1837-41 Morning Dress Patterns of Fashion 1 – Highly Commended Award

In this post I’m going to go over my process for my entry into the 2020 Costume Society Patterns of Fashion Award. This will cover my planning, research, toiling, fabric selection, construction, styling, final judging and a reflection on my experiences.

Deadlines for the competition were as follows,

7th of December 2019 – Deadline for application form
This application form registers your interest in the award, it is essential to do if you plan to participate.

30th of January 2020 – Deadline for submitting a slideshow containing images of the finished garment both interior and exterior, toile process and any other relevant information
Note that normally the Costume Society Conference would take place later in the year for final judging where (if selected as a finalist) you would bring your finished garment, a research file, work book, copies of the pattern/relevant POF book pages and any other material you felt necessary to judging. Because of this the powerpoint does not need to be overloaded with information just key details of your process.

Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Costume Society Conference could not take place this year and judging happened online via video chat. 


Planning

Planning for the competition began at the end of my second year, one of my tutors organised for any interested students to come to a meeting after our final hand in to discuss the competition, look over the garments we were interested in and discuss our decision.  This wasn’t a final decision, there was all of summer to reconsider but having the discussion then would allow for research and planning to be done over the holidays.

I had narrowed my choices down to three dresses,
1837-41 Morning dress, 1827-9 wedding dress and the 1745-60 jacket and petticoat (All from Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion 1)

My biggest consideration when selecting a dress was that I wanted it to be hand sewn, hand sewing a dress was seen as a bit of a taboo in the 3rd year studio as everything is so time critical. My tutor did attempt to dissuade me from choosing a hand sewn dress, citing a previous student hand sewing a dress and how much time it took them and the stress it put them under.
But I was pretty determined, I knew that a completely hand sewn dress would be a stand out piece of my portfolio it would also allow me to further develop and refine my hand sewing skills, immerse myself in period techniques and engage with primary and secondary resources which is one of my favourite aspects of historical dress.

When it came to selecting a dress I decided on the 1837-41 Morning dress – Gloucester Museum.
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My reasons for selection this dress over the other two were as follows,
It predates the sewing machine fulfilling my hand sewn criteria. I believed it would be achievable to make in 12 weeks, this is due to the simple base cut of the bodice and skirt which are embellished upon with decoration.  Sourcing materials would be straight forward, as I wanted to reproduce the dress in its entirety (The Costume Society does suggest making from calico or other neutral fabrics to reduce costs but this is a just suggestion)  the fabrics used for the original dress would be straightforward to source or find a modern substitute for.
My reason for not following the suggestion of using neutral low cost fabrics is simply because I knew I would be putting a lot of time into the costume, that it would be on display at degree show/in my portfolio and that I had the intention of selling it. I could not justify making it from plain fabrics, I wanted it to have the same grand appearance as the original and stand out in displays and also for it to be profitable.
I understand not wanting to use expensive materials for financial reasons and that is a decision down to each individual.
For perceptive the material costs for this garment was approximately £250.


Research

As mentioned above I wanted to use my summer break to get all of my research done for the dress in time for my return to university. My top priority was enquiring if I could view and examine the original dress, it did take me a while to get in contact with someone at Gloucester Museum to arrange an appointment but I was successful in doing so. At my appointment I met a curator who showed me to the dress which was laid out on a table, I was given a pair of gloves so that I could move smaller elements of the dress on my own and the curator helped me with turning the dress over.
I must have spent three hours looking over the dress and I took hundreds of pictures of everything imaginable. I also took notes as I went over the dress but I really found the pictures to be my best point of reference. While my notes were great sharing the pictures  with my tutors was very helpful when I got stuck. I really recommend taking as many pictures as possible and of everything, even simple things such as the stitching on the hem as it will just give you a visual reassurance even when it seems straight forward.

I do plan to make a separate post containing all of my images I took of the original dress (or maybe a public google album). For now if you would like them please get in contact and I can send them.

In addition to viewing the original dress I also viewed three other dresses from the 1830’s in the National Trust Killerton Estate Textile Archive. I found viewing these dresses really beneficial to my research and it gave me a broader view as to how dresses were constructed during the period. In addition to this each dress had a similar attribute to the 1837-14 Morning Dress, the brown dress had a very similar cut bodice, the plaid dress had similar smocking on the sleeve and the girl’s dress like the morning dress had a lot of piping on the bodice.
Viewing other garments in addition to the original dress (or if the original can not be viewed) is a really great source of construction evidence. For example if you didn’t know exactly how a waistband was attached on the original because the pattern is vague or the waistband is obscured on the original, citing other extant garments as your reasoning for how you approached it is great method of problem solving and shows great investigation skills.
I was praised during judging for examining addition dresses from the period. 

