A Tale of Two Gowns

It’s wonderful when I get a chance to reuse a pattern- but even better when the results look so wildly different!

Both of these gowns were made with the J.P. Ryan “Robe à l’Anglaise or English Nightgown” as well as their pattern for pocket hoops (patterns found here).

The Yellow Gown

I made the yellow gown in 2017 for a party and it was the first time I had worked with 100% silk. It was a beautiful silk taffeta from RenaissanceFabrics- the underskirt was also silk taffeta with a pleated organza decoration at the bottom.

It was inspired by a variety of sources, including extant garments as well as fashion plates.

(1. Plate from the Galerie des modes et costumes francais from 1778-87, 2. “Blind Man’s Buff And The Players” by Antoine Pesne, 3. Portrait of a lady, said to be Marie-Madeleine Guimard by Jean-Frédéric Schall)

An extant gown that inspired me: Robe à l’anglaise from Gemeentemuseum Den Haag seen here

The finished gown has held up great over time and I love wearing it!

The Chintz Anglaise

The second dress was inspired by less formal chintz gowns. These were good for day-wear and were often made of beautiful, breathable cottons.

Inspiration gown links:

1. 1780’s-90’s Robe à l’Anglaise from the Met collections

2. Robe à l’Anglaise with printed dress from the Europeana collections

3. A Woman’s Gown from the Victorian & Albert museum collections

I knew I wanted a solid color petticoat to go with the material I had chosen so I pulled a sturdy red linen to pair with it.

When I was studying my reference images I noticed that the petticoats tended to be a little raised off the ground. I attempted to replicate this… but erred in not accounting for high-heeled shoes.

The petticoat was ultimately too short for the style I was going for, so I added an emergency ruffle to the bottom for length.

Ultimately I ended up liking it more with the ruffle, so it was a happy accident!

This chintz dress definitely still needs more accessories though- I’m thinking a cap and some kind of kerchief are in the future.

Bonus Silliness:

1500’s Italian Kirtle

This project was a labor of love for the Renaissance faire. I wanted to try to self-draft a simple 1500’s Italian kirtle as new garb for the 2018 season. In my research, I had seen examples of some with side lacing in portraits and I liked the variation from front lacing ones I had made before.

(Portrait of a lady as Mary Magdalene, half-length, in a red dress and pearl necklace by Giovanni Francesco Caroto, A Lady with a Nosegay by Francesco Bacchiacca, Donors from The Altarpiece of St Vincent Ferrer by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Plate of the Suicide of Phyllis by Robinet Testard, The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi, The Birth of John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio)

The Smocked Chemise:

I knew an outfit like this would need a very luxurious chemise so I went out to find some ideas. There was an excellent tutorial on Katafalk for a 16th century chemise and I decided to use that to create the look I wanted.

For materials- I bought some absolutely gorgeous cotton Voile from Renaissance Fabrics. It is very light and slightly sheer, but in a voluminous chemise it looks wonderful!
Going through the tutorial on Katafalk, I followed most of her instructions, but I decided that mine would have a low scoop-collar instead of the high collar that she made.

I also made many mistakes on the road to finishing this chemise… I initially tried to use shorter pieces of embroidery thread to smock in batches. This was a mistake because it made it terribly hard to gather it all evenly. What ended up working better was to take the chemise in halves- I did long pieces of embroidery thread that stretched from shoulder to shoulder. I overlapped them slightly so that they wouldn’t leave any gaps.

I smocked the chemise in halves with some overlap

Once the gathering portion was done, I could do the outer embroidery in whatever way I wanted!

I chose to stick to simple rows for my sanity. I thought I could save more complex patterns for the dress that would go over it!

The Dress:

I startled the kirtle portion by draping the bodice on my mannequin (that I call PINelope).

I decided that the bodice was going to be fully boned so that I wouldn’t have to bother with wearing a corset.

My boning pattern

Then I moved on to attaching the skirt and the embroidery!

All in all this is one of the most comfortable pieces of garb I’ve ever made! I love not having to wear a corset. I’m also thinking that there may be some removable sleeves for it in the future.

Vintage Hat Shopping

This weekend was a shopping weekend! We have lots of lovely antique stores in our area, and I’ve found that some of them carry vintage apparel. Bless Pennsylvania and its many, many antique stores- we were very lucky!

1940’s Halo Hat

First up is this 1940’s halo-style hat. I can’t stress enough how enormous this thing is and I love it! It’s in remarkable condition because it’s made of a kind of plastic woven material. I thought this would look fabulous with a spring or summer dress.

1940’s KMF Wool Hat

This is a really close-fitting wool hat. It didn’t look like much on the rack, but after trying it on I thought that it was really sharp. It has a very business-y vibe that I thought could work with a day dress.

