I joined the Order of the Laurel this past May, and made a new 1590’s Venetian dress for the occasion!
As you might know, I have a thing forreddresses, but apparently I need more! I like these dresses and want to go for a similar look: red dress with trim, V-front, paned upper sleeves, veil and apron.
Here’s the video dress diary showing how I made it!
Don’t wanna watch a video right now? That’s cool, I have transcript for you!
Alright, I am going to start things off a little out-of-order today! I will get to the dress in a moment, but first, I want to show you a method I have discovered for lacing a bodice! I have seen all sorts of ways to construct a bodice with invisible lacing holes, but many have downsides such as not laying truly flat, or bunching up, or just being sort of bulky and inelegant. I did some brain storming before starting this outfit, and decided to experiment with some scrap fabric!
Now, I don’t need this whole bodice to be boned since it is on top of a corset already, but I wasn’t sure whether I would need a bone in the center front to prevent the lacing from collapsing, so for my first try, I am lacing with no bone and the result is that one layer of silk and one layer of linen was not going to be enough.
For round two I added some canvas and that did help a lot but it was still not quite as stiff as I would like so I added a bone.
Apparently period, but still not personally desirable.
Part of the reason I was reluctant to add a bone to the opening, is because I often see the boning channel sewn there and I really wanted to avoid having a row of stitches interrupting the smooth line of the bodice. Fortunately, I had a thought about how to bone the front seam without having a visible channel by just sewing the bone casing using the canvas interfacing here:
Just having the bone in the seam was not enough to keep everything smooth, turns out that the best way for that to happen was to have the lacings go around the bone each time they enter the bodice. That shouldn’t be very surprising, since corsets also have the lacing supported a bone on the very edge by the eyelets or grommets.
I’m very excited by this lacing method, I think it will be a great way to have a very smooth look with no boning channel seam. I make absolutely no claims as to it’s historical authenticity, this is purely a modern experiment.
Now I can start working on the actual pattern. I have a note on the pattern paper letting me know that it does not include any seam allowance, so I must add that now, as I trace out the pattern. I tend to prefer a 1 cm seam allowance, but use whatever works for you.
Pinning the fabric before you cut the layers out helps keep everything aligned.
This bodice is going to be three layers of fabric, a bright red silk for the outside and a linen interlining, then another linen layer for the lining. I keep the red and interlining layers together, essentially treating them as if they are one piece of fabric. I can sew the shoulder and side seams now, keeping that one centimeter seam allowance I mentioned before.
Once the seams are sewn, I like to open them because that makes them lay flatter on the finished garment, then I fold over the edges, again, about one centimeter, and pin them down. Then I can sew the seam allowances down, and you can see why I needed an interlining now:
With each stitch I am going through the seam allowance edge and tacking it down to just the white linen interlining, not letting the needle go all the way through the red fabric where my stitch would be visible on the surface of the bodice. I might not worry so much about visible stitch marks if I were sewing with a different fabric, especially wool, but this red shows every little pinprick.
The lining comes next, I set it on the bodice and line the pieces up as best I can and start tacking it down with pins so it doesn’t move. Then I can start folding the edge under and pinning the lining in place. I like to hand sew my linings in for historical outfits, it’s not nearly as fast as machine bag lining, but you get a lot of control that bag lining lacks.
As I turn my various edges, I will snip corners and curves as needed to make the lining lie smoothly. I tend to make the lining go just short of the absolute edge, since that way you won’t see the lining on the finished project while you’re wearing it.
I could have sewn the entire lining shell together, and then hand turned all the edges, but instead I am putting the pieces in one by one. There are only three of them, so it didn’t make much difference which way I did it. This method is kind of nice if you ever need to alter your side seams later.
Whip stitch all those seams down, again taking care to not have your stitch end up on the outside of the fabric where it will be visible.
I left the front lacing edges unfinished so far, so I can still add in some canvas interfacing to reinforce the lacing holes, and I still want to decide how big I want my lacing gap to be. I’ll fold the edges temporarily for now, and try it on to see how it looks.
It looks pretty good, but I think I want a wider gap like I have seen on some late 16th century Venetian dresses. The skirt is just going to be a giant rectangle, with a little bit of waist shaping to account for the point of the bodice in front and back.
I pleated the waist of the skirt down and pinned it on to my dress dummy, so I can see what the fullness of the skirt will look like. This is two widths of fabric, so a little over 100 inches at the hem. I decided that I wanted it a little fuller than this, because I am going for a very over-the-top look with this dress.
I sewed all the vertical seams of the skirt on the machine then ironed them open and folded the selvage or seam allowance in at the top of the front seam, since I need to split the skirt a bit here and I want it to be nice and neat.
The waist of the skirt is going to be hand-sewn onto the waist of the bodice, so first I need to finish the seam. Nothing fancy, just turning the edge twice and whip stitching it down.
Back to the bodice! I added the canvas interfacing and turned the front edge once and sewed it down by machine.
Now comes the tricky bit, I need to bone the front seam and also lace it at the same time. First, I measure out my lacing holes (I think I did about an inch apart here). Unfortunately I wasn’t quite thinking clearly, and set my holes to be spiral laced, forgetting that I wanted to ladder lace this dress. So after I poked one set of holes I had to redo them to fix my mistake.
Once the lacing holes were correct, I ladder laced the opening and cut my boning pieces down to size, and wove them through the ribbon bars. Then I could hand sew the seam allowance down, carefully stitching so that I went all the way through the canvas interfacing, but not all the way out to the front side of the bodice.
The downside of this lacing method is that you really do not want the ribbon to come undone out of the lacing holes, because you would then need to undo this whip stitching, fix the lacing, and then resew the edge down. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but still annoying, so I made sure to use a very long ribbon that hopefully will not ever need to be undone in order to get in or out of the dress. I think I cut it about 3 meters long.
