Sunday, August 24, 2014

Outlander Era Women's Costume Patterns

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has fallen in love with the costuming on Starz' production of Outlander.  It's not that unusual to see 18th century costuming in movies, but it is a nice change of pace to see costumes from before the American Revolution or what common folk wore.  I've been struck by the graceful simplicity of the designs.

Which of course means that I want to make one.  I'm so backlogged on my projects that realistically I won't get to that for a long time, but a costumer can dream, can't she?  

I've done some preliminary research on patterns and thought I would share that.  I will start with some relatively easy patterns for less experienced seamstresses, them move on to historically correct patterns for the hard core historical costumers.  Also, except as noted, I have not personally tried these patterns nor found reviews on them.  

Starting off with a pattern marketed towards sewers with average skills and who just want a general Scottish look, several years ago Simplicity came out with their Celtic collection, including 3623 for women.  It's more Renaissance fair than 1700s, but it's still charming.  It's currently out of print.  It surprises me that Simplicity did not reissue it in anticipation of  Outlander coming out.  They have a limited number of copies available on their website and you can also find more on Ebay and Etsy.  The pattern was previously released under the number 0663, so check for that also.

Period Impressions 1735-1740
Open Front Jacket
For the look in the above photo from the show, the only jacket pattern I have found for the 1740s, when Outlander is set, is the Period Impressions 1735-1740 Open Front Jacket.  I have never used a Period Impressions pattern before, but the sense I get from the Great Pattern Review of the Greater Bay Area Costumer's Guild is that they are usually pretty good.

J. P. Ryan A Fine Collection of Ladies' Jackets
J. P. Ryan had another good contender with their A Fine Collection of Ladies' Jackets.  I have used patterns by that company years ago and remember them as being pretty straightforward.  The earliest jacket in this collection is dated to 1750, but it does have the advantage of offering variations that are appropriate up to the early 1780s for other projects you might have in mind.  View C-D actually looks the most like the jacket in the Outlander photo, but J. P. Ryan dates it to a couple of decades later.

J. P. Ryan Women's Basic Garments
For the various underpinnings and skirt that go along with the outfit, J. P. Ryan has a nice set of Women's Basic Garments.  That includes a shift, petticoat, pocket, handkerchief, short gown, and apron.  My understanding is that only the short gown and pocket are actual patterns.  The rest are diagrams and instructions.  You could probably draft your own using instructions easily found on the internet, such as these instructions for a shift from La Couturiere Parisienne.  Tidings from the 18th Century by Beth Gilgun has diagrams and instructions for basic women's clothing, plus a wealth of other information.

Of course, one will also need a set of stays ("corset" to most modern folks) to get the proper silhouette.  Advanced costumers can use Mara Riley's instructions on how to modify the patterns from the Elizabethan Corset Generator to work for the 18th century form.  I've had good luck with the corset generator.  If the boning placement is not clear to you, there is a good diagram for that in Tidings from the 18th Century.  

If that sounds like too much of a challenge for you, there are plenty of stays patterns available.  Since the characters in Outlander were pretty active, you can use more lightly boned jumps instead of the more constricting full stays.  Those also come in front opening versions - much easier for us who live alone or have husbands who are at a loss at helping their wives get laced up.  Mill Farm offers a Jumps or Leather Stays pattern. My one experience working with a Mill Farm pattern, their Women's Riding Habit Jacket and Waistcoat, went extremely well.  Tailor's Guide has an even more lightly boned set in their Ladies' Partially Boned Stays pattern.  If you do want to go for a fully boned set of stays, I have used J.P. Ryan's strapless stays without problem. 

Finally, the aforementioned Mara Riley has a well regarded book out, Whatever Shall I Wear? A Guide to Assembling a Woman's Basic 18th C. Wardrobe, that goes into the specifics of color and fabric choices, accessories, etc. for working class women throughout the 18th century.  If you are going to spend all that time and money making a costume, you might as well get it right.  The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England by John Styles also sounds like a good resource.  Obviously, it focuses on England, not Scotland, but chances are that there are a lot of commonalities.

So, there you have it.  If you do try these patterns or have already used them, please let me know what you thought of them.

