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Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part Three

This is one of those posts i’ve put off writing (much like all the posts to do with this dress…) since this didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. Which is disappointing, but not surprising to me. A dress this simple shouldn’t take six months of on and off work to complete. The fact that it took so long shows me that I wasn’t excited to work on it, and there is usually a reason for that!

Like the dress being a total failure. Okay I learned some stuff, so it isn’t a total failure. But it’s pretty close.

The last post about this project showed the making of the skirt, and the post before that shows the construction of the bodice. Which means all I had left to do was make the sleeves. I started by drafting a simple wrist to elbow pattern, with a point at the center.

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The other portion of the sleeve is a massive rectangular-ish block that will be gathered down into a very full puff sleeve. You can tell I drafted these myself because they are symmetrical (rather than having a steeper curve at the front, and a more gradual one at the back) which is very unusual for historical sleeve patterns (and sleeves in general).

It’s also a bit unusual to draft sleeves from this period with a seam between the lower and upper portions. I chose to do this since the original plan was to wear this dress underneath a jacket, and I wanted to avoid additional bulk around the wrists which mutton leg sleeves tend to have.

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The puff sleeves were bag lined with the lightest weight lining I could find.

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Then turned the right way out and gathered across the bottom edge.

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I added interfacing to the points of the lower sleeves, so that edge would stay defined. Then I turned the top edge inward by a half inch and stitched it down by hand.

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I trimmed the top edge with lace, then stitched it onto the sleeve.

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The sleeves seemed to be missing something, so I chose to do a bit of beading. The beading design is the same one I used on the neckline of the bodice.

I also ended up making a tutorial on how to do this, if you’re interested it can be watched here!

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Now the back seam was done up with a half inch seam allowance and I lined the lower portion of the sleeve.

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I actually really like how these turned out – even though the fit isn’t the best. I think the beading design compliments this fabric nicely and the sleeves are perfectly puffy.

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I made the decision to leave the hem of the sleeves raw since I had originally planned on adding cuffs. The cuffs were supposed to be made from these beautiful satin collar pieces that have a winding soutache pattern on them.

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I even spend many hours beading the design to make them more elaborate. I love how they turned out, but they ended up being too large and bulky for this costume. They cut the arm off in a weird way and look too stark against the purple. So they have been stashed away and are being saved for another day.

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Then I gathered the top edge of the sleeves down and played around with some quilt batting to make sure they could take on the shape I wanted.

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And finally, they were sewn onto the bodice by hand. This was a pain the ass since polyester taffeta sucks to hand stitch through. It’s so densely woven that the eye of the needle seemed to prefer going through my finger rather than the fabric. But I got there in the end! At this point it actually looked pretty good.

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Here is the bodice tried on over the original partial shirtwaist thing. I decided after this fitting that it was too casual looking, so I made a new one from silk satin.

This is also when I realized that there were some big fit issues. I’m not sure if you can tell, but it was very tight across the chest. Not to a point where it strained, but the it was obvious in person that it was too small. Because of this the bodice couldn’t be pulled down far enough for it to sit at the proper waistline. I kind of ignored these issues at the time – I thought once the skirt was on it would pull the bodice down and it would be fine.

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Since the bodice wasn’t where it was supposed to be, it gives and awkward side profile as well. The volume is supposed to be right above the waist, which makes the waist look smaller. But this just made the area below my chest look massive. Once again I assumed it would be fine after attaching the skirt.

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And the back. This looked a lot worse in person, too. The back panels were cut on a different grainline from the rest of the bodice, and the difference in sheen was very obvious. It also strained horribly across the back. This is partially because it’s a bit too small, but I think flatlining it with a different fabric would have avoided this. Polyester taffeta just doesn’t look good when strained.

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After this fitting – and making a different garment to wear underneath it, I switched out the buttons for vintage glass buttons that matched the beading. A much better fit than the gold ones I used before!

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The skirt and bodice were both sewn onto a strip of interfaced cotton, with the raw edges facing outward. The waistband will cover these edges.

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And speaking of the waistband, that was made from a pattern that looked like this!

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My first attempt was lined with flannel (why did I do that?) and was also too small. The second attempt was lined with cotton and a half inch bigger, which made a huge difference! This was sewn onto the dress by hand, and that was IT for the dress.

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Unfortunately sewing it all together didn’t magically fix the bodice fit issues. It’s really tight across the chest. Like a whole inch too tight. I can wear it, but it  can’t be pulled down low enough for the belt to sit at my actual waistline. The waist of the dress is too small as well – To get it done up I had to wear it with my 1860’s corset, which is too short waisted for the dress to sit nicely overtop of it.

Also the closure method for this dress was stupid. I decided to add hooks down the side, with buttons down half the back. If this had worked, it would have meant I could get into the dress without help. But the back didn’t open enough, and I ended up needing help just to get it over my head! Plus the lack of mobility from the sleeves meant I couldn’t do up the closures.

And that’s not even mentioning the puckering at the back and hem length. One of those things is fixable, but i’m not sure I can be bothered.

Here it is worn without the undershirt.

