What the Dickens?

A ball gown for the Dickens Festival

This is a long project page and there are LOTS of pictures!  It may take some time to load...

This was one if those last moment projects that dropped out of the sky and landed on my cutting table...  A great fun thing to do, but a lot of sewing in 14 days!  Sandi is a great customer to work for, too.  She does enough sewing herself to know how complex a project like this is.


Day One: Friday

First there was the pattern...  And the fabric!  Satin and lace and organza and boning and...  I love a project like this.

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Lots of fun stuff here for me to play with!  Luckily, no corset to make.  Yes, the gown SHOULD go over a corset, but we are doing without, partly for speed and partly for comfort.

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First I cut out the pattern and ironed all the bits.  This may seem over fussy, but with so many small bits of pattern, a wrinkle in each small piece can add up to a large error.

Then I pinned all the bits together for an assessment of how well the pattern fitted together: quite well, in this instance.  This is encouraging, as so long as you are accurate with the alterations, it will still fit together after you have altered it to fit the customer.  Quite a lot of alterations were needed as the pattern comes in a limited range of sizes.

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I have been warned of potential problems with the bertha collar and the pleating arrangement.  I shall keep them in mind and tread warily!

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Anyone who thinks pattern alterations are 'simple' needs to try this: altering these eight pattern pieces took over three hours.  I am timing this project just to show how much work is involved in such a thing.  Remember when you read this that I am an experienced dressmaker!


Day Two: Saturday


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After cutting out the bodice pieces in lining to use as a toile, I made up the breast pads.  These fit in the hollow of the shoulder, giving that full, sculpted look so many Victorian gowns have.

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On such a complex piece as this, accurate seaming is a must.  It was very pleasant to see that all the bits of fabric fitted together nicely after all those alterations!

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The lining/toile is a good place to practice getting really accurate corners!  This isn't difficult, but you need to go slowly and be patient.  You can always save time later, whizzing down the long skirt seams.  Bodice seams need more care.

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I discovered when I got the old dummy down from the loft that poor Parton has reached the end of her natural!  Poor old thing has rust in her expansion straps, and is broken in a couple of places.  Looks like this will be her last outing before she is replaced!

Never mind! The rust won't touch the customer's garment, as it is under a lot of padding.  I used a wrap of poly batting, and stuffed her covering jumper with Poly toy stuffing to get the profile needed for this customer.  I shall have to remember this trick for the future, or possible get one of those sets of pads to do this with less mess...

The lining/toile seems to fit the dummy fairly well, and I'm hoping the customer can get here for a fitting on Monday.  And the bertha pattern fits the toile ok, so that's all right!

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I spent large amounts of today fitting the pattern to the fabric...  Unfortunately, the pattern requires 54" fabric, and that bought by the customer is only 45" wide...  Some of the pattern pieces that needed to be cut on a fold were too wide for the folded fabric.  So the upper skirt front and back will have seams that no-one will see, as they are hidden under the petal bits of over skirt.  We will need a bit more fabric for the final tier of frills.  Tomorrow I get to cut the rest of the gown out and seam all the underskirt panels.  I'd hoped to get some of that done this evening, but laying out the pattern and cutting the underskirt took longer than I anticipated.  I shall serge all these seams for speed and durability.

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Luckily I managed to 'save' quite a bit on the fabric by dovetailing the skirt panels and fitting the bodice bits in much more closely than the pattern layout would have it.  I'm sure those frills are only 35" long because the original gown this was based on used narrow fabric!  I worked out that I can use 6 widths of 45" wide fabric for each tier rather than eight 35" bits: the frills will be a little less full, but not enough to be noticeable.  

One of the few advantages this fabric has is its total lack of direction, so it can be made with panels cut opposite ways up without worrying about the differences showing.  Some more expensive silk satins have a definite direction...  Do watch for this when you are 'auditioning' fabrics for such a creation


Day Three: Sunday

I started late, after lunch...  Oh, well, it was Sunday, after all!  And I did spend part of the morning swimming...  I was in the pool by 9 am, not lazing in bed!

After cutting out all the main satin bits for the bodice and the remaining petals, I cut a set of Vilene bodice pieces for mounting the satin on.  This will give it more body. 