(in order 1830s Brown Dress, 1830 Green Plaid Dress, 1833 Girl’s Green Dress )

The National Trust is defiantly worth looking into for extant garment research (They also hold a few Patterns of Fashion garments). You can search through their online archive using the National Trust Collections Page you can refine the search to Places, Category (costume!) and Date. You can view a maximum of three items and there is a £25 charge for the use of the service. Booking an appointment is easy, email the location, explain your interest/reason for wanting to view the items and include the NT item number for the items you want to view in the email.
The staff at Gloucester Museum and Killerton Estate were extremely helpful and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to view the dresses.
I recommend enquiring about viewing extant garments in advance (this goes for any location, museum or archive) as there is usually a few weeks wait before you can be booked in.

I really stress doing your research over the summer holidays if you can. Doing so gave me a leaping start when I got back to University. I had all of the information, reference and visuals to get started from day one. Had I been chasing museums for appointments it would have put me back weeks and I’m sure I would have made mistakes along the way that would have been time critical or irreversible. This is especially important if you are hand sewing a garment. I averaged eleven and a half hours at university everyday, you need to devote all of your time to being productive. 


WorkLog

Toiling

I began my construction process with scaling up the pattern from Patterns of Fashion 1. This was done using 1” dot and cross paper to ensure accuracy to the scale used in the book. With my complete dress pattern I began the process of toiling to ensure everything lined up, resolve any issues and test procedures and decorations.

 IMG_1058I found the bodice came together nicely, noting that the bust dart required a large amount of ease, I marked the mid point on either side of the dart, this could then be used to match when joining together and easing the fabric between these points.


I sampled sewing the piping onto the vandyke decoration, practicing how the piping would be turned over without visible stitching, this included clipping into and mitering the points. I also realised at this stage that the piping size I was using (size 2) was larger than the size used on the original dress, when constructing the dress I downsized to a size 1 cord.
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I decided to test the smocking on the sleeve, the sleeve pattern features small dashed lines that are used as a guide for how large the stitches should be, I encountered a few issues with this trial.
The first issue was that these dashed lines were far too large to replicate the original smocking on the dress but I acknowledge that they were most likely intended to be used as an indication that the direction of the smocking stitches followed.
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First smocking test.

As I had the opportunity to examine the original dress I knew from looking at the interior of the sleeve that the stitches were tiny, no more than 1-2mm in length. I produced a sample following this smocking stitch size and found that it resulted in a very near match to the original.

The second Issue I found was that the grading for the smocking was slightly uneven (using the marked lowermost line to grade upwards). Grading the smocking evenly up from the lowermost line would cause the top two lines of stitching to wiggle in and out over the edge of the pattern. To fix this issue I applied the measurements that I had taken from the original dress and graded downwards from the sleeve head.
I had measured that the distance between each line of stitching was approximately 8mm and using the start and finish of the smocking stitches on the pattern as a guide I marked this on the sleeve.
While on the original dress I could find no visual indicators that the smocking lines were marked, the smocking did appear to be very consistent from an interior and exterior point of view.

The third issue I found was in the pleating of the skirt, for the purposes of the toile I cut myself a croped length of the skirt so that I could test the pleating and gathering.
The pattern states that the center front of the skirt features a 1” box pleat, with adjacent sides of the skirt 1” knife pleated in the direction of the centre front, the pleating continues until it meets the gathered portion of the skirt at the back of the dress, the centre back is slashed open with gathering 4” either side.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.04.10When toiling the knife pleating I soon realised that the pleat depth was too deep which was causing the pleated portion of the skirt to finish at the centre back (well beyond where it was meant to finish), this left no room for the additional 8” of gathering at the centre back.

I decided to sample a shallower pleat depth to see if this would bring the pleats back to where they should be sitting and allow for the 4 inches of gathering before the centre back.
I reduced the pleat depth down to ¾” and the issue was immediately resolved. The pleating finished 4” from the centre back allowing for the remaining fabric to be gathered down.

The final issue I found in pattern was one that I didn’t catch until far too late. In the pattern for the vandyke decoration Janet Arnold draws it with 12 points and I did not  question this. It wasn’t until I had made the decoration up and was attempting to mount it onto the bodice that I came to the realisation that the original decoration only has 11 points. I realised this because I was struggling to get the decoration to lie flat as it does in the original dress but it refused to. I identified that the 7th point (counting up from the bottom) could be pinched (omitting it) and this would cause the vandyke to lay smooth against the bodice rather than puckering. What’s more is that Janet’s illustration of the full dress correctly depicts the vandyke with 11 points, it is her pattern that is incorrect with 12 points.
I believe that had I noticed this earlier, corrected the pattern to remove the 7th point and then redistribute the other points on the pattern my vandyke decorations would have sat flat against the bodice as seen on the original dress.

I do want to note though that I’m not sure changing the pattern would be in accordance with the Patterns of Fashion Award guidelines as you’re supposed to make the garment up as it with no alteration. Within my submission I found issues with the patterns but I manipulated them to work to the best of my ability without making alterations.


Fabric Section

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.12.20For my reproduction of this dress I decided to select materials to match the original as closely as possible.
In patterns of Fashion 1 Janet Arnold doesn’t specify what kind of silk the dress is made from, in my research examining other day dresses of the period I knew it was likely made from taffeta as this was a common for the period. When examining the original dress I identified it to be a silk taffeta. I had brought along with me a selection of silk swatches (mostly taffetas) in brown shades so that I could best match the original dress.
I decided on a silk taffeta from Silk Baron in the colour ‘Topaz’, this taffeta had a really nice weight to it, ideal for the dress and was a near perfect colour match to the original dress.

