Friday, April 28, 2017

The Downton Experience Part 2

This is a multi-part series on my trip to the Dressing Downton Exhibit at the Mall of America in January. You can check out the first post here!

All costume facts are sourced from the pamphlet provided by the exhibit.


This burgundy day dress is made of Moroccan silk and worn by Lady Mary in Season 6 (1925).


I really love the details of the pleats in this skirt. I don't believe we get to see them in the show, but man, look how sharp and crisp and tiny they are!

Pleats are a fashion statement you don't see often these days because they do take some care to keep in shape, and that is not something we do for our clothes anymore. No Anna, no pleats!


The bodice of the dress is much simpler, but it still has some lovely structure in this drapey asymmetrical neckline.


And this gray dress, also made from silk, is worn by Lady Edith in the same scene. The two textures you see in the garment are actually from the same length of silk--both the shiny and matte sides were used to create texture in this garment.


Note my hand gesturing for my husband to get a close up of the neck detail...


...which you can see here. Anyone who has sewn with silk will know that it is an extremely fussy fabric, and to get a narrow finish like this to lie smooth is insanely difficult. Again, an impressive detail that you'd never catch on the small screen.


The men of Downton wear ensembles that vary little from day to day, so we had far fewer examples of their costumes than of the women. This herringbone tweed was one of the few examples on display. You probably won't recognize it, but it was worn by Lady Mary's godfather, Dickie Merton, in season 6 (1925). As indicated by the accompanying props, it is a three-piece suit meant to be worn during the day for casual errands.


Here we have a burgundy wool coat and cream blouse worn by Lady Mary in Season 5 (1924). I actually rather hate the button decorations on the blouse (I have a weird button phobia, especially in strong contrast colors like this), but button fans will probably want to know that the buttons are vintage jet and diamante.


This is another Lady Mary gown, as worn for Sybbie's christening in season 3 (1920). It is mauve silk, as appropriate for a mourning gown, and features gorgeous embellishment.


A closer look at the embellishment. I would really love to do more of this sort of embroidery myself, it is a really gorgeous effect.


And here we have a Dowager Countess ensemble. As a staunch relic of her day and age, Violet retains the rich texture and layers of the Edwardian (and sometimes Victorian) age, which make her costumes some of the yummiest.


This gown is an evening dress, worn by Violet in Season 6 (1925). The gold lace is antique, as is the belt.


The closer you get to the dress, the more layers you see in it.


I mean, look at that embroidery!


Orange and gray are not a favorite color combo of mine, but even I have to admit that this Season 4 (1923) evening dress of Lady Edith's is a stunner. Deceptively simple from a distance, closer looks reveal an insane level of detail.


That is not a woven texture, it is beadwork!


I, like most dressmakers, appreciate knowing how a dress goes on. Details like the shoulder attachment here, and the glimpse of the undertunic are invaluable.



There is still another post with more Downton goodness to come! In the meantime, for more Seamstress Confessions, follow my sewing and design posts on Instagram!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Case of the Missing Costumes

I had a scare the other week wherein I thought I had lost my very favorite costumes. As you can imagine, this is a seamstress's worst nightmare, and I really thought that I was facing the worst.

I'd decided that I wanted to embellish one of my old costumes further, so I decided to dig through my stash and pull it out. To my surprise, this costume (which I had always kept readily at hand) was nowhere to be found! I was annoyed, but not too concerned. We'd moved twice in the past three years, and I figured a box was misplaced somewhere.

That weekend, I asked my husband to hang up a rod in the laundry room so that I could hang up all of my more elaborate ensembles. He did so very sweetly, and also carried in all of the boxes and garment bags we could find that might possibly have costumes, and helped me hang them up. We got them all nicely arranged in chronological order, but... that one costume was still missing!

And then I realized...there was another costume I couldn't find either! I was a little concerned now, because we'd gone through our whole house, but I figured they were still at my parents. Costumes keep coming out of the woodwork over there. Every few months my parents would tell me "We have more costumes/fabric to bring over, do you have space for them now?" It's almost like they raised a seamstress or something.

So, I texted my sister. As I did so, I remembered another costume that hadn't turned up...and this too was one of my very favorite pieces! Curiouser and curiouser.

My sister, however, was quite sure that all the costumes had gotten transferred over to my house. She promised to come and help me look the next day. We looked through every possible place in every possible room. And... still, no costumes.

"I'll check mom and dad's again," said my sister.

I remembered another missing costume, this one the piece that I had put over 30 hours into. I was starting to have visions of a pile of costumes lost in a parking lot during some move.

My sister texted me the next day. "No sign of them here, I looked everywhere!"

Now, my sister is an incredibly thorough person, so I knew she had done a diligent job. I chose another costume to begin embellishing at this point in my free time (see my sewing instagram for photos), and tried not to stress too much. There was still a remote chance that the costumes had gotten stored at my grandparents. I also decided to deep clean the bedroom. I didn't think the costumes were in there, but...well I had to do something, right?