1950’s Pillbox Hat

What could be better than a little black hat? The velvet ribbon needs a some love, but otherwise this hat is also in great condition! The detailing is very glamorous, but also low-key. I think this would look amazing with an all-black outfit; maybe something with a spider theme?

1940’s Maroon Wool Felt Hat

This hat is something my mom fell in love with right away. We jokingly started calling it the millionaire’s wife hat because it has so much of a presence. This is the hat that we’re going to base her outfit on for this year’s Mid-Atlantic Air Museum WWII Weekend!

1940’s French Hat

This is a very close-fitting velvet hat that is so beautiful. It has two little petals that form a heart shape over my face and I love it! It also has a feather at the top, which is rather hard to see. I’m planning to pair this one with a mustard yellow dress that I have planned!

1950’s Red Shell Hat

This hat is also made of a velvet material with little floral-y bauble details. I haven’t done much with 1950’s vintage yet so I’m excited to make something to pair with this! Red is a very bold color and I haven’t done anything as striking before.

1930’s Black Horsehair Hat

This one was such a fabulous find. I knew I wanted a black horsehair hat to go with my butterfly dress, but I never thought I’d find something so lovely! It’s in pretty good shape, considering the age. The structure is still there (if in need of a little care). I think I’m definitely going to replace the ribbon, but I’m going to try to get it as close to the shape it currently has as I can.

BONUS: 1960’s/1970’s Dress:

This dress was a totally unexpected find! I saw it in the back of a closet of one of the antique stores we went to and I fell in love with it. I wasn’t sure if it would fit me or not so it was a risky buy. However, when I got home it fit just fine. If only it were warmer than single digits right now!

1930’s Butterfly Dress

This dress started as all good things do- with a clearance haul!

One of my local Joann’s moved locations last year and I bought many yards of beautiful fabric without a plan (which usually means they sit in my closet). However, I really have a thing for insects in fashion and I thought this would make an excellent fall dress.

Having decided this, I looked around for a pattern that would showcase the print well and also fit the 1930’s. I thought it would be passable as a 1930’s print- not really authentic, but it would fit in with other floral chiffons of the decade.

I ended up choosing a McCalls 7023 Reproduction pattern from LadyMarlowePatterns on Etsy.

I love the graceful skirts of the 30’s, especially those angled seams at the back.

However, starting this project I quickly realized that I was going to be VERY tight on fabric. I cut out the most essential pieces first, prioritizing the skirt portions. I was able to get 90% of the dress out of my original chiffon and the rest of the wrap portion came out of the rust colored fabric that I had gotten as well.

When I’m sewing there’s a period that I refer to as the “ugly phase”. Usually this is when I’m unhappy with how a project is going and it usually hits in the 80-90% finished phase. This particular dress spent a LOT of time in the ugly phase. So much so that I actually put it down for about a month. Once I’d had a sufficient break, I returned to it and decided that the rust portion was really not working. It had far too stiff a drape and it looked almost 1980’s with the way the wrap stuck off of my shoulders.

So I scrapped the wrap completely and made some sleeves and a belt out of the scraps I had. I also added some cute little pom poms to the front out of the remaining material. Now I love it!

I got the idea for the changes by browsing some vintage 30’s dresses on etsy. I found one that I felt I could replicate with the fabric I had left. (I believe it also had chiffon rosettes on the front)

I’m very happy with how this dress turned out and I have a lot of motivation to find myself a hat that I can wear with this ensemble!

I may also put together a tutorial for styling long hair into a 1930’s style. I struggled to find one for myself so I had to improvise!

Sophie Hatter Dress- Part 3

Part 1: Research and Mockups

Part 2: Foundation Garments

Part 3: The Dress

This is the third installment of my Sophie Hatter dress progress! If you want to read about the initial pattern choices and making of the 1880’s foundation garments go and check those posts out first.


For the 1880’s skirt, overskirt, and bodice I used patterns from Truly Victorian. These were all done with a sage-green Kona cotton.

Skirt Review:

I started with the skirt, which was very straightforward and simple. I did the most basic version without a ruffle or a polonaise-style skirt. Then I moved on to the waterfall overskirt- which turned out to be the real heavy piece of this whole thing because it’s partially lined. In retrospect, I wish I had lined the overskirt with something lighter. The double layers of kona cotton made it very tricky to iron and it added a lot of weight.

This is the look of the finished skirt!

This is the look of the finished skirt!

Bodice Review:

For the TV460 1885 Cuirass Bodice I used the same Kona cotton as with the rest of the gown. I also decided that I wanted to do covered buttons that matched.

The bodice is the only part that I really deviated from. Right from the start I lengthened it about an inch because my torso is longer. This may have messed with the silhouette a bit and I’m going to consider that for future projects- I think a half an inch would have sufficed

I decided that I wanted to flat-line it for accuracy, but that ended up causing more conflict with the pattern than I bargained for. I used bias tape around the edges in an attempt to smooth over the flat-lining. The color was slightly off and I actually ended up liking that because it broke up the homogeneity of the gown.