The original dress used glazed cotton for the bodice and skirt lining, I struggled to find a supplier for glazed cotton and after a discussion with my tutors about similar fabrics that could be used as a substitute I decided on cotton silesia. I bought white cotton silesia, I cut my bodice pattern pieces from it and cut a strip for the waistband, the remaining silesia was dyed a light brown to match the skirt lining.

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Calico was used to line the sleeves in the original dress, I selected a medium weight calico to replicate this which would help give body to the smocking and further sleeve.

I also used 100% cotton muslin to back the vandykes, I am unsure if the originals were backed but I felt the single layer of silk would need some support, the sleeve bands were also backed using this muslin. I had identified while examining the dress that the sleeve bands were backed with a loose weave fabric but as I could only see a small fragment of this material I was unable to identify the fabric with 100% certainty.

The muslin was dyed a light brown colour.

I also selected a brown 100% silk thread to use to sew the dress together.
I also used brightly coloured polyester threads for basting and tacking, the bright colours made them easy to see/identify and remove at the end of construction.


Construction

I cut out all of my pattern pieces, using a ½” seam allowance on all seams but the centre front which I added a 1” seam allowance to. This was because I noted that these seam allowances were of that size on the original dress.

I began my construction with basting all of the bodice silecia layers to the silk layers along the pattern lines to serve as a guide and prevent the two layers from shifting. I also marked any construction lines such as the placement line for the vandykes, the point where the decorative sleeve band crosses over etc.
This same process was used for the silk sleeve and calico lining.

I decided to get the smocking on the sleeves done first as I knew it would be a time consuming element to recreate. I started with grading the smocking onto the calico lining which I had already tested the placement in my toile.
I then started the long process of sewing the smocking stitches into the sleeve, I doubled my silk thread for this as I wanted the lines of stitching to be as durable as possible to prevent the threads from snapping. Because the stitches are so small (1-2mm in length) I found it was much more time effective to use a running stitch and catch the fabric multiple times in one stitch rather than sewing each stitch individually.

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It took 12 hours to sew the smocking stitches onto each sleeve.
After sewing the smocking I decided to make up all of the piping I would need for the dress, I took measurements over the dress and estimated how much piping I would need and also noted what areas required longer/continuous piping.  I cut 1” wides strips of bias from my silk taffeta and made up the piping by tacking the size 1 cording into the folded bias strips.

When the smocking was completed I moved on with making up the rest of the sleeves, I started with the cuffs, tacking the piping to one side of the silk cuffs before taking down the other side of the cuff. The sleeve was prepared, I sewed the sleeve seam up using a back stitch to the notched point on the pattern where the sleeve placket is. I constructed the sleeve  placket by folding both the silk and calico layers inward, leaving a slight step so that the calico was folded a few millimeters back further. This was then fixd down with a bar tack at the top of the placket on the inside to prevent the fabrics from shifting and then the calico was whipped down to the silk with small stitches.
Next two lines of gathering were sewn just above the construction line into the seam allowance between the two notch points indicated on the pattern. The threads of these gathering stitches were then pulled so that the end of the sleeve was reduced down to the width of the cuff.

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The cuffs were then sewn right sides together to the sleeve, catching the lowermost row of piping so it was snug between the sleeve and the cuff. The wrong side of the cuff was then whip stitched down to the calico along the pattern line with the seam allowance folded up on the inside.

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Next I began constructing the bodice, I tacked all of the piping onto one side of the seam before tacking down the other side securing the piping between the two pattern pieces. These seams were then sewn permanently with my silk thread using a back stitch.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.45.20I found that the bust darts required easing in order for them to match up, I did this by marking the centre of each side of the darts, matching them up and distributing the ease evenly above and below these points.

The armhole was pipped in preparation for the sleeve to be sewn in but the neckline and lower edge of the bodice was left as these are finished off later in the process.

With my base bodice out together I moved onto making the decorations for the dress.

Starting with the vandykes, I basted the silk layer to the supporting muslin layer. The piping was then sewn on, I had to be carul during this process and precise with my sewing to ensure that when the piping was rolled over none of my stitches would be visible, this was particularly crucial over the zigzaged portion of the vandyke.
The next step was to roll the piping over and secur it to the wrong side, this was a straightforward process on the straight edges of the vandyke as they rolled easily and I secured them with a running back stitch. The zigzagged side had a few more steps involved. In order to get the outer points to turn over cleanly I clipped into and mitered the points, the inner points were also clipped into. Once this was done they were free to roll back to the wrong side where the seam allowance was back stitched down to the muslin layer.
The bottom of the vandyke was left unpiped, this is because it will be caught by the piping applied to the over edge of the bodice later on.

