Redonkulous Sleeves, plus Hilarious Notes from the Workwoman’s Guide

Last up, I made a bodice!

Next, I needed to figure out how to do ridiculous late 1830s sleeves. By this point, the fullness had collapsed at the top of the arm, leaving you with all the fullness from the elbow down. Kindof like a bishop sleeve on steroids.

I chose to make my sleeves as two pieces; an upper and a lower sleeve. You could do them as one piece and pleat the top down to fit snugly, but pleats don’t show up very well on a narrow stripe fabric so I didn’t think it would be worth it. Also, I want to be able to use this dress as an evening gown, which I can do by removing the lower sleeves and just leaving the upper part.

For the upper sleeve, I grabbed the sleeve pattern from Truly Victorian 440 (which I have never actually used). I figured this would fit the off-the-shoulder bodice armscye well enough. I didn’t use the whole sleeve, only the top part which would be above the elbow.


Then I mocked it up and put it on. Of course, this sleeve was way too big around, when I wanted something close fitting around the arm. Sheesh, looking back at the pattern it was super obvious this would be wide. You’d think it was the first time I’d ever seen a sleeve pattern before… I ended up taking out about 6 inches of width from the bottom.

For the lower sleeve, I first tried scaling something up from The Workwoman’s Guide (see below) but I didn’t like the shape. So I went to the old standby Janet Arnold. I started with one of the giant 1830s sleeve patterns, but left off the top part so as to approximate a sleeve starting at elbow length.


Yes, this is a sleeve pattern.

I made a mockup, and pinned it onto the upper sleeve with some fabric scraps to see if I liked the double-ruffle look I had planned.



Looking good! I cut the sleeves out of fabric and lining fabric. I interlined the top opening with a strip of crinoline to keep them nice and poofy. This is accurate for 1890s sleeves, but not so much for 1830s. I think they only used separate puffs at this point to keep sleeves large, as none of the examples in Costume In Detail describe a stiff interlining.


I kept a note pinned to the right sleeve the whole time so I would know which was which until it was finally sewed on.


With a bias binding at the top and a cuff at the bottom, sleeves are finally done!

And now for a detour –

The Workwoman’s Guide is a book from 1840 aimed at middling class women on various domestic arts, with lots of emphasis on sewing and clothing construction. You can download it for free on Google Books.

Among other things, it also has advice on packing, drying clothes, folding clothes, mourning clothes, etc. I figured something for lower/middling women of 1840 would be perfectly valid for upper class women of the late 1830s. It had some useful notes, plus some hilarious notes which I’m including down below.

“It is a good plan to line silk and merino, or stuff gown bodies, with strong linen or brown Holland as it keeps them in shape, by preventing them from stretching.” ( pg 106)

  • Check! I used an old sheet to line the bodice and face the hem of my dress. It was fairly stiff with a lot of body, and it reminded me of the color of the brown polished cotton you often see in dresses of the time.

“Checks are becoming to tall people, and stripes to short ones, as the former rather diminish, while the latter give an appearance of greater length to the figure than is natural to it, in the same way that a striped paper makes a room look higher, than one which is checked, or of which the pattern goes round instead of from top to bottom.” (pg 106)

  • Hah! I happen to think I would look fine in either, but I did use a striped silk for this dress. It is left as an exercise to the reader as to whether I’m getting an appearance of greater length.

Cap for a young lady – this is a pretty cap for a young lady or invalid as it is not liable to be crushed by lying on a sofa.

  • Lol. I do a lot of lying around on a sofa, but never in a cap.

“A widow’s cap is a very difficult thing to make well, and looks particularly slovenly when ill put together.”

  • *clutches pearls* Not a slovenly cap!

“Bustles are worn by those whose shape requires something to set off the shape of the gown. They should not be too large, or they look indelicate, or in bad taste.”

  • I do plan to make a small bumroll (bustle) to wear with this gown, just to add a bit of extra oomph. But certainly not a large enough one to be in bad taste!

Next up, frantically working to get the dress into a wearable (if not finished) state before Dickens.

Posted in 1830s, Ada Lovelace dress, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ada Bodice

Lol, once again I failed to make this costume in time for Halloween. It was for a good reason – in my tailoring (coat making) class, after 6 weeks of trying and failing with my teacher to get a coat pattern to fit, she asked if I would mind starting over and drafting the pattern myself. She said that I really should just make all my own patterns going forward, since it would be faster than making a commercial pattern fit.

