Once the dress was put together, it was time to do the embellishments. As you recall, I found this beautiful centerpiece/napkin set to use for my dress accents.
It arrived looking a bit dingy (as many antique linens do) so I soaked it in diluted Woolite for a bit (testing it first on one of the cocktail napkins to be sure it wouldn’t ruin anything) to whiten it up. It only brightened a little, so I tried Oxiclean. That also brightened it a tiny bit, but finally a 2-minute soak in a Clorox solution (followed by a rinse in diluted hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the excess chlorine, and several rinses in clean water) did the trick to make it a nice antique white.
I will also note that while I’d originally assumed that the embroidery was done by machine, now I’m not so sure. On closer inspection there are actually significant differences between each of the corners in terms of placement and missing/different stitches, which implies that the embroidery was hand-done after all. I wish I had a better idea of the date on this set, but in any case I think it’s lovely. It’s almost a shame to cut it up, but I’d never use it as-is.
So that antique Edwardian dress I mentioned earlier? Before I could wear it (shown above before I did anything to it), it needed to be altered. It just needs a few inches of extra room to make it perfect, and since I can’t make up the difference with a corset (there’s only so far you can cinch down your waist… or your ribcage), I’ll have to do it the hard way.
I know, I know… there will be people out there gasping in horror at how I could dare to alter an antique— but come on, people have been repurposing older garments forever, including making over old dresses to suit new modes of fashion, so I hardly think that merely tweaking a dress to enlarge it and make it wearable for the modern figure is that much of a problem.
Besides, it’s not like I’m repeating the mistakes I made in college when I actually went so far as to add an elastic waistband to an antique embroidered skirt (still cringe about that one). Anyway, here’s how I did it:
Once my insertion was in, it was time to actually cut out the dress. Like I said, I went with a One-Hour Dress pattern, which is basically a glorified T-tunic– you just cut a hole on the top fold for your head, cut in some sleeves, and fuss with the hipline a bit to get pleats. Here’s the diagram I ended up using:
I made a mockup out of an old sheet to be sure I didn’t have too much or too little ease, and to determine a flattering hip level (on me it was 21″ down from the shoulder). I ended up using 2″ of ease from the widest point of my hip, which meant that there was 7″ of ease at the bust.
You’ll note that I basically used every scrap of fabric, using the cutout panels from under the sleeves to add extra width to the hips– I was incredibly lucky that I had exactly enough, because I couldn’t find any matching fabric to make up the difference. It took a little piecing together, but it all worked out!
While I adore the look of insertion in Edwardian lingerie dresses, I’d never actually tried sewing it myself until I decided that this 1920s dress needed something special to add visual interest on the main body. With this insertion trim I figured that the entredeux would make it slightly more difficult to sew, since apparently there’s a specific technique involved to make sure the ladder-like parts look right. I was a bit worried about what I’d gotten myself into, and I read many tutorials and watched videos to be sure I was getting it right. Once I’d gotten the trim stitched down to the main fabric I was tempted to just leave it as-is without cutting out the base layer– it was pretty anyway– but decided in the end to just go for it. I’m glad I did!
Going off momentarily in a different direction, I also started on a 1920s-style day dress for yet another vintage-themed event I’m attending this month…
I admit it– I’ve never really been a fan of the standard 1920s silhouette. It basically makes everyone look shapeless and dumpy– I mean, if even the ladies of Downton Abbey look like they’re wearing gussied-up hospital gowns, what chance do the rest of us have? But when I got the chance to attend a 1920s lawn party I figured I may as well give the look a shot– after all, the columnar silhouette was popular for years, it couldn’t be all bad!
I even had the beginnings of a day dress in my fabric stash already– some vintage pre-embroidered white cotton that had originally been set up to make a Victorian or Edwardian blouse out of. I couldn’t be sure of the precise time period, but the padded satin stitch embroidery just screamed “turn of the century” to me. I found it on eBay and bought it for a song, and it was just long enough to make a knee-length dress out of! (photo darkened so you can see the embroidery pattern)
I decided against using the embroidered neckline as an actual neckline– it was too wide and drew too much attention to the bust– so I turned the whole thing upside down and decided to use it as a hem decoration. There were also some smaller areas of embroidery that I could use to decorate other parts of the dress. I sketched out my basic design, planning on using a variation of the One-Hour Dress I’d seen online.
I bought some vintage insertion trim to add some interest to the body of the dress– it has an area of central embroidery and cutwork, with entredeux on either side. What is entredeux, you may ask? It’s basically an embroidered ladder-like trim, often inserted between fabrics to make a decorative line of openwork. It helps make the embroidered insertion look more deliberate, in my opinion, and less as if it was just pieced in.