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The vandykes feature small pleated bands which cover the inner points, initially to create these I tried pressing pleats into bias cut strips of taffeta but found the taffeta to be too springy for this and it would not hold the shape. I then decided to experiment with creating a small scale pleating board which could be used to get the tiny knife pleat to sit flat.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.47.54Using some thick card paper I created the pleating board y soring the card and folding it into shape, I made two of these boards so that the silk taffeta could sit between them. Using clips I secured the taffeta between the boards and started to steam and press down on my pleating boards. I was very pleased when I had fantastic results straight away.

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Once I had pleated up the fabric I carefully cut out sections to use for the bands on the vandykes.
They were then sewn to the vandykes, right sides together and rolled around to the wrong side where they were whipped down.

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Next I made up the sleeve bands, they were also basted through to the muslin layer and the button placement was thead marked.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.51.42When I examined the original dress I measured that the piping sits approximately 1cm away from the edge of the sleeve band, with this in mind I tacked my piping 1cm away from the raw edge with the seam allowances facing outwards. In order for the piping to curve around the pointed ends of the sleeve band I clipped into the piping seamallowence in these areas, this released the piping slightly allowing for it to curve around the points.
I then sewed on a strip of bias cut taffeta, this taffeta strip was sewn on the same stitching line as the piping and would act as binding encasing the raw edge of the sleeve band. As with the piping I had to allow the bias strip to curve around the point of the band, however from examining the original dress I knew that three small pleats were inserted into the strip which allowed it to curve. I applied this technique to the strip and then finished it off but folding it over to the wrong side and whipping it into place.

I then moved onto sewing the sleeve onto the bodice, in order to do this the sleeve had to be smocked down. I took the armhole measurement from the bodice and used this as my guide to smock the sleeve down to fit. This was another long process, I was very nervous about threads snapping so I took it slowly, easing the threads smaller in increments working my way through each row. It took approximately 5 hours to reduce each sleeve. When I was happy with the size and I had tested it fit the armhole I evened out the smocking until I was again happy. The long threads were then tied off to prevent them from loosening.
The sleeve was then inserted into the armhole and back stitched into place.
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I then made covered buttons (1.5cm in diameter) which were sewn directly onto the thread marked position on the sleeve band.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 20.55.22I then moved onto sewing the sleeve onto the bodice, in order to do this the sleeve had to be smocked down. I took the armhole measurement from the bodice and used this as my guide to smock the sleeve down to fit. This was another long process, I was very nervous about threads snapping so I took it slowly, easing the threads smaller in increments working my way through each row. It took approximately 5 hours to reduce each sleeve. When I was happy with the size and I had tested it fit the armhole I evened out the smocking until I was again happy. The long threads were then tied off to prevent them from loosening.
The sleeve was then inserted into the armhole and back stitched into place.

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Next I attached the sleeve band, this was a straightforward process as I knew where the band crossed over on itself and where that crossover point sat on the sleeve. I lined these points up and carefully stitched it into place from the inside of the sleeve. I noted during examining the dress that the band appeared to have tacked at the seam on the sleeve and that the points on the bands had also been stitched down securing them in place. Again from the inside of the sleeve I sewed small tacking stitches through the seam of the sleeve and catching the ‘ditch’ of the piping on the sleeve band, securing it. The points of the sleeve band were also secured in the ‘ditch’ of the piping which further helped hide my stitches securing them to the sleeve.

I decided it was time to make up the skirt, I started with the silk taffeta panels, sewing them together using a back stitch, this process was then repeated using a silesia lining layer.
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When complete I had two tubes of silk and silesia. I thread marked the centre front and the centre back on both to ensure I wouldn’t get muddles when it came to bringing the layers together. I then pressed open the seam allowances on both the silk and silecia layers. With the help of a few classmates the silesia layer was inserted inside the silk layer, wrong sides together, it was very difficult to get the two layers to lay flat with one another on my own so the extra hands were appreciated. I then pinned along the top edge of the skirt making sure all of the seams lined up. I then sewed a running stitch down each seam to join the seams together flush and prevent them from separating.

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I then moved onto hemming the skirt, I knew what the drop of the skirt was from waist to floor thanks to the pattern so I was safe to hem the skirt.
The hem was created by folding up 1 ½”, then ½” of silesia was trimmed away, the remaining ½” of silk taffeta was folded down and a small running stitch was sewn securing the hem in place.
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I then measured up from the hem to mark the waistline, I referenced the pattern to ensure I got the subtle gradient. This was then marked by a running stitch all the way around the skirt.

Next I created the centre back opening, the measurement for this is marked on the pattern which I transferred onto the centre back panel of the skirt. The centre back is then slashed open to this point, the silk taffeta and silesia are then turned inwards (same process used on the sleeve plackets) and whip stitched down. I then sewed a bar tack at the bottom of the slash to prevent it from opening any further

Moving onto pleating up the waistband, I transfered where the pleating finishes and the gathering begins onto my skirt panels. I decided it would be easier to sew in my two lines of gathering stitches before pleating up the waistband. I positioned one line just above the waistline and one just below the waistband.