Then I got another VERY excited text from my sister, who humorously relayed how she'd found the costumes in the garage after checking it for the umpteenth time. The label on the box had been somewhat misleading, and she'd thought it was another batch of clothing. BUT. It wasn't. It was my special costumes and I was so thrilled! Turns out, there was also ANOTHER box of fabric. (Oh mom and dad. I'm so sorry....)

Anyhow, no heart attack warranted, my costumes were SAFE, and my sister triumphantly transported them to my house yesterday. After several years of having all of my pieces boxes up and hidden in garment bags, I finally have everything airing out, in easily referenced order, and all of them in the same room. (It's also the basement room that we had just made floodproof, so once I get a transparent dust curtain in place, my costumes will be very well protected.)

I think only my fellow seamstresses will understand what a source of relief and comfort this is to me.

For other seamstress confessions, click here!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Downton Experience - Part 1


Downton Abbey will always have a dear place in my heart, partially because it was the décor inspiration for my wedding, and partially because it was a major piece of getting this blog going. But even without these elements, I still would have been psyched to hear that the Downton Experience was coming to the Mall of American in Minnesota. (Sorry, folks, it's gone now.)

Actually, I totally freaked when I found out. Actual Downton Abbey costumes coming to Minnesota so I could see them in person? Seriously? A dream come true! (Probably the only thing I'd get more excited about would be if the Star Wars costume exhibit ever came here. I would die of happiness.)

Let's clarify - there are two Downton Abbey costume exhibits going around, one bigger, one smaller. The one at MOA was the smaller one - but still well worth the price of admission! There were 27 costumes, all of which you could see at extremely close range (most were not even behind glass).

And yes, photography was allowed, so I am going to show you all of the glorious details! (But I still recommend going yourself! $10 for admission, or less with a groupon deal!)

My husband and I attended as a celebration of our 3rd Anniversary. By this time in our relationship, Nathan has a pretty solid footing on which to enjoy costumes himself, and he was well equipped to take photos. Actually, I was planning to take photos myself, but then upon entering the exhibit, Nathan told me "Now Honey, you just enjoy yourself. I'm going to take photos, just let me know what you want me to take."

"Everything!" I told him. "I'll let you know if we need detail shots of anything!"

He took almost 100 photos. So we're going to break this up into a few posts.

The exhibit thoughtfully provided a lovely full color brochure for the attendees, detailing the materials for each costume, along with when they were worn and by whom. My only qualm with this brochure is that I would have liked more information on what garments were made by the production, which were rented, and which were authentic vintage. A few accessories were marked as vintage, but otherwise there was no indicator of manufacturer.

Click any photo to see it in full resolution.


A silk and wool dress, worn by Mrs. Hughes in Season 2 (1920). Upon closer viewing, there is a lot more embellishment on this dress than you would expect.


Season 5, Robert and Cora's pajamas (1924). Both nightgown and pajamas are made from sand-washed silk.


 That nightgown is so pretty. And the dressing gown! Why are bathrobes so boring these days?


This ensemble was worn by Edith in Season 5 (1924). Believe it or not, that sweater is silk and the skirt is wool crepe! It's really interesting to look at the materials these garments were made from, as it shows a level of opulence that is only really evident if you know how much more care these fibers take to manufacture and care for. This ensemble might not look too different from some more recent styles at Target, but the fabric is VERY different.

Note: I felt the exhibit had a rather overabundance of Edith. Also, there is no Matthew or Sybil represented. I'm wondering if many of their costumes went on to other productions after they left the show?


Another Edith dress (also Season 5), this one made of silk using a burnout technique called Devore. Weirdly, I once dyed a Devore silk scarf this exact shade of green. I was going to sell it at a garage sale this spring, but now the Downton Connection might be too much for me... I need to have an 'Edith Scarf', right?


Obviously there's extreme perspective going on here, but (as often is true with actors) it was fascinating to see how tiny many of the actresses really are! (For comparison, I am 5'9)


The ladies dominated the exhibit, (and for good reason!) but we did get a few masculine ensembles, including this three-piece suit worn by Tom Branson in Season 6.


Adorable pinafore dress worn by Sybbie in Season 6 (1925). One of the biggest surprises of the exhibit for me was seeing how much detail there was on the children's clothing. I mean, outside of baptismal gowns, how often would anyone even think of putting a dainty lace collar on a little girl like that?


This is an authentic vintage needle lace collar, and the flowers are hand embroidered in silk.



This is a silk ensemble worn by Lady Mary in Season 5. In the photo attached to the brochure, the fabric looks lavender, but here it is quite clearly gray.


Hem detail - liberty print cotton trim.


More gorgeous kid-wear! This pinafore was also worn by Sybbie in Season 6.


I mean, just look at the crazy pleat detail in that collar! Normally I'd never think of putting a style like this on a little girl, but Sybbie looks adorable in it.

BUNCHES more in post 2!


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ode to an Iron


The Oreck iron above was my faithful companion for fifteen years. Given to me back when I was a young teen with grand sewing ambitions, I loved the cordless feature, the auto-shut-off safety, and the expansive heating plate of the iron.

I also loved that it lasted for 15 years.

Last week, after undergoing a cleaning, the Iron finally gave up the ghost. We rushed it to our local Oreck store, begging them to save it, but alas, no hope. Once the heating element burns out, an iron is unsaveable.

