The Final Products

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I suppose it’s only fitting that I got around to writing this post after (finally) adding those last two snaps onto my 40s dress and extracting the two pins I had unknowingly sewn into the cuff of Ben’s jacket. It’s about time as well – just about a month since the exhibition!

So without any further ado, here are the photos of my finished costumes from the shoot:

I’m a little disappointed with how the Liberty silk looks on camera – a bit washed out and murky. But hey ho – that’s something to consider for future projects.

And then, the exhibition! This is what my space looked like:

You can just about see my (nearly) finished tutu at the back.

The exhibition was a success – I had 50 business cards at the start and 25 at the end, which I think is a good sign. Had a few CVs picked up as well, so we’ll see what happens next.

So, what exactly have I been doing for the last four weeks, you wonder? Dressing at the opera, of course! Also sending a lot of emails, working at Eureka!, and catching up on sleep. Though it’s going to get busy again soon – in November I start a three-week work placement at the Library Theatre in Manchester, working on the Wind in the Willows. Stay tuned!

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Getting There

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

half dressed

bodice

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!

Facing and Boning

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I am not a 3D-thinker. I can not look at somebody else’s perfectly faced breeches and translate them into the steps I need to take to face my own. Before this sounds any weirder, I’ll say that the facing is a bit of fabric that goes around the inside hem of each trouser leg – the same idea as a waistband. It sounded easy enough when Pauline explained it to me last Friday, but when it got down to it the whole button-stand/button flap thing was completely baffling and as a result I’ve done it Slightly Wrong. Turns out the flap that I so carefully and neatly slip-stitched into place is supposed to flap open so that you can actually button them up.

how not to attach facing

It’s not a problem really; it just means that my flap doesn’t have facing on it because I didn’t think it needed it (since it was going to be sewn down flat anyway, right? wrong) and had to budge it around so the damn facing would actually fit around the hem.

less-than-ideal solution

That’s the one I’ve adjusted; I still need to unpick and neaten up the other side. It seems so obvious now, the way the flap works, but yesterday morning I Did Not Get It. Le sigh. At least I know now, right? Trial and error, problem-solving, all that nonsense. Facing a pair of breeches will never baffle me again!

Now all I’ve got to worry about is that flap being strong enough to hold the buttons. I’m sure I interfaced it, but it it feels a bit floppy so maybe I didn’t (again, I’ll put that down to not having a clue how that bit was going to work). I brought the breeches home to fix that other bit of facing, which of course led to an impromptu fitting:

they fit! just about.

The first thing he said was, they’re too small. And I said what?! No, no they are not, they can’t be. What you think is “too small” is actually a perfect fit; you’re just not used to the way trousers fit in the 19th century. I was saying all this to convince myself as well as him, but once we got him pinned into everything (no buttons yet, as ever – sigh) he agreed that yes, ok, the fit is fine, just a bit tighter than he’s used to. What I need to do now is make damn sure those buttons at the hem go on nice and tight, because there’ll be a lot of strain on those when he sits down.

In other news, the sleeves of the jacket are well and truly finished! Properly on, lined and everything! I left myself notes for Monday when Pauline wouldn’t be here so I’d remember what to do:

notes

Here it is, the nearly-finished product:

finally!

A close-up of the collar:

could use another press, I think

I still need to stabstitch the lapel so it matches the topstitching on the collar, so I might go back in on Friday to work on that. Or I might leave it until the buttons and buttonholes bonanza.

Lastly yesterday I got all the bones into my corset! There was only one channel that I really struggled with; the rest were roomy enough for the bones to slide in fairly easily. AND the bias binding is on!! My finish isn’t brilliant but, for all intents and purposes, the corset is done. I brought it home with some lace hand-sew onto the top, more to hide some wayward stitch-in-the-ditch-ing than anything else.

There are still loads of things to do, mostly (bet you can guess) buttons and button-holes and some hand-finishing here and there. But the point is, everyone still has loads of little things to do! I’M ALL CAUGHT UP!!!

I’m going to relish this feeling, because no doubt it won’t last long.

Unfinished Business

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Here is a list of the things that were meant to be finished by now, and are not:

1. shirt
2. breeches
3. jacket
4. waistcoat
5. ladies’ period combinations

In a word, everything.

