Respect the Process

img_2080I cannot even think about the election today. I have done my civic duty (in addition to the Great National Stressor, we have 16 state-wide ballot initiatives, and 25 city-wide ballot initiatives to vote on). I need to be thinking about something completely different. Like cartridge pleats.

I am, in my day job, employed by the American Bookbinders Museum, a small museum focused on the shift from hand- to mechanical bookbinding as part of the greater Industrial Revolution. It’s fascinating, if you like books, or history, or art, or craft, or the history of women or unions or… As we’re a newish museum, we’re always looking to find ways to reach people who would be a natural audience for us. And as part of our outreach, I’m going to be spending weekends at Dickens Fair, an annual recreation of Dickens’s London on Christmas Eve. I’ll be sewing book signatures (the part of bookbinding that wasn’t mechanized until the mid-1870s) and attempting to interest passers-by in the subject, the craft, and, well… the museum.

To do this, of course, I have to have appropriate clothing. Which means I’ve been sewing.

Every now and then I’ll take on some insane sewing project. I’m a self-taught seamstress, and I like trying out new processes. This time I flat-felled seams, and set piping in the neckline, waist, at shoulder seams of the bodice. It’s finicky, and I don’t usually do finicky (I generally caution people not to look at the inside of my garments, which mostly look like a switchboard that has exploded).

the-dressThe process? First, you need a pattern, or at dead least a good idea of what you want your garment to look like (the further back in time I work, the more I tend to invent the pattern, on the theory that clothing is mostly a collection of straight and curved edges, pinned to fit). This time I used a pattern from Past Patterns, #702, working on the design on the left. The original would have been made of plaid silk; as I’m being a working woman, I went with a medium-weight blue linen with white-figured cotton under sleeves. (If you don’t do fashion or sewing, this is where your brain may check out. That’s perfectly permissible.)

I bought nine yards of linen. 27 feet of 60″ wide linen. Washed, ironed, pinned, and cut out the pattern pieces, using a muslin liner to fit (I’m wearing a corset under the dress, so fit is, like, a thing. Here’s the bodice, basically structured and fitted. img_2073

There is boning in the front darks–I decided to forego the boning in the back, but I can always reconsider at a later date. It’s not particularly impressive at this point.

Then there are the sleeves. These are pagoda-style sleeves with an additional false undersleeve. If I had made the dress of silk, the false sleeves would have been made of batiste or some other very sheer fabric. Not silk, so: a white figured cotton.

I put the sleeves together pretty quickly. The scary part was attaching them to the bodice. See, there’s piping along those seams, and I’d never done that before. In the end, I pinned it all together, then sewed it by hand so I could make sure that I didn’t sew over the piping and make a grand hash of it. I think, all things considered, that it turned out pretty well.


(I’m being coy, here. My inner seamstress is hopping up and down shrieking “look! look what I did! be impressed with me!”)

In fact, it took a while, but it turned out pretty nicely. Nicely enough that I used the same technique for the neckline and the waistline. Like, as they say, so:

img_2079The next phase (which starts tonight) is cartridge pleating the 240 inches of material for the skirt (yes: 20 feet of linen in cartridge pleats).

For reasons that should be obvious, once I have completed this object my need to sew will retreat to an eyrie high in Nepal and contemplate its belly button.

Posted in Crafts, History permalink

About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Respect the Process — 12 Comments

  1. Regarding pattern making for bodices, I don’t know if you know about this trick that I learned in the Society for Creative Anachronism, so I thought I would share. You will need some brown butcher’s paper, a pen, an expendable T-shirt, a roll of masking tape, and a really good friend. You put on the T-shirt, have your friend tape you snugly into it, mark where the armholes and neckline ought to be, then very carefully cut you out of it. Cut on your marked lines to remove excess stuff, put the taped over pattern down on the butcher’s paper and add seam allowances to get an absolutely well-fitted pattern that will always be perfect. I made my own dresses since the age of twelve, and this was new to me at forty, so I don’t know that it will be new to you, but I know it has been a great help to me. (If only for getting together with good friends.)

  2. No hoops or anything, so it should be relatively comfortable. However, I need to spend the next ten days wearing my corset and breaking it in, and that’s going to be… weird.

    • Two pieces. With cartridge pleats and the skirt band properly sized, it should stay up where I need it to. And yes, hand making the buttonholes (one of the first embroidery stitches I learned works for button holes). I’m sifting through my button bags to find six more-or-less matching plain buttons (bone for preference, but I’ll see what I find).

  3. I like seeing it grow, and wondered about the skirt and the fastenings as well. I love the piping at the seam where the sleeve attaches!
    I tried it once on a pillowcase but got in trouble at the corners and especially with the zipper, and haven’t dared it since. It does look nice though, so maybe I’ll try again but sew it by hand, since I’ve taken to sewing my blouses and summer slacks/skirts by hand anyway.

    Did you put piping in the neckline seam first, and then attach the eyelet lace later?
    Or did you attach the lace in the seam itself?

    I’m also looking at how you make and attach the lining, as I’ll probably end up lining a summer blouse that turned out to be a bit more see-through than I like. In the shop the fabric looked much less sheer, just a nice light summer cotton.

    I hope you’ll post about it again when you’ve done the next bit!

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