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The closures on the side didn’t end up being hidden, since the bodice was tight the hooks (though done up) caused the fabric to gape. You can slo see the strap of the bodice sitting away from my shoulder, which is because the bodice can’t be pulled down properly.

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The dress is too long waisted in the back, causing the puckers to look even worse. But on the bright side, I really like the gathers at the back of the skirt. They looked a bit rough up close but I would consider using that technique again on a different project.

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Is this dress fixable? Probably. But it would involve removing the sleeves and skirt, adding panels to the side of the bodice (though there is enough room to let it out, this fabric shows needle marks), adding additional closures to the back of the bodice/switching the skirt to a back closure, regathering the skirt, and hemming it. And it’s really not worth the time and effort that would take.

Looking back it’s easy for me to see where this dress went wrong – there were a lot of poor decisions and mistakes, one after the other. But it happens sometimes – ecspecially when learning, and adventuring into a new era so i’m not going to mope about it.

I’m actually really excited to put what I learned from this project into a attempting a better dress, which will have a similar silhouette and belong to the same era, but is a completely different design (that resembles the original inspiration for this dress quite closely). But i’ll talk more about that next week!

Before signing off I just wanted to show you the hat I made to pair with this. I based it on an edwardian design since I thought a larger hat would look better with the proprotions of this dress, even though it isn’t accurate to the 1890’s. The brim is buckram with three bands of wire.

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And the cap is interfacing, cut from this pattern and edged with wire.

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All the pieces were covered with taffeta and stitched together.

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The interior is lined with muslin, and the brim is lined with gathered tulle and satin ribbon.

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The exterior is trimmed with some fake flowers and a huge feather! The hat is honestly my favorite part of this project – I feel like I magically turn into a stuffy rich old lady when I wear it. And I mean that in the best way.

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This was my first time using leaves on a hat in addition to the flowers, but I really like it. It doesn’t make the flowers look more realistic exactly, but it certainly adds more interest!

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And that’s it! Thanks for reading!


Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part Two

Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part Two

This is a post i’ve been trying to avoid writing, because this part of the project wasn’t very much fun to make.  I made a lot of weird decisions and bad choices early on that contributed to a horrible end result. I managed to fix it, so most of those mistakes aren’t visible in the finished piece but I still have a lot of regrets about this project, which are never fun to write about.

But this blog isn’t just about my successful projects, it’s about all my projects. And some of those don’t go as smoothly as others.

This was my original reference when making this skirt. I loved the dramatic pleats and thought that would make the costume far more interesting than having a typical flared skirt, which look like this. But after all the mistakes I ended up with a typical flared skirt!

Step one was making the pattern. I used a half dozen sheets of newsprint for this and after a ton of draping I came up with something I liked.

Here you can see mistake number one. The hem isn’t nearly wide enough, the pleats aren’t deep enough to sit properly. At the hemline you can already see them being pulled out of shape even though they are made from paper! They’ll be far more prone to holding their shape in this form than after being cut from fabric, so this was a bad sign.


These are the front and back panels – these ones aren’t far off, though if I used this pattern again i’d add a few inches to the back.


The side panels aren’t a bad shape, they are just half the width they should be to support the pleats I wanted.


I cut all the skirt panels out, then marked the pleat lines onto the underside of the fabric and loosely pinned the pleats in place.

This is mistake number two, the side panels should have been interfaced or backed with a netting right after cutting them out. They need a support structure to give them enough volume to create the dramatic pleats.


Once I liked the way the pleats were sitting I basted them in place. Then I hid the opening for the skirt underneath one of the pleats. This will line up with the side opening of the bodice, and serve as the way to get the dress on and off.

I cut a ten inch long slit into the fabric, then covered the edges with matching bias tape.


I sewed hooks and bars underneath the bias tape to keep the slit closed. then sewed snaps onto either side, which hold the pleat in place. Here is how it looks open.


And here it is closed. In this setting you can’t see the closures, but when the skirt was on my dress form and there was more tension put on the material the snaps were slightly visible.


With the closures done I gave the side panels a good steaming, then sewed together all the skirt panels with french seams. This is the stage where the skirt looked it’s best. The pleats aren’t perfect, but the shape is right.



Now it was time to add the facing, and this is where I made my biggest mistake. I used a ridiculously heavyweight home decor material which weighed down the hem like crazy and totally changed the nice shape that the skirt had. It may not have been so bad if i’d made the facing a few inches wide, but for some dumb reason I made it eighteen inches wide. Why? I have no idea.


That got sewn in with a half inch seam allowance.


Then turned inward so the raw edges were hidden. This was sewn in by hand at the hem, and at the top edge of the facing.


Now it was time for the first fitting. This went…badly. You can see here how odd the shape is thanks to the heavy facing. It doesn’t drape nicely over the upper portion since it’s weighed down. It’s also about an inch too long – something I ignored at the time, but I realize now is a big issue.


But the front view is beautiful compared to the side view, which is awful.

Once again length is an issue, but the big problem is that the pleats don’t have enough fabric (or volume) to hold themselves in place. I tried tacking them down at points but that looks bad since the tension of the fabric caused the stitching to be visible. It was a mess.