The only serious bits I have left to cut are the organza parts of the sleeves, which I shall cut only just before sewing them as organza ravels like the devil!  Other than that, it's the frills.  There isn't quite enough fabric for them all, so I need to contact the customer.

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I started sewing - always my favourite bit!  First I pinned the satin to the Vilene: this must be done carefully so there are no wrinkles.  It is stitched close to the edge, which means that the stitches disappear into the seam allowance, and they help to prevent excess fraying while the pieces are handled during construction.

The shape of the side back to back seam is such that it allows very little scope for alterations, except small ones at the waist  As I do not anticipate needing to make one here, this seam has been stitched.  For poly satin, it has come out well!  Part of the reason for this is the mounting.  This has not yet been pressed.

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Then I experimented with the eyelet sewing, as I mean to use stitched eyelets in this garment.  They are usually neater, and much stronger than the metal grommet type.  If metal grommets failed in this satin, there would be no way of recovering the holes.

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This has not turned out as well as I'd hoped, so I need to do some more experiments...  I shall try an embroidery thread, which might do better.

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Round about, and round about,  and round about I go... experimenting with the pale gold embroidery thread.  Yay!  It works!

And just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, I did three in a row.  And the back looked pretty neat, too.  These are definitely sell to customer quality, where the others were throw-in-the-bin quality!

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Seams in poly satin are notorious for puckering, even when serged.  However, the little Toyota serger was threaded up with the right colour already, so I just went ahead.  It's slower than the Huskylock, but it still did a neat, fast job of all the seams on the underskirt, which now just needs pressing!

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I've switched the Toyota over to rolled hems now, so will set up the Huskylock for any more seams we need to do, and for neatening edges.  While switching the Huskylock is a doddle, the Toyota takes a screwdriver and five minutes!  It then does as good a 3-thread rolled hem as the bigger machine, so it can just do that.

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Another experiment is the rolled hem edging for the frills.  I want to do some further experiments to see if I can find a better thread...

And here is a glimpse of the lace we will use as a trim round the collar and the overskirt.  There will also be a red bias satin trim, which I hope to cut tomorrow...


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So far, this project has taken ten and a half hours, spread over three days.  In that time I have cut out and altered the pattern, made up the bodice lining/toile, seamed the underskirt, mounted all the bodice pieces, and seamed the bodice back.  I have also experimented with several processes, and determined the best finish for the eyelets.  Tomorrow I'm hoping for a fitting with the customer, so that I can get on with the next steps: making up the bodice and sleeves, and the bertha collar, and putting them together.


Day four: Monday

Today I hope to do the following:

Cut all the red satin bias we need for the bodice, sleeves, and hem

Cut enough gold satin bias out of the scraps to finish the bottom edge of the bodice, as this will look much nicer than commercial poly/cotton tape asked for by the pattern...

Cut the organza and make the sleeves up, trim included.

However, before I do that, I need to tidy up the sewing room and put a few things away properly, so that I'm not waltzing them from place to place as I need the different spaces...  That Simplicity farthingale is one of the more space-consuming items that I'm doing that with!  Another is a wedding dress in need of a new zip...

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The first thing I did was cut the bias for the over sleeves and make them up.  First I applied the lace to the sleeve: this is done with the WRONG side of the lace to the WRONG side of the sleeve.  here you see me using my favourite long thin pins and that silk basting thread...

Then the bias is pinned over the lace and stitched a bare quarter inch from the cut edge. 


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Next, the bias and lace are turned to the outside: the bias is folded in and pinned down to the sleeve, leaving the lace to fall free. This is a nice crisp acetate satin that does as it's told - always an advantage with satin!

  outsidebiaspinned.JPG (130823 bytes)  sleevebiasstitching3.JPG (181007 bytes)

sleevebiasstitching4.JPG (268647 bytes)

The bias was stitched down by machine: maybe not so period, but it was much faster than doing this by hand!

This is one of those areas that the Lily excels in: there are so many needle positions that I can line the fabric up where it feeds through the machine perfectly, and then position the needle to the exact place I want the stitches!

And there we have it!  This is what you pay the dressmaker for - a perfect line of stitches in exactly the right place!

