Getting There


I don’t really know where to start. Maybe with my calico fitting?

half dressed


We could also call this episode, “In Which We Discover a 23-inch Waist Is Only Possible for Ten Minutes, After Which Fainting Becomes Increasingly Probable.”

True, breathing was difficult, but for the first few minutes I thought I was just about managing to get enough oxygen. Then I told Pauline that my hands were tingling and was that normal, and she said no, that’s normal, do you need to sit down? And I said no I’m fine, so she carried on pinning and prodding until finally I said actually we need to take all this mess off and loosen the corset before I collapse, thanks very much.

Fortunately, everything still fit after letting the corset out to 24-and-a-half inches at the waist. Everything, that is, except the petticoat, which suddenly as it turns out needs the waistband taking off and the front pleats letting out. Le sigh.

So that was a few Fridays ago, and then the following Sunday it was off to London for fabric shopping. Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush, with its dozen fabric shops all up and down two blocks, is like a microcosm of LA’s garment district. It’s funny how one place can seem so like another despite their being 6,000 miles apart – I’d never been to Goldhawk Road before, but it felt familiar. It was nice.

We got back from London late on the Tuesday night, so Wednesday was a leisurely catch-up day which, for me, meant one thing: BUTTONS.

the finished product

More on that later.

Thursday that week was spent cutting out all the fabric, which was only a small nightmare when it came to the striped taffeta for my apron and bustle drape. I made the mistake of marking up my bodice fabric, because I had completely forgotten that we’re flat-lining all of it which meant I had marked up cotton. Oh well – I’m hoping once it’s all together you won’t notice the faint blue marks showing through. As we had staggered cutting out times and my slot had been Thursday, I had Friday off. I had taken home my combinations and breeches to finish off, so now those are done too! Huzzah!

And then Monday came (again, far more difficult after having two days in a row to sleep in), and it was time to make up the skirt. I thought it’d be an easy task since I didn’t have to make a new skirt – I just had to do the hem and put a placket on the calico skirt I wore for my fitting. Calico is fine, you see, because there’s a separate pleated panel going over it in the proper dress fabric – and there’s the rub.

Reasons Why Making a Pleated Over-Skirt Sucks
1. Having to handle ten meters of fabric at a time: five of the lining, five of the proper fabric
2. Having to flat-tack, by hand, five meters of fabric
3. Having to mark pleat lines down all five meters
4. Having to hem five meters
5. Having to pleat up five meters
6. Having to pin pleated panel accordingly and watch as all the pleats fall out

I’d say of all of those, #5 is the worst. I couldn’t press the pleats on the ironing board because the weight of the fabric just kept pulling the pleats flat. In the end, I moved the ironing board next to my side of the table, got an extension cord for the iron, and was on my hands and knees on the table top pressing my pleats. Sadly there are no photographs of the process, but here is the result:

Two days, right there.

Which the next day became this:

now we’re getting somewhere

Which the next day became this:

striped apron

And finally, this!

apron and bustle drape

I’m especially pleased with how symmetrical I managed to get the bustle-y bit at the back:

ahh, symmetry

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.

Next week, the bodice. Bring it.

…And coming soon: My Own Mr. Darcy, Part 2!

Bustle, Bodice, & Buttons


There’s nothing more debilitating than having a few days off. Going back to York on Monday, I had the same groggy feeling I get when I wake up exhausted after finally getting the sleep I thought I needed. I spent the whole day in a dozy fog that I couldn’t seem to snap out of. Fortunately it was a day spent drafting patterns for my bustle dress, so it wasn’t too demanding and I managed to not fall behind. Good start.

So, that was Monday. I spent all day Tuesday cutting out and making up the skirt and drape, and all day today draping the bodice. Here are the fruits of my labor:

foundation skirt

bustle apron back view

bustle apron front view

bustle apron and drape

draping on the stand

finalized bodice drape

So after I got to that stage at about 4.30 this afternoon, it was a mad rush to get the proper toile pieces all cut and sewn together. The goal was to be finished by 6; I left at 7.20. I think I made damn good time considering I am generally quite pernickity and slow when it comes to sewing, and these are all awkward curved seams.

