This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**



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HI, my name is Val. I'm a membor of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

ASSEMBLY LINE COSTUME SEWING


I had another question asked of me when I talked about my assembly line method of sewing multiple costumes of the same pattern. How did I ever manage to do it?
At first my answer was easy: cut out multiples of the same pattern, with different fabrics. Once the pattern is cut to size, and the muslin fitted, you could cut out as many fabrics from it as you wanted and start sewing.
It’s not as easy as all that. It requires some thought and planning.
First, a disclaimer: I’ve only done this *four times. And they were fairly easy patterns. My reason for doing this is I wanted more than one dress of each era. And when I make something two or three times, I understand its construction better and it’s easier to make next time. You have to plan ahead of time by having all the fabrics and lining or flat lining fabrics on hand. You don’t need your finishing details until later when you decide to finish the individual gown. *I originally thought I’d only done this twice but after looking thru all my costume photos, I found I had done it two more times but with only making two at a time instead of the three I’d done before*.
My first time I did this was back in 2005 when I was fairly new to costuming. I wanted to have a couple Regency dresses to wear to Costume College, and the quickest way I could do it was cut three out at a time. All were going to be cotton day dresses. I used the Sense & Sensibility pattern which is easy to understand and explains construction in modern sewing terms.
 My fabrics were all small printed floral cottons. Once I cut the pattern to my size and the muslin fit, I laid out each fabric, cut it out, and then laid out the next and cut it. Each also needed to have the bodice lined and I cut that portion out of white muslin. By that time your back is going to be killing you.  You might want to take a couple hours break from this. Or a couple days.
So here was the assembly line: take all the bodice pieces (no sleeves yet), and sew all the side seams. These were bag lined (fabric and lining right sides together, sew with bottom parts open & turn right side out). Take all the skirt parts and sew all the side seams on those. Then sew the sleeve seams & finish the cuffs. Set those aside for when you’re rested and can battle with attaching the “Evil Sleevils”. Now gather and attach all the skirts to all the bottoms of the bodices. Sew the plackets to the back skirt opening, and finish. I did buttonholes on all my bodices. *I now do drawstring closures; much easier.* If you’re ready, begin battle with the “Evil Sleevils” by gathering the caps and attach to the armholes. You may be one of the lucky ones who don’t have problems with sleeves like many of us do. A handy tip from Historical Sewing- Jennifer Rosbrugh: mark the sleeve directly after you cut it so you know the front from back. Use a tiny mark or pin a safety pin on the front part. It will save you from sewing them backwards or putting the right arm in the left armhole. Believe me; I’ve done it more times than I can count.
At this point you can now hem and trim. If you only need one dress now, that’s all you need to finish. I wasn’t much into trimming at this point. I just wanted the dresses done. These are two of the Regency dresses I finished in 2005 back in my pre-Regency stays days. I made two with puffy sleeves, and one with a three quarter length sleeve, so at least I was trying to make them a little different from each other. I’ve since decided short puffy sleeves are not for ladies of a certain age. I don’t have construction photos of any of them, and I’ve since sold the gowns when they became too large.

Three years later I wanted to make a 1795 open robe, again for Costume College, using Butterick’s 4890, and had two lovely fabrics I couldn’t decide which I liked better. So I cut both out at the same time and decided to let the one that was finishing the prettiest be the winner. These were really easy to sew; no sleeves & no closures to speak of. The final finish on these were the trims I sewed on by hand. I made a white peau de soie gown that could be worn under them. As you can see, the periwinkle blue robe was the winner, and is still one of my favorite gowns to this day. Surprisingly, I still haven’t worn the pink one ANYWHERE. But it’s finished, and waiting for that perfect date.

 

 Three years later I decided now I liked Civil War/1860s gowns after all, and other than wearing them to CW events, I could also wear them in the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show. I fell in love with the Simplicity 4451 mainly because of the yellow fabric, which I haven’t found any yet, but also the gathered front bodice. Again, these were all made of cotton fabrics, and I flat lined both bodices first, then sewed the side seams, and so forth. CW gowns don’t have too many ways you can trim them but I think the different fabrics made them not so similar to each other.
 


I began my last set of three gowns on an assembly line back in 2009, and am today finishing the last one up that I’ll be wearing tomorrow to the 1870s Bustle Picnic in Los Angeles. This became a very popular pattern with costumers, Truly Victorian’s #410, the 1873 Polonaise. I sewed each one to the almost finished bodice stage, and none had their boning put in at this point. The green striped cotton would have a matching skirt but rather plain since I ran out of fabric. To make it different, I trimmed the front of the square neck and down the front of the bodice & skirt with a white beading eyelet w/ yellow ribbon running through it. I used yellow ribbons as my accent color. The purple and black floral fabric was a polyester blend that I put over a solid black skirt. This fabric lent itself to lot of trimming ideas, and all those black ribbons and buttons and bows and gee-gaws came out of the stash and had a glorious time being added to it. My favorite saying is, “You can’t just bake the cake; you have to decorate it too”.  This gown has received more compliments than any gown I’ve made to date. And it’s polyester. Go poly!  My final gown of a black and white polka dot cotton voile, that has been waiting three years to be completed, has slightly evolved a bit more into the 1880s with the addition of a ruffled apron that goes over the skirt. The skirt is a matching fabric but has a large ruffle along the hem. I tried to make it look different than the previous two.





 So today the last one will be unveiled, and I will have photos of me wearing it, and another blog on its making.
 

9 comments:

  1. The Best For Last...I really like your bustle gown.

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  2. I think assembly line sewing is great,unfortunately the part of the entire dressmaking experience for me it the cutting out process. I ABHOR it, it's what delays me from getting anything done really. Kills my back to cut out ONE bodice and lining, I would definitely have to do one every few days! And since I have a stack of silks that need to turn into 'something' I did plan on assembly lining two of them from the same pattern, but my attention span isn't that great and I put one aside, where it will linger for months!

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    1. Here's a tip: try wearing a corset while cutting. It really does help.
      Val

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  3. Unless pattern matching of the fabric is important I find it works to lay several layers of fabric on top of each other and just cut out the pattern once.

    My tip would be that sewing multiples works best when I can use the same thread on all the versions, second best would be to have a separate sewing machine/station for each color thread. If I can just keep going I am far more likely to finish all the construction work on *all*of the gowns.

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  4. The assembly line process is wonderful! Although mine differs from yours: I cut out several different projects then sew them up at the same time. (This works really well when you can use the same thread color.) I'll sew major seams & darts on everything then press it all. Pin & sew the next set of seams & press. Apply all the boning at once. Etc, etc, etc...

    Your black/rose polonaise IS really beautiful and you wear it well. :-)

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    1. Jennifer are you saying you are using different patterns and eras - but using same thread color so you don't have to change thread all the time?

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    2. Yep! Of course this works best with black, white and ecru/cream threads. I'll sew up several items at the same time but doing it so I sew all the seams I can, then press them all, then pin the next step on everything, sew & press, etc. I use a 80/14 needle on most everything so I don't need to change it except after several hours of sewing (which I DO often).

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  5. Great write up Val, my back would be killing me too by the time I did all that cutting, even with bed risers under the table legs my back still gets to hurting.

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    1. Seems to me I wore my corset a couple times when I was doing heavy duty cutting.
      Val

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I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!