So, after cursing the universe REPEATEDLY, she was totally right, and in 2 weeks my self-drafted coat muslin was a much better fit than the other had been in 6 weeks, but that meant I was 6 weeks behind in class, and still had to draft the coat collar and sleeves. So no time at all for holiday sewing. I wore my Eliza Schuyler dress to a party and that was great!

New goal, have this ready to wear when I go to Dickens with GBACG in a month?

Here’s where we left off:

I started with the bodice base from my 1850s evening gown. I’ve learned more about fit and pattern making since this version, so I knew I wanted to make the fit better. I also raised the neckline, moved the opening to the front, and cut off a 2″ piece from the bottom to be replaced by a waistband.


I originally had taken in the top of the front seam in order to make it curve in and not gape over my bust. I’ve now learned the proper way to make this kind of fix – I added extra back to the seam to make it a straight line, but took out the same amount by slashing and overlapping from the neckline to the darts. This kind of alteration is called contouring.

IMG_1635 copy

Hopefully this makes sense. The same amount that was added to the front was then taken out in that overlap. By slashing to the darts it made the dart openings bigger. We basically moved the fabric from the neckline to the waist, then took it out in the darts.

After doing that I made it into a surplice/wrap front. To do this you extend the front out in that triangle shape, but again have to take some length out by slashing to the dart to avoid the gaping you often see in wrap dresses.



Early mockup, looking pretty good except for that collapsing by the arm at the bust. I’ll add some padding here in the final version.

I don’t know much about draping, but here I messed around with draping some muslin over the lining in order to get a pleated look for the front. This dress form is not very me-sized, but for a single pattern piece it works well enough.


It worked well enough for me to do in the actual fabric! Although you lose some of the pleating effect due to the stripes.


The inside. Random pleats don’t just stay because you ask them nicely, or even ironing them. These pleats are tacked down from the inside through the bottom layer of the pleat so they aren’t going anywhere.


I really love this little detail – the shoulder strap has a line of gathering, and some piping where it attached to the back shoulder.


So now it is Halloween and I am still only up to working on sleeves. Time to speed run if I want any hope of wearing this in 2017!

Posted in 1830s, Ada Lovelace dress | 8 Comments

Re-kickstarting Ada Lovelace

So 2 years ago I posted that I was going to make an Ada Lovelace costume for Halloween. I don’t know what was in my brain, that I could finish an elaborate costume the same month I got married.

So that didn’t happen. I had even mentally repurposed the mini purple-on-purple stripe now in the stash to be this 1890s dress:

Aaand then some jerkwad decided to post a memo on various topics including how women were biologically unsuited to work in the tech industry.

(I’m not linking to it because dude got enough attention. Note, all eyerolling here is my opinion, and not the opinion of my employer.)

So my coworker Bunny (she of the idea to do suffragettes at Costume College as a subtle protest against the extreme vile twatwaffle that is American Politics right now) said we should dress up as Ada Lovelace – the first woman programmer – as our own form of protesting as women in tech.

Feminist Halloween costume hell yeah!

So the purple stripe got re-re-purposed to be Ada Lovelace again, and I got to work.

I decided to stray further away from the complete shenanigans that is the dress in one of the few Ada Lovelace portraits, and use it as a general inspiration to make a purple dress from 1838.

My first plan was to make it with detachable lower sleeves, so the dress could double as a day dress (with the longer lower sleeves, a chemisette, and a bonnet) and an evening gown (with shorter sleeves, a lower neckline, and clowntown 1830s hair). Amazingly, after I decided to do this, I actually found two extant gowns where this was done!

According to the website, this is a “Printed wool challis dress with detatchable sleeves.”

1838 dress from the Museum of London

1836 dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. #1988.105.5a–d. I loved this top so much I considered doing this instead, but I really wanted poofy lower sleeves.

And the detachable sleeves!

I took inspiration from a hodgepodge of other gowns to create something recognizable from the era.

I plan to do a surplice (also known as a wrap or crossover front) with pleats like so:

Silk day dress from Augusta Auctions

It will have two ruffles on the upper sleeve:

And some sort of poofy monstrosity on the lower arm:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, #1984.89

Piping and gathering on the shoulder straps:

Dress from Manchester City Galleries

A big ol’ bias flounce on the skirt going up the side:

Really this dress ended up being everything I’m looking for in one

And while it seemed to be less common, 1830s dresses could open in the front, as seen here:

Unless someone is taking some serious artistic license, I don’t see a back closure on that left dress.