I took out the back seam and re-pleated the side panels, hoping to salvage them, but there just wasn’t enough fabric there. And I didn’t have any material leftover to add additional panels.


So I ripped the pleats out. And then I realized the closures on the side panel would be visible. No problem, I could just remove them…but I couldn’t remove the slight tears they made in the taffeta, or the the white placement marks underneath them.


My solution to this was to make a giant dart in the side panel. This would remove all the damaged (and excess) fabric at the waistline and I could hide the new closure method in the seam.


After ironing out all the crease lines from the pleats I pinned the giant dart, then repeated the process on the other side of the skirt.


To add a bit of detail I sewed lace into the top ten inches of this seam. This is the same lace I used on the bodice neckline, which I think is a nice touch.

The skirt is still far from finished but it immediately looked way better.


I left the top ten inches of the dart open on the right side, so I could add the closures. I decided to use hooks and bars that were stitched onto a piece of twill tape, then sewn onto the taffeta with small whip stitches. This way there isn’t any stitching visible on the top side of the fabric.

After making sure this worked I finished the raw interior edge with ribbon and added lace trim to the folded edge.


It was a lot of work to get it to this point, but It finally looks okay!


I think the skirt gods took pity on me because my closure method actually worked! It looks just as smooth as a regular seam.


The front and side panels were sorted, but there was way too much excess material in the back. I decided to do something like this back detailing, but instead of knife pleats I went for cartridge pleats.

This was mistake number…I don’t know, five? My skirt didn’t have enough fabric in the back for cartridge pleats, and it turns out taffeta isn’t very forgiving about that sort of thing.

I marked the pleat lines onto a faux wool flannel material, which will bulk up the taffeta and make denser looking pleats.


I didn’t want the bulk of gathered flannel in the waistline so I sewed ribbon across the top edge. The ribbon will serve as my half inch seam allowance instead of the wool.


I pinned that to the taffeta, then got to sewing. From the back it looked like this.


And from the front it looked really bad. Since there wasn’t enough material to gather into nice cartridge pleats a lot of my gathering stitches are visible, and the gathers aren’t very even. It actually looks okay from a distance, but up close it’s pretty rough.


I finished the top edge of the skirt by sewing it to a two inch wide strip of cotton, with the wrong sides facing each other. The end result finishes the interior nicely and leaves the raw edges on the front side of the material.


I’ll sew the bodice onto the top edge of the cotton, then cover the raw edges with the  waistband later on.


And that’s it for this post!

This may not seem like that tiresome of a project, but it really ate up my enthusiasm towards sewing. Every problem felt like such a drag, I didn’t even want to look at it, much less work on it! I think part of the problem is that I don’t usually run into issues when making skirts, so  I wasn’t really sure how to fix them. It took days of thought in between each step to come up with something that might help.

I think the end result is pretty okay, but i’m still disappointed by it since it’s so far from my original plan. But I definitely learned a lot and plan to use my newfound expertise on making another 1890s skirt in the near future.

I’m going to try this skirt on tomorrow and see if any alterations are needed – I have a feeling the hem will need to be lifted, and I may remove part of the facing depending on how the shape looks. I’ll talk about any changes in the next post about this project, which will also cover making the sleeves, the waistband, and show photos of the finished dress!

Thanks for reading!



Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part One

This post is long overdue since I finished this part of the project back in January! I put off writing about it for a while because the skirt was giving me trouble, and I wasn’t sure if the project would even get completed. But now it’s done! So I can finally share the process of making it.

This project is an 1890s themed dress made from purple polyester taffeta. I based the neckline of this dress on this fashion plate, and planned on it having a very full skirt with pleats on each side like this example. The dress will be worn over a set of foundation garments and this partial shirtwaist.

My original sketch and the fabrics for this project are shown in this post. My sketch didn’t end up being very accurate, but I did use it as a guide for draping the bodice.

Speaking of draping the bodice…

After fiddling around I came up with a five piece pattern. The front panel is gathered slightly at the waist and fitted over the chest.



I turned that into a pattern that looks like this. The gathers are marked on this as well as the button/hook closure placements on the side and back of the bodice.


At this point I also drafted the sleeve pattern, which is MASSIVE. I wanted the sleeves to be fitted below the elbow so they would look nice underneath a jacket (which will hopefully be a companion piece to this project in the near future) so I cut them as two pieces, which is a bit unusual for this period.

To add a bit of interest to the sleeves I made the fitted portion pointed at the top.


I made a mock up of the sleeves from some damaged cotton sateen and stuffed them with quilt batting. The finished result had the amount of poof I wanted, but was a bit too big at the wrist. So I ended up making a few alterations there.


I also made a mock up for the bodice. This was a bit large so I took it in at the sides. I also widened the neckline a bit.


Here is the bodice mock up + the sleeve mock up. So much poof!


After making my pattern alterations I cut out the bodice. Then I faced the bottom half of the right side seam with strips of faux wool flannel.


This finished the edge nicely and creates a base for the hooks/bars that will run down the side of this dress.


Then I sewed up the side seams normally, but left the faced portion on the right side open.


Interior view.