To add the skirt to the bodice, I gathered the top of the skirt evenly with a strong thread, then pinned one side of the gathered mass to the edge of the inside out bodice. Be careful that you are sewing right side to right side, if you have never done cartridge pleating before, I recommend sewing a little scrap fabric test swatch to get the technique down before sewing your final dress.
Lots of whip stitching later and I have a dress to try on! First I put on my supportive layer, the polka dot farthingale, then I add a temporary canvas placket to cover the front of my under bodice. I slipped the red dress on over my head and tighten the laces until everything lies smooth. Now you can see the Glorious Mass of my new dress! The skirt on this thing is absolutely huge!
The hem does not need a lot of adjustment, it is already about right. I made it a little longer in the back on purpose, hoping to get a slight train effect. Looking back on this now, I kinda wish I had gone for a little bit longer in the back, maybe 5 – 10 inches.
Hem hem hem.
Since the length of the hem is good, I went ahead and finished the hem with my favorite stitch.
Ta-da! We are hemmed! Say hello to Kathryn! Since the waist is good to go, I added a decorative ‘laurel’ motif to the girdle line, and stitched a gold chain over top that. Gold seems to be a fairly popular girdle color/material.
Leafy goodness :D
Time to start making sleeves! I am starting with a sleeve I made previously, and tracing it since I apparently lost the original pattern for it. Then I have some minor adjustments to make, including adding seam allowance for once, and when I am satisfied, I cut out the paper pattern.
The sleeves will be made of the same red silk as the dress, and also lined in the same white linen. Pinning keeps the pieces together as I cut, maybe some day I will get fancy and buy myself a rotary cutter and mat. No need for pinning that way!
I want these sleeve to be slashed at the top, just like the sleeves I am copying, although I want a few more slashes, so I’ll have eight on each sleeve instead of just six. I mark out where the slashes will be with chalk, and make sure I transfer them to all the different pieces.
I don’t quite want to sew both sleeve seams just yet, since that will be much harder than leaving them mostly flat at this point. So just do one seam on each sleeve, I picked the front or concave seam. To create the slashes, I sew around my marked lines with a very tiny seam allowance, over and over until I have all of the slash lines sewn. Then I cut down the center of each of those little lines to separate the slashes. Cut all the excess fabric from the corners!
Now I can turn everything right-side out! I mostly just use my hands to coax the corners out, but sometimes using a blunt needle or pin to pull the last little bit of corner out helps. To finish the second seam of the sleeves, I machine sew the red and the white fabrics separately, taking care to not catch any of the completed shoulder slashes in my seam.
The only raw edges left on at the wrist. I am loath to machine top stitch this last bit of hem, so hand finishing it is!
First some basting straight stitches just to hold the first fold down, then I pining in a decorative strip of fabric that will eventually be pinked. I sew the sleeve to the decorative strip as invisibly as possible.
Whip whip whip. The lining needs to be finished too, so the seam allowance gets folded down, pinned, and sewn in place. Not so invisibly this time, since it’s on the inside of the garment and I am lazy.
I pinking the decorative strip with the tip of my scissors, it’s just a tiny cut. You can barely even see it until you rough it up a bit. This detail actually is a historical thing, go me!
I made the wrist of these sleeves a bit more fitted, small enough that I cannot just squeeze my hand through, so I need to sew buttons and button holes on the edge of the wrist closure. Sorry that this is not very visible, red on red is a bit hard to see on camera. The buttons (a very historically accurate ‘ye olde’ plastic from my local sewing shop) are sewn to the other cuff edge.
The bottoms of the sleeves are done, so lets go back to the top! The slashes are finished, but still loose, and need to be bound together at the corners. Nothing fancy about this step, just enough stitching to keep them from coming apart and they’re done!
I want to tie the sleeves onto the shoulder straps of the bodice with some fancy ribbon! The ribbon will look extra fancy if I bind the tips with aglets.
Here’s how I do it: gather the ribbon end with several rows of running stitches, then pull tight! Wrap the thread around the narrow gathered end to bind everything together, and clip any stray threads. Insert the ribbon into the aglet, and sew in place with several stitches. Success!
The top four strips of the sleeves get pierced with an awl, then I can easily thread a ribbon through. Look how pretty that turned out! I need to attach this to the bodice, so I figure out my placement, and pin where the corresponding ribbon holes will go.
I think I was getting close to my project deadline here, because I didn’t film very much after this! The last little bit is the white guards around the bodice and hem of the skirt. Normally I prefer to make my own trim by cutting down fabric into long strips, but I was short on time and went for store bought instead. I measure out my placement with a gift card I had laying around, and sew the ribbon down by hand on both edges.
Lots of off camera sewing, and ta-da, the dress is done!
To get dressed, I start with the farthingale from my last video, then put a pretty partlet on top. This is to cover my shoulders and help hide the supportive under gown. I made this from sheer silk organza, and decorated it with a grid of white braid and pewter spangles. This stomacher covers the front of my corset bodies. I made it by gathering linen over a piece of canvas to imitate the look of a gathered shift beneath a dress With a lot of wiggling, I can put on the over gown and tighten it into place. I feel so fancy!
Here’s the gold girdle I mentioned earlier! It’s not perfect, but works well in a theatrical sorta way :D
All the pictures! :D
I made a few new accessories to go with this outfit and will write a post about those shortly, but here’s one that was made for me! My darling husband made me this very beautiful brooch! The style is based on some of the images here.
I try to post my projects in an easy to read, dress diary type format. When I first started learning to sew historical outfits, I found dress diaries to be the most helpful learning tools. I want to contribute my projects in the hopes that they will prove just as useful for others.