Sunday, 5 September 2010

Ladies Street Costume

I have a keen interest in period costumes and to that effect bought 2 books on the subject quite some time ago. One is Reconstructing Era Fashions by Frances Grimble and the other one is 56 Authentic Turn of the century Fashion Patterns by Kristina Harris. A lot of the clothing designs I have lurking in my mind have period elements so for me is essential to learn how to do these so I can incorporate them in my own designs. One day in the future, of course!
Upon looking through the books and dribbling at the sight of gorgeous period pieces I got a bit overwhelmed and put them aside. Let's face it, they are way too complicated for the novice sewer. The instructions are practically non- existing, the patterns need to be enlarged using a grading method and the techniques used look too complicated.  One day, I thought (and still think), one day!!

Because I'm waiting for the Lady Grey sew along when the weekend arrived I was bored. I decided to look into the above mentioned books and choose an outfit and start work on it. I though to myself, why not? I can at least have a go and see how it goes. So I picked the style below ignoring the skirt for now and concentrating on the bodice. Or I should say basque.

First I had to grade the pattern.They are very small and have a huge amount of measurings printed vertically and horizontally. These were the numbers that scared my so much when I first laid eyes on them. But when reading the instructions, it's not that complicated. The vertical numbers mean actual length of the full size pattern and the horizontal are the width. All you need is a ruler a pen and paper to transfer the measurements. I had to overcome the fact it's all in inches. Hello, I'm from the continent, I don't do inches. I guess now I do! Not a problem, even getting used to them. The other problem for me is drawing curves. Definitely need to get myself a french fashion curve. The patterns include seams but do not include allowances for any buttons, collars, etc. I decided not to worry about these for now. I'll start by checking fit.

I transfered all the basque pieces and re traced them onto new paper, keeping the originals as master copies. I then progressed to cutting and marking in calico. The front has two big darts which I had to eye a bit as the pattern measurements are a bit off. There are no instructions on what to sew where but with pieces at hand and names on them it was relatively easy. Little problems of edges not matching which I will address in paper pattern. There's 2 fronts (which remain open in front to put buttons), 2 underarm gore, 2 side back and 2 backs. Nothing is cut on the fold (I think!) The author warns us that even after grading patterns up the sizes are quite small to modern standards. I thought I would get away with it as I'm quite petite but I was wrong. It is very, very small and tight.

At this stage, you're probably looking at the sleeve. I definitely need to practice sleeves. It's way to tight and I cannot raise my arm. It's nothing to do with sizing, it's the way I gathered and set it. There's an extra bulk in the back that I don't know how it got that. To add to that, I sewed it on the wrong side. Duh!! I shall the picking that up tomorrow with my trusted seam ripper and attempt again.

Next stage is to practice putting the sleeves in :) When I'm moderately happy with it I will alter the pattern to my size and start all over again. And it might take a while!

The Lady Grey sew along is soon starting and I also have a few photoshoots in the pipeline, so work on this will be slow. I finally bought the fabric, lining and other indispensables for the sew along and should receive all middle week. I will share my fabric choices with you as soon as I get them.

Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a comment! 


  1. This is amazing. What would you call that style, Edwardian? The shape is at once both feminine and grand - I can't wait to see this take shape.

    I am going to try to make Lady Grey too, although at the moment I am terribly intimidated by the sheer number of pieces to be cut. That's before the sewing even starts!

  2. Yes, I think we can call it Edwardian. These patterns were published in late victorian era, 1890s in a magazine called, The Voice of fashion. The shape is lovely and can't wait to progress with it :)

    I have not yet seen the Lady Grey pattern so have no idea how many pieces it has. I'll try not to panic and take one piece at the time :)

    Started following your blog. Looking forward to see what you do and how you get on with the Lady Grey coat.

  3. Thanks for the follow, and the useful anti-panic advice. One.Piece.At.A.Time will be my mantra!

  4. As I was reading about the sleeve my initial thought was you might have sewn the left sleeve into the right armhole but then you mention that. Did you find the sleeve fitted okay when set in the right armhole?

    Also don't forget that when women wore these outfits they had very restrictive, size-reducing undergarments on and even with tinkering to modern sizes this is an inherent part of the design and therefore it will always come up tight and small (or it will fit around the waist and you will have shoulders broader than Superman!).
    An example of Victorian measurements (who used high bust for bust measurement):
    B32 W22 H39... B34 W24 H40.
    1930s: B32 W27 H 35 (McCall's sz 14)
    1950s: New Sizing B32 W26 1/2 H34 (McCall's sz 14)
    1960s: New Sizing B32 1/2 W24 H 34 1/2 (Butterick sz 10)
    How different is that from our average sizes today?



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