Now we skip a few steps! I originally sewed the back panels together and stitched buttonholes into the top few inches…but the buttonholes looked bad so I ripped out the stitching and covered the raw edges  with a scrap of taffeta (as seen on left).

Before doing any of that I added a faux wool flannel facing to the neckline and shoulder of the bodice and stitched them in place by hand. Then I gathered the bottom edge slightly and stitched in elastic so the gathers have a bit of stretch which makes the bodice easier to get on and off.

And somewhere along the way I also stitched up the side back seams. If those look funny to you it’s because those panels were cut on the wrong grain line to save fabric. When I was sewing them on I realized they were puckered, and that was likely the reason why, but after ironing they seemed okay so I moved on.

That was a mistake. Not only as they still puckered, they also look like they were cut from a different fabric. This fabric is two tone, but that quality is only visible on one of the fabrics grain lines. See how the front panel has a grey shift to it in the folds? The back panels don’t have that and appear darker.

 I didn’t realize all of this until I tried the finished bodice on and noticed how terrible it looked from the back. At that point it was way too late to fix it, which really sucks. On the bright side I definitely learned my lesson and will never make that mistake again.


I ignored the issues and buttonholes for a while and focused on the side closure instead. This involved sewing in six hooks.


Then I moved on to beading. For this I used 6mm glass pearls and two different types of glass seed beads. At this point I wasn’t completely sure what beading pattern I was going to use, but these matched the costume and I figured I could come up with something as I worked.


I ended up stitching pearls with seed beads on each side about an eighth (tenth?) of an inch apart all the way across the neckline.


Here it is from a distance.

In this photo you can also see the new and improved (though still pretty ugly) button holes I stitched into the right side.


I finished off the beading by stitching the grey seed beads into a pattern that wraps around the pearls. This was pretty easy to do once I got the hang of it and I really like how it looks.

I ended up making a tutorial on the process, if you’re curious it can be watched here.

After taking this photo I thought the neckline was still a bit bland, so I decorated it with vintage cluny lace which really brings it all together!


With the detailing done I pinned polyester lining into the bodice.


Then stitched the lining in by hand.


Look at how pretty it is!


Here is a close up of the finished neckline.


I did up the back seam, then sewed bias tape onto the bottom edge.


After a quick fitting I realized it was difficult to get on and off. So I reopened the back seam and added another button hole and three hooks to the back of the bodice. The end result isn’t as seamless as I’d hoped, but it’s a lot more practical.

The final step was sewing on the buttons (which I switched out for different ones later) and the bodice was done! All it needs is sleeves.


That’s it for this post! I should be writing about the skirt and sleeves very soon!

Thanks for reading!


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Grey Taffeta Dress & Hat

This ensemble was based off of a portrait of the sixteenth century woman Ana de Mendoza.  In her lifetime she was a countess, duchess, princess, and prisoner. I picked this portrait as inspiration because I enjoyed the contrast of the colors, and it was something I could easily make from materials I already owned. The costume consists of four pieces, the kirtle, an undershirt, a hat, and an eyepatch.

The kirtle is made from six yards of dark grey polyester taffeta. It is heavily boned in the front, and laces up the back through hand sewn eyelets. Taffeta was draped over a heavy layer of canvas which serves as a base for all the structure. Strips of wool circle the arm holes, and ruffled lace decorates the neckline. Light grey pearls were sewn all around the neckline and a brooch I purchased online completes the bodice.

The hat is made from felt weight interfacing and wire, which provide the structure. Each piece was covered with flannel for padding, then taffeta which matches the dress. The interior is lined with a damask print denim and cotton gauze. Strips of wool suiting were placed around the brim and crown of the hat to cover the stitches keeping the pieces together. It’s decorated with four ostrich plumes, pearls, and a sash of blue silk chiffon.

The undershirt is made from cotton gauze, with lace sleeves that have ruffles at the cuffs. They tie at the center with sashes of blue silk chiffon, which match the one used on the hat.

The final piece is an eyepatch, which was also made from felt weight interfacing. It’s covered with damask print denim, lined with wool, and ties in place with black covered cord.

I have three posts about the process of making this costume, which can all be read below.

Making the Kirtle

Making the Undershirt

Making the Hat (and eyepatch)

Costume Spotlight

(a video)

Ana de Mendoza

Ana de Mendoza 3


Striped Taffeta Dress, Part Three

This is the final post on this project, how sad. Today i’ll be talking about making the skirt, and the assembly of the garment. If you missed the first two posts about this project they can be found here and here!

In the last post I had  just completed the sleeves, so the obvious step is to attach those to the bodice.

I gathered the sleeves down to the right size, then hand stitched them into place.



After I did that the work on the skirt began. The skirt is relatively simple, it started out as a rectangle with a bit of trim for decoration, nothing difficult….or that was the plan. But I ran into a roadblock. One that involves running out of fabric.

Usually my rule for gathering skirts is that you should have three or four times the length you want the finished skirt to be. Since this dress lands at the waist, I wanted to have at least an eighty four inch length of material to make the skirt. But I only had a sixty five inches of fabric and two yards of trim, do you see a problem with that?