I pleated the skirt on a stand which I had previously padded up to size, I pinned a petersham tape to the stand at the waistline which I would use to pleat onto (this was purely used to help stabilize the pleats on the stand so I had something secure to pleat onto). Starting at the centre front I pleated the skirt fabric onto the waistband alternating from side to side to ensure it would be even. Once I reached the notched point that indicated to stop pleating I went back and checked all of the pleats and made any minor tweeks if needed. When I was happy I tacked the pleats down using a large herringbone stitch, removing the skirt off the petersham tape in the process. When I was happy the pleats were secure with the herringbone stitch I removed it from the stand.
I moved onto gathering the remainder of the skirt, I got out a measuring tape and pulled in my gathering stitches on the waistline until I had reduced the section of fabric down to 4”, I then tied off the long strands of thread. The skirt was now reduced down to the waist size.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 21.03.37At this point I came back to finishing off the bodice, I started with sewing the piping and bias binding onto the neckline, leaving a little bit extra for finishing off the centre back. The bias binding is used to conceal the raw edge of the piping on the neckline.
Next the vandykes had to be sewn on, the smooth side of the vandykes went on with ease as I was following the construction line for this on the pattern. The pointed side of the vandykes was more difficult as explained in my toile process. There is an additional point added to the pattern for the vandykes which makes it impossible to get it to lay flat against the bodice. With a lot of easing I did my best to get both sides to sit evenly but I could not prevent the wrinkling.
The vandyke was then sewn down in the ‘ditch’ of the piping to hide visible stitching.

Next the piping and bias binding were sewn to the lower edge of the bodice, the bottom of the vandyke is caught during this conseaming its raw edge in the process. Like the neckline the bias binding is folded up to conceal the raw edge of the bodice and piping and then whip stitched into place.

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The centre back was finished by adding piping to the edges of the opening, a strip of taffeta cut on the straight 1 ½” wide is then sewn onto this edge with ¼” use as seam allowance, 1” of the strip is then visible and the remaining ¼” is turn inward and whipped down. This finishes off the centre back placket.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 21.05.43Attaching the waistband was my next step, I decided to test Janet Arnold’s instruction for this to ensure the skirt would fall correctly.
On the bodice pattern there is a notch on the side seam side of the dart, this notch indicates that between the notch points the skirt/waistband is not attached to the bodice but that it is sewn through to the bodice on the other sides of the notches.
I tested this by pinning the skirt onto the bodice from the centre back through to the notch points leaving a gap where the skirt was not pinned to the bodice of about 8” across the centre front. The skirt sagged between these points, the white waistband surely would have been visible as it dropped below the centre front point of the bodice.
Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture at this stage so I have drawn on a picture of the dress to help illustrate what I saw.

Because of this I decided to take another look at the pictures I had taken when examining the dress, focusing on the waistband on the front of the bodice.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 21.06.53Taking a closer look there appears to be threads beyond the notch point which may have once held the waistband in place across the centre front. There are also small holes in the lining which line up with the waistband level which could further indicate that it was sewn beyond that point.

With this information in mind I decided to proceed with attaching the waistband across the centre front of the bodice.

I attached the waistband by first folding the top of the skirt along the waistline (folded so the lining was folded in on itself). This fold was then matched up with the lower edge of the bodice so that the fold lined up over top of the piping. The skirt was then sewn onto the bodice through the piping ditch being sure to catch the fold while doing so. At the notch points I stopped and tied off my threads and then continued from the other notch point round to the centre back. I then lightly pressed down the fold and whip stitched it down to the lining in order to keep it flush with the body and not add extra bulk.

The waistband is then sewn on, the waistband is made from a strip of silesia cut on the straight ¾” wide (2cm). I noted on the original that the waistband folds in on itself so there is now raw top or lower edge. Because of this I cut mine 4cm wide and ironed up 1cm on the lower and top edge.

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 21.08.22The waistband strip is then applied evenly over the skirt and bodice join, a running back stitch is then used to sew it onto place along the top and lower edge of the waistband. Between the notch points across the centre front I pinned the waistband to the skirt though the bodice following the straight direction of the waistband before the notch points. This lifted the skirt and fixed it in place preventing it from falling down like in my trial. The waistband is sewn across these points.
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To finish the dress off fastenings were sewn. The original dress closes with metal hooks and hand work loops down the centre back with one single metal loop sitting on the waistline. I replicated this assortment of hand worked loops, metal hooks and single metal bar. The sleeve cuffs are also closed using two metal hooks and two hand worked loops.


Styling

Styling is one of the elements your judged on for the competition, this focuses on how you display the garment when submitting final pictures and displaying it at the conference. You can style your garment as little or as much as you want but the basic expectation is to achieve a period silhouette through period foundation garments. In addition you could create a chemisette, under sleeves, a hat or any sort of clothing or accessory item that complements the garment.
I believe styling items do not need to be sewn in accordance to the period of the main garment, neither of my two styling items were hand sewn and I wasn’t questioned if they were or not. This makes sense as it is the main garment you’re being judged on with the styling items just being used to assist the appearance of your garment.