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Then I pinned the little pleats into the sleeves and basted them down.  I have just pinned them together for the moment, in case a little adjustment is needed when they are applied to the bodice armscye.

oversleeve.JPG (88141 bytes)

I thought about doing these sleeve seams in the organza on the serger for speed, but really, such short ones take very little time, and under the arm a French seam is so much more comfortable in this stiff, scratchy fabric that it isn't worth being cheap over it.

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The sleeves have two layers and the band round the bottom.  In this gold silk organza, they look really rich and nice.  However, they were a nightmare to do!

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The organza was even worse to work with than the notorious poly Crystal Organza!  It frayed like nothing on earth every time I touched it, and in the end I cheated and serged the bottom of the sleeve and sleeve stay together as there was no way I could stop the frayed ends poking through the band.

Even then, the bit that was folded over and stitched down gave me a set of the evil pokeys!  AAARRRGGGHHH!!!  Whoever had the idiotic idea of using the organza to make the band obviously didn't ever wear the gown!  In future, I shall strongly advise using a band of the contrast bias binding or of the basic dress fabric, as well as serging the edges of the organza together once they are stitched!  Thank God for the Huskylock's free-arm!  I just hope that wonky band doesn't dismay the customer too much, and that it doesn't show when she's wearing the dress!

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sleeve1.JPG (88618 bytes)

Well, I got the sleeves done, and the sewing room tidied, but ran out of time and steam before cutting the rest of the bias for the skirt!  But I did get enough gold bias made to do the bottom edge of the bodice.  I need a bit more for the top edge.  Tomorrow morning I shall be out teaching, so there will be no chance then.  I'll try to do it while James and Alan are out on  Wednesday evening.  Tomorrow afternoon will be fitting time, and then I hope to get the alterations in and the bodice stitched tomorrow evening.  When I get the lace for the skirt, I can get on with that...

Day Five: Tuesday

The teaching was hectic but fun this morning, and made a nice break.  Now I need to get back to some 'real' work!

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 Today was mostly concerned with cutting miles of bias strips and getting started on the eyelets, while I thought about the processes ahead.  The eyelets started well, and I made good if slow progress.  There's no sensible way to hurry these little holes!

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The bias strips were fun to cut!  A doddle really, if one has room...  Mind you, both the  red and the gold satins prefer to live on the floor rather than on the mat!

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Thank goodness for a large cutting mat and a 60mm rotary cutter!  Anyone who thinks these tools are purely for quilters needs to start thinking again!

Day Six: Wednesday

I started with the second set of eyelets, and had almost finished them (three and a half to go!), when the postman arrived with my new dummy!  Nice quick service - thank you Wimbledon Sewing in Balham High Road.  Then Sandi turned up for her fitting.  She seemed very pleased with the results so far, but needs to crack on and refurbish/make her hooped petticoat for a skirt fitting Tuesday morning!  She also brought the more fabric needed for the frills on the skirt, and the lace yardage - the last remaining 10m of it!  Yikes!  Well, it will have to do!

After the fitting, there were several fidgety little alterations to pin into place before stitching.  The easy ones were the ones I was expecting across the front at the neckline.  These are not a problem as they are all on seams.  The neckline can be trimmed even once thee new seam lines are stitched.

I also need to take in the shoulder seam at the back to accommodate Sandi's smaller than pattern sized shoulders.

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The back was more of a bother, as not only did it need some off the side back at the underarm (an expected alteration), but the back gaped too much!  Sandi has quite a curved back and rounded shoulders, so the best way forward was to put the little darts in at the neckline.  These will later be covered by the bertha collar.

I also need to shave a bit off the armholes to restore them to full size, as taking in the shoulders and the under arm area shrank them somewhat!

All the alterations get transferred to the pattern.  Normally I would do this BEFORE cutting the main parts of the bodice, but this time I'll just put the alterations into the cut pieces.  I've done this so that the customer can use the pattern herself another time if she so wishes.

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Altering the bertha needs to come next: I pinned it round the altered neckline, and found that, like the neckline itself, this gaped.  I slit the pattern and overlapped the excess until it closed up nicely, and then pasted strips of paper behind them to make it a permanent pattern alteration.

Unfortunately this will NOT fit quite as well as I would like, given more time.  However, it won't be bad for a single fitting on such a complex pattern, and the customer knows about the time/fitting issues and is happy that I have done my best.