I knew this wouldn’t end well, but I continued on like everything was okay. I cut the skirt, hemmed it, then sewed on the trim.



This took longer then it should have since taffeta is such a pain to sew through, it kept shredding and tangling my thread.

But finally it was done! My dog has decided she is too good to sleep on the floor, please don’t mind her.


Then I began the task of gathering. I did two layers of gathering to make sure everything was even. My previous experience with gathering taffeta were pretty disastrous so I spent a long time trying to get this to look right.



Then I made the waistband, created from leftover strips that were used on the bodice and sleeves.


I sewed that onto the skirt.


Then the raw edge was covered with bias tape.


And finally I could try the thing on! Which I did, only to find out it looked terrible. I wasn’t surprised to find that the skirt didn’t have nearly enough volume. It looked very flat compared to the puffiness of the sleeves and I had no clue what to do – I was out of fabric and the trim used on the hem.

I took a step back to think and let the frustration settle, and resumed progress a week later.

I decided to add a 1/4 circle in the back of the skirt. Though that wouldn’t give it any more volume at the waist, it would make the hem large enough that I could stick a petticoat under the skirt, which would at least make it more proportionate to the top.


DSC_5283By some miracle, it worked! The skirt looked fine now so I continued on. The next step was sewing the skirt to the bodice.


Once that was done I sewed up the back seam and stitched in a zipper and hook closure….And the whole thing is finished!

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I’m very happy it’s finished! With the roadblocks I ran into I seriously wondered if I would ever get it done.

I’m really happy with the end result – I hope I can get the matching cloak done soon and share that with you all in the near future!

Thanks for reading.


Making a Blue Taffeta Dress

This is a post is over eight months in the making, how crazy is that? I started on this project in August and eventually lost interest. When I pulled it out two months ago to resume progress I was horrified by the construction, messy topstitching, and mismatched seams. Some seams were an inch off from lining up – an inch! I guess my standards have changed a lot in the past months.

I wasn’t really sure what to do, I liked the design but I wasn’t sure I liked it enough to rip out all the seams and remake it. And I definitely didn’t want to finish it in it’s current condition….so I put it away and hoped I’d never see it again. But a few weeks ago it was calling to me, so I decided it was time for it to have a makeover.

This post will be a little odd because of that – a mix of old and new progress pictures, explanations of what was done wrong, how I should have done it better, and stuff like that.

This project was inspired by some Lucas Cranach paintings – after flipping through a gallery I wanted to make something “With a lot of sleeve puffs”. Then after seeing “The Three Musketeers” I had a very strong desire to make something with a fantastic hood like this.

I wanted to make it off of materials I had around, so I decided on off white chiffon (lined with satin), and six yards of blue stretch taffeta.

My basic design looked like this:

DSC_1611I’ll start with making the skirt, because that was the first thing I did.

These pieces are cut out so wobbly, it kills me, ahh!




And once those are sewn together and gathered…

DSC_9562As lovely as that is, i’m placing it aside for now and moving on to the terrors of the bodice.

The bodice pattern is really, really weird since there is a puff embedded in the strap. It took me several mock ups and a lot of playing around to get the shape I wanted. Once I did I turned my mock up into a paper pattern which was used to cut out the stretch taffeta and blue cotton (for lining).


The front section was supposed to be gathered chiffon, I used white cotton as a base and gathered the chiffon over top, then I sealed the edges with brightly colored bias tape.


I sewed boning into the lining of the bodice, then pinned the lining and top layers together.


Once everything was turned right side out I top stitched very poorly around everything – this was right when I got my industrial machine and hadn’t quite figured out the proper settings for everything, because of this I was using a 1.7 mm stitch – now for top stitching I use a 3.5.

Because the stitches were so tight I had no hope of ripping this part of and redoing it.

I sewed the shoulder straps together and pinned the first of the puffs into place.


Que more terrible top stitching.

I pinned the side seams and tried it on – it was pretty vulgar so I added a ruffle for modesty. Which required even more awful top stitching.


Back to work on the sleeves! Lot’s mot puffs and bad top stitching. Yay.


DSC_1545Then they were sewn on to the bodice and the side seams were done up. I must have done this without pins since they were so uneven. The seam attaching them to the bodice wavered from 1″ to .25″ depending on the spot, and the side seams were almost an inch off in some places. None of the white puffs lined up properly, it was pretty awful.

I also ripped out four unnecessary layers of topstitching at the wrists – i’m not sure what they were there for, but they weren’t doing any good.


In addition to ripping off the sleeves, my bodice repairs included adding embroidered eyelets to the back (instead of a zipper) and hundreds of tiny 2mm decorative pearls. I sewed the pearls around the neckline and used them to create the look of lacing on the front of the bodice.


I also added elastic to the edges of the neckline so the ruffles would cling to my body and offer a little more modesty.


Now lets go back to the skirt! The first time I made the skirt I attempted to sew the chiffon panels and the taffeta e panels onto the bodice, then sew them together…which is really dumb and i’m not sure why I chose to do that, but that’s why I have this photo.