I used two items to style my my dress, I used the 1830s petticoat I made in second year to give the skirt its full shape, you can read about how I made my 1830s Petticoat Here. I also made a small corded bustle from The Workwoman’s Guide Page 54 Plate 11 fig 31, you can view the book for free online using Google Books Here (Workwoman’s Guide 1838). There is also a copy of the book in the Wimbledon College of Arts Library for my fellow Wimbledon Students!
Admittedly the bustle did not kick out the skirt as much as it should have an I really should have made another that had more volume, this was the only negative feedback I got during judging but I will talk about that more in a bit.

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I displayed my dress on a stand (I worked on this stand throughout construction), I decided not to make a pair of stays for the dress as I felt I achieved a good shape without through padding the stand.
You could also take pictures of the garment on a live model and or in a scenic location but for detail shots I really recommend taking pictures on a stand in a controlled environment to best display your workmanship.



Final Judging

While I can’t speak from personal experience what judging would be like at The Costume Society Conference (though the guidelines do give you a good idea) I can speak from experience what judging is like during a pandemic should that situation arise again!

After being contacted about being selected as a finalist (27th of March 2020) we was told that they planned for judging to go ahead in some physical form but they weren’t sure how, along the way suggesting it could be postponed to as late as September/October 2020.
As lockdown continued we were told that judging would go ahead on the 26th of June 2020 via Microsoft Teams with Michele Clapton on the judging panel. As there was no physical judging, the original powerpoint we sent in would be used for judging and we were told to create an addition three slides on our research to accompany it.

If its not already clear three slides for research is not enough.  I had prepared so much to bring with me for final judging, the full workbook you’ve just read, research notes on the four dresses I viewed, a sample book containing each technique used on the dress in addition to the requested print of the appropriate POF book pages and my patterns. 
I was so, so disappointed that the judging had been condensed down like that in addition to not being able to see the dress in person.
I 100% understand the reasoning behind it but I just felt so deflated by it.

On the 26th of June 2020 judging took place, we each had an allocated time to join the MS Teams call where we would speak face to face (via video) to Michele Clapton for fifteen minutes while Joanna Jarvis and Louise Chapman (members of The Costume Society) listened.
Michele asked all sorts of questions to do with the pattern, issues, examining the dress, time management, fabric selection and the underpinnings.
I was overwhelmed with the incredible positive feedback and it was truly such an honour to hear it come from Michele. She said many lovely things including,
That I evidenced throughout and had an excellent understanding the process… the dress was made with great confidence… that I had excellent time management… I had a key attention to detail…the photography and presentation was excellent and evidenced your methods and final outcomes very well. The only natural feedback I got was regarding the bustle at the back and how it didn’t quite lift the skirt as much as it does in Janet Arnold’s illustration of the dress, which is fair enough and I agree (silently kicking myself).
I was so pleased with myself coming away from the video call, later that day we were emailed the results.

I was awarded The Highly Commended Award (2nd place) and a cash prize of £400. I feel truly honoured to have my work recognised at such a high level.



Post Award Reflection

A few weeks later I received my cheque and certificate in the mail which for me nicely tied a bow on the competition and I could finally call it finished.
I’m really thankful I made the decision to enter the competition, it gave me the opportunity to really push myself and my skill set to create something truly spectacular. I’ve learnt so much about period sewing, my hand sewing skills have greatly improved in both speed and precision. This was also a fantastic research based project too and I’m glad I made contact with Gloucester Museum about examining the dress as it had a huge impact on how I reproduced the dress. It also gave me a good experience in time management as I juggled all of my deadlines in third year. I would come into the studio at 8:30am and leave most days at 8:30pm having worked on the dress all day and somehow managing to write my dissertation along side it.
I am disappointed that The Costume Society Conference could not go ahead for physical judging as I feel that would have really enhanced the experience.

I really recommend doing this competition, it addresses so many disciplines as a costume interpreter and executing them all with precision will undoubtedly reward you with a stand out portfolio piece. It shows research based skills, pattern toiling skills and period construction skills all of which are highly valued.

I’m not going to go in to any detail at this stage but I believe this competition has already opened doors for me within the film industry. I’ve also potentially found a temporary home for the dress before it’s sold. Things are looking good, I’m just waiting for lockdown restrictions to ease more for the film industry to get moving again so I can get to work!


Big thank you to all of the costume staff at Wimbledon College of Arts, my friends for their support (and tea breaks!), my class mates (sorry for taking up an entire cutting table for a term!), Gloucester Museum, National Trust Killerton and all of the lovely support I received online along the way.

If you would like to view images of my dress you can find a collection on my instagram @nivera.costumes
If you’re interested in hiring me please do get in touch using my email address nivera.costumes@gmail.com

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1905 Sanakor Plunge front corset

As a self directed project at university I decided to make a corset to keep further my corsetry skills. For this is chose the 1905 Sanakor plunged front corset (extant corset is held in the Symington Collection Leicestershire) because it was a cut I have never attempted before and looked to be a unique challenge. This corset presented many new techniques and I learnt a lot of new valuable skills.