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At this point I left the bertha and put the bodice together: I pinned it where the alterations came on the lining/toile, and stitched carefully. 

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 The whole thing went together nicely, and we have no serious seam puckers, despite the love this fabric has of puckering as soon as you look at it!

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The next trick was to put the boning into the bodice.  I like this boning: it's light weight and easy to work with.  For the pieces either side of the back opening, I don't want the casing, so I slid some out and cut it to length.  Scissors do fine for this.

To help the boning slide into place, and to stop sharp corners working through the fabric and into the person, I clip the ends of the bones round with nail clippers!

For the other bones, I do need the casing.  The bones are cut to length, but I cut a bit extra on the casing, so the ends can be folded over to help cushion it.  The nice thing about this stuff is that I can sew the empty casing in place and then slip the shaped bones in afterwards.  It's so much easier to sew like this than the stuff welded to the tape!

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To finish the bodice, I just need to re-sew the lining, putting in the alterations incorporated in the bodice, put it into the bodice, make and insert the 'storm flap' and finish the upper and lower edges with bias tape.  Then I can assemble the two parts of the sleeves and sew them in.  I also need to assemble the bertha collar.  I am aiming to get most of this done before I go out tomorrow evening.

Now that I have the lace for the skirt, the petals can be assembled, ready for putting together.  I can probably do that on Friday, and do the frills on Saturday, and assemble the different skirt parts on Sunday, ready for fitting Tuesday morning.  I'll have to put in a few good days here!  Today's efforts took seven hours, including one and a half for the fitting.  And I will have Monday to finish off any bits that slip the schedule.

Day Seven: Thursday.

It always pays to keep one eye on the day in front.  I thought it seemed like I had MASSES of time for this project, but my diary has just told me that I am out at the Pain Management Course for most of tomorrow, and at 4 pm tomorrow I have a fitting for another customer, so I need to cut out and alter her pattern, and, at the very least, cut out and sew up her top/top lining.  Ho hum...  Looks like I shall be sewing after I come in this evening!  I'd better get a move on!  At least I can just dial up the lady's numbers on the new body that came yesterday, rather than having to alter the one I padded up for Sandi!


It's been an interesting morning...  The first thing to do was make up the 'storm flap' for the bodice, and put that in.  I didn't really know what else to call it, and after all, they are storm flaps on tents and jackets, so why not on a bodice?

This one is made of two layers of the gold satin sandwiching two layers of the Vilene interfacing, and serged round the edges to keep it tidy.  I used two layers of interfacing to provide extra padding between the skin and the laces up the back.  Once in place, it covers both sets of holes neatly.


Stormflap.JPG (81618 bytes)   stormflap2.JPG (155156 bytes)

 stormflap3.JPG (120500 bytes)


Next thing to do was sew the alterations into the lining and insert that in the bodice.  The lining covers the seam stitching of the storm flap on the left back.

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Next came putting the gold bias round the top of the bodice.  First I folded it in half and pressed it, before stitching it to the bodice a quarter of an inch from the edge...  Be careful at centre front, where it goes past the front bone!  You can always slip the bone down the channel and inch or so out of the way, and trim it a little if you need to after the stitching...

After this it was folded over to the inside, ready for stitching in place.  I like to cut the bias tape wide (2" in this case) and use it double, like a quilt binding, for two reasons.  The first is strength: the bones will work through a double layer much more slowly than they would through a single layer of commercial binding! The second is neatness: this looks much neater on the inside, and should it take to itself to roll outwards, a self binding will show far less than a never-quite-matches commercial binding.


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I could really fall out with the pattern instruction writers over these points!  They just tell you to 'fold in fullness at corners'.  HA!  I think not!

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This one at the centre front needed the seam allowance (already only a quarter of an inch!) whittling down to almost nothing!  Folding the bulk of the tape in required a stitch or two to keep it in place while I folded the next bit over...

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Eventually, I got there, and it looked OK, but this was waaaaay to much fuss for the time available!

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The back corners were worse.  MUCH worse...  Of course, it wasn't helped by my having added the storm flap!

I trimmed...  I stitched...  I stabbed myself with a pin...  I did not bleed on the garment!

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Eventually, after much hassle, I got there.  It wasn't a GOOD job, but it would do...