I also chose to sew the taffeta and chiffon panels together by machine, not realizing that stretch taffeta, you know, stretches. The taffeta panels ended up several inches longer then the chiffon one.


I also had no friggen clue how to gather taffeta. I tried doing it by hand, with a machine, using elastic, nothing worked and this was my end result.


And at the time I said, “Yup, that’s fine” and sewed it on to the bodice.

On take two I ripped out the cringe worthy gathering and uneven panels. I laid them out flat, pinned them, and hand stitched them together from underneath, so the thread was invisible on top. Then I did two rows of gathering – the proper way to gather taffeta.


Is that not a million times better? Then I sewed it onto the bodice.


On the left is what it looked like before, on right is the much improved after.


The final thing to work on was the hood! My first hood was a tragic terrible mistake and needed the most improvements out of everything.

This is the hood pattern – it took me ages to draft and i’m still quite proud of it.


In my first hood I used plastic boning in the brim as a support, and free handed the gathers in the chiffon. Which meant the whole thing ended up horribly uneven. On top of that the thing was really heavy – it had almost two yards of taffeta and double that amount of chiffon in it. Way too much for a flimsy piece of plastic boning to support.

Speaking of the uneven hood – look at this pathetic piece of gathered lining.


The lining wasn’t salvageable. I ended up taking apart a petticoat made from the same fabric, just so I could remake this hood. Then I dissembled the taffeta layer and used that as a pattern for the lining.

I cut a strip of buckram and then sewed the chiffon onto it by hand – this way there was no chance for anything to be even slightly uneven!


The hood was reassembled – this time taking great care to get everything perfect. All the topstitching was done by hand, and I made matching bias tape to finish the edges. Instead of gathering the edges, I pleated them, which looked much nicer and did a better job of getting the shape I wanted. The bottom edges of the hood have little loops made from bias tape – these are what attach the hood to the dress. The dress has button sewn just inside the neckline.

Then I inserted a strip of hooping wire that I pre bend to the required shape. There was no was this hood was going to be unsupported.

I really wish I had a better photo of how awful this hood was. In most photos I very carefully placed it on my head and took dozens of pictures to get it to look right – if I moved the whole thing would collapse, but you can’t tell that from these staged images.

Anyway, before (take a look at that skirt gathering, too!)




All the dress needed was a hem to finish it off, so I did that, and it’s done! I wasn’t wearing heels in these pictures so the hem looks a little wonky.





So that’s that! I’m not sure if it was worth all the effort I put into it, but I’m happy I did. There are still problems I can’t change, a lot of ugly top stitching, uneven ruffles, and puckery sleeves. But I did the best I could with what I had.

Now I just have to find a place to photograph it!

Do you have any projects you’ve saved from wreckage? Is this a common thing?

Thanks for reading!


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Striped Taffeta Dress, Part Two

I’ve managed to get another sewing related injury, an attempt to make an eyelet hole larger with a pair of scissors turned into a (literally) bloody disaster. I can’t seem to hand sew without the use of that finger, and apparently I can’t draft a pattern without banging it on everything. 

Between stabbing myself with pins, burning myself with irons, and seam ripper/scissor related injures i’m a battered mess. For a hobby people associate with the weak and elderly it’s pretty badass. 

(or maybe i’m just weak – thus the injuries)

Anyway – I’m spending my accident educed absence from sewing by catching up on writing, I have six blog posts (mostly) written already – I’m super proud of myself.

Enough with crap you probably don’t care about, this is part two of my overly complicated striped dress! Part one is about the bodice and can be read here!

I’ve run into some real roadblocks with this project, which i’m ignoring for the time being. Instead i’m focusing on the parts that aren’t going too poorly, like the sleeves, which is what this post is all about.

I debated a lot about how to make the sleeves on this thing. I really wanted to do puffy sleeves like the ones on my Glittery Gown but I knew I wanted the cape to have sleeves as well, which would cover the dress sleeves down to the elbow. So that meant the sleeves needed to be very collapsible.

I couldn’t use batting or stuffing to make a base, but luckily taffeta is pretty stiff on it’s own and (should) be able to support itself.

I finally decided on a design I liked, which looked like so!


Then I translated those doodles and crap into a functional pattern.


I used some super elegant mock up materials – I like how the green bubbles bring out the green in the guitars.

There were some minor fit issues, all of which were in the wrist region. I didn’t like the crescent at the elbow either, it was too large. But I really loved how poofy the sleeve were, and the bands below them fit perfectly!


I made some pattern adjustments and got to work on the real thing. My first task was the top bit of the sleeves, unfortunately I didn’t have nearly as much material for this as I thought, so I had to make them less poofy

(what a tragedy)


Then I gathered some embelishments to make the sleeves a little more interesting. I raided my beading collection, which had to be dusted off since it hadn’t been touched in five years (oops). Most of the items were purchased when I was ten so it was a bit of a challenge to find anything in a color other then pink.

But I did manage to find some fantastic, usable stuff!


Then I got to work sewing those on. I sort of winged the pattern and hoped for the best.


I didn’t really like how it looked but I decided to fake confidence and keep going.