As far as the fit goes it was good- and it was so tight that I kept losing buttons in my bust. I ended up adding more buttons to deal with some of the gaping and to diffuse the strain.

The sleeves fit great and I felt like I had plenty of range to my movements. In fact, so much that I was able to pick up my dog:

Sophie Hatter Dress- Part 2

Part 1: Research and Mockups

Part 2: Foundation Garments

Part 3: The Dress

This post will be a review about construction and my experience with the foundation patterns I used for the Sophie dress!

This is the look of the dress from a few months ago to give you an idea of where we’re going. I’ve since added boning to the bodice (which fixes any wrinkling you see in the photos above).


I started with the TV101 “Petticoat with Wire Bustle” pattern. Constructing this part was probably the most frustrating because sewing hubris got the better of me and I assumed that I knew how things fit together. (Spoiler: I did not)

TV 101

For the foundations I used mid-weight linen for the bustle and striped cotton lawn for the petticoat. I bought these from Renaissance Fabrics. I also bought pre-measured and capped wire from Truly Victorian to keep things as simple as possible.

Bustle Review:

The bustle was fairly straightforward to construct. I really liked the way the back was structured because you can untie the hoops to collapse or adjust it. I’ve included a graphic of this because it’s where I got confused (mostly because I skimmed the pattern). On that same diagram I’ve used a red circle to indicate the place where the bones end and I would suggest reinforcing this area when you sew the bones in. My bones kept worming their way out!

All things said and done, it came together nicely once I got the bones tied. Below are the pictures of the finished bustle, and also an image of how the bustle looks when the bones are NOT tied. Don’t let your bustle be sad and flat- tie your bones!!

(NOTE: I didn’t include the ruffled petticoat portion that came with this pattern. This was because I didn’t have enough fabric at the time and I knew I’d be doing a separate petticoat. After wearing it I think I want to go back and include this portion.)

Petticoat Review:

Bustle Review:

This was created with TV170 (Victorian Petticoats). I used a beautiful striped cotton lawn from Renaissance Fabrics. I loved working with this fabric because it was so delicate.

The construction of the petti was fairly straightforward. The waistband ended up being too large so I brought it in a few inches. (I did this with all the components that fastened around my waist)

The trickiest part of this pattern was definitely the tucks- which I had never done before. I would definitely recommend watching a video of someone else doing them before attempting.

They were certainly time consuming, but I can’t argue with the results because they add such a lovely touch.


After wearing this around I think I should have made my petticoat in a slightly sturdier fabric. I chose a kona quilting cotton for the rest of the dress and I found that the cotton lawn provided less volume when it was weighed down by a heavier fabric.

Onward to part 3- the dress itself!

Sophie Hatter Dress- Part 1

Part 1: Research and Mockups

Part 2: Foundation Garments

Part 3: The Dress

I’m working backwards since this blog is new and I’m going to bring you the process of creating my historical Sophie Hatter dress!

I started by studying the dress she has in the movie. The high neck, long sleeves, and boots all seemed to point to a very basic 1880’s look.

The silhouette is very simple and even the detail of the lace at her collar seemed to mesh with primary sources.

It’s interesting to note that most of the supporting female cast are dressed in gowns that seem more modern. Our girl Sophie is dressed in a way that deliberately contrasts with the 1890’s look of puff sleeves and bright colors. She’s branded an “old maid” just by virtue of the fact that she has visually aligned herself with the past decade.

Once I decided on a decade I moved on to visualizing my idea and choosing patterns. I did a rough mockup from a photograph of an extant garment.

This is my first Victorian dress and I wanted to use a set of patterns I could work from without having to do too much alteration. I chose a selection from Truly Victorian’s late bustle patterns- TV101 (the wire bustle), TV170 (Victorian petticoats), TV261 (the four gore underskirt), TV368 (1887 waterfall overskirt), and TV460 (1885 cuirass bodice).

Continued in Part 2!

Planning an 1880’s Gown

After the completion of my green 1880’s gown I thought it would be fun (and efficient) to make a formal gown that can use the same foundation garments.

I had vampires on the brain this past summer and it has been fueling my desire to wear this dress. Mina’s red gown in the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well as the one worn by Kate Beckinsale in the 2004 Van Helsing are both inspirations.

I posted some quick concepts on twitter to get a feel for what I was looking for. I really like the romantic feel of lace paired with a warm “blush” color.

After this I spent some time picking out fabric options that I really liked. I thought the satin would drape well and I already know that I love Renaissance Fabric’s taffeta from a previous project.

Doing this really helps me get a feel for what I do and don’t like. At this point I’m really favoring the 12 & 13 options because I like the subtlety of the black lace over another color fabric.

I already have my patterns picked out- Truly Victorian’s 261, 382, and (very modified) 416. The next step is to order my fabric!