Then I lined up the two pinned backs, and discovered one was half an inch longer than the other!  AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

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I drew in a deep breath, sighed gently, and unpicked my tiny mouse-like stitches, removed my careful pins, and clipped a little off...  I refolded it, and guess what - it went together in moments, all exactly right, and it lined up perfectly!  WHY couldn't it do it like this first time round?

Scream?  I could have cried!

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At this point I more or less had to give up for the day, as I have a different customer to get a garment ready for a fitting for, and I need to cut the pattern out, and the lining/toile for the top! Hah!  This is paper and fabric - we do not let them get the better of us!  I did take this with me to my Weight Watcher's meeting and sewed more than half the bottom binding down while having a giggle with the group.

One thing you must remember in projects like this is to allow for time for things not going right, like this.  If you make an over-estimation on the time and nothing goes wrong, you can always please the customer (if she's nice and you look like getting repeat custom from her!) and give her a reduction for the hours you didn't spend fidgeting with the corners!


Day eight: Friday

This was a good but quiet day on the sewing front.  In the natter time on my course I spent about 45 minutes stitching the binding down by hand on the inside of the bodice.  I fitted the other customer into her lining/toile (a few minor alterations there), and the friend who takes me swimming unpicked the Cubs lavatory tent zips for me!

The hand stitching was soothing: I always enjoy this part of the process.  I now need to put the hooks and eyes on the back, some hooks at waist level, and put the sleeves in.  Then I can make up the bertha collar and get started on the skirt panels!

Day Nine: Saturday

Catch-up day!  I'll be hard at it, making up for not getting on so well on Thursday!  As that bertha collar had been nagging me, I thought I'd do it before the sleeves.

eyes.JPG (119459 bytes)  hooks.JPG (121951 bytes)

First thing is to get the hooks and eyes on the inside of the bodice back.  Once they are done up, tightening the lacing to keep everything snug is much easier.

backhooked.JPG (155864 bytes)

Now for the bertha collar!  This is the bit I have been nervous about, as I was warned of the awkwardness of getting the pleats right...  Thank you, Karen - that warning was timely and well heeded!

bertha1.JPG (273307 bytes)

First thing was to apply the collar fabric to the Vilene.

bertha2.JPG (143653 bytes)  bertha3.JPG (110498 bytes)bertha4.JPG (170091 bytes)

At first, pleating up the collar pieces didn't seem to bad, though they looked somewhat narrow, folded flat like this.  And I soon saw this wouldn't really fit the bertha base!  The backs went together more evenly, so I redid the fronts...  The third or fourth attempt worked well enough, but the pleats are nowhere near the lines on the pattern!  Those lines MAY have worked if the fabric had been a nice crisp taffeta, cut on the straight grain, but with a soft drapy stuff cut on the bias, as per pattern instructions, there was no hope!

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Once the bertha was all put together, it was time to check it on the dummy again.  So far, so good.

Next the lace and bias trim went on, in exactly the same way as it did on the sleeves.  This resulted in a disturbance to those blessed pleats! AAARRRGGGHHH!  Well, I did baste them down quite severely, and I did the best I could, but I do think this was caused by a number of factors.

The fabric is not as crisp as that specified by the pattern.  I feel that the whole thing would work better in a taffeta type fabric rather than this soft poly satin.

berthafoldback.JPG (147685 bytes)  berthafoldfront.JPG (112634 bytes)

berthalace.JPG (113047 bytes)  berthadone.JPG (79243 bytes)

Cutting the pleats on the bias adds extra stretch where it isn't needed.  Judging by the picture on the pattern envelope, these pleats are supposed to lie close and smooth, without actually being pressed into place.  This does not work well with the combination I am working with here.  I shall have to press them to get them to lie flat at all.  The lower pleat on the front has completely vanished!

The instructions need to be clearer about how this is to go together:  Had I known that putting the edge trim on would cause the extra problems with the pleats, I would have basted them in place BEFORE putting the back facing on or attaching the edge trim.  You have been warned!