Luckily, once it was finished, I was quite fond of it.



Once the poofy bits were done I moved down to the bands that surround them. I made these much like the ones on the bodice, rectangles of fabric that were sewn into tubes and then hand sewn together.



 Then I gathered the lower edge of my poofy sleeves and sewed them together.


Then I skipped over the elbow portion and moved on to the wrist pieces. I knew I didn’t want the stripes to show on these pieces, so I decided to sew the stripes out of the fabric. This would require sewing a lot of seams, but I figured if I did some carefully it could look really neat, and almost reminiscent of armor, which I like since this is (very) loosely based of of menswear.

(I say as a pile on the poof and sparkle)

I started by marking out all the lines onto the back of the material.


I had to fold the fabric at each stripe point, iron it, pin it, sew it, iron it, and then repeat. It was a very slow process but I adore the result!


Then I cut my pattern out of my newly texture fabric, as well as black broadcloth (for lining) unfortunately I made a horrible mistake –  I didn’t make sure my materials were right sides together when I was cutting. I cut two of the same pattern piece when they need to be mirror images of each other.

DSC_4889Unfortunately I did not have any material left to fix it with – this entire dress is made from a little over a yard and a half of fabric, there was NO room for mistakes.

I decided to ignore it (as best I could) and move on. I added a bit of interfacing to the taffeta, to make sewing the button holes a bit easier later on. Then I sewed the lining in.

DSC_4890I clipped the corners, turned it rightside out, and pinned the lace on. They aren’t perfectly symmetrical but i’m not bothered by it.


Then I sewed the button holes in, and the buttons on. These  buttons are from this wonderful shop on etsy.

(Seriously they have amazing customer service, fast shipping, great packaging and reliable descriptions paired with accurate photos. I can’t recommend them highly enough.)

DSC_4905The last bits were the elbow pieces. I started by cutting out the broadcloth bases and sewing them together.


Then I made stripes of fabric to cover them – I talk about this technique in part one, so I won’t repeat myself in this post, instead I will just show you how it looks.


I sewed around them, then sewed bias tape onto the edges.


And then I sewed all the pieces together!


I sewed in the lining, stitched up the sides and my sleeves are officially DONE.


I just have to gather the tops and secure them to the bodice. This dress is getting so close to completion – I really hope nothing else gets in the way of finishing it.

Thanks for reading!


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Striped Taffeta Dress, Part One

You should all know I almost published this with “stripped” as the title – but I caught it!

Okay I lied – the weekend was less productive then I had hoped and  I didn’t get half the things I wanted to finished, Including as set of stays. So that post will go up later in the week, and you’ll be stuck with this one for now.

This is another new project I’ve been working on for the last few weeks. It turned out to be way more complicated then it should have been – and I haven’t even started on the part of it I’m interested in making!

I was browsing through “The Complete Costume History” and came across this image. I thought all the outfits were interesting, but I was especially attracted to the arming cape and the vests – which almost reminds me of early cassocks.

I had several yards of black coating, and under two yards of grey taffeta which I thought looked nice together, and would be perfect for this project. DSC_4658

I also had a single yard of black beaded lace, and some buttons I ordered with this project in mind.

I decided to design a dress to go underneath the whole thing instead of trying to make awkward looking shorts.


Because the cape is supposed to be the focus there is NO reason for the dress underneath it to be complicated…but I do love complicated dresses, so I decided to make one. It has puffs and stripes and beading and applique, I couldn’t have made this more difficult if I tried.

I’m  not sure how many posts will be related to this project – it could be as few as three or as many as six. Do you tend to prefer longer posts or shorter ones? Because I could switch to three posts a week that are shorter.

Anyway – this post covers the bodice!

I started with a mock up. I actually made another mock up before this one, but it was so terrible I don’t want to harm anyone’s eyes. This is a pretty simple five piece bodice, and luckily my mock up fit pretty well this time!


 I dissembled the mock up and used it to make a pattern.




I cut out the pattern once from a black broadcloth, which would become the lining later on. 


Then I did something kind of strange – I cut the straps off my carefully made pattern.


I cut the pattern (sans straps) out once again, this time from the black coating.


Then it was time to make the overlay of strips for the bodice. I use my striped taffeta to make this process a little easier. First I cut the strips down to the roughly the right size.


Then I folded (and ironed) the edges over so they wouldn’t budge.


And made up some piping (out of the coating) to decorate the edges.


Then I sewed them together and pinned them to my bodice!


I sewed around the edge of my bodice to hold all the strips down, and set this aside.

The next step was making the black bands to go underneath this. These weren’t very difficult, they are just 3.75 inch strips folded over and sewn into a tube.


I pressed them so the seam was in the center back of each tube, then I sewed them together by hand.


This was ironed, then sewed on to the bodice. I also took this time to sew on the straps, which are a single layer of striped taffeta. I know they don’t line up at all – which is fine since they will be covered with lace later on.


Then the whole thing was pinned (right sides together!) to the cotton lining.


Before that was finished I spent several heartbreaking minutes cutting up the lace. I bought a single yard of this several years ago at a quilting show and really love it. It’s so unusual to see beaded alencon lace in black, since it’s a traditional wedding lace, so I think it was a neat find!