The Oreck blue is a highly rated but no longer manufactured product. You can still find it on eBay, however, so we are trying to track one down for me. It's been my perfect iron, and it would be tough to replace it with anything other than an exact clone.

Those who don't sew often find it surprising how physical the art can be. A big part of this is the heavy role ironing plays in creating a perfectly stitched piece. (yes, pun intended.) There is almost nothing I create with my sewing machine that doesn't involve some level of ironing, whether my elaborate costumes requiring protective cloth over delicate velvet and silk, or pressing out the stitched corners of the floursack towels for Whimsical Kitchen. (Almost) everything looks better ironed.

For now, I'm stuck using my little travel iron. It's easy on my arms, and indeed, I bought it for use on my bad fibro days. However, as you can see above, it is tiny compared to the Oreck, and I find myself greatly slowed.

I never thought an iron would make me cry, but seeing this faithful companion leave has made me quite misty-eyed. Farewell, old friend.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How to Make Jedi Robes from Curtains - Part 3

Time to sew the sleeves and hood to the body of your Jedi Robes! (Missed Parts 1 and 2?  Part 1, Part 2)

(I made Jedi Robes because my family is super into Star Wars, but you could also use this pattern to make basic wizard robes.)

Reminder - This tutorial is aimed towards making robes for a child, but you could definitely apply the method for a teen or adult as well, you'd just need bigger curtains (or a sheet or bedspread). You could also just start with plain fabric, but then you would need to add hems and it would take longer. The beauty of this layout is NO HEMMING! Yay!

In Part 3, I will show you how to attach the sleeves and hood to the body.


The robe body consists of one piece right now, and the only seams you need to sew on it are the shoulder seams. Match each front shoulder piece to it's back shoulder piece and sew. I used a conventional 5/8ths inch seam allowance.  Remember to backstitch to secure the ends.


If you have access to a serger, you can finish these seams by serging them. If you don't have a serger, you can sew a zigzag stitch in the seam allowance or use a pinking sheers or some no-fray glue to prevent fraying.


Now it is time to insert the sleeves! If you've never done this before, it may seem a bit intimidating, but I'm going to walk you through it as clearly as I can.


The good news is that there is no front or back to these sleeves, so you can put either sleeve in either sleevehole.

Turn the robe body inside out, and the sleeve right-side out. Slide the sleeve into the armhole so that it lays as shown in the photo above.



The bottom of your sleeve is denoted by the seam in it. This seam should match up with the bottom point of the armhole as shown above.


Pin the sleeve into armhole, matching the seam to the point of the diamond. Leave the gathering thread tails free for later.


Now you need to match the top of your sleeve into the top of the armhole. Mark the top of the sleeve by folding it in half exactly, with the seam on one side. On the other side, you now have your exact center for the sleeve top. Mark this with a pin.


Match your marking pin to the top armhole seam on the robe and pin the two layers in place.


At this point, you may be wondering if you did everything right, as you will probably find that there is more fabric in the sleeve than in the armhole. No worries! This is exactly how it should be. Here is where the gathering threads come into play. Find the two threads for the TOP (right side) of the fabric on both sides of the seam, and pull them up until the sleeve fits nicely inside the armhole. Tie off the tail threads - DONT cut them yet.


Then, smooth and arrange the gathers so that they sit evenly along the sleeve. I like to arrange them so that more of the gathers lie towards the top of the sleeve. This keeps excess bulk out of the armpit region.


Once your gathers are even, pin the sleeve to the armhole, as shown above.


Time to sew! As you can see here, I sewed about a 3/4ths inch seam allowance around the armhole. This left me some allowance area to finish off the edges to prevent fraying (see above for finishing methods).

Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of your seam (or just sew overlap) to secure the ends.

Repeat for the remaining sleeve.

Time to attach the hood! Hang in there - we're almost done!


Time to pin the hood in place. First, match up the center back seam of the hood with the center back of the robe, right sides together. You can find the center back of the robe by folding it in half, the way we did with the sleeves. Place a pin in the center back to hold the pieces together.

Then, match up the front hem edges of the hood and the robe. Pin in place.


Now, based on the way we cut out the pieces, either the hood or the neckhole are going to be slightly larger than the other piece. This is okay! What you are going to do is fold little tiny pleats in the excess fabric between the five pins you already placed. Pin those pleats down. Try to make them even in size, distance, and number. Above, you can see how I laid out my pieces to check that the sides mirrored each other.


Now you are going to sew the seam in place. Leave a seam allowance of about an inch, and remember to backstitch the ends.


Now grab your scissors and trim down the seam allowance from the robe side of the seam, as shown above.


With the larger, hood seam allowance, turn it over twice and stitch down, to create a smooth finish. (Pin in place before sewing and go slow, smoothing out the curve as you stitch.)

And you're done! Present your little Padawan with the robes he dreamed of!




I did successfully create robes for my husband using this design. I found that a twin bedsheet of appropriate fabric weight was the perfect size for a grown-man. Photos coming soon!

Want more Star Wars? Check out my recreation of Padme's wedding gown!