Update: Simplicity has come out with 2 Outlander style patterns for women.  I've written another blog with the details

copyright Nellie Kampmann, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Some Tips on Making a Duct Tape Double

There are already several websites that will tell you how to make a duct tape double dress maker's dummy, so I won't get into all that here.  However, I did want to pass along a few tips I learned about the hard way while making mine.

  • Use a heavy duty duct tape.  I used Duck brand tape, which has a noticeably less sticky adhesive on it.  That would probably work OK for the first layer.  My problem was that I had used it to tape up the side seam after I had fit it over my old dressmaker's dummy.  I stuffed it, then didn't look at it again for a few days.  When I did see it again, the taped up side had burst open.  I re-taped it with Gorilla brand, which seems to be holding up much better.
  • Try the method that applies the strips in 6 inch lengths.  I had to make my double mostly without help, so I used longer strips to get my back done.  It's definitely harder to get smooth coverage that way.  I ended up with issues with the double creeping up because I was pulling the long strips too tight.
  • Apply the strips in various directions.  Again, this will help keep it from creeping.  Part of my problem was that I was applying the strips mostly horizontally.  Some instructions do tell you to do that. I think there would have been more control if the strips had followed the contours of my body more naturally.
  • It's ideal if you can get an old dress maker's dummy in a smaller size and use that for your base.  Of course you can make the dummy without one, but may be worth the cost in time and aggravation to pick up a used one at a thrift store.
  • When you tape the dummy back together after you've gotten out of it, place the tape horizontally so it will hold better. 
  • If you want to use the dummy for historical costuming, stuff it with batting instead of using the spray foam insulation method.  This will allow you to use corsets on it to maintain a period correct shape.
  • As you are stuffing the dummy, be sure to keep comparing it to your own body, especially if you aren't using an old dummy as a base.   If you do not have some form underneath to maintain the oval shape, the shell will tend to become rounded (if you look at it from a cross section), while most people's bodies are more oval.  Even with a form, you have to be careful to pad it in the right places.
  • Once the dummy is stuffed and mounted, make a form fitting cover for it from stretch knit fabric.  That will give it an extra layer that will be easier to pin into if the need arises and will look nicer, too.

copyright Nellie Kampmann, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bustle Era Chemise

1883 linen chemise (reproduction)
I have been wanting an excuse to to make a cuirass form dress for decades now.  At one point, I made underpinnings for it, but never got further than that.  So, when I saw Jennifer Rosbrugh's Bustle Day Dress class being offered recently, I jumped at the chance. This class has been great so far (3 lessons in).  If you ever have a chance to take a class from her, do it!

I hit a bit of a road block right off the bat when I tried on the old underpinnings I had made.  The petticoat had gotten ruined at one point and as thrown out, and the combinations made from a Mantua Maker pattern no longer fit (oh, middle age spread, what have you done to me?!).  So, back to the sewing machine on those.

First up was making a chemise.  I don't know what the deal is, but the ones I have made in the past from Simplicity patterns have always ended up huge.  Either they were what I found out later were more suitable for 1830s/1840s fashions, or were just plain sized wrong and falling off of me.  So, this time, I grabbed my book, Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1 by Frances Grimble, and tried drafting one from 1883.  The description said that the measurements given should fit up to a 14 year old.  I'm relatively thin, but even that size looked like it would have too much bulk from all the cloth in it.  I trimmed it down a couple of inches on the sides.  The version I chose had small sleeves.  Big mistake.  Apparently, this was designed to fit a somewhat wide 14 year old with very scrawny arms.  Unless I wanted the circulation in my armpits cut off every time I wore it, the sleeve had to go.

The illustration looked like the neck opening was barely gathered if at all.  However, when I tried it on ungathered, the neckline was so big that it was falling off of me.  I ended up putting tucks in the front and another pleat in the back to take up another 2 inches on each.

The chemise is made with handkerchief weight linen from and trimmed in 1" wide white cotton lace.  I think it turned out pretty well.  The arm holes are still a little tighter than I would have preferred and there is more gathering than the illustration shows.  I probably would have done more futzing with those aspects if I wasn't already running behind.  Still, overall, I'm pretty pleased

copyright Nellie Kampmann, 2014