Same on the green dress

And a real dress that closed in front.

I haven’t found any evidence of evening gowns opening in the front, but I value dressing myself really super highly so I’m going for it anyways.

Now that this is posted, I’m nearly done with just the bodice top. Which is a corded petticoat and sleeve pattern behind where I wanted to be by this point in the month… At this point I don’t have any concrete Halloween plans anyways, so I may just dub this a dress for Dickens and re-wear something else for Halloween.

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Costume College – Saturday

Lol, my last post was about how I was posting about Costume College a month late. And this post is a month after that one.

Saturday during the day, I was so happy to wear the updated version of my Eliza Schulyer dress. It looks so much better with trim on it!



Not in love with how the ties to draw up the skirt are behaving. Need to move them around.



The trim is strips of taffeta which have a scalloped edge cut with pinking shears, which is the closest I could get to the 18th century scallops-on-scallops look (which was originally done with a punch and a hammer).

I had helpful cats while sewing this.

The kerchief is from a Larkin and Smith kit. It’s got ruffles on the edge, but I tucked it into my dress since I wanted the buttons to show. I used the leftover ruffle fabric which wasn’t gathered into the ruffle to make the sleeve ruffles. It’s entirely handsewn – I originally thought it would be a fast project but I learned my lesson when a 9 hour flight back from London had me only finishing the hem on around half of the kerchief (without even starting the ruffle).

I bought the cap from Polly’s Wardrobe on etsy. It was a phenomally good price for a handsewn cap, especially when I learned how much I hated doing stroked gathers from the ruffle on the kerchief. Bonus when wearing a cap – no need to do hair!

While in that dress I took a class for making tiny steam punk top hats, which was super fun and I need to do this will all of my friends. Sometimes it’s nice to just get out the glue gun and cardboard and go wild.

I stayed in 18th century for the whole day and wore my sack gown for the gala.


The color looks so different in different lights


It’s fun to take up an entire chair!

Sunday I wore my Melisandre dress to the fantasy tea, but ended up without any photos.

And with that, CoCo was over, and my brain is entirely eaten up with ideas for costumes for next year! But there is Halloween and Dickens Faire and Jordan Con and my tailoring class to get through first…

Posted in 1700s, Elizabeth Schuyler, Lady Moiraine's Sacque Gown | 2 Comments

Costume College, Thursday and Friday

Only a month behind, that seems pretty on top of things for me and this blog, eh?

The pool party night was Disney themed so I pulled out my old Elsa costume, since that seemed like a pretty good excuse to wear it again. I did make a new undershirt as I wasn’t thrilled with the last one. I bought a new wig from Star Force Rebel Cosplay as she was having a sale.

And oh my, that wig ended up a lot bigger than I expected…

I’ve also got enough of a widow’s peak to make hard-front wigs problematic.

Andrew Schmidt: Costume College 2017 Vol 1 (TF) &emdash;

With other Disney princesses (plus a few villains)

The combo of the extreme wig width plus my hair showing in the front made this kinda eh, even if it was super fun to sweep around in my cape. I’d still like to redo the top of this one of these days to actually give me a waist, but that’s so far down the list I doubt it will ever happen.

Friday during the day I wanted something nice and easy to wear, so I pulled out the Mad Men inspired dress I made for my sewing class. Turns out adding pantyhose, heels, an updo, and a vintage hat instantly turns this into a vintage look!

Being sassy in the hotel room

Due to the utter bullshit that is American politics, my friend Bunny loosely organized a group of suffragettes for the Friday night social for a wee bit of subversiveness. I joined the legion with my Bubblegum Titanic dress I made last year.

I made a “Votes for Women” sash with some cotton from my stash, plus some poly satin ribbon from Joann. For some reason I had it in my head that the suffragette colors were yellow and purple – turns out green and purple became more common, but yellow and purple was also a thing.

So many excellent suffragettes in varying time periods!

Punch the Patriarchy!

Posted in 1910s, Bubblegum Titanic Dress, clothing from this century?, Elsa, Fantasy/Scifi/Cosplay | Leave a comment

Eliza Schuyler Skirts and first wearing

After fitting the bodice, time to turn to a part I was dreading – the skirts. Me and knife pleating are not friends.

I let my perfectionist tendencies go, and pleated this without measuring! Without counting!

It did take several tries to get the two sides the same length.