In another word, nothing. Nothing is finished, and it has been five weeks.

But does this bother me? Not particularly. It’s not only me. No one has finished anything. Some of the ladies are much closer than I am – jackets completed except for buttons and buttonholes, breeches you can wear with waistbands on – but in general we are all behind together. And that makes me feel not-so-bad.

In fact, I think I’ve done pretty well on the jacket seeing as I gave up an entire day to work on it. There’s still a ways to go, but the collar is on and the sleeves are pinned into place, so it actually looks like something! Here, look:

*hallelujah*

Seriously, arriving at the stage of setting in sleeves felt like reaching the promised land. Never mind that I need to even out the pleats and sew them in properly; let’s forget about all that for now and lookit some pretty pictures!

back view

back view detail

And yes, those are functional pockets!

So that’s the jacket. We officially switched gears on Thursday and started work on our waistcoats (which I thought I had taken photos of but apparently not so hey ho, coming soon). As much as I was hankering to actually finish something, it was nice to set the jacket aside and focus entirely on something else. Especially something fairly straightforward and – dare I say it? – simple, like a waistcoat.

Ok, well, not simple exactly. Welt pockets require a level of finesse that amounts to three hours’ work – more if you’re pattern-matching. In the end, I got the pockets done and a few bits together (I’m nearly the furthest one along, for once! It’snotaraceit’snotaraceit’snotarace), but I didn’t get as far along as Pauline had hoped. Her goal for the end of Friday had been to have the waistcoats entirely finished up to buttons and buttonholes, which on Thursday afternoon seemed reasonable. Turns out, it wasn’t.

The revised plan is to FINISH waistcoats tomorrow (god help us), and make a start on the next project on Tuesday: corsets and bustle cages. As for the unfinished Regency menswear, we’ll just have to catch up as and when we can: late nights and early mornings, for days (possibly weeks) on end.

And I’m ok with that. Like I keep telling myself, things will take as long as they’re going to take, and so what if I have to stay late and come early? It’s only one summer, might as well get as much out of it as I can, and it’ll all be worth it in the end.

All Sewn Out

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Here’s a look at what my schedule has been like for the last few days:

6.00: Wake up
7.26: Catch train to York
8.17: Arrive in York
8.31-9.30: Get to studio, catch up on breeches
9.30-13.00: Work on jacket
13.00-14.00: Lunch
14.00-18.00: Work on jacket
18.00-19.50: Catch up on breeches
20.10: Catch train home
21.20: Arrive home, eat dinner, crash.

Basically, I’ve been putting in an extra two hours every day – and I’m still behind. This is not entirely my fault. On Monday we were all meant to come in in pairs for two-and-a-half hour blocks, during which time we could spread out on the tables and cut out the fabric for our jackets. My slot was 4-6.30. When I got there at 3.30, everyone who had been on the morning and midday blocks were still there, because that’s just how long everything took. Unfortunately our tailoring tutor had to leave at bang on 6.30, which meant that unlike everyone else that day, I didn’t get an extra five hours to work. In the end I spent the entire two hours readjusting my paper pattern, and which I didn’t finalize til Tuesday. I got there eventually:

wool/cashmere blend

curtain lining (satin-weave cotton)

Turns out there are lots and lots and lots of steps in tailoring. Here are a few:

reinforcing the lapel

padstitching

A bit clumsy, but effective all the same. Padstitching is to ensure that the lapel rolls back nicely. It’s all hand sewn. This is how you know you’re doing it right:

prickly fingers

Yeah, those are my flaky fingertips, thanks to dozens of teensy pricks with the needle.

That’s as far as I got on Tuesday, and started with pockets this morning:

reinforced skirt pieces with pockets

And on it went.

reinforced center back panels

sleeves in progress

(nearly) finished sleeves

And there’s STILL loads to do.

In other news, I finally finished the damn fall front on my breeches!!

red lining!

more lining

Needs a press. This fabric is a nightmare.

janky pillars are janky

And oh yeah, I’m taking tomorrow off because Ben and I are leaving to visit my parents in Broadstairs for the weekend! Eeee! Which means I have one less day to work on my jacket… but it also means a weekend at the seaside!!

Meh. I’ll make it up next week.