I’ve saved it for so long since I was too afraid to cut into it, but it was time.

Trims are made to be used…not treasured…


I trimmed the corners and curved edges on the bodice before turning it right side out. Then I sewed on the lace across the straps, which was much easier then I had expected. I saved a tiny bit for the sleeves, and the entire scalloped edge for the skirt.

This crap photo really doesn’t do the garment any justice, but it’s the only one I took.


The better photos are saved for my next post, which will probably be about the sleeves.

Thanks for reading!


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Blue Taffeta Hooded Dress

A Renaissance themed gown vaguely inspired by Cranach paintings and costumes seen in “The Three Musketeers”. It’s made mostly from six yards of blue stretch taffeta and several yards of off white chiffon. The chiffon is lined with satin and the bodice is lined with cotton. The dress is decorated with hundreds of small glass pearls to create lacing and embellishment on the bodice.

The hood has buckram in the brim to keep to keep it’s shape, and attaches to the dress with buttons and loops.

It was all designed, drafted and sewn by me.

I have one post that covers how it was made, and it can be read below!

Making a Blue Taffeta Dress



Plaid, Pleats, and Piping – Making an 1830’s Dress, Part Two

This post is about making the sleeves, skirt, and bonnet for an 1830’s ensemble. I posted about making the bodice for this project a few months ago but didn’t finish the ensemble until last week!

I looked at a lot of sleeve examples from the 1830’s but finally decided on something a little silly that would let the plaid really shine – shirring.

I sketched a few designs but ended up making the the sleeves with four portions – two shirred upper portions separated by piping, a loose puffed portion, and the cuff.

The first step was cutting out four sixty inch wide strips. Then I used the lines in the plaid as a guide for gathering the strips down.


This was very time consuming to do. Each sleeve had seven rows of gathering – that’s 420″ of fabric that had to be gathered down, and that’s just for one sleeve!


Then I sewed piping onto the bottom edge of each piece.


The second shirred panel was sewn on, just below the piping.


Then I trimmed the top of the sleeves so they would fit the armscye.


The third portion of the sleeves we large rectangles. I turned the bottom few inches of the side edge inward to hide the raw edges, then gathered the top and bottom edges. The top edge was gathered to the width of the shirred panels, and the bottom edge to the width of the cuffs.


They were sewn on to the shirred panels.


Then the top portion of the sleeves were lined with cotton to hide the raw edges.


The cuffs are interfaced rectangles of cotton with the edges ironed inward. Then I sewed piping onto each edge.


I used whip stitches for this, so the stitching wouldn’t be visible.


The cuffs were sewn onto the sleeves by hand, with more whip stitches.


Then lined with cotton. The fabric is lightweight enough that even when gathered down this densely it doesn’t add much bulk to the seam.


I did up the side seam, then covered the raw edges with plaid bias tape.


The final step was sewing two hooks and bars into each cuff.


I sewed the sleeves on by hand, with slip stitches, and then the bodice was complete! I’m pretty happy with this. At first I thought the plaid was too busy, and the shirring looked odd with the pleating, but I got over that and now I think it’s wonderful.




I didn’t take very many photos of making the skirt since I made it in two hours the night before we photographed this project. But it’s pretty easy to explain since the skirt is just a large rectangle!

I turned the hem inward by a half inch, then inward again by two and a quarter inches. I used a cross/catch stitch for this, and I have a tutorial on the process that can be watched here!


The top edge was pleated with knife pleats. I originally had the waistline being straight, but after a fitting I realized it was too long in the front. I cut the waistline on an angle so it was two inches shorter in the front than in the back, which leveled the hem.

Then I sewed on the waistband – this was done by machine to save time.


The back edges were turned inward twice to form a finished edge. Then I sewed hooks and bars in. The back seam was done up with a french seam.


And that was it for the skirt! I hemmed it to sit nicely over a single cotton and tulle petticoat, along with a weird bum pad I made for an 1880’s dress. This caused it to flare out a bit in the back which wasn’t uncommon in the 1830’s.


The final piece for this project is a bonnet. I used this as my main reference image and pinned paper onto a wig head until It had the shape I wanted.


I transferred that onto a new sheet of paper and cleaned up the edges. Then I cut the pattern out from heavyweight interfacing.


I sewed wire into the edges of each piece, then covered them with velvet.


The cap portions of the bonnet were lined with scraps of silk taffeta, then sewn together by hand.


I lined the brim with bright orange silk shantung, which matches the piping on the dress.


It was sewn in with whip stitches, then sewn onto the cap!


I’m pretty happy with how the shape turned out, and I love these materials together.


Since the dress is so wacky I decided to keep the bonnet somewhat simple. It’s decorated with strips of orange silk that form a criss cross pattern with a bow in the back and ends that fall at either side. These can be used as ties, but the bonnet stays in place thanks to a comb pinned into the back of the brim.


I should have photos of the finished ensemble up soon – we took some in a pumpkin patch, which made a nice backdrop for this fun dress. I just have to finish editing them!

Thanks for reading!


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