Looks fairly even from the outside:


But lol this is what happens when you flip it over and check the inside.


You can tell that I did the left side (from the inside) second, but I was not about to undo the right side to redo it.

I laid the bodice on top of the skirt on the ground to figure out how to pin it, since the bodice has a deep V point. Popped it up on the dress form to check, and holy cow it looks like a dress!



At this point I went into whiz-bang-sew-all-the-things mode because I needed to have the dress done for the Hamilton Ball, so I have no more photos. My attempt to alter the sleeves from my francaise gown ended up awful, but I was able to call in my friend Bunny again who heroically saved the day and draped new sleeves on me.

For the front buttons, I bought wooden button molds from William Booth Draper. I cut out circles of fabric and went over the edges with fray check. I did a running stitch around the edge of the circle and pulled it in, creating a nice little pouch for the button. Then I did a bunch of random messy stitching to try and hold the button together. Last, I cut circles of white felt and whipped it onto the back of the button, to cover up the messy stitching, and also give me something to sew onto when attaching these to the bodice.


With that, I promptly ran out of time before I could add any trim to the dress or make a hedgehog wig before the Hamilton Ball, so I dubbed it wearable.




“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal”




Despite the fact that the right shoulder kept wanting to fall down, and my stays and shift wanted to poke out the whole evening, and it desperately needed some trim, I still felt pretty awesome in this! Next up, photos from Costume College where I actually managed to fix (some of) those things.

Posted in 1700s, Elizabeth Schuyler, Georgian | 3 Comments

Eliza Schuyler Bodice Fitting

Warning, picture heavy post.

Because I’m cheap frugal, I didn’t want to spend $30 for a Larkin & Smith pattern, so I figured I would scale up Janet Arnold and hope for the best. I used one of the Snowshill gown patterns, and cut it with 1″ seam allowance so I would have some wiggle room, since the pattern measurements weren’t wildly far off from mine.

Of course, despite hoping that this would be one of those times that a pattern magically fit perfectly the first try, lol of course it didn’t.

No pictures available of v1, but the most major change I had to make was moving where the strap started in the front, since it was practically under my arm instead of in front of it.

Here was v2:





What is that nonsense under the arms


Checking in with the 18th Century Sewing facebook group, the general advice was that the waist was too long (which was causing those wrinkles), and something funky happening at the underarm as well. They also pointed out the back pieces looked too big, and I should take a bit of width out of them. The center back seam did have a lovely shape though, and I was able to see the deep V I was looking for.

So, made more changes and on to mockup 3. I have no actual photos of this one either. I ended up cutting too high up the hip, and planned to put some of that back. The biggest issue was that there was some looseness around my shoulder blades on the back, which of course is the least reachable part of the body to fix yourself.

Friends to the rescue! My friend and coworker Bunny has made oodles of 18th century dresses before, so I met up with her to do the final fitting. She pinned in the bodice here and there, and I was able to land on the 4th and final mock!





Finally time to start cutting the real thing. I used some leftover linen for the lining. I really wanted to handsew the whole thing, but at this point I was running out of time until the Hamilton ball, so parts that wouldn’t show needed to be by machine.

Here is the back lining pieces. They were sewn together at center back, and the seam allowance was sewn down to form a casing for the boning. (If you look at Janet Arnold, it looks like these Italian gowns all had some amount of boning in the back to keep the deep V shape from flipping up.)


The seam next to center back is a fake seam – it’s just a little tuck in the fabric to look like an extra seam, but isn’t actually a separate piece. I ended up needing to unpick this seam the first time, because I forgot that I wanted the tuck to go through silk and lining fabric the first time…

The silk is on the other side of the back lining. Here I’ve placed the next piece of the lining on where it will be sewn:


This is what it looks like from the right side:


The basting on the right is to hold the silk and linen together before the next piece is sewn on. Since it’s a curved seam, it might wiggle.

After pressing:


And from the right side:IMG_1463

Then the side piece of silk would have the seam allowance pressed under, be placed on top of the side lining, and topstitched on.

Repeat for the other pieces until bodice is complete!

(Since this dress was made, I took an 18th century dressmaking class from Janea Whitacre, the head mantua maker at Colonial Williamsburg, and learned just how off my techniques are. They aren’t totally wrong, but everything would have been draped on the body and not made from a pattern, and that makes a difference.)

Posted in 1700s, Elizabeth Schuyler, Georgian | 2 Comments