the wires.

Next up: Ruffles.  Good GOD Margo!  How many yards are we talking about?  I sewed all the 13 strips, end-on-end together. For a moment, I thought it stretched as long as my house is wide.  Then I clean finished the “hem” edge of the entire long strip.  At this point of assembly, I’m tired.  I either need medical attention, caffeine, or assistance from the mathematical and carpentry genius – Sir Harry of Essex – to help me measure and cut the long strip of fabric into the pattern specified lengths for each layer of ruffle (there are 7 of them in my case) used.  At least the pattern designers were smart and started with the longest ruffle first, or we might’ve committed hari-kari… (wink)

Like a knight on a white horse, the shy Sir Harry rode in to save the day!  He whipped out his reading glasses.  Firmly grasping on the fabric and tape on one end, he worked to measure the accurate lengths before snipping them.  One by one, I then ran a row of basting stitch on the unfinished long edge.  Working together, we then proceeded to pull the stitching up and pinned each layer to the correct position on the back over panel.  What a guy!

One question we figured we’d face on Monday was, “Sooooo, Sir Harry, whatcha do Saturday night?” 

To which his reply would be, “Oh, I was busy sewing and pinning ruffles on a bustle….”  What would you give to be a fly on THAT wall???

The panel went together quite well and easily.  The far edges of each layer were then caught into the clean-finishing along each side of the panel.  Very clever, very tidy!

I had added the waistband at one point in the process.  Realizing how much stress is put on a waistband’s hook-and-eye closure and the likelihood of the fabric being stressed (okay, I’m fat….), I opted to make it out of the same heavy twill fabric together with the fashion fabric. Turned out well, we think.

Once I have all the pieces of the Victorian bustle outfit completed, I will post photos of each garment on-body so you’ll have a better idea of how they will work together.

Now, I’m on to sewing the “underskirt” of silk, as the next step in the project.  It’s quite beautiful fabric.  Has that one-way it’s beige and another-way it’s burgundy sort of weave.

Oh, Sir Harry – I’m gonna show you how to help me make a “poof” in the skirt….

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What Women Wore in 1910

So you’re doing research what people wore in 1910?  Interested to see what you too, can make as a custom hat, befitting the era?  I’ll show you.  My example is probably intended for someone of a higher status in society, but the results are quite lovely.

To begin with, yours truly has been a very bad reporter in recent months, but I hope I shall be making up for lost time!

In a previous post, I had informed you of a workshop provided by Somewhere in Time, Unlimited, wherein the attendees were encouraged to build a hat from scratch using buckram, wire, beautiful fabrics, trim, and decorations.  The workshop was quite affordable and Miss Mary was a terrific instructor.

My hat’s inspiration came from an image I’d spotted in the New York Public Library collection of images.  Someone had sent me the image, saying how it reminded her of Lady Victoria’s style.  Oh, how I immediately fell in love with the design! 

So, being a good historical costumer, I promptly brought a copy of the image, blown up large, to the workshop to learn how to recreate the hat. 

Now fast forward to August.  The members of Somewhere in Time, Unlimited (a historical costuming group based in the Seattle, Washington area of the United States), were invited stroll the vast grounds of the LeMay Car Museum in early 1900’s attire.  Lady Victoria of Essex chose to represent 1910, exactly.  The LeMay Car Museum is the largest privately owned collection of vehicles.  Although there is a new facility under construction, many of the cars, trucks and unusual equipment are still housed in two locations – Marymount and the LeMay Estate.  I digress.

When I was planning the structure of the hat, I took into consideration that I wanted to have it come out almost to the width of my shoulders.  I’d need a LOT of heavy buckram and at least one pass around the edges with thick wire.  My teacher voiced her concern whether this was a good plan.  I push onwards.  Weeks were now invested into the construction. 

Navy blue ultra suede fabric made the hat plush and gave it depth to the onlooker, as if real suede had been used.  Hand sewn fabric roses were stitched in 2 sizes to mimic the roses in the “inspiration” image.  A super large satin bow created out of fine quality satin and back-supported by 2 layers of interfacing and 1 layer of Wonder Under, gave the bow the stability to form giant loops on the back of the hat.

After having assembled the multiple layers, stiching into place the many fabric roses, the large bow completed the festoons.

My dress is actually a 2-piece outfit, using thrift store found and reclaimed fabrics!  Again, I turned to vintage images for inspiration.  Since there aren’t any dead-on patterns out there presently (for what I wanted to create), I turned to what I had already in my collection of patterns in the hopes of doing some creative alterations.

The bodice of my outfit was fit EXACTLY to my form, first in muslin over the corset, then cut and sewn in the final cotton fabric.  The skirt is a version of a Butterick pattern I used for my alterations.  In the original pattern, it suggests 2 layers of fabric for the skirt. 

I decided that I wanted to have the lower layer to be pleated.  My first attempt was to borrow my friend’s pleater, a cardboard sort contraption which many quilters use.  Didn’t work well with the thickness of the gold fabric.  In the end, I had to hand pleat the entire length of fabric, pinning it at 1.5″ with a 1/2″ or 3/4″ return.   Together with the gray-green fabric over the top, the skirt has beautiful movement when walking, whether at the LeMay Museum, or in a parade!

Here are the images taken at the LeMay Car Museum grounds. 

I hope you enjoyed these images.  If I can be of any help to you or answer questions, feel free to contact me.  Very best of luck in creating your own beautiful outfit!  LadyVictoria “at”

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Civil War Re-enactment, in SEATTLE?

