Monday, December 7, 2015

Victorian wrapper dress

I started volunteering at a pioneer farm in October. I already had the appropriate underpinnings (chemise, corset, petticoats) but nothing to wear them with, so I was really excited to have an excuse to venture into the Victorian period. As a child, I was obsessed with pioneers and read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.

I'd been making due with some long, gathered skirts paired with a white blouse with white embroidery. It looked good, but wasn't all that comfortable to wear. Plus, I looked fat. So for the sake of my vanity, I decided I needed a dress.

I chose the Laughing Moon #120, 1840s-1860s Pleated Wrapper. Reasons for choosing it: unlined (except for the yoke), no darts to mess with, seemed straightforward and it's very pretty. The dress can be pleated or gathered; I pleated it because I used a medium-weight homespun fabric and I wasn't sure how well it would look gathered.

I was a little bit afraid that this dress would look dumpy but it doesn't. It looks amazing. I freaking love it.

The fabric is a lovely homespun plaid in shades of cream, olive, blue, and rose that had been in my mother's stash for over 20 years. I fell in love with it when I first saw it and took it for MY stash--a couple of years ago. I think it's perfect for this style of dress.

It was a bit of a challenge to find a big enough work space to lay out the pattern pieces, which are basically huge rectangles. I finally had to lay my cutting board and fabric out on my bed. My fabric is 60 inches wide; I can't remember how much of it I had, but I believe it was 5 yards. I had fabric leftover after cutting all the pieces out.

I was a bit stressed out about the pleats and transferring the markings to my fabric, and then I decided to just insert pins where the pleat markings were.

To make the pleats, I picked up one pin, brought it over to its partner and laid it on top, and pinned in place. It resulted in really beautiful, neat pleats.

The instructions said to stitch the pleats down along the waist line, but that was difficult for me, so I just stitched them down along their length. It keeps things nice and neat and looks more tailored.

I had an easy time putting this dress together, but the problems came with finishing the neckline and front. I'll edit this to show pictures of those instructions, but basically they were as follows:

1. Finish the neckline seam with piping (I didn't make piping, so I just made a strip of bias tape from the dress fabric to finish the neckline), stopping at the fold line for the front edges. The piping is long enough to extend to the front fold lines, but you are to leave it loose.

2. Fold down the top edge of the center front 5/8 inch. I'm presuming this is referring to the unpiped part of the neck line, but... How the hell do you do that? I consulted with two sewing friends and they were baffled as well. If you fold that part down, it folds down into a triangle. I ended up snipping the fabric at the edge of the piping so that I could do the fold.

3. Press the raw edge of the center front in 1/4 inch, then fold the front edge along the fold line and stitch down. That's straightforward, except... What am I supposed to do with the piping that's still dangling from the neckline? It's never resolved. I just ended up cutting it off with pinking shears.

4. Finishing the closures--it's simple enough if you want to put buttons all the way down, which I didn't. Buttons are expensive! That's a lot of buttons! I chose to go with the option of stitching down the center front from just below the waist to the hem. The instructions made zero sense to me. So the center front edges are completely finished at this point. You are supposed to overlap them at the center front line, then flip the overlap over the top of the underlap and sew along the fold line... How can that possibly look right. When you put hooks and eyes or buttons in the bodice, the front edges will overlap, but below the waist they are sewn together like a normal seam. I gave up and just plonked one edge over another and top-stitched it down.

It's not perfect--the plaids don't match up perfectly, but it's hard to tell unless you're looking closely. This isn't my fault. I marked the pattern pieces all along the edge where the cream strip in the plaid starts and stops, and I cut them out one layer of fabric at a time. But the stripes didn't match up with my markings when I laid them out on the second layer of fabric, and I have no idea why.

The hemline is shorter in the front than the back because: boobs. I hadn't thought to take that into consideration. It's really not very noticeable though, and it does make it easier to walk in the dress.

The hem was also slightly longer on one side of the front, so when I lined up the front edges to sew them together, I had to try to ease in the extra length on that side. I didn't do the best job at that, but after fussing with it for so long I finally just stopped caring and decided my next dress would be better. :D