Tomorrow it’s sleeves and decoration samples (in my case, a whole lot of box-pleating), and then it’s fittings on Friday!

And oh yes, I chose some buttons for my menswear! …Which, as it turns out, I only photographed with my phone and not my actual camera which means you’ll all see them later. But trust me, they are nice. We’re staying late tomorrow night so those of us who need to (i.e. me) can catch up on our buttons. Finally, I might be getting somewhere!



Today was all about the jacket.

I had my pattern drafted by lunchtime and got it all cut out in calico not long after that. Surprisingly, the sewing was pretty quick too. Here’s where I got to by the end of the day:

side view

front view

back view

For tomorrow’s fitting I’ll need to sew the shoulder seams, make up and tack on one sleeve, and make up and tack the collar. Oh, and thread-mark all the finish lines. And put the collar on that damn shirt. I’m pretty confident I’ll have enough time to do it all since the fitting isn’t until 5.30, but I might go in early just in case.

Did I mention that Ben Hull is my model? Conveniently for me, he is 5’10” with a 40″ chest and a 34″ waist – exactly the sizes that the basic patterns fit, which means I haven’t had to mess about making adjustments. Hooray! I mean sure, it would be good to learn how to adjust a pattern for size, but there’s plenty of time to do that later with garments for my petite frame.

This time tomorrow I’ll be sharing photos of Ben in breeches. Be excited.

Exercises in problem-solving


After yesterday’s exhausting marathon, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. Haphazardly rushing through the steps and not listening properly to instructions for the sake of Just Getting It Done is tiring, frustrating, and entirely counterproductive. There is no point taking a course on how to make period costumes if I am just going to barrel on through without doing anything properly or paying close enough attention to ever remember how to do it again, whatever “it” may be. So, no more of this maniacal insistence on finishing things within an unreasonable amount of time. It takes as long as it takes.

With that in mind, the morning got off to a cracking start. I had my calico waistcoat made up by mid-morning, and my breeches sewn up by mid-afternoon. Here they are!

waistcoat – thread-marked and all!

breeches – obvs not for me

So once those were squared away (we’ll learn how to put in the split-fall on Friday), I moved on to drafting my jacket pattern. Now this was certainly an experience – flat pattern drafting! Actually, wait, isn’t all the drafting I do flat? Anyway what I mean is, rather than start with a mini-pattern on a grid and scaling up (which is what I’m used to), today’s pattern came in the form of several diagrams and a list of instructions, like so:

knowing what this means makes me feel clever

See the part at the top where it says “Continue the lines across from A, C and D”? No, neither did I. Which is why I ended up having to sellotape the piece of paper with my completed center back panel back onto the larger sheet from whence it came, having sliced it off content that part one was complete. I didn’t realize that the instructions for the rest of the jacket pieces carried on based on the first few points on my newly severed pattern piece.

sellotaped pattern. whomp.

The other minor setback was when I realized that I had, about a dozen steps back, accidentally drawn a dot somewhere up 4 1/2 inches instead of 5 1/2. I only noticed after I drew the curves for the armhole and thought gee, that looks awfully small. Fortunately going back to fix it only took up about an extra 10 minutes.

corrected armhole

Despite a bit of faff, I quite enjoyed this new exercise. It felt a bit like math class, or building lego. I think so far pattern-drafting has been my favorite part of the course, if only because progress feels so quick. 10 minutes of drafting and you have something that looks like something. 10 minutes of cutting and you’re still messing about with swathes of polycotton trying to get selvage edges to match.

And what of the shirt, you wonder?! WELL, as it turns out, only one cuff needs to be on for the fitting – just to check that the sleeve length is right. So, just as well I only got one on, because it just might so happen that Ben’s arms miraculously change length in the next two days! Which means that all I need to do for the fitting on Friday afternoon is put the collar on! I say “all” as if it’s not a fiddly tw0-hour job. Here’s hoping.

Tomorrow is finishing the jacket pattern, cutting it out in calico, and if there’s time left, sewing it up. No hurry though – Ben’s fitting isn’t until Friday at 5.30, which leaves two days to do, at an optimistic estimation, a day-and-a-half’s work. We shall see how it goes!