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!

1880s Hat Conversion

Once I’d finished my 1880s Squirrel Dress, I had to have a hat to go with it. I have yet to venture into completely handmade millinery, so I’m always eager to find existing hats that can be adapted to more historical uses. My favorite may always be the Regency Cowboy Hat bonnet, but this one is a close second– I made it from a children’s trilby hat in bright pink.

I was going for something along the lines of the hat in the center here:

Or this one, from the Met Museum.

Both are probably slightly too early in the period to match my dress, but they’re just so pretty that I decided to go for it anyway.

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1880s Squirrel Dress, Part VI: Trimming

Once I’d finished the basic dress, it was time to trim the skirt. Originally I’d planned a double row of wide pleats on the underskirt, with another row of pleats along the bottom edge of the apron overskirt. However, the more I looked at the ensemble the less I liked the idea of all those pleats– they seemed fussy, somehow, and not as tailored and simple as the bodice. It was time to rethink.

I decided to make one wide row of pleats to put along the hem, and to put off further decisions until that was attached. Accordingly, I pieced together a 300″ strip of my fabric (with the stripes oriented horizontally for a fun variation), did a narrow hem on both long edges, got out my homemade pleater board (more on that later), and started pleating. It was really annoying. It took forever. My pleats kept pulling out of the board as I worked, and waiting for the pleats to cool completely before moving on to the next section was extremely tedious. But I suppose it could’ve been a lot worse– I could’ve had to pin them individually before pressing them, right?

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1880s Squirrel Dress, Part V: Bodice

So… you know how I said that I’d sourced all of my fabrics, and had picked out a dusty pink cotton I already had in my stash to use for part of the bodice of this dress? Well, I lied. Not so much lied as had second thoughts. And third thoughts. The pink was fine next to the striped fabric, but the velvet I wanted to use for the lapels was so deep and saturated that it just made the pink fabric look washed out and plain. The tough part was that I didn’t know what else to use– I didn’t want another patterned fabric that might clash with the stripes, but I hadn’t been able to find any other solid cottons that matched well. I couldn’t use taffeta or jacquard, because that wouldn’t work with the cotton main fabric– too fancy. I could always choose white, but that seemed like giving up.

Finally, I came across a line of fabrics called “peppered cottons” by Studio E Fabrics. They’re shot cottons– fabrics with the warp and weft threads in different colors so they change color at different angles– and they came in some lovely shades. I ended up picking “Fuchsia,” which has plum-colored threads in one direction and hot pink in the other.

Peppered Cotton FUCHSIA 40 by Pepper Cory for Studio E image 2

It works as a nice “bridge” between the cooler-toned squirrel stripe and the warmer-toned velvet. I also used it as the reverse side of the velvet collar and cuffs.

Anyway, once I had the fabric issue resolved, I was able to use my revised pattern to cut out the real bodice– I was able to use my new rotary cutter and cutting mat, which made the process so much faster! In order to get the stripes to be symmetrical I cut out my striped fabric one piece at a time, mirroring the somewhat see-through lining fabric to get the placement just right.

I will note that I made a tactical error in laying out my front bodice pieces– I should’ve taken note of the dart placement to ensure that the darker narrow stripes weren’t going to get swallowed up by the darts. If I’d had the darts take up the wider, lighter areas between the stripes, the design would’ve had a flattering taper at the waist– as it is, the stripes disappear into both darts, leaving a large stripeless area that doesn’t look quite as nice. Sadly, I didn’t realize this until I’d actually assembled the bodice, which made it far too late to fix.

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1880s Squirrel Dress, Part IV: Bodice Mockup

With my skirts basically finished, it was time to start work on the bodice. I specifically planned to make it before pleating up my trim for the skirts, since trim can be pieced together and fudged a bit, whereas the bodice needed to be perfect (and stripe-matched). Anyway, I used Truly Victorian 466, the Alexandra Bodice, and I admit that at first glance it looked pretty daunting. So many pieces! Obviously, I started with a mockup.

My first try wasn’t awful, but it needed some work:

The sleeves were too far off the shoulder and I think the back of the bodice was just a touch too long, which made the whole back wrinkle oddly. I took some width out of the shoulders, and shortened the bodice at the shoulder seam because it was loose in the upper chest and back. Plus, once I had all of my skirts on the added bulk at the front required some extra room over the tummy, which I achieved by adding a little extra flare to the bottom of the side pieces. Oh, and the sleeves were far too loose for my arms, so I took out a whole inch of width all the way down the back seam, and shaved off some of the curve at the elbow because it pooched weirdly when my arms were straight. So basically I changed everything. 😉

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1880s Squirrel Dress, Part III: Overskirt

I was pretty excited to get started on the overskirt for this dress– the draped front and puffiness of the back was what really made the “Bustle Era” look for me. I used Truly Victorian 265, the August Overskirt, and while I did have to fiddle with it before it looked right to me, it turned out great.

I cut out my fabric and stitched up the front panel, then pleated the sides according to the directions and pinned it to my dress form over the underskirt. Immediately I knew I was going to have an issue– the swags just weren’t holding their shape, instead looking rather droopy and making the whole front a lot longer than I’d expected. Before cutting anything off, though, I decided to try a few fixes.

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