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In the middle of all this, I had a severe pin crash!  Not something I usually, do: I sew over pins quite a lot, but not usually in thick or multi-layered stuff!  This one got lost in the pleats at the side seam, and I crashed into it before I realised it was there.  Ho hum...  No harm done to the machine - which doesn't surprise me much, as it copes with some fairly extreme things!  The two on the right were quilting accidents.  I don't actually advise stitching right through the head of a flower pin, still less through the head of a safety pin!  But neither of these accidents cased harm to the machine, though both bent the point of the needles in use at the time!

pin1.JPG (52080 bytes)  pin2.JPG (76292 bytes)

This has been quite a day!  The bertha has taken hours!  I still have the sleeves to complete, and I want to get on with some of those skirt petal bits before the end of the day, and already it's dinner time!  Most of it has been spent fidgeting around with those blessed pleats, trying to get something that looked decent rather than a right dogs breakfast!  I plan to put the sleeves in and stitch the bertha to the neckline after dinner, and after I have pressed it!

At last the sleeves are in!  I tried several things with them, but in the end it was easiest just to sew them in and then tidy up the thready armscye by serging round it!

armscyeserging.JPG (113332 bytes)  sleevesin.JPG (159205 bytes)  completesleeve.JPG (74786 bytes)

With the bertha collar draped round, the bodice looks quite spectacular!  Now to slip-stitch it in place!

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Once I'd got it all stitched in place, I decided to lace the back up too see how it looked.  Hm - that works!

The bodice is now complete, except for putting in the breast pads (which I'd forgotten about! and putting some hooks on to hook it to the skirt so they don't drift apart in the middle.

lacedupback2.JPG (132329 bytes)

Day ten: Sunday

Today has been much better.  I finally finished at about half past midnight last night, not having tackled the petals at all!  Today, the first one went together perfectly and swiftly...  The second not so good.  Well, the stitching was perfect, but I'd pinned the lace on dull side out!  So I frog-stitched that and turned it and re-stitched, only to notice that I'd sewed the lace and red satin trim to the wrong side of the fabric!  So I had to frog-stitch it again and start over!  Oh, well - I lost half an hour there!  Never mind, they are all done now, and I'm taking a  short break before putting the petal skirt panels together on the serger.

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Well, the petal bits all went together very nicely, but trying to pin the pleats in was a pain.  Here I'm up against the fabric again.  It is very nice fabric: a nice quality poly charmeusse from John Lewis, but it isn't what I'd advise for this pattern.  The red acetate satin we used for the trim was a better weight and feel for this project.

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After I finished putting the over skirt together, I looked at the pattern instructions to see how they wanted the two layers to go together, and realised that I really needed to do the frills next.

I first tore the fabric straight across to give me a working edge, and then cut the frills with the rotary cutter.  I calculated that I needed to cut four frills out of what was left of the original length of fabric, and I just managed to do that - there was only half an inch left when I'd done cutting!  The last row came off the new length, leaving enough to cut a whole new row in the event of a total disaster...

cutfrills.JPG (98540 bytes)

rolledseamfrill.JPG (95836 bytes)  rollededgefrill.JPG (248157 bytes)

tuckingfrill.JPG (114118 bytes)  tuckedfrill.JPG (163411 bytes)

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Next I stitched all the strips together, six at a time, and rolled one edge...  That's five frills of six widths of fabric, or 37.5 yards of rolled edge!  I seamed the strips using the rolled edge stitch set at a longer length to give a fine seam.

Once the frills were assembled, they needed to be gathered.  I thought with so much frill to gather that it made sense to do it with the ruffler.  With a couple of experimental rows to get the gathers ratio right (no magic formula for this - I just experimented until it worked for each row!), I got all the frills to the right length and laid them out ready for morning.

Making the frills using the ruffler was fun!  I haven't used this magic gadget in earnest for years, but it really is the only sensible way to do this.  But it still takes a loooooong time to do it: the ruffler needs to be used slowly, or you get a mess!  Another thing to remember with it is that it is noisy!

Day eleven: Bank Holiday Monday

Costumers with deadlines do not take Bank Holidays off!  This one was wet, so we weren't missing anything by me hibernating in the sewing room.

frillon1.JPG (116157 bytes)

I measured up from the bottom to fix the line for pinning on the lowest frill.  The bias got pinned over that, and then it was stitched in place.