As I’m using ‘Stays and Corsets: Volume 2’ (Mandy Barrington) for the construction of this corset I followed the instructions for the pattern drafting process. I’ve made a few corsets from the previous book volume so this process is quite familiar to me.
I started by drafting the block to Imogen’s measurements, I found that as she has a small bust it was better to use her hips as the widest measurement on the block (bust is suggested for this measurement in the book). The block is then widened by 30cm in the side of the block, this allows for additional space for drafting the corset patterns.
Additional measurements are added to the block such as point to point, high hip to further aid in plotting the pattern of the corset.

I decided to make a toile out of drill as I didn’t feel comfortable with my skills to make it up in my duchess satin first time. My biggest concern was marking the satin so the drill toile seemed to be the safest option.
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The pattern pieces were all cut out from two layers of cotton drill with one inch seam allowance. The pieces were tacked to indicate bust, waist, high hip and hip.
For the toile I focused on fit rather than construction, this meant I could speedily sew the toile together, get the fit alterations right and then move onto the real corset with much more time to work on perfecting the overall construction.
The toile corset was sewn with seams to the outside with 1” seam allowance (and shape adjustment space) added all the way around the pattern pieces. The centre front was sewn together as a seam to replicate the busk and the toile was fully boned using synthetic whalebone which were numbered corresponding with the boning channels on my patterns so they could be easily identified and recycled into the finished corset.

The first fitting went well with only a few alterations necessary. The bust seam needed to be taken in a bit as it was gaping and the side to centre back below the waist needed taking in also.
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These alterations were safety pined and then chalked so that this new information could be transferred and sewn for a final fitting.


The second fitting was a success with the alterations fitting Imogen perfectly.

Now that the pattern was finalised it could be retraced and used for the final corset, I traced off the new patterns by dismantling one side of the corset, laying pattern paper over carbon paper and using a tracing wheel through the pattern pieces to transfer the new information.


Once all of the pattern pieces had been transferred using the carbon I used a pattern master to clean up the lines and straighten boning channels.
No alterations were made to the busk panel so that panel was left as is to be used in the final corset.


As the original 1905 corset feature a while lining I decided to replicate this in my version of it. The top fabric was cut from black double duchess satin and the inside was cut from white coutil. 1.5cm was added to all of the pattern pieces with an extra 1” of satin added to the busk panel. It was this panel I was most worried about messing up so I wanted as much room for that as possible so any mistakes could be amended.

IMG_0066I started construction with the back panels, It was difficult to work out the construction of these from the images of the extant garment I had (no further explanation in the book) so I decided to sew the satin to the coutil wrong sides together on the centre back, press, fold them back so right sides were out and then press so the satin rolled over the centre back with a slight lip.

After making my 1820’s corded stays where rather than back stitching my stitch lines I left my threads long, threaded them to the wrong side and then tied them off. I found it difficult to back stitch on this corset as tying threads back makes them look so clean. So I decided on tying my threads back on this corset for all of my boning channels/visible lines of stitching.

On the side panel there was an internal boning chanel made up from tape that was hand sewn into place, for this I used petersham tap and extended the tape into the seam so it could be caught when sewing, the tape was slip stitched into place, catching the coutil layer and not the satin.
I have sewn busks into corsets before but for this corset decided to add a small facing/modesty panel to the hook side which would prevent any skin from showing in the small gap when worn. This was done by sewing the hook side of the busk 5mm to the side of the centre front line (this included sewing along the top edge so that it could be bagged out in the next step), folding this back with right sides showing and then sewing the centre front line of stitching. The eye side of the busk was sewn along the centre front, skipping where the eyes would poke through the seam (right sides together) again including sewing the top edge of the busk panel so that it too could be bagged out.

IMG_0178I have sewn busks into corsets before but for this corset decided to add a small facing/modesty panel to the hook side which would prevent any skin from showing in the small gap when worn. This was done by sewing the hook side of the busk 5mm to the side of the centre front line (this included sewing along the top edge so that it could be bagged out in the next step), folding this back with right sides showing and then sewing the centre front line of stitching. The eye side of the busk was sewn along the centre front, skipping where the eyes would poke through the seam (right sides together) again including sewing the top edge of the busk panel so that it too could be bagged out.

IMG_0181The eye side of the busk was then inserted and using a zipper foot fixed into place. The hook side was marked on the wrong side of the satin with chalk and I used an awl to poke the holes through from the wrong side. When all of the holes had been made the hooks were carefully inserted through them. I later used steam to shrink the fibers of the satin back together closing the holes around the hooks. A zipper foot was then used to sew the hook side of the busk into place.

CBAF22CC-AE4A-4791-9F6A-2BAA9D9182E6Next the bust panel was sewn to the busk panel, Hester (one of our lovely studio technicians) and I had to have a long discussion about this and spent about an hour examining pictures of the extant Sanakor corset and another surviving white variant of the Sanakor. We decided in the end that the bust and busk panels are first assembled with the coutil right sides together. Then the satin bust panel is line up over the top of this right sides together and sewn. This encases the top edge of the bust panel so that it can be bagged out after clipping into it and trimming the seam allowance. The seam is then pressed adding a slight roll/lip to the bust panel edge. A line of stitching is then sewn around the new bust seam approximately 2mm from the edge/seam line this helps to fix everything in place.

