Cut Chenille Baby Blanket

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to make baby blankets as gifts for friends and family with new babies. The quilted kind is fun, since I get to pick a bunch of cute coordinating fabrics, but I also love cut chenille blankets– they may be a bit more trouble to make (okay, a lot more trouble), but the results are just amazing.

Making cut chenille is easy, but time-consuming. You’ll need:

  • Main fabric (the cute one that’s going to show)
  • 4 layers of flannel in coordinating colors*
  • Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your main fabric.
  • Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your backing fabric.
  • 1/2 yard fabric to make binding

*I’ve previously used three layers only, but then you sometimes end up seeing the back side of your main cotton fabric between the rows of chenille. I’d prefer not to, so I’m using four layers this time and only cutting through three of them.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part II: Supplies

So the most important part of this gown is clearly the beetlewings (technically elytra, or wing casings, but “beetlewings” is easier to understand). Luckily for me, elytra from sternocera aequisignata (the species of jewel beetle most commonly used for decoration) are readily available for sale on eBay at very reasonable prices. The original gown is said to have had 1,000 wings on it, but just to be safe I ordered 2,000– it wouldn’t do to run out and have to order more from Thailand, after all! I thought about purchasing them pre-drilled with holes at the top, but decided that if I was going to have to clip them to size and put additional holes in for sewing anyway, I might as well save a little money and get them undrilled.

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1915 Picnic Dress, Part V: Finishing Touches

After the dress was structurally finished and the main embellishments were attached, I still had a few more things to do to finish it off.

First I made a belt, as it was necessary to cover up the closure at the waistband. I’d originally considered incorporating it into the dress itself, but ultimately decided that I’d rather have a little more flexibility in sizing, so a separate belt that could be cinched in or loosened a bit was preferable.

To make the belt, I cut a long rectangle of fabric and machine-sewed a bunch of 3/8″ tucks into it. I stitched the tucked piece to a flat band of fabric, right sides together, then turned and pressed it flat.

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I considered finding a sash buckle or pin to close it, but ultimately decided that it would be an unnecessary focal point on the dress when I really wanted the focus to be on the embroidery. Instead I closed the belt in back with snaps, though I left enough overlap to use a buckle later if I wanted to.

Next up were covered buttons, which seemed to be a popular decorative accent in the period. I bought 5/8″ covered button kits and covered them in a double layer of peach lawn– the second layer was necessary because otherwise the shiny metal button base showed through the sheer fabric, though I will note that even with very thin fabric, the extra layer made it difficult to snap the button-back into place. I stitched them to the dress in sets of three. They’re not functional, but I think they added an extra-Edwardian touch to the outfit, even if my fingertips were killing me by the time I’d covered all 18 buttons.

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Remember the lace I put on the sleeves while I was stitching up the bodice? Well, once I’d added the embroidered appliqués I realized that the lace was too white in comparison to the warm ivory tint of the organdy. I unpicked my hand-stitching and soaked some new lace in strongly-brewed jasmine tea to give it just a bit more of an aged look. I’ve discovered that black tea gives far too much of an orange tint to lace, and the organdy was more yellowish than anything, so jasmine tea was the perfect brew to use for this. I soaked the lace for ten minutes and then let it dry completely before giving it a rinse in cold water and letting it dry again. That gave it just enough of an off-white shade to keep the difference between it and the appliqués from being glaringly obvious.

Then I stitched the lace back into place on the sleeves, and added more of it between the tucks at the hem of the underskirt to tie the whole thing together. I decided this time around to just stitch it so it showed evenly over the edges of the tucks instead of undulating in and out of sight. It’s just easier, and it looks better on the skirt that way, so I changed the sleeves to stay consistent.

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So the dress is finished! Stay tuned for final pictures!

1915 Picnic Dress, Part II: Bodice

I had originally planned on making this a two-piece dress with a separate blouse and skirt, but then realized that my fabric was so sheer that it would clearly show the tucked-in blouse through the skirt, making the whole thing look weird. I decided instead to turn it into a dress and add a closure to the side front. The layered design of the skirt would help with this, since it would disguise the closure once it went past the bodice.

I started with Truly Victorian’s TVE45, the 1911 Narrow Panel Blouse, cutting out a mockup just to see how it would fit. To my surprise, it did not go well.

TVE45 - 1911 Narrow Panel Blouse

The pattern is so basic– two T-shaped side panels connected by a front and back– that I’d assumed it would go together easily and without much trouble. Well, it went together easily, but the fit was all off. The front panel was far too low on the chest, and the kimono sleeves pulled the already slightly-angled neckline even more towards the sides of the shoulders, causing unsightly pulling across the bust and skewing the neck opening. The sleeves were also too baggy, which is probably a matter of preferences vs. a flaw in the pattern, but which still had to be adjusted.

I endeavored to fix things first by altering the shape of the front and back panels to be wider and less angled. I like the angled look in general, but here it was not only causing the above-mentioned fit issues, but also reducing the amount of visible space available for my lace bodice insert, which I’d intended to show off. Making the panels wider gave me more space, and making the sides straighter kept the neckline stable. I also raised both panels up several inches– the front for modesty’s sake and the back to keep the neckline where it belonged.

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1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part II: Hoop Skirt

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I started by cheating.

Yes, cheating. I knew that I couldn’t get started on my dress until I had the correct underpinnings, and I didn’t have the energy to make myself a hoop skirt from scratch, so I bought the biggest one I could find on eBay– a 6-hoop skirt that was at least made from cotton, so it wasn’t quite as bad as shiny polyester. Don’t I get credit for that much?

Anyway, I knew from experience that the hoops on these cheap skirts are adjustable in size, so once it arrived I tried it on and took a look to see what needed to be done. Continue reading

1840s Day Dress, Part I: Pattern and Fabric Mishaps (or, Adventures in Indecision)

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Given my love of historical costuming, I often bemoan the fact that despite growing up in Northern California, which appears in retrospect to have been a Mecca of costuming resources and events, the only thing I took advantage of at the time was attending the Northern California Renaissance Faire (which was admittedly awesome). Now I’m in Massachusetts, where costuming events are less abundant and fabric stores are harder to get to. But as luck would have it, I’m going home for Christmas this year and I’ll be in the area for the last day of the San Francisco Dickens Fair!

As soon as I made plans to go, I knew I’d need a dress– nothing too complicated, and hopefully something that could be shoved into a suitcase without taking up too much space or sustaining lasting damage. Unfortunately, the event’s stated period (1842-1863) is smack dab in the middle of a gap in my costuming portfolio– I have nothing between 1815 and 1890. So I have to make something new.

Let’s just say it did not start off well.

I swear, this post took forever to write because every time I thought I had finalized my pattern/fabric choices, something happened to mess it up and I had to go back and update. Anyway, read on for the saga of “the Dickens Fair dress of indecision”…

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1910 Afternoon Dress, Part II: Lace and Fabric

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This is the lace that started it all. Really, I had a totally different idea for my next afternoon-tea outfit– it was going to be a tiered white cotton Edwardian dress with embroidered navy trim– and then I saw this lace on Etsy and immediately knew I wanted to go in another direction.

Anyway, the Etsy seller also had a coordinating narrower lace, plus an even narrower one that looked like it was somewhat similar, so I bought some of all three. I’ll use the widest stuff sparingly, since it’s the most expensive– mostly for the lace collar and the decoration across the front of the bodice. The medium width will be used on the dress cuffs and also on the collar, and I’ll use the narrowest stuff to trim the cuffs of the undersleeves.

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