Upgrading a Costume Parasol, Part I: Changeable Cover

I’ll admit it, I was obsessed with parasols (and little white gloves, and tiaras, and all that stuff) as a child. I had a little white lace one, and a paper one painted with cherry blossoms, and I insisted that my rain umbrella have ruffles on it. So to go with my Squirrel Bustle Dress, I knew I wanted a coordinating parasol. Not just a coordinating parasol for this gown– a bunch of coordinating parasols for all of my future bustle gowns (whenever those may manifest). So I had to figure out how to make interchangeable covers. This was going to be interesting…

First, I had to get a basic parasol frame with a wooden handle. Unfortunately, nice parasols of the right kind are in short supply– there are plenty of Battenberg lace ones, but the handles were too short and they were kind of generic. Paper parasols didn’t get popular until the turn of the century. So I knew I’d have to find a different option. Luckily, you can get basic nylon parasols with long wooden shafts and handles from various sources for a reasonable price– I got mine from Oriental Trading Co. ($14.99 for me, with free shipping) They’re not particularly attractive, but they’ve got good bones.

The first thing I did was to remove the nylon cover and unpick the stitching along the edges of one of the six nylon fabric triangles. I ironed it flat to make a pattern for my new cover, taking into account an extra-wide seam allowance so I could use a “parasol seam” (explained below).

I cut new cover pieces out of a plum-colored quilting cotton, and then used some more of the fuchsia shot cotton from my Squirrel Bustle Dress to make a length of pintucked trim. For the trim, I cut two 10″ strips across the width of the fabric and seamed them together to make a 90″ strip, which I then sewed pintucks into. My pintucks were just about 3/8″ each, with about 1/2″ in between them– to keep the spacing even without having to mark off the fold lines, I made a template out of a strip of cardboard and just folded the fabric over it, slipping the cardboard out before pinning the fabric in place and stitching 3/8″ away from the fold.

I ironed my tucks flat after they were all stitched in.

Then I sliced the whole thing in half lengthwise with my rotary cutter to make two 5″ strips of trim. (okay, slightly less than 5″ since I had to even out the edges of the pintucked 10″ strip before slicing it, but it was more than wide enough)

Once I had my trim, I figured out how wide I wanted it to be on my parasol– definitely less than 5″, and I wanted more of the plum fabric at the bottom for contrast. I measured my triangles and carefully pinned my trim to each triangle, right sides together, so I could stitch it down and then flip it over for a clean seam. I trimmed the trim evenly with the lower edge of the triangle, and pinned it flat so I could assemble the parasol cover, carefully matching the sections of trim so they lined up at the seams.

So, in a “parasol seam,” you first fold over the seam allowance so the cut edge is just inside the seam line, and stitch through all four layers of fabric for a really strong seam. Because I wanted to ensure precise seam placement for a snug fit, I traced the seam line on the wrong side of my fabric so I could stitch directly along it.

Once the cover was sewn together, I took a long strip of plum fabric and bound the lower edge the same way I’d do for a quilt– I just used a strip cut on-grain rather than on the bias, since there were no curves to deal with and I wanted to avoid any stretching. I made it extra-wide just for proportion’s sake; in retrospect, I probably should have cut away the excess fuchsia trim from beneath the binding to keep it from getting too thick once folded over– the finished edge was kind of bulky this way. But since I’m not willing to unpick all of my hand-stitching on the inside, this will have to be good enough!

I ran a line of machine stitching all around the hole in the center of the cover for reinforcement, then did some buttonhole stitching by hand through all of the layers to make a reinforced circle that I will slip the top of the parasol through when I change out the covers. It could be neater, I admit, but no one is going to see it anyway.

Finally, I made a 3/4″ strap out of plum cotton, stitched it to the parasol, and put a button on one end and a buttonhole on the other– I’ll use it to keep my parasol closed when it’s not being used.

Next up, hardware!

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