Then the boning channels for the bust seam could be sewn, like the boning channels elsewhere on the corset these were tied to the wrong side so that there was no visible back stitching.

 

Next the side seams were prepared, I secured the cotton petersham tape I was using as a waist tape over the waistline, ensuring it was long enough to be caught into the front to side seam.
The side to bust panels were then sewn together right sides together, making sure the bagged out bust top edge lined up with the tacking stitches on the side seam for a smooth finish.

The seam allowances could then be trimmed down. This seam is covered with a taped boning channel so a length of tape was cut to size and then pinned evenly over the seam.
This was followed by using a ‘stitch in the ditch’ foot from the right side of the corset. This foot lines up perfectly with the seam and stitches in the ditch of the seam resulting in beautiful invisible stitching. These threads were also tied to the wrong side. Then boning channels are sewn on either side of the stitch in ditch seam.

IMG_0202The side to centre back panels were then sewn together in the same fashion. Although the waist tape was not caught in this initial seam. After the initial seam had been sewn it was pressed and trimmed, the waist tape was then brought across following the waist line (keeping it taunt in this process) and pinned to keep it in place while the tapped seam was sewn.

966F86B6-2C50-4158-B2D1-602674EA4096The stitch in the ditch foot was used for this process and boning channels were again sewn on either side of the seam.
Lastly the waist tape is caught into the final eyelet channel bone channel. This bone chenel is also tapped, the waist tape was brought up to where the bone hennl would be sewn and then was folded back on itself a fraction to prevent any raw/exposed edges. The taped boning channel was then sewn over this.

A98831A1-C5B4-4706-8219-A1430FDEBD38With the boning channels all sewn the main construction process was finished and it was time to move on to bias binding the edges and inserting the bones into the channels.
The top edge had to be bias bound first as the top edge of the bust panel had already been closed when it was bagged out and there would be no other way to insert the bones than from the lower edge.
Hester and I had another in depth conversation about how the edges were finished, it was difficult to tell from the pictures I had found of the extant corset but we finally settled on the top edge being bias bound with white tape, the tape was sewn 2mm above the white tacking lines so that when the corset was trimmed down and the bias binding rolled over no bias would be visible. Once this binding was sewn and whip stitched down the bones could be inserted into the channels. As I hadn’t filed the edges on the synthetic whalebone down during the toile corst I had to do this first to limit the chance of any of them bursting out and creating a hole. Flat steel bones were used on the centre back boning channels and these were capped. I had always had issues with the caps coming off steel boning but Hester taught me that you can glue the caps on with ‘uhu glue’, which seems extremely obvious but had never occurred to me before and I will be including that in all of my future steel boned corset practices!
IMG_0230With the bones inserted the lower edge of the corset could be finished off.
The binding on the lower edge is something I’ve never seen or heard of on a corset before. There’s a strip of visible black satin bias running along the bottom edge but the black bias is faced with white bias binding which is turned to the wrong side.
The black satin bias binding is sewn on wrong sides together 1cm above the white tacking line, this is then pressed down and the white tacking line is then restitched through the black bias binding, white bias binding is then sewn on 2mm below the white tacking line, the remaining fabric below is then trimmed and the white bias binding is then rolled to the wrong side (whip stitched in place) so that the seam joining the black satin binding to the white bias binding sits exactly at the bottom of the corset and the white tape is not visible.
Eyelets are then inserted into the eyelet chanel, I followed the eyelet placement indicated in the book and spread out 9 eyelets evenly with one eyelet sitting on the waist.
A ribbon is then sewn 2cm above the busk on the bust panel so that it can be tied when worn offering a little more bust support/modestly.

The corset was then complete.


I am extremely pleased with the outcome of this self directed project. I feel as though I have accomplished all that I set out to do with it and more. I made up my first corset using satin and successfully completed it without marking the satin which I was terrified of doing. The new shape was a challenge but I feel as though it came together rather successfully. Alterations were needed in fitting but nothing that took away from the overall silhouette. I inserted my first waist tape into a corset which thankfully wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be. I got to have another experience fitting a corset which I feel was extremely beneficial to my skills as an interpreter. I think I now have a better ‘eye’ for fitting and can now assess what needs altering with little input from technicians. Finally I am so pleased with myself with this finished corset, its so clean and the lines are sharp. I have received many compliments in the studio on it and I’m just so proud! Corsetry is a still I want to use more in the future and I feel as though completing this corset was a major step in the right direction.


I’ve noticed that this post is receiving a lot of traffic recently so I decided to add the additional pictures I took of this corset in February 2020 modelled by my friend Imogen who the corset was made for (and she made the lovely combinations!)

I hope to make more corsets over the holidays, I’m still determined to finish my ‘Corseted through the Century Challenge’ so I’d like to work on that over the holidays as well as a few other costume and day to day clothes for myself.

Thank you for reading, comments are always welcome!

-Nivera