Most folks don’t realize that “Civil War Attire” or “Re-enactment Attire” falls right into the Victorian period.  Well, it does….

Just this past weekend, several members of my costume group called Somewhere in Time, Unlimited got all gussied up in 1850’s +/- garb and showed up at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) here in Seattle, Washington for their “Living History Day”.  There were several groups of the official “reenactors” from Fort Nisqually, Fort Steilacoom, The United Daughters of the Confederacy Robert E. Lee Chapter 885, and of course not to be left out, the Washington Civil War Association!

I was so fortunate to sit in on the fashion show provided by the ladies & gents of the Washington Civil War Association.  Their attention to detail on the garments was incredible.  The woman dressed in white who narrated the fashion show said she originated from the east coast, but I found she was very well informed about the styles of the era and shed a lot of insight about life and clothing back then.  I enjoyed her presentation very much indeed!

Out “on the field” as it were, one could find many, many men dressed in beautiful Civil War attire complete with their sabers, bayonets, canteens, and well choreographed movements.  As the weather here in Seattle was a bit chilly, I didn’t hang out long to admire them, but wish I had had a heavier sweater with me so I could stay outdoors to watch what they were doing.

Inside, later in the afternoon, a fine gentleman dressed as Abraham Lincoln was welcomed and escorted into the museum on the tones of drums beating.  The crowd made-way for “the President” as he slipped easily through the path on his way to making a presentation indoors.  The room was literally PACKED with people waiting to hear his speech and then enjoy tea with the president.  By now I was feeling faint from all the bodies in the room and I thought of all my “sisters” who lived in the South, plagued by the heat and humidity while wearing their corsetts and heavy dresses.  My heart went out to those women!

Martha McCainFor those of you interested in the Civil War era, perhaps the trip I have planned for December 13-20, 2008 will pique you.  My husband and I will be traveling on the world famous American Queen sternwheeler from New Orleans up the Mississippi to Vicksburg.  We will be visiting a number of the famous sites and homes along the way.  I have several patterns by Simplicity and McCalls that I was hoping to get sewn before we leave.  It would be nice to wear something pretty and “in character” in time for the Captain’s Dinner on board the ship.

If you’d like more information about the trip, go to: click on Dress Up Opportunities and then scroll down in the 2008 column looking for the photo of the American Queen.  You’ll be able to see interior pictures, rooms and pricing.  If you are interested, there is a link in which to contact me back for your discounted rate.

I’d love to see photos of any of you having completed a Civil War dress or suit.  Feel free to contact me and let’s chat.  We might have to sip on a mint julep

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Edwardian Walking Skirt

If you haven’t had the chance before, consider sewing this lovely “walking skirt”,
#209 by Folkwear

With the passing of the Victorian era came the Edwardian era with a bit more free-flowing lines – at least as far as skirts are concerned!  Think back to your Grandmother’s photos with the huge hair-do, hat, wider skirt and perhaps playing croquet on the lawn!

Personally, I have made the #209 pattern.  The instructions were very easy to follow.  For me however, since I am more chubby, I had to add the equivalent of 1 extra panel at the side back.  This advice came from my friend Pippin who is a Member of Somewhere In Time, Unlimited, a historical costuming group located here in Seattle, Washington.  I simply took the “side back panel“, made an extra one and then split it up the middle thus giving me two pieces which I slipped in on each side behind the hip .  This gave me the extra width in the waist area I needed and the fullness at the back where the gathering then looked correct.

Another thing I did was to take simple cotton (in white/offwhite) and self-line each piece of the panels.  This means that when I sewed the dress together, I was sewing the green “outside” fabric panel and the white cotton “inside” fabric as one unit or “set” onto the other “set” of matching pieces so that I could sew a seam.  By making French seams which encase the raw edges, this assured me of a strong and clean seam as well as a self-lined skirt that has beautiful drape!

My friend Bobbie (also a Member of Somewhere In Time, Unlimited) has sewn the same skirt but out of a blue fabric.  Instead of making the usual hem and hand finishing THAT by hand as I did, she managed to insert a special ribbon which gives the edge a good sturdiness as if she had used a horse-hair ribbon.  It looks great!

The next pattern I want to sew to go with my skirt is Folkwear blouse #205the Gibson Girl Blouse #205I’ve already bought all the lace to go between the white cotton.  This should be lovely and light in time for Summer when I go to a number of picnics.

If you’d like to see us in the identical skirts, hop on out to the SITU website (click here) and you’ll see Bobbie in the blue skirt and I in the green.  We dressed in 1907 garb to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the renowned Pike Place Market located in Seattle, WashingtonIt was a beautiful day, not too hot or cold.  The organizers of the function didn’t know that SITU was coming, so it was quite a surprise to see beautifully dressed ladies strolling about the market as if the on-lookers had stepped back in time.  Even the local T.V. station KOMO 4 not only interviewed us, but used our images for the “teasers” for the evening news hours! If you click here, you will see a short video about the day, but you’ll have to wait for a short “commercial”….

I would love to see photos from ladies who have put this skirt together and the accompanying story of why you sewed it.  Did you hold an event or do you simply like to dress in period?

If you have a passion for historical costuming and live within driving distance to Seattle, contact me.  We’d LOVE to have you join us for an event orDress-up Opportunity“!

Fond smiles from Seattle, located in the lush and green N.W.,
Auntie Rita