Once the first one is on, the others are not so hard to pin in place as they can just be lined up next to the first one.  This all sounds easy, but it isn't.  It isn't difficult - but it is laborious!  It takes ages because there is so much of it.

frillon2.JPG (105545 bytes)  frillon3.JPG (108009 bytes)

Sewing these frills on takes some doing as the skirt is so huge.  This soft stuff has the advantage of not crushing when heaped up like this, but on the other hand, bits of it creep in under the needle where they are not wanted at times...

Still, the four rows I have on are looking OK.  Of course, after staring at the blessed things for so long, and fighting with the fabric, all I can see are the faults!  And this is very slow: each row takes about an hour and a half to pin and sew.

sewingfrills.JPG (140178 bytes)  fourowson.JPG (151754 bytes)

A tip for the future: use a nice satin ribbon instead of cutting and sewing all this bias tape for the skirt!  It does work well on the sleeves and the bertha, where it's close to the eye and more visible, but all the extra time needed to cut and sew this stuff, and the problems you get using bias tape for this application really are not worth it, especially as most of it is hidden by the frills and then the petals over the top.  The curves on the skirt are slight enough that the disadvantages of a straight tape or ribbon are far outweighed by the speed of use.

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Once all the frills were in place, it was time to assemble the skirt.  This is awfully easy if your skirt panels are fitted with the new anti-gravity spell, and hang in the air like the pictures in the instructions, but not so easy in real life, when the satin would much rather fall in a heap on the floor than do as you want...

The pleats in the over skirt are a pain too.  They don't want to go the ways the arrows on the pattern want you to, but if you fold them all so they face to the front, they seem to work quite well!

The front of the skirt is gathered to the overskirt and sandwiched between the waistband layers, and the back is cartridge pleated after stitching the slash in the back and the tops of the two layers together.  My weapon of choice for cartridge pleat stitching is a long fine darner  loaded with strong thread: in this instance, Empress Mill's 70's polycore. 

cartridgepleatstitching.JPG (188629 bytes)  cratridgepleatstitches.JPG (269560 bytes)

waistiching.JPG (215218 bytes)

Getting all those frills sorted was a job and a half, and I finally got to bed at 4:30 am - and fell straight to sleep, despite the best efforts of Kent's sparrows, yelling loudly in my ears!


Day twelve: Tuesday

Tuesday was a day for light experiment, after the marathon sewing exploits of Monday/Monday night-Tuesday morning!

When I put one of the little roses on the dress to see the effect, it got lost!  I thought they were rather too small, even though Sandi didn't want the shrubbery effect of the massive cabbage-like things on the pattern.


rose.JPG (139747 bytes)

rosebow1.JPG (126421 bytes)  rosebow2.JPG (120108 bytes)


I tried mounting the roses on ribbon bows: this looked a lot better, so I made up a few more...

buncharoses.JPG (100579 bytes)  minirose.JPG (94502 bytes)

ribbon.JPG (150024 bytes)  ribboonbow.JPG (117987 bytes)  rosebowcomplete.JPG (112590 bytes)




They are quite easy to do with a foot or so of ribbon, trimmed off at the ends, folded to shape, and with the wire stalk of the rose to hold it together.  I have just pinned them in place for now: stitching will come later when they have been approved by the customer.

Then there's a first glimpse of the almost complete dress: it will look better with the proper sized hoop skirt under it.  For now it just has my Simplicity farthingale, just as a temporary measure.

firstdress.JPG (119601 bytes)

Day thirteen: Wednesday

I thought it was FRIDAY 13th that was supposed to be unlucky...  Oh well!  We spent this day flapping about with hooped petticoats!  Sandi brought Version 1 over with her, and we tried to get the hem sorted...  Unfortunately the hoop was NOT man enough for the job.  This blessed dress is so damned HEAVY, due to the 16 metres of fabric (most of which is skirt!) that it needs a big STRONG hoop or 5 to hold it up!  The plastic boning didn't do the job...  But the bodice was great, and she's very pleased with that.  Now Sandi is off to get Version 2 of the hoop sorted for tomorrow...  But she does love the dress, which is good!  Now I can sew all the bows and roses on...

Oh, by the way...  If you are leaving pins in a garment to mark things like where to sew hooks and worked loops, try doing it with safety pins!  Stabbing the customer and having her bleed on her posh frock is not to be recommended!  We did have a giggle about it being made with blood, sweat, and tears - from both of us!

pleat1.JPG (233869 bytes)  pleat2.JPG (273419 bytes)

I put the pleats into the petalled over skirt during the afternoon.  it seemed like a sensible way to use up the day while Sandi got crinolining again!

The instructions would have you press the seam allowance up to the inside of the skirt and sew them in place by hand.  I sewed them up on the outside, folded the seam allowance into the bottom of the pleat, and kept it in place with the ribbon bow and rose.  This seemed to give a neater finish...

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This evening I chickened out, being well on with the game, and went to see The reduced Shakespeare Company with Alan and some friends...

Day fourteen: Thursday - the day of the ball!

Oh boy...  If yesterday was a disaster, today was a farce!

First Sandi came over with the steel hoops in the second version of the crinoline...  But they too buckled under the weight of the dress!  So we tried putting a second lot of steel hoop into some of the channels, but that didn't work either...  AARRGGHH!

So off she went to get the original hoop stuff that had been in this thing at the start: double glazing conduit!  It was like fighting starched anacondas.  At one point there were THREE of us wrestling with it!  Who needs Arnie's muscles when you have three middle aged women fighting crinoline hoops?  Mud wrestling has nothing on this!  I just wish we'd had a fourth person available to take the pictures, but you will have to imagine that bit!  Never mind - eventually we got enough hoops into the crinoline to get the hem fixed!

The hem dipped quite a bit at the back, in part at least to the weight of the frills dragging it down, and in part due to the shape of the upper back section...  I thought the easiest solution was to take a careful tuck along the horizontal back seam.

hem1.JPG (211788 bytes)

This seemed much more sensible than 'straightening' the hemline and unpicking and re-sewing all the frills to the new hem line...

hem2.JPG (137627 bytes)  hem3.JPG (158329 bytes)

I trimmed the excess I needed to off the hemline with the serger, and tried just turning it up.  On this stuff, it looked a right royal mess done that way on the machine, and there really wasn't time to do it by hand...    Not nearly five yards of hem!  But getting it neat was about as easy as arguing with a hung-over rhino! In the end, as this was to go over a hooped petticoat, I turned the hem up as a narrow hem stabilised with some light weight horsehair braid.  That sorted it!

hem4.JPG (176944 bytes)

We finally left the house with the gown bagged and ready to go at 5:10 pm - and promptly got plagued by the commuter traffic on the M2 to the Medway Towns!  Lord save us from drivers who don't know their way home...

Once we got to the house, we found Sandi in the yard, threading ribbon through her drawers so they matched the dress.  We were greeted by her large friendly German Shepard, who tried to settle down on her crinoline!  The gown was duly tried on, passed muster, and I showed her husband how to lace it up and where all the hooks holding it together in the middle were!  They were both really pleased with the gown, and it did look very grand over the properly assembled heavy duty hooped crinoline.  I have been promised pictures of it at the ball, so I shall post them as soon as they arrive.

My parting shot was: Please, darling - give me just a leeetle more notice next year!  Oh, she said, all innocent...  You mean three whole weeks, rather than two?

My kinda customer!  And for my next trick?  Well, tomorrow is another day...

I did lose count of the hours towards the end, as the problems with the hoops added time that would otherwise have been spent doing the finishing off, which had to be crammed in round the edges!  All together, not counting the hoop-la, the project took about 50 hours.  Had I realised what a pain the bertha would prove to be, and how long it was going to take  to make and sew on all the bias tape and frills, I'm sure that considerable time could have been saved by using a different cut and sewing approach to the bertha, and using satin ribbon rather than all the bias cut satin on the skirt.  On the whole the pattern works well, but you do need to be aware of the problem areas:

Sleeves: use some of the satin/taffeta for the sleeve bands rather than organza: this will help confine the 'pokeys' that are an ever present danger with organza.

Use ribbon rather than cutting miles of bias strips for the bands above the ruffles on the skirt.

Beware the bertha!  This is a right pig to do and the pattern doesn't fit the way it's supposed to.

Use a fabric with body: this one really works better in a stiffer fabric.

Make sure the hoops in the crinoline are STRONG!  With all this yardage, the skirt is very heavy, and light weight boning really will not do.

Kate